We often like to talk about how far turntables have come in the last decade, with audio innovations making it possible to listen to your vinyl via Bluetooth speakers, upload your old records to your computer with built-in USB ports, and set up these complex machines in minutes.
That makes it easy to dismiss the turntables of old – but there’s something undeniably charming about listening to old records on the machines that existed when those albums were actually released.
Where better to do this than in Jimi Hendrix’s London flat? That's where the guitar hero’s actual audio setup has been lovingly recreated.
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A home for icons
Hendrix moved into the upstairs apartment at 23 Brook Street in 1968, and upon learning that composer George Frederic Handel lived next door nearly 250 years prior, he set about amassing a comprehensive vinyl collection that included Handel’s Messiah, among more contemporary artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Bee Gees, and Ravi Shankar.
Now a museum dedicated to the two music icons, the bedroom in the upstairs flat has been restored to Hendrix’s exact tastes, with bohemian rugs, intricate wall hangings, and retro knick-knacks – and it includes that all-important vinyl collection.
We were lucky enough to listen to Hendrix’s personal record collection, using an original 1960s Bang & Olufsen Beogram 1000 turntable connected to a LEAK amplifier and two restored Lowther speakers – a setup that the Handel House Trust describes as “a very expensive and powerful setup for the time”.
Despite its power, Hendrix wasn’t satisfied until the entire house shook. His girlfriend at the time, Kathy Etchingham told the Handel House Trust that they had to “stick a ha’penny with sellotape onto the turntable arm… otherwise it would jump up and down the louder it got”.
Hendrix’s thirst for volume was evident by how many times the speakers had to be repaired, sometimes blowing during parties in spite of their special reinforcements.
Nowadays, we have to be a lot more careful with this vintage audio setup – but there was no shortage of volume as we blasted through Hendrix’s extensive back catalog. There was also no shortage of audio quality, despite the age of the devices we were listening with; distorted guitars sounded robust and rich, with the charming analogue fuzz that only an old turntable can provide.
Standing there, among Hendrix’s personal effects (a robe, a large teddy bear, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts) as the music blared, was an awe-inspiring experience. To think we were hearing what he heard all those years ago, that the records were being played on the very devices they were made for.
It just goes to show that you shouldn’t write off older audio gear, just because it doesn't come with the modern trappings we’ve become accustomed to; these devices were built to last, and designed with the same precision as a fine mechanical watch.
So, if you have an old turntable collecting dust in your attic, brush it down, dig out your favorite records, and show it a bit of love – you won’t regret it.