Vintage view: Record players

Kya deLongchamps takes a turn on vintage record players making sweet music in the collectables market at the moment.

Vintage view: Record players

If there was one television moment for me this year, it was the drug-fuelled psychedelic pantomime set in the music industry of 1970s New York depicted in the HBO TV series,Vinyl (HBO).

Co-written by Martin Scorsese with the still freezing cool Mick Jagger, it proved to be an unholy but bracing ride.

The opening credits feature a staccato attack of blistering electric guitars as a needle scores out the lacquer of a master recording.

White powder trembles psychotically over the scarring surface recalling the airborne cocaine fogging every episode.

That gut-grabbing scream and nose-to-the-stylus visual took me straight back to the delirious pimple-faced excitement surrounding the family Bang & Olufsen.

Pelted in rosewood with records in singles and gloriously illustrated gate-front albums — it was that vital currency of acceptance amongst our friends, the weekly discoveries of strange lyrics urgent with meaning, with licks and riffs.

We sprawled, bell-bottomed, on the tangled shag pile, believing no-one over 16 understood this magical planet of feeling.

Those speakers bounced up off the G-plan, changing shape, like monsters inside them were punching out the tweed.

The arguments rage on in the music press — is vinyl back as a medium?

Is it simply the sad buys of nostalgic baby boomers?

Is the market already so tiny, even with Tesco stocking it alongside CDs and Spotify credit?

I’ll leave that to the velvet wags at Rolling Stone, but one hit is climbing the vintage charts and that’s the mid-century compact record player.

Prices have surged for the most bog-standard suitcase player in playable condition, and reproduction players with CD capability, radios and a USB port that allows you to record to your computer from vinyl are everywhere.

Old records and old players offer a unique sound baffled by dust, imperfections on the old vinyl, failing speakers, and the gearing of the player arm.

Still, it’s a unique nostalgic audio-soup sure to bring a small audience to a stop at any fair, boot sale or bring & buy.

Portable, self-contained record players were a sensation in the 1950s.

With integrated amplifiers and speakers they allowed the user to pick up and take their music anywhere there was as power outlet.

Speakers attached to the carrying case, or formed out of the lid, could hinge out or be completely detached for stereo style performance from 78s, 45s and 33s (numbered for their revolutions per minute).

Whether you are in the market for a suitcase or a turntable to link up to an amplifier, speakers and the rest of your retro hi-fi equipment, there are a few things to remember.

Generally, the more electronics involved, the greater the degree of mechanical complexity (stacking and playing multiple records for example) and the more likely you’ll have trouble with the piece.

Players were heavily used, suitcase styles were thrown around under beds, and decks left out and open on shelving digesting dust.

If you buy a turntable with an amplifier, the amplifier may have separate issues left and/or right — that balance is crucial for that sexy, all embracing sound through the speakers.

Still, the serious vinyl lover will want separates (a turntable, an amplifier and good speakers) and may prefer good older gear they can upgrade and mix up, over budget faux-retro suitcase player or a cheap no-brand turntable.

Focusing on portable all-inclusive record players from the 1950-1970s — see the player and try it out if possible.

Just because it turns ‘on’ or you hear a noise when you touch the needle, this doesn’t mean the player is in good working order.

Does it make a loud hum at all volumes? This could signal electrical problems.

Brittle leads and old aching capacitors and tubes in amplifier models can be a fire hazard. Any vintage object that plugs in should be checked by a RECI-qualified electrician if you don’t have the skills.

The turntable itself (termed by buffs as the platter and cushion) should spin liquid and flat, and should not make any contact noises.

The heavier the turntable the better. If you want to play 78s, ensure the player can handle that format or be modified to do so.

For really old mid-century players, the primary issue is the idler wheel which turns the belt and, therefore, the turntable (rather like a fan belt on an old car).

If this is perished, damaged, pinched in the mechanics, or missing, the player will power on, but the platter will not turn. Here you are facing a straightforward but specialist fix that might cost as much as that modest portable player.

The cartridge is the boxy piece that house the needle and older players have ceramic cartridges, newer ones feature magnetic cartridges, and many major brand models from even the 1970s can be sourced by dedicated suppliers in the UK or even US.

If the machine automatically drops the record and the stylus into position, watch this through the entire action.

At the end of the record, does the tone arm return properly? Check the record clamp for any cracks.

If possible, listen to a record right through, as the tone arm should hold the needle correctly from the outside to the inside of the disc.

Favourites in terms of brand? For looks beyond the typical HMV luggage-look in Rexine artificial leather (and I have a tin ear), the 1970s 113 Philips portable record player in a rare, juicy orange designed by Patrice Dupont, has a brash DeLorean panache, the lid forming the speaker.

Like many smaller portables, it played from batteries or the mains. Prices start around €300-€400 for reconditioned players.

The Schneider Super Sound Set is a late 1970s model with a pill-shaped plastic body with speakers that pop off the case ends, €300-plus, depending on colour and playability.

Nineteen sixties sideboard stereos with TV and radio plus a turn-table are now big business in good working order.

Blaupunkt made some fabulous all-in-one entertainment centres with flip-up televisions hidden in teak cases. Look up their Colorado models with kick-out legs, now fetching well into four figures.

Ask around the family for record players and any hi-fi equipment chucked into the attic, as pieces such as the B&O Beocentre could make surprisingly sweet music on the second hand market.

Flying Tiger is doing new LPs of classic albums from bands like Cream, Creedence Clearwater and The Who, for €15 at the moment and also sell a portable turntable at €100,

More in this section