What got you into collecting records? Although I’m just into early ‘40s, however, I’ve been listening to records right from my childhood, as that was the primary medium for listening to music at that time. We had a decent record collection at home and I’ve inherited them from my parents. We had a vintage Garrard record changer made in the UK in 1975. It could stack upto seven 45s and it was fun to watch them drop one by one from the changer and the forward & return functions of the tone arm. The turntable was fitted onto a Philips radiogram with Philips Hi-Q speakers and it used to sound awesome despite the fact that we used only local-made double-sided EES ceramic stylus. It was a custom set-up made by my father from Harry’s Music at Grand Hotel Arcade at Esplanade, Calcutta. Harry’s Music alongwith Symphony & Gramophone Stores at Esplanade were the best record stores in India back then. Since most of the LPs were pressed at HMV’s Dum Dum plant, Calcutta was at the top of its game at that time. These stores were responsible for growing my love towards Cliff Richard and The Ventures during my initial phase of music journey.
With the advent of cassettes & CDs circa late ’80s to ‘90s, I started building my classic rock collection in these two formats with only occasional vinyl purchases from Free School Street, Wellington Square, HMV Store at Statesman House and fellow collectors. I’ve resumed collecting records in 2012 when vinyl was making a comeback even in India and I could see all new turntables & records at the now-legendary Music World store at Park Street and Planet M store at Camac Street. I have purchased a new Lenco Turntable in 2012 and made a serious headstart in 2015. Since then, my record collection has grown exponentially. It’s the warmth of analog sound of the records which got me hooked into them. No CD or digital format can beat that. Vinyl is irreplaceable.
Is collecting vinyl an expensive hobby? Historically, vinyl has always been expensive. For example, in ‘70s and early ‘80s, an LP in India typically used to cost about Rs 40-45/- which was quite high back then. In late ‘80s and ‘90s, price per LP would increase to about Rs 80-100/-. All those LPs have become rare now and are scarcely available anywhere between Rs 700-2000/- depending upon the rarity, condition of the LP and most importantly, the band. For example, an used Indian pressing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Led Zeppelin’s IV in Ex condition is very rare to locate and hence, priced at Rs 1500-2000/-. So, typically, collecting vinyl is surely an expensive hobby especially considering the cost of turntables, amps, speakers, cartridges etc., but one can still optimize the cost substantially if he uses the personal & online resources strategically & intelligently. You need to be a vinyl hunter and grab your favorite LPs at right opportunity before they are gone.
Does music on vinyl sound better than any other format? It’s a decade old debate on the sound quality of CD/digital vs. vinyl. So, let’s just say that music on vinyl provides more intimate & personal listening enjoyment. Being an analog medium, vinyl sounds more warm and crisp as compared to loud sound of CD. The 12” x 12” artwork of LP cover sleeves help create a visual sonic landscape for the listeners. However, this conclusion is also very subjective as the sound quality of the vinyl largely depends on the quality of master tapes and pressing plants. A bulk of modern day reissue vinyl is digitally remastered and they sound extremely flat & hence, should be avoided. The pressings of classic rock LPs in late ‘60s-early ‘70s are usually the best ones, especially UK, German & Japanese pressings. For modern day reissues, one should purchase after doing a little bit of online research regarding the source of vinyl pressing, availability of original master tapes, analog or digital mastering for vinyl etc. Online forums like Vinyl Factory, Vinyl Junkies and Steve Hoffman’s Forum are really helpful for discussion on such topics and beyond on everything vinyl. The thumb rule is, if the LP is pressed from a new vinyl master/stamper cut from the original analog master tape, it should usually sound great. The reissue LPs on record labels such as Music on Vinyl, Back to Black, The Sound of Vinyl, Sundazed Records, Long Hair Records, Second Battle, Repertoire Records, Sanctuary Records, Missing Vinyl, Rhino Records etc., Universal Music are pressed from new lacquers cut from original analog master tapes and, are usually safe bets. Also, the Abbey Road half-speed mastering LPs and MFSL pressings are really excellent. I have quite a few of them.
How often do you listen to vinyl? Listening to vinyl is a daily ritual for me. Usually, I listen to 2-3 LPs daily in late evening on work days. On weekends and holidays, it can go as high as 5-10 LPs. I often have vinyl listening sessions at home on holidays with my son and play the select LPs of one particular band for an uninterrupted session of 2-3 hours. So far, we enjoyed vinyl listening sessions of Rush, Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin, Captain Beyond, T2, Mountain and Wishbone Ash.
How large is your vinyl collection and which is the most valuable record in your collection? I have about 1050 LPs in my collection covering all genres of classic rock, prog and blues rock mostly from early ‘60s to late ‘70s, with a very few exceptions in ‘80s and beyond. My collection is growing steadily. I have many rare and valuable records in my collection. Most notable are an autographed copy (by lead guitarist Howard Samuel) of Wanka – The Orange Album (1977 Canadian obscure heavy progressive rock – priced at £150 on eBay once upon a time), an autographed Japanese pressing copy (by John McLaughlin) of Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire (1973 UK Progressive Jazz Rock) and a mint copy of Grannie self-titled LP (1971 UK obscure heavy progressive rock – limited edition of 750 copies reissued in 2012 by Record Collector Magazine on its Rare Vinyl series). In addition, I have pristine copies of Indian urban folk rock classic, Susmit Bose – Train to Calcutta (1978 Hindustan Record - currently priced at €650-700 on Discogs!), Indian garage rock classic The Savages – Live (1969 Polydor Records - currently priced €4400 on Discogs!) and rare Indian pressings of classic rock LPs of Led Zeppelin, CCR, Groundhogs, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Uriah Heep, Traffic, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wishbone Ash, Steppenwolf, Beatles and many other bands.
Apart from collecting LPs, I’m also involved in custom non-commercial vinyl pressing projects. I have got the live recordings of my IIT band, Eklypz, pressed as double LP set in a gatefold cover with custom artwork for sleeve and labels. I’m involved in a number of vinyl pressing projects of obscure, underground and rare classic rock albums of Indian and foreign bands for my own enjoyment.
Tell us about your turntable setup. I have Audio Technica AT-LP-120-USB turntable which is a nice player. I have recently shifted to a new house. Hence, presently, I have connected it with my Sony hi-fi system, which produces great sound quality. However, I have plans to upgrade my system to audiophile set-up with separate amplifier and column/bookshelf speakers in early next year. This has been pending for some time, mainly due to my own laziness! I have also kept my previous entry-level turntable, Lenco L-3867-USB at my parental home, which I play with an old Sony hi-fi system during our weekend visits.
Any advice to people that are about to start their collection? Collecting records definitely demands you to explore bands/artists through their albums, not through a ‘Best Of’ compilation. Since this is an expensive hobby, you should strategize it well before embarking on collecting LPs. Firstly, make a decent set-up of turntable, amp & speakers. The Revolver Club is the best place for this. Then, make a list of albums you wish to collect on vinyl and try to find a good sounding pressing through Discogs entries. Once the bucket list is ready, you can prioritize which LPs you need to collect first and accordingly, place orders to various physical and online retailers to acquire the records. You must acquire a vinyl cleaning liquid & set of brushes from The Revolver Club to keep your LPs and stylus clean. You must also become member of Steve Hoffman’s forum and Bombay record Club WhatsApp group to know about everything vinyl.