BALTIMORE — Local record store owner Dawn Rawlings is starting a needle exchange program for vinyl addicts, hoping to contain the audiophilia epidemic ravaging her community, according to local leaders and social workers.
“Most people can dabble in record collecting without any long-term harm,” Rawlings said. “But a growing percentage of the population can’t handle high-fidelity aural quality without magnifying their darkest traits — very quickly, they require the utmost in audiophile-grade equipment.”
Funded with charitable assistance by Audio-Technica, Urban Outfitters, and Steve Albini, the program allows vinyl addicts to drop off used turntable cartridges in a biohazard container. The user can then pick a new cartridge of equal or lesser value; sterile turntable belts and slip-mats are provided free-of-charge.
Response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, giving hope to struggling aural addicts.
“My partner got me a Crosley turntable for Christmas. Really nice gesture, but it sounded like shit, and I knew there was stronger stuff out there,” said one patron, who asked to remain anonymous. “I started browsing head-fi.org and /r/audiophile every day. Before I knew it, I was shelling out $1,000 a pop for diamond-tipped Grado Master v2 cartridges. I went to Russia to browse old Tung-Sol factory locations for NOS EL34 vacuum tubes for my hi-fi amp. Eventually, I was caught plotting to firebomb the ‘Beats by Dre’ section of the Apple Store. I needed help.”
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The patron’s story was all too familiar to Rawlings. “The worst addicts become violent when presented with compressed digital music or solid-state amplification,” she said. “Deteriorated turntable needles can lead to a variety of negative consequences.”
However, not everyone in the Baltimore community supports the controversial program.
“Needle exchange programs like this merely enable vinyl addicts to continue their bratty, insufferable ways,” countered resident Gertrude Collingsworth. “I was verbally assaulted just last week for listening to Lawrence Welk on my cellular phone speaker! This madness can’t be encouraged.”
The pilot program is currently seeking more funding from government outreach programs to begin exchanges in Portland, Minneapolis, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.