Vintage sounds

Updated: 2012-10-12 01:46

By Wu Yiyao (China Daily)

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Most people listen to music on their smartphones, MP3 players or tablets. But some prefer vinyl records, Wu Yiyao finds out in Shanghai.

Although Mo Mo is only 29 years old, he is an ardent vinyl record collector.

Vinyl records may have been widely replaced by cassette tapes, CDs and now MP3 players, but they are still charming, especially to those who have listened to music recorded on these big black disks, says the Shanghai native, who has 1,000 vinyl records in his collection.

In terms of sound quality, vinyl keeps what are closest to the original sounds via simulation technologies and uses a wider range of frequencies than CDs and MP3s. Unlike digital music, which has been edited for better sound effects, vinyl records provide original and loyal sounds.

Mo was among hundreds of thousands of people who visited a recent vinyl exhibition in Shanghai.

Another visitor, 77-year-old Chen Gang, says he still remembers listening to records as a boy. He loves to watch the black disks rotate as the needle rides smoothly over them.

Chen, one of the composers of The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, says he grew up listening to music by his father Chen Gexin, a legendary composer in 1930s Shanghai, who wrote hundreds of popular songs in his time, including Rose, I Love You.

Shanghai is home to many famous singers, who recorded their songs on vinyl discs from the 1930s-50s.

There are more than 20 vinyl record shops in Shanghai, which have become the secret gardens for collectors looking for the close-to-extinction treasures.

Mao Wei, another collector from Shanghai, says vinyl record collectors often labor like miners in these shops, digging for the records that they seek.

Some even buy bulk from recycling shops and take them home to slowly scrutinize the records in the hope of finding a title they have been dreaming of for years, Mao says, adding that the ecstasy of finally finding a rare record is undescribable.

Mo agrees with Mao. He adds that the joy of collecting vinyl records lies in rediscovering the details of a singer or a song.

One of his proudest collections is the 1965 Beatle's album Help!. He found this record in an antique shop in Hong Kong and bought it for 6,000 Hong Kong dollars ($774). It cost a fortune, but I think it is worth the money, Mo says.

But his favorite records to date remain the ones by Paula Tsui and Sandy Lam, two familiar voices for many Chinese fans of Hong Kong music.

Jessica Chow, a collector from Hong Kong, says vinyl records are not just about music.

If you look at the covers, you'll find that they bear the best graphic designs of the time even before graphic design became a discipline in colleges. The packaging was delicately crafted, and it shows that it takes the smartest minds and zealous hearts to make an outstanding record, says Chow.

Unlike MP3s, which are easily duplicated and stored for free, vinyl records cost money, she says.

Believe it or not, when you pay for something, you pay not only money but also respect. That's why many people say that music of past ages sounds better than most of what we hear today, Chow adds.

But vinyl lovers face a dilemma , to play or not to play the records. This is because of the nature of vinyl, the more a record is being played, the more the sound quality deteriorates.

Each time you listen to a record, you are contributing to wearing it down, Mao explains.

For the best sound quality and utmost experience, Mao recommends a conducive environment with certain conditions, such as a set of Hi-Fi loudspeakers, a proper player, and a quiet, clean and tidy room. You can listen to your iPod while running or listen to your CD player when having a bath. But when you listen to vinyl records, you need to do much more. It is like a ritual from the second you pull a record from its cover, Mao says.

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