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“Vinyl is cool but digital isn’t,” says the mainstream press

  • The mainstream press tends to favour two types of audio-related story. The first is often a veiled attack on hi-res audio; any piece of hardware that promotes the virtues of bit- and sample-rates higher than 16bit/44.1kHz is called out as either snake oil, ludicrously expensive or both.

    At the root of the Pono backlash we find inverted snobbery. Apparently, spending money on hi-res PCM or DSD downloads in pursuit of better sound is a fool’s errand. Why? Because the man in the street can’t hear any improvement over the CD equivalent. The dogma often arrives wrapped in the conclusion that Spotify’s lossy-encoded material is good enough.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise is either a fool or a communist, or so we are told. It’s like the audio world’s very own strand of anti-intellectualism.

    In the wake of Jay Z’s Tidal re-launch, a large section of the tech press concluded that spending twice the usual subscription fee (~US$10/month) on lossless streaming (US$20) is utter madness. See Vox, Lily Allen, CNBC and Tech Radar (who reckon that the US$10 saved is more wisely spent on concert tickets).

    The second type of story favoured by our mainstream bedfellows is that vinyl is back in a big way and that its resurgence is down to people waking up from the decade-long sleepwalk towards lossy compression – in other words, people dig vinyl because it sounds better than Spotify or iTunes downloads.

    Can you smell the irony yet?

    That was certainly the case with a slot than ran on Australia’s ABC news this week. Watch the seven-minute video here:

    Missing from the ABC’s piece is mention of sound quality. The one young fella who did allude to vinyl’s ‘vintage sound’ might have inadvertently been referring to qualities such as lack of transient definition, a paucity of dynamics and layer congeal as called out by DAR readers in a recent comparison of entry-level turntable needle-drop and a CD-ripped to FLAC. I’m not saying all vinyl playback is inferior to digital, just that you need to spend a fair chunk of cash to level the playing field.

    The ABC also tells us that young people are leading the charge with the vinyl revival. That’s certainly believable when looking at the best selling records of 2014: Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Beck, Lana Del Rey and The Black Keys.

    But why young people? Is it because they were raised on a diet of lossy encoding? Kids today don’t do CDs so listening to a record is likely their only exposure to lossless audio.

    Furthermore, spinning a record is more likely to demand active – rather than passive – listening.

    The video also features an older listener espousing the mantra that “It has to be vinyl!”. The cynic in me wonders if he’s simply falling victim to his own sense of nostalgia. It’s hard to sever the emotional connection to a format so deeply inked during one’s teenage years.

    Where the two generations converge is with Gen Y’s perceived nostalgia for Gen X’s preferred format. And it’s no secret that nostalgia is a powerful motivator.

    An emotional attachment to vinyl is why I keep coming back to the black stuff. Record stores feel like magical places where the hope of finding a lost treasure is what keeps punters flicking through the racks. This kind of narrative is as old as the format itself.


    Interestingly, the vinyl pressing plant owner Paul Rigby featured in the video seems unsure if vinyl’s comeback will hold as a lasting trend. Maybe Neil Young was right about it being a ‘fashion statement’.

    Whatever the reasons for record sales holding course to the up and up, it seems sound quality isn’t necessarily the primary contributing factor. As mentioned in the video, it could be because a record better connotes the value of music than a download? I can get behind that.

    Waters muddy slightly when we see that it only takes one LP purchase per month to spend the same as a monthly subscription to Tidal Hifi or Qobuz Hifi, which grants the user access to a library of thousands of albums in lossless audio.

    Sadly, it would appear that the mainstream press has a problem with digital audiophiles pursuing the ultimate in sound quality but they don’t apply the same logic to vinyl buyers. A desire to reach beyond the lossy encoding of Spotify with an technically inferior format is to be applauded whereas doing so in the digital realm isn’t.

    Can you picture Yahoo’s David Pogue blind testing people’s ability to pick audible differences between a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable + Schiit Mani phono stage and an iPhone? I can’t. That’s because there’s a double-standard at play in the mainstream press. Put simply, it’s this: if you buy a Rega RP1 you’re cool, but spend that same money on a Tidal Hifi subscription or Pono Player and you’re moron.

    The air is so thick with irony you can taste it.

    One final thought: the plural of vinyl is vinyl.

    Further information: Record Store Day 2015


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. So what kind of thinking leads to this:

      Vinyl is dead. Give me 192 / 24 files on my computer through a Peachtree S/PDIF converter, through a FiiO E17K DAC, through an all-tube Schiit Valhalla 2 headphone amp (with “better than stock” tubes), through Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

      It sounds so good it’s ridiculous!


    2. Great article John- I’m 39 years old and therefore in my eyes, too young to be genuinely nostalgic about vinyl. My first CD experience was at the age of 8 or so as my uncle had a CD player then. ( he was part of the Philips development team)
      I bought my first player (JVC) to replace my cassettes when I was 13. My point here is that Cd’s and vinyl both evoke a more involved, tactile purchasing and listening experience as you mentioned. I think that this is the defining separation between these and the current digital streