Monday, March 24, 2014

Taking old fashioned electronics for a spin

Skylar Burtenshaw at the family business, Burtenshaw's Electronics. In the foreground, our Technics turntable, with which there was nothing wrong.
After years of putting it off, I finally decided Monday to take Karen's old Technics SL-D2 turntable to Burtenshaw's Electronics, 200 First Street.

If you're not familiar with Burtenshaw's it's a beacon of hope in this dark time of planned obsolescence. TV doesn't work? Don't chuck it just yet. "The larger ones are almost worth fixing," said Skylar Burtenshaw, who minds the business with his father, Bruce, who started the shop nearly 30 years ago.

Since vacuum tubes are a thing of the antediluvian past (except in guitar amplifiers), the thing most likely to go wrong with a newer TV is the power supply, he said. On average, that's a $75 fix. If the TV is something you bought at Fred Meyer for $39 you aren't going to shell out the dough, but a $999 Samsung or LG is a different story.

As for our turntable, after we plugged it in and moved the arm over, it started working. Dang!

"Did you plug it into the socket in the back of the amplifier?" Skylar asked. I nodded yes. "That's probably where the problem is."

Aside from feeling stupid, the good news is that we're good to go analogue. I have been using a Pioneer receiver I bought at a yard sale for $25, along with two crappy looking but great-sounding JBL speakers. I doubt I'll be taking the receiver in for repairs, so if anyone has an old Marantz they want to part with I'm all ears.

One thing for sure is that I'm ready to embrace vinyl again. Lately I have been preoccupied with the irony that so much of the music I have downloaded in the last ten years has disappeared through the digital donut hole. Hard drives crash, portable devices stop working and poof! -- it's gone.

Compare that to the stack of LPs in my garage that I once considered selling but couldn't. Records that date back to high school and college; albums I bought at Budget Tapes and Records at lunchtime when it was across the street from the Post Register.

I can remember where I bought some of my records (e.g., Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," at John Wanamaker in Wilmington). As for the LPs I "forgot" to return to their rightful owners, I hope there will be mercy for me at the Throne of Judgment.

Then there is the digital-vs.-analog argument over sound quality. The MP3 format keeps file size small by discarding information, Burtenshaw said. That's great for having a lot of songs on your hard drive or iPod, but kind of like eating a meatloaf that's 85 percent air when compared to the sound that comes from a stylus in the grooves of a record.

Beyond that, has any young person ever been as excited about downloading Deadmaus or Beyonce as I was when I bought Steely Dan's "Countdown to Ecstasy" at Wonderland (the No. 1 record store and head shop in Newark, Del.) then brought it back to Brown Hall to listen to with my friends? Dropping the needle on a record is an experience that pressing PLAY doesn't come close to matching, but maybe I'm just sounding like an old man again.

Tell you what. Come over to my house when I've got the stereo assembled. I'll cue up my copy of K-Tel "Bong Hits" and we can decide for ourselves, man.