20th April 2012
Ian Rankin: It would be a crime to kill off vinyl
By Tom Bailey

Rankin believes a 30-year-old record deck sounds better than an iPod.

As one of the world’s best-selling authors – and creator of the TV series Rebus – Ian Rankin has made millions by writing about ‘the adventures in his head’. But his fascination with crime is matched by an obsession with vinyl and classic hi-fi. Humans Invent asked him why, despite the rise of digital downloads, he continues to champion 33s and 45s…

“Vinyl is seductive. It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s tactile and the best album covers are works of art. They contained plenty of information and if you’re my age – which is 51 – you can actually read the lyrics on the back of the sleeve. I can’t read anything in a CD booklet, it’s too small. Forget it. I’d also say that – for a certain generation – the ability to roll a joint on an album cover is worth mentioning. Try rolling a joint on an MP3…

The experience of vinyl

“But, in short, it’s the whole experience. When you take the vinyl out and it’s nice and shiny and black and you put it on the turntable and drop the needle… it’s a very involving experience that is lost when you start using remote controls to skip tracks on your CD player.

“It’s the sound, too. Vinyl just has such a warmth and it’s such a human-sounding thing. I know that’s a cliché, but I’ve got a test that I often do. I’ve got a really good CD system (infact my CD-playing system is five times the price of my vinyl-playing system) and I’ll put the two side by side, with two lots of speakers and two lots of amps and and I’ll get the same album – Dark Side Of The Moon, say – and I’ll switch between the CD and the vinyl. I can tell you, the vinyl just blows it away.

Vinyl is seductive. It’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s tactile and the best album covers are works of art

“Ok, you get a few pops and clicks – there are always going to be a few pops and clicks – but that’s kinda like the scars on an old friend. You’ll go: ‘Oh right, that’s where I dropped it at a party’ or, ‘That’s where my mate came round and had one beer too many and tried to skip a track’.

“I first ‘got’ vinyl when I worked at Hi-Fi Review magazine. There was an advert in The Guardian. I got the job and joined in ‘87/’88, staying there for two years. This was long before I’d even thought about writing crime fiction. Hi-Fi Review basically championed vinyl and championed record decks over the CD player. Eventually, that was its undoing because it meant we got no advertising from CD player manufacturers because they were trying to get everyone to buy CDs!

“I had a very ropey, basic hi-fi system when I joined but I did buy a lot of music so I think that’s why I got the job. The other guys on the magazine had Linn Sondek LP12 record decks but I couldn’t afford one. It was actually my wife, who was working as a civil servant and on a better salary at the time, who said: ‘Right, for your Christmas this year I’m going to get you a Linn Sondek’.

Quality of record player

“A good record player like the Sondek (it’s still being manufactured today, by the way – that’s some staying power) makes a huge difference. I know, because I spent my whole time testing this stuff. Putting one up against the other and saying to myself: ‘Does it sound different? Does it sound better? Which one’s the best?’ We tested dozens upon dozens of turntables and every time the Linn Sondek came out on top.

“Of course, there were a lot of bonkers ideas going around at the time – there still are. For instance, some people said that if you have books in your listening room, you should fold down the corner of every page. I mean, pardon?! I had hundreds of books in my listening room, I wasn’t going to fold down the corner of each edge!!

“It’s 30 years since I acquired my Linn and it’s still the system I listen to most. My integrated amplifier is from the same era. It’s an Exposure 20 and the serial number is ‘1’ because I was there when they made it. I watched it come off the production line, and just got my cheque book out and bought it. I think I paid two or three hundred quid.

It’s a very involving experience that is lost when you start using remote controls to skip tracks on your CD player

“There were people who would actually take the plug out of the wall socket, and clean the plug with Brasso to get the best possible connection. Honestly. I really don’t believe in that. You know, unless there’s something terribly wrong – psychologically – with you, you can’t go into this stuff. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland: you never come out the other end. And that way madness lies.

“Still, to be fair, I suspect there are those who might say my interest in vinyl is mad. I still buy a lot of vinyl and I guess there’s a whole generation of us who – it tends to be guys in their 50’s – who grew up with vinyl and then saw it disappear and then saw it come back again.

“Now they’ve started re-issuing stuff like The Smiths boxset, which is CD and vinyl (singles and the LPs). It’s two hundred odd quid and you’re thinking, ‘Pfff, I’ve got it all’ but then something like Dark Side of the Moon comes along. You think ‘Ooh, I’ve got in on cassette, I’ve got it on CD, I’ve got it on vinyl. But maybe I need to buy it again?’ Are we being played for suckers? I don’t know, maybe were are but it’s all part of the seductive nature of collecting records.

Keeping it alive

“You have to balance the cost of collecting vinyl with that whole generation of people on eBay who kick themselves on a nightly basis at the stuff they gave away, or sold cheaply to charity shops, that’s now fetching £150, £200 a copy. Sergeant Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, Rolling Stones, Genesis… in decent condition? £150-£200 a copy.

“That’s the thing that really gets me about these records is that they weren’t short runs! Sergeant Pepper was printed in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s still very collectible if it’s in good nick. I think that tells you something about the way some of us cherish vinyl.

“Radiohead’s In Rainbows I liked a lot, which came with a big book and some CDs and a whole CD of stuff that you didn’t get if you bought the regular CDs – plus it had the vinyl. The only problem for me was the vinyl played at 45rpm and the Linn Sondeck only plays at 33. So what did I do? I bought another record deck. You may laugh, but I did! So I’ve got a record deck just for buying 45’s. It’s insane isn’t it.”

Exclusive image of Ian Rankin shot by Jo Hanley.

For more of her work go to www.JoHanley.com.

You can follow Ian Rankin on Twitter at @BeathHigh

The End
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anssi-Hyvönen/100000520762913 Anssi Hyvönen

    “Rankin believes a 30-year-old record deck sounds better than an iPod.”

    That silly old man – thinks the 20something graphics designer while placing the text under the picture….

    • kook

      A second-hand Linn Sondek LP12, almost 40 years old, will cost a few hundred pounds. Still beats any ipod.

      Thats not to say digital is bad. Just MP3 is a massive con sound quality wise.

      A current top spec. Sondek LP12 would cost about £14 K. Linn’s top of the range digital streamer (DS) is £13K.

      Top streaming digital systems are catching up and are now very close in performance to the best turntables.

  • Marvindj

    And of course he is right, Anssi Hyvonen. iPods sound all boxed in compared to vinyl

  • Nik Vincent-Abnett

    I was there, trying to sell ad space to CD player manufacturers on that very same mag. I remember it well! If I could only get my hands on a Little Pink Thing, I’d be set for life.

    Seriously, though, it’s lovely to ‘hear’ you still talking about vinyl and decks after all these years.

  • Derngate12

    Digital is only a sample of the true sound wave… a lot is missed out. Listen to a deck like a Linn LP12 playing through a good system and you can HEAR proper presence…….

  • Paul Beardow

    It’s true, I still have my 35+ year old Pink Triangle deck and it is a much more involving experience. LPs pre-date the compression wars and MP3 mixes that go on now, plus digital can only ever be an approximation, even if it is a very accurate one. I personally use both analogue and digital, but Ziggy Stardust on a good deck is simply magical.

  • axoz75

    What I want to know is why Ian Rankin doesn’t get down to the Linn factory for the tour and then buy himself a brand new Klimax system with a top of the range LP12.

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