Perfect Sound Forever

The Vinyl Anachronist

Marc's current turntable, the Unison Giro turntable and arm with Transfiguration cartridge

by Marc Phillips
Part C, Section II: My Top Ten Favorite Vinyl Anachronist Columns
by Marc Philips

I never thought I'd write a hundred of these things. I can remember thinking, after I'd written just six or seven of these columns, that I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep it up. Over the last 17 and a half years, I've always felt that I was close to running out of ideas and at any given point I only had one or two more columns in me. Some people have politely suggested that I did run out of ideas--I had a guy on an Internet forum once tell me that I had jumped the shark, but he wouldn't tell me the exact point. I really wanted to know too.

After 100 columns, I still think I won't be able to come up with fresh ideas concerning the simple love of all things vinyl. But here I am, still stressing about what's next for the Vinyl Anachronist.

It was PSF editor Jason Gross' idea for me to choose my top ten favorite columns. We've been talking about the interview that appears elsewhere in this issue for more than a year, but this came at the last minute and I was surprised by all of the memories these old columns summoned. Where did I live when this column was written? How old was I? Was my writing affected by the bad times? The good? I feel like Virginia Madsen in Sideways, in that famous speech about why her character loved wine.

So here are my top ten choices.

10. The Easter Egg Column
"Dazed and Confused" - July 2001

Did you know I once wrote a secret Vinyl Anachronist column? One that you can't access through the Perfect Sound Forever archives? That's right--column #27, titled "Dazed and Confused," was originally published in July of 2001, but it was never entered into the archives once column #28 appeared. It took me a while to piece it together, but I finally realized why this piece about the Classic Records LP reissue of all the Led Zeppelin albums was discreetly kicked into the corner.

In September of 2001, PSF published an outstanding article by writer Will Shade that told the story of a blues rocker named Jake Holmes who basically had most of his songs stolen by Jimmy Page--the most notable being "Dazed and Confused." The title of it, of course, was "Dazed and Confused: The Incredibly Strange Saga of Jake Holmes," and it revealed some real douchebaggery on the part of Page and Plant and their record company. And here I was, just the issue before, drooling over all the Zep reissues and telling everyone to line Jimmy and Robert's jacket pockets with even more royalty checks. I get it, Jason, but if you're going to permanently misplace a column I'd rather it be "Mrs. Vinyl Anachronist" (you can see column #27 right here).

9. Living in the Material World
"A Tale of Two Dealers" - October 2011

I like re-reading column #82 because it was the first one written after I went to what I call "the dark side"--the business side of the audio industry. Up until then I could basically write about anything in the audio industry I wanted to, thanks to PSF. He always trusted me to come up with the good stuff, and I still can't find an example of how he edited something I wrote--the mark of an excellent editor, by the way. But now I had to be careful about what I said. I couldn't alienate potential business partners, I couldn't review audio equipment due to conflict of interest, and I wouldn't self-promote--at least flagrantly.

Some people thought I was going to sell out and become a cheerleader for the industry. Instead, I wrote a rather risky column about the choices some high-end dealers have to make when it comes to choosing great customer service or the bottom line. The central point is one I still have to reluctantly force on audiophiles, much to their displeasure--that audiophiles do not drive the high-end audio industry because they never buy anything. They read all the reviews, audition all the equipment, make the dealers jump through hoops and then buy equipment used on Audiogon or eBay. The real people driving the industry are the ones who see something they want and immediately write a check. It's the ultimate example of "Yeah, I said it!" I expected flak for saying what other people were thinking, but I received a few emails from grateful dealers who said I hit the nail on the head.

8. Pandora's Box
"Truth, Justice and the Technics SL-1200" - May 2006

In a way, column #53 might actually be my least favorite column because for the first time, I truly pissed off a lot of people and started getting a lot of hate-mail. All I did was suggest that the Technics SL-1200, the best-selling turntable of all time, sounded kinda crappy and couldn't compare sonically to a modest belt-drive turntable such as the Rega Planar 3. This awoke the "1200 Army," all the people who swore that their Technics was the best-sounding ‘table in the world--even though none would admit they had compared the two ‘tables in an A/B comparison.

But in a way it's a great thing I wrote this column. It put me on the map, so to speak. Shortly after I wrote it, I attended a trade show where two rather famous turntable designers approached me and told me they appreciated telling the truth about the sound of the ‘1200. Then they dodged back into the shadows, where they were never heard from again. To this day I hate bringing up anything about the ‘1200. But I do admit to stoking the flames a bit by revisiting the Technics over and over in columns such as "Answering the Critics," "Listen for Yourself" and "Of Lipstick and Pigs." Perhaps that's why I keep getting hate mail from the 1200 Army more than eight years after I wrote the original article. Lighten up, Francis.

7. The Return of the Native
"Flea Power" - April 2006

Column #52 is very special for one reason. Check out column #51 and you'll notice that there's a six month gap between the two columns. That's when PSF went through some changes, and then it disappeared, and then it returned to its original format with one distinctive change--no Vinyl Anachronist column. Jason and I exchanged emails, something like "But I thought you didn't want to write for us anymore!" and "Well I thought you didn't want me to write for you anymore!" and then "Of course I want you to write for us!" and finally "Okay then I'll write for you."

I was seriously worried--I thought that after more than eight years the plug on my Vinyl Anachronist gig had been unceremoniously pulled. That's one of the reasons I started writing the column for the New Zealand audio magazine AudioEnz. I just didn't want the column to die. I started up the column for PSF once more, and was still writing a second column for the New Zealanders. Talk about running out of ideas even more quickly than before...

