The Cragmere Vinyl Club's Grass Roots Advocacy

The email began "My name is Ray Ullmer and I host a monthly vinyl listening club at my home in Mahwah, NJ".

Mr. Ullmer invited me to a Cragmere Vinyl Club get-together at his house. What he described to me reminded me of a Coleen Murphy "Classic Album Sundays" event, only smaller, and more social. It was close by so I accepted the invitation and I'm so glad I did.

I asked if I could bring anything. He asked "what" so I asked if he thought the group might like to hear a 96/24 rip of Abbey Road from an original UK pressing played back on the Caliburn turntable and he liked that. While I was at it I asked if he thought people would like a slide show of my Abbey Road visit. "Yes." So I arranged that. When he told me he was going to present Big Star's Radio City and that all he had was the 4 Men With Beards version, I volunteered to bring an original U.S. promo and Classic Records' "Clarity Vinyl" reissue. It was all set.

When I arrived early with my friend Mike, only few people were there. Ray and his wife Leesa (hope I spelled it correctly) warmly welcomed me, and I went about setting up for both the slide show and the digital file playback, for which I brought my Lynk HiLo A/D, D/A converter.

Ray's system consisted of a Music Hall MM5/Dynavector 10x5 cartridge, a Yamaha Yamaha A-S301 Integrated Amplifier stereo amplifier with built-in phono preamplifier, and a pair of ELAC Debut F6 speakers plus a subwoofer, the brand of which I could not remember. So the entire system came in at around $2000.

I looked around once everything was all set up to find the room had filled up, but not with men! I mean, there were men but there were also women, and mostly there were couples—around tweny four or so people (plus one guy who couldn't be there but watched on SKYPE). In other words, this was not going to be like an audiophile "rave".

I asked Ray how the club got started. He told me (I'm broadly paraphrasing) that once he got the turntable and started spinning vinyl, he couldn't contain his enthusiasm for the experience and for the listening pleasure he was getting and so he printed up a few hundred fliers and stuck them in mailboxes around the neighborhood, plus of course he talked about it with local friends.

The response was excellent and so the meetings at the Ullmer's began. There was food and wine and a lot of talk about music and records. One woman brought along her Andy Pratt records (minus the one with "Avenging Annie"). It was all about music and records and not at all about audio gear....well a little bit but not much. The best part was that no one appeared to be there with their spouse just to be there. These were music and vinyl-loving couples!

I ran the slide show and played the side of Abbey Road. Andrew Jones's ELAC floor standers are amazing and Ray had perfectly dialed in the subwoofer so you didn't notice its contribution. The side sounded really good. It did all of the right things and was well-balanced.

Then, after Ray introduced the album and explained his fascination and appreciation for it, he played side one of Radio City. Then the system really came alive. I had found the Abbey Road a bit too rich on top and the bass energy too much for the speakers to correctly express. But the Big Star was perfect. The top end was way open, the bass correct, the instrumental separation outstanding. It's not how much you spend, it's how well you put it all together and whether a happy accident or purposeful, this system was, as they say "making music", not "hi-fi". And Ray played Radio City pretty loud! Yet the speakers kept their composure and so the musical communication—which is for what everyone was there—was compelling, so everyone sat and listened and no one talked over the music.

It was a weekday night so it broke up some time after 10:00PM but everyone had a great time and you could tell most if not all would be back next time.

Have CDs ever brought people together like this?

Jeffrey Lee's picture

My friends and I have record nights whenever possible. It's mostly vinyl but once the beer and conversation flow anything goes; it's more about sharing great songs and a love of music.

They're all musicians/producers/engineers so I always learn a lot about the craft of making records, but mostly we just geek out on great songs. Good medicine for sure.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael, did you stay around for the throwing of the keys into a bowl? It was actually a spouse swapping party.

Michael Fremer's picture
Left too early....
AnalogJ's picture

It WAS a good ruse, wasn't it? I mean c'MON, women sitting and listening to music through a high fidelity system and actually enjoying the experience? Without distracting themselves with other activities such as painting their nails or knitting?

NOTE: Michael Fremer and Analog Planet is not responsible for all of its editorial content.

Actually, I AM describing my wife. She can't sit and listen without doing something else like knitting. She will even sometimes bring knitting work to concerts. Unless it's a pop or rock concert, she tends to get impatient with just listening.

mraudioguru's picture

...a good time was had! Maybe I should start one of these were I live? Would be pretty cool.

Lemon Curry's picture

Michael, it was wonderful that you could make it to the club meeting, and so glad you had a good time!

If any of your readers want to find out more about the club, they can visit our Cragmere Vinyl Club facebook page. I'd also be happy to share our experiences with anyone who is thinking of starting their own club.

...and yeh, I did crank up Radio City. Was there any other way to go? :-)


Jack Gilvey's picture

played back on the Caliburn turntable".

Damn, that woulda been worth dealing with Rt 17 for! Sounds like a fantastic gathering, great idea.

Chemguy's picture

...occur three times a year. I'm a high school teacher, and the students that come over for a listening afternoon are the vinyl collecting kids in my classes. So I teach them in the living room, too!
Most of my students have systems that are quite nondescript, so when they come and play some of their records on my system...well...astonishment is too mild a descriptor.
They are enthusiastic, informed and willing to explore! When we go record shopping together, it's a great experience, too.

rl1856's picture

Last Dec we moved into a new neighborhood. I soon discovered that several of my neighbors enjoy audio equipment and music. We have talked about getting together, and I have been thinking about how to go about it correctly. Reading this story was refreshing because what matters is the effort and the focus, not the equipment or carefully arranged setting. I have space in my den, and I can assemble a respectable system for the occasion. I will try to do something similar to what was depicted. Thank you for posting this.

figaro's picture

was that nothing was for sale and no one was trying to sell anything. Everyone was there to have fun and learn. Drink a little eat a little, socialize and listen, no audiophile pyschobabble, which I am very good at!
So everyone was there just to have fun and listen. And they did!
An audiophile would be rendered useless at this meeting, because no one cared about audiophilia, just the music. It was quite refreshing.
'Hopefully it will catch on!