Customize your crib with vintage or new
groove gear that suits your individual style
While music fanaticism naturally breeds vinyl obsession, record collecting doesn't necessarily require you to put together an impeccable vintage system so that you can play your sonic treasures—but it helps. So while you start filling up the milk crates and straining the IKEA bookshelves with the stacks of records you're bringing home, one question remains: What are you playing 'em on?
The look: boot-cut Wranglers, Moby Grape tee, glazed eyes
The tunes:Electric Ladyland, Fragile and a Gentle Giant flexi-disc (we just made that up); reissues of the Groundhogs; anything recent on Drag City; Dead Meadow. Reckless Records in Wicker Park has a good selection of prog and psych vinyl, with the selection changing weekly.The gear: A vintage wood-paneled Dual turntable with a classic Japanese-made receiver or an all-in-one with turntable and eight-track player built in. Get it: You'll find all-in-one audio systems in your local thrift store or parent's attic, and the components and turntables on eBay ($50 on up). The portable alternative is the Teac ST-C150 (only $130 from www.jcpenney.com). It enables prog-rockers to play party platters at a picnic. For the budget-conscious rocker, 20th Century TV & Stereo Center (1615 W Montrose Ave at Ashland Ave, 773-528-1728) is a great place to start building a system. The store has a good selection of vintage Pioneer and Kenwood equipment, various preamps, components, turntables from $40 to $1,500, and a vast array of turntable needles and record-cleaning sets. Heavy-duty Koss PRO-4AA Studio Monitor Headphones also have a handsome retro look ($59, www.jr.com).
The look: Def Jam or Stax tee, Air Jordans, thrift-store jeans
The tunes: Public Enemy, Redds & the Boys 12-inches, Italian disco
The gear: portable Vestax Handy-Trax turntable, Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones, Ion Plug & Play DJ kit
Get it: Portable turntables are all the rage among hip-hop DJs and other amateur vinyl anthropologists. They enable collectors to play old records in their favorite shop (if the staff allows) before taking them to the counter, and vinyl purists to show up at a bar or loft gig ready to plug into the PA and spin, even if the joint only has dumb-ass CD players hooked up. Get Vestax Handy-Trax turntable, $129, from www.topdjgear.com. The Sennheisers offer an unbeatable combination of sonic performance and price ($120). The Ion Audio iDJ02 system ($180, www.djtronix.com) is about half the cost of a single Technics 1200 ($350–$400 used at Decibel, depending on condition, or from www.1200s.com), enabling up-and-coming selectors to get into scratching and mixing with minimal investment.
The look: Jordache and Calvins, Paco Rabanne, Members Only jacket
The tunes: Kraftwerk; Psych Furs; original Chicago house 12-inches
The gear: Bang & Olufsen Beomaster 5000 system
Get it: While Bang & Olufsen (www.bang-olufsen.com) has stores in Chicago, the company hasn't made turntables in ten years. The '80s Beomaster systems turn up on eBay, in thrift stores and estate sales. The sound quality (very good for the time) is less a reason for contemporary obsession than the sleek Patrick Bateman/Sonny Crockett look. The styling, which is charmingly dated, remains fairly consistent with the company's new line of designer CD systems. If new-school modernism is your thing, opt for the visual flair of the Pro-Ject Debut III, a Czech-made turntable ($300 at Urban Outfitters,www.urbanoutfitters.com, or from www.needledoctor.com).
The look: beret, turtleneck and goatee
The tunes: Sarah Vaughn; Coltrane; Miles Davis; George Gershwin; definitely no Norah Jones
The gear: McIntosh receiver, VPI Scout turntable, Von Schweikert speakers
Get it: Audio Consultants (www.audioclassics.com), an audiophile-oriented shop, has several locations in the Chicago area. The clientele is made up of mainly classical and jazz fans. For the novice looking for a fine setup, shop consultant Roderick Mason says expect to pay $800 and up. McIntosh is, by far, the most sought-after brand. "It has a reputation for quality, and it's what most people remember as the pinnacle of high-end audio," Mason says. "They're still in business and as popular as ever." AC can order McIntosh's new equipment and maintains a waiting list for vintage equipment that comes in for aficionados. They also carry the VPI Scout turntable ($1,600 with arm, no cartridge) and introductory-level Pro-Ject models. As for speakers, audiophiles go gaga over the Von Schweikert VR4 jr Loudspeaker ($4,000 a pair), but Brandon McCullah at deciBel Audio (1407 N Milwaukee Ave at Wood St, 773-862-6700) talks up the $600 floor-standing Athena Loudspeakers getting raves in the stereophile world.
How the Weston was won Shellac's Bob Weston on the virtues of vinyl
Bob Weston on the virtues of vinyl
Pro audio engineer, Shellac bassist and Mission of Burma tape-loop-playing soundman Bob Weston has an iPod, but he'd much rather talk about his home system. When Weston's not playing Shellac gigs, recording bands at local studios like Semaphore or working as a broadcast technician for NPR, he kicks back at his Logan Square pad and fires up the hi-fi. Roughly half of some 2,000 records and 3,000 CDs that he and his wife, Carrie, own are from the '80s—mostly indie rock, new wave and classic rock with a smattering of electronic and jazz. "We merged our record collections and got rid of a lot of doubles," he says, "the ultimate sign of commitment."
Weston relives those '80s memories on a VPI HW 19 jr. turntable with Rega RB300 tonearm and Sumiko Bluepoint cartridge. "The first time I had a bit of change in the bank, I bought a decent turntable. I can upgrade it slowly if I like. I can replace the platter with a fancy platter." Weston got his ten years ago as a package deal from Audio Advisor (www.audioadvisor.com).
Weston likes his NAD 116 preamp because "it's simple and clean, with no treble or bass controls, just a volume and balance."
If there's anything he might upgrade (the black sheep of his hi-fi family), it's his Sony CDP-550 CD player. "I've had it since '87. I think I had to bring it in once for repair." But he more than makes up for it with the gee-whiz factor of the VPI HW-16.5, which looks a bit like the black-box flight recorder from a spy plane, but is actually a vacuum record cleaner, the ultimate audiophile gadget ($499 from Audio Advisor).
What else? "I went to Saturday Audio Exchange (1021 W Belmont Ave, 773-935-HIFI; 605 Dempster St, Evanston, 847-492-USED; www.saturdayaudio.com) because I didn't have an FM tuner, and I get this fucking amazing Onkyo T-4090 digitally controlled analog tuner. Little light-up arrows help you fine-tune a station until the tuner locks onto the signal. Then the tuner will follow the station as its frequency drifts. I got it for 50 bucks.""
Two Mini-Amp monoblock power amps made by Sound Technology (purchased from Audio Advisor) were gifts from Shellac cohort and fellow recording engineer Steve Albini.
Last but not least, Weston fell in love with his B&W Matrix 805 speakers while Shellac was recording at London's legendary Abbey Road studios. He uses them as his studio monitors for freelance recording projects, in which case he subs a reliable pair of 1970s vintage Acoustic Research 18B bookshelf speakers into the home lineup (both occasionally turn up on eBay or http://cls.audiogon.com). —John Dugan
Shellac plays Friday 15 at Bottom Lounge, Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 at Martyrs'.