6. Starstruck
"Heroes of the Analog Revolution" - May 2001

Back in 2001, I was still pretty much a nobody in the audio industry. I worked in the telecommunications field, and I wrote a little bi-monthly column about analog in an underground music e-zine. I wrote this article, column #26, about three people in the industry I admired at the time: Roy Hall, Judy Spotheim-Koreneef and Michael Fremer. At the time, I had never met or spoken to any of these people. In 2014, things are a little different.

While I used to think that Roy Hall hated me because I once was critical of his Music Hall turntables, I've actually had some pleasant conversations with him and found him to be warm and funny as opposed to his public image, which is gruff and ultra-Scottish. He and my significant other play online Scrabble every day, and he kicks her ass. Judy Spotheim-Koreneef saw the column immediately and sent me a thank you email. She then posted a link to the article on the home page of her website--the first time anyone had done that. It was exciting. This year, more than 13 years after I wrote the column, Judy was the first person to wish me happy birthday on my Facebook page. I was honored.

Michael Fremer however, is sort of a weird story that I can't really get into. He originally sent me a thank you note as well, and we had a brief but very pleasant email exchange after that. I would come out and say that now he thinks I'm sort of a dork, a Fremer wannabee, a Mikey Lite, but that would assume he even knows who I am. I'm torn between stalking him through the streets of his native New Jersey and just trying to forget he exists. Either way, I'm eternally grateful for his efforts in keeping vinyl alive.

5. Nice Guys Don't Have to Finish Last
"Finding Nirvana" - April 2014

This interview with David Archambault of Vinyl Nirvana for column #97 was by far my favorite interview to conduct. That's because it was so easy. At the time, I had grown used to difficult interview subjects who constantly changed their minds about what they wanted to say in front of the public, or had problems with meeting my deadlines. I was almost completely done with doing interviews at that point--they were just becoming too much work. All of this came to a head when an interview subject bailed out at the last minute because he was just way too busy. Two things happened to restore my faith in the interview process. First, I had met with Jason at the South by Southwest Festival the month before and one of the things he said to me was "Keep up with your interviews--I always learn something new every time I read one." Second, once I was faced with the prospect of having no interview and an impending deadline for the column, Dave Archambault emailed me out of the blue and asked for a favor. I said, "Of course, but I'll need a favor back." I asked him to be interviewed and we knocked it out in a couple of days. His answers were superb, and I didn't have to change a thing when he saw the final draft. Everybody in the world should be more like Dave.

4. The Writing on the Wall
"All the Hip Kids--an Interview with Daniel Louis White" - June 2013

Ever have someone say something to you, and then weeks or months or even years later it suddenly occurs to you that the thing they said was absolute genius? Nearly every day I'm haunted by something 26-year-old saxophone player Daniel Louis White told me in this interview for column #92: "All the hip kids have turntables."

The high-end audio industry has been stressed out for years about passing our hobby to the next generation, a generation that has been raised on portable MP3 players and iTunes and Napster. Then something wonderful happened: the kids discovered analog on their own, without the help of all us old geezers. Spinning records is ultra-fucking-cool these days--and for once we're not even talking about the DJ culture.

And for those wondering when Daniel is going to finally release Natural Consequences--it's done but a year later he's still trying to get the thing pressed in small quantities. The music industry is still as tough as it's ever been.

3. "I Have a Quick Question for You..."
"Dude, Where's My Cartridge?" - March 2003

The flood gates opened after column #37 appeared. That's because I made the following offer: "Well, hopefully that will answer most of your cartridge questions. If not, don't hesitate e-mailing me about anything." Needless to say, people didn't hesitate. They emailed me in droves. Seems like just about everyone needed help with choosing cartridges for their turntables, and within a few months I was receiving at least ten requests for advice per day.

Over time, I received less and less of these emails, and now they're rare--mostly because I no longer offer recommendations on specific pieces of equipment because it's a conflict of interest with the brands I represent. I do miss them sometimes. And I'll tell you a little secret--I once considered charging a small nominal fee for offering advice because I was just so busy and didn't have the time to answer all the emails. I'm glad I never went through with it because I would have looked like an asshole.

2. Aw, shucks!
"Ten Reasons Why You Need a Turntable" - June 1998

In column #5, I provided ten reasons for getting a turntable--and each reason was a particular LP that sounded spectacular on vinyl. After I sent it to Jason, he sent me an email telling me that it was a great piece, and that I was a great writer. That was the first and the nicest compliment I'd ever received from an editor, and it gave me the confidence to pursue a freelance writing career over the next few years.

I wish I had kept the email--I did for several years until I replaced my computer. It was like getting a note in your lunch from your mom saying you were destined for great things, only better because it's from a colleague. I'm still extremely proud of that column and think it's one of the best things I've ever written.

1. Popping My Cherry
"Records Still Rule" - February 1998

"The only musical format that has increased its unit sales over the last three years has been vinyl LPs." Outside of a couple of letters to the editor in Stereophile, none of my words had ever been published before. Those words above were my first published sentence, thanks to Jason Gross. The oft-told story of my first writing gig was that I wrote a letter to Jason ribbing him about the title of his website, Perfect Sound Forever, and telling him that quite a few music lovers hated the CD and still preferred LP's. In retrospect it sounds a little Asperger-y, but Jason challenged me to write an article about it and I did.

It was the first time I had been published, and that really mattered to a 35-year-old cable puller with a degree in literature who had spent his twenties and his thirties writing novels that no one would ever read. I only found a modicum of success as a writer once I shifted to music and audio.

I owe it all to PSF--thanks! Ready for the next 100?

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