To me, there is no substitute for vinyl,” says Dr. Angel (Lito) Gozum, an orthopedic hand surgeon who also loves to get his hands on rare LPs. “It is inconvenient, expensive, ritualistic and occupies real estate in your home — but I love the inconvenience. It is loads of fun!” At the end of a long, if fulfilling day at work, he looks forward to unwinding by dropping his needle into the groove. He has discovered his “sonic nirvana.”
He started collecting records in 1976 while still in high school at the Ateneo de Manila. His grandfather, the late Senator Edmund B. Cea of Bicol, started the family-owned Filipinas Broadcasting Network, which has radio stations in Naga, Legaspi, and a few other provincial stations. Growing up, he remembers spending a few summers in Naga. To avoid the sweltering summer heat, he would spend time in the coolest room available at the radio station: the air-conditioned DJ booth. He watched as the DJs flipped records by Nora Aunor, Victor Wood, Pilita, Eddie Peregrina, the Beatles, Matt Monro, Andy Williams, the Ray Coniff Singers and many others during their program time slot. He was mesmerized not by the microphone, but by the turntables used to spin the records. They weren’t called “vinyl” back then; just “records,” available either in 45 or 33 1/3 RPM. As such, promo samples of records regularly passed through the Gozum home for approval before heading to their radio stations. “I would listen to this and that and my mom would ask, ‘What is it? Any good for our stations?’” recalls Lito. He became quite familiar with the offerings of local record companies.
Their stations played pop, some classical, mostly easy listening songs by local and foreign artists. Rock music was not on their playlists. There were radio stations that played rock music even then, but his grandfather didn’t approve. Most listeners were farmers and local townfolk, so the station catered to music that was suitable to their provincial preferences.
“I collected jazz records by Earl Klugh, George Benson, Spirogyra, Bob James, Hubert Laws, Eumir Deodato, a lot of disco — Saturday Night Fever, Donna Summer, Gary’s Gang, Edwin Starr, Earth, Wind & Fire, and ballads by Barry Manilow, Kenny Rankin, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Carole King, among others,” Lito remembers.
Mind you, listening to records at the time was a social occasion. One would invite friends over to listen to the latest record you’d purchased, sharing your thoughts and time together. Things began to change with the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, followed by Sony and Phillips’ launch of the compact disc digital audio (CD) format in 1982, with its promise of “Perfect Sound Forever.” It was at this time that people began to unload their LP records or discard them for the sake of convenience and storage space. A whole lot of discarded LPs could be had for a pittance. Little did those sellers realize that not every record would be reissued in CD format; many reissues were compilations. To make things worse, the sonic character of these digital “Redbook/16bit PCM sampled at 44KHz” CDs was far diminished from the analog record versions. Lito remembers listening to the Beatles on CD and realizing what a big mistake he’d made letting go of his records!
These days, CD sales are kaput. Today’s iGeneration prefers to download music (either MP3 or AAC files) to their iPhones or android gadgets, listening on earbuds, oblivious to the world around them. But in a case of “what goes around, comes around,” vinyl has made a comeback. In the US, vinyl sales were up by 15 percent last year (a big leap), and by 55 percent in the UK. A new generation is discovering the audible difference of records, and liking it. New artists now regularly release their music on vinyl as well as digital formats. This, despite the fact that records cost more than CDs and eventually need replacement when worn out.
Records come in black, colored vinyl, in different weights, shapes and sizes. The large record covers we used to fixate on now catch music lovers’ eyes on the racks, more than the tinier CD jewel cases did. Artists even special picture discs, such as the vinyl for Disney’s Snow White, Michael Jackson, Cher and others that Lito proudly displayed.
Then there are the “reissues” — newly remastered versions of old records on heavier (180 gram) vinyl, with better mastering. “It’s a way for record companies to make you buy the same record again,” Lito says knowingly, while offering this advice: “When buying records, check the condition of the record jacket and the record itself. It is best if you can play the record before purchase.” Also, don’t be greedy: “Buy the music you really want to listen to. Don’t buy because you are hoping it will increase in value someday.”
There are so many reissues on the market, from every genre: mainstream jazz, jazz fusion, Broadway, original soundtracks, OPM, new age, pop, folk, big band, female vocal, male vocal, classical, etc. “Be careful. There may be many reissues of a particular album on the market by many record companies. Some are better than the originals, some are bad. Some new pressings can be warped — poor quality control in the haste to crank out records quickly.” To Lito, it’s the original pressing that holds the best value; he will buy a reissue only if he can’t find an original copy.
Keep ‘em clean
Love it or hate it, part of owning records is the ritual of cleaning them. “The oils from your hand do no good for your records,” he notes. There is the traditional hand-wash-in-the-sink, then dry-on-a-dish-rack method. Needless to say, this is labor intensive. Because of the number of records in his collection, Lito uses a vacuum record cleaner to remove dust from his records. A record can be cleaned in a minute or so. There are as many liquid record cleaning solutions available on the market as there are home brew recipes online. Check out what works for you. He prepares his own custom-made cleaning solution (which he doesn’t divulge). “Most available solutions for record cleaning machines contain ethyl alcohol, distilled water, some detergent and a few other ingredients. Even brand-new records have to be cleaned as there is residual mold that releases oil on its surface left from the pressing,” Lito adds. After cleaning the records, put them back into the clean inner sleeves and store records vertically on a sturdy rack — not piled up like pancakes — as this can warp your records.
I watch Lito carefully and effortlessly flip records his prized gold-plated Technic SL-1200 Limited Edition turntable — a twin sister to my own turntable which Lito recommended I get because of its legendary build quality, ease of use, and because it’s simply a beautiful piece of analog equipment. Looking back, my first turntable was a Garrard that my father gave me when I was in grade school. I wish I had kept it because, as Lito says, “When it comes to turntables, the British got it right.”
I’m sure it wasn’t anything as nice as his: a 1953 Garrard 301 Schedule 1 which used to go for $800 on eBay a few years back, but now costs twice or thrice as much. My Garrard certainly kept me up listening all night, making me groggy for school the next day.
The appeal of records is that they are a time capsule of our lives: the lyrics, the beats, the selection of instruments, the mixing, all point to a particular timeframe with accompanying memories, worth keeping and some worth discarding as well. How can one be oblivious to the harmonious vocal blending of the Lettermen, the Everly Brothers, the Dave Clark Five, the Beach Boys, the Cascades, the Brothers Four, the Association, or the Beatles?
Then again, some prefer Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Andy Williams, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Astrud Gilberto, Carole King; while others gravitate toward today’s artists like Bruno Mars, Michael Buble, Adele, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, or Maroon 5.
I listened to some of Lito’s favorite records: “Flamenco Guitar” by Manitas de Plata, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Gratitude” LP containing an eight-minute version of Reasons, Yes’ “Fragile” album with its beautiful cover art, Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman and Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged.” He has records autographed by Ella Fitzgerald, Laurindo Almeida, Frank Sinatra and other artists. By the way, our local OPM records are becoming very expensive, mostly because they were released in fewer numbers. They are highly prize by collectors, especially the Pinoy rock LPs.
Even the electronic gear needed to play records has undergone a revival. Time was when tube amplifiers were replaced by newer solid-state circuit amps. This, too, has come full circle. There are modern tube amps to tempt the analog souls of listeners, using modern production tubes that are easier to procure. Vintage turntables, amplifiers and speakers are pricier than ever. I spied a tube amplifier with glass bottles in different shapes and sizes above Lito’s vintage solid state McIntosh receiver and asked him about it. “It was a gift last Christmas from my kind friend John Poscablo who made the amplifier himself. It’s only two watts per channel versus the 60 watts of my solid state receiver, but those two watts of tube power are glorious!” It’s connected to a pair of vintage ProAc Tablette bookshelf speakers, whereas the vintage solid-state McIntosh receiver we were listening to powered a likewise vintage pair of Yamaha NS-1000 monitor speakers. I made a mental note to listen to an all-tube system next time.
The music of the Baby Boomers has been preserved on so many formats, vinyl being the most durable, at least in terms of fond attachment. Today’s young audiophiles who can tell the difference between music and thin noise are beginning to collect the music of yesteryear on vinyl.
When asked how many LPs he has, Lito replies: “Roughly 5,000, give or take a few. I collected them over the years.” He also notices that the price of records and associated gear has skyrocketed. But he doesn’t count the cost. “It’s not about the numbers, it’s all about the passion,” he says, noting other audiophiles have far larger collections and pricier systems than his. “You have to remember, it’s a hobby. I started with a few LPs, which grew over time with the associated gear. It’s the records that matter. You can always buy a better turntable, amplifier, speakers — but the original pressings are getting scarcer by the day.”
Lito has six working turntables, three of them needing restoration. Why so many? “They were much cheaper than acquire pre-owned turntables. Some were given to me as gifts with the promise that I restore them to playing condition. I will gladly take in orphaned turntables and give them a second chance.”
In truth, he says, you only need one turntable: properly set up and maintained. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. What matters is that it spins your record at the proper speed and that the cartridge is set up and aligned properly on the tonearm to allow the stylus to properly track the grooves in the record. A poorly set-up turntable can damage your precious records,” he cautions.
“There are many turntables on the market: some vintage, some new production turntables. It’s like buying a car: there are entry-level ones and then there are the ‘bespoke’ models with everything else in-between to fit your budget. There are many choices as to how to spin the platter: direct drive (Technics, Sony, Denon, etc.), belt (Rega, Project, Thorens, etc.), idler wheel (Garrard, Lenco), and now even magnetic drive. Each has its pros and cons.” He says it’s best to do your own research and listen to a record on each.
The same is true for the phono cartridge. The moving magnet (MM) cartridges have replaceable styli and are usually cheaper than the moving coil (MC) variety. There are many phono cartridges to choose from as your budget and desire dictates; what is important is that it is set properly on the tonearm to prevent groove damage to your record.
His children have started showing interest and appreciation of his records. He has shown them how to operate a few of his turntables. Mind you, each of them has “reserved” their own turntable of choice among his collection. Dr. Lito says that he is merely a custodian, taking care of it all until it’s time to pass it along to his children. Someday, they will inherit a goldmine — not just of vinyl and equipment, but also of memories spent with their father listening to his beautiful record collection.
One of Lito’s rare finds is this Manitas de Plata record. Pablo Picasso loved listening to this flamenco guitarist so much he even drew on his guitar.
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