When did you last really properly just listen to music?

King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King

I love music. Properly love it. I’ve always had a wide and varied interest in different genres of music, as you may have read about already. I’ve been itching to get on the vinyl revival that’s been going on for a few years now but the cost has put me off. I don’t think splashing out £100 on an all in one turntable would make economic sense, so that brings us to separates. I’d want some upgrade path so I’d be looking at a couple of hundred pounds for a decent but budget amp (Pioneer or Marantz) and probably as much again for a turntable. So that’s £500 before I start looking at speakers and cabling, which is too much for a hobby purchase when we’ve got three children and a cat. My Amazon wishlist of HiFi parts is so old, the manufacturers have stopped making half the things on it.

Recently though I inherited a vintage 1970’s HiFi system. It has been very well looked after; there is a little bit of crackle on the right hand channel of the amp (swapping the speakers over leaves it there and I can hear it through the headphone socket too) but other than that it’s perfect. You can’t hear the crackle when an LP is playing either.

The turntable is a Hitachi PS-48 from 1976, and the amp is a Nikko 7070. Neither are audiophile level, but they were both good quality top mid range systems when they were released. Around the time I was born.

I’m not going to start the discussion of whether the actual fidelity of the music is better on analogue equipment, that doesn’t really interest me (insofar as it doesn’t sound inferior at least), it’s more to do with the involvement. We have Spotify and Google Play Music subscriptions, we have SONOS and Panasonic ALLPLAY devices, we have over 500 albums ripped to FLAC sitting on a NAS, which contains a lot of music that isn’t available on streaming services. It’s all accessible easily and anywhere. And therein lies the problem in a crazy way. Music has become something that we listening to while doing other things, reading a book, playing a video game; it’s something that is on in the background. Occasionally we’ll turn it up when a great track comes on (because we don’t even have to listen to albums any more, or even our own playlists, which are the modern equivalent of a mixtape you’d make for a friend, as Spotify has plenty of them it curates itself) but by and large it’s something that’s on in the background and not actively consumed.

With a trad HiFi system there is much more of an immediate connection. You have to select the record, place the stylus on the record and then turn the bloody thing over 22 minutes later. It’s not easy to skip tracks, it’s an anachronism but it forces you to sit there and listen because it’s not convenient like a streaming service. And that makes it brilliant.

I listen to a lot of music when I walk to work but I’m still finding just sitting on the sofa with an album playing more engaging. We’ve even been working our way through the records that were inherited with the system. Whilst James Last is never going to become a favourite, we’ve discovered the joy of Bert Kaempfert and his swinging safari, something I’d never have given credit to with a streaming service.

So I come back to my original question, when did you last simply just listen to music?