Features & Columns

The Analog Advocate

When it comes to fidelity, nothing comes close to vinyl. That's why record
enthusiast and audiophile Brian Hartsell is ripping his LPs to the cloud.
The Analog Room

Brian Hartsell stares off into the distance, focusing on nothing in particular, allowing himself to get lost in the music. "Monk's Mood," the first track off Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, is still spinning when he comes to. The waves of sound weave their way through and around the particles of dust, which hang in the air, illuminated by the shafts of lingering daylight sliding through the venetian blinds.

"Listen to the brush strokes," Hartsell commands, drawing attention to the swishing of the steel-wires over the taut head of the snare drum. The sound is bright, airy and crisp—just like the occasional pops that spring from the surface of the vinyl record like a crackling winter hearth. "You don't get that with digital."

If anyone understands the difference between digital and analog sound systems, it's Hartsell—owner of The Analog Room, a high-fidelity, analog-only audio and record shop on the corner of Fruitdale and Meridian avenues in San Jose. For just over 20 years, Hartsell has bought and sold vinyl records, along with record players, amplifiers, speakers and other stereo components at his quirky San Jose store.

The Analog Room is the culmination of Hartsell's life-long love-affair with music and hi-fi, which began when he was just a child, listening to a tiny transistor radio in his family's Virginia home. Before opening the store in the early '90s, Hartsell had already amassed a gargantuan record collection and given up on his first career as an architect to write music and audio equipment reviews.

Since opening the store, Hartsell has only become more entrenched in the analog audio world. He's amassed a collection of more than 50,000 LPs; started a tube amplifier company, Wavestream Kinetics, with his friend Scott Frankland; and he recently began what might be his most ambitious project to date—creating a vinyl-to-digital high-fidelity audio archive of thousands of recordings whose original master tapes have either been destroyed or degraded, as well as compiling an accompanying high-resolution digital library of album artwork.

Blessed with a perpetually curious mind, Hartsell strives to understand subjects that interest him at an atomic level. When it comes to rare records, top-shelf turntables and hi-fi stereo equipment, you'll be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable.

He knows this. As such, he can sometimes come across as "elitist pond scum"—his words. Yet, while his attitude is a turn-off for some, Hartsell is championed by many more, who insist Hartsell is the South Bay's expert in high quality analog home audio.

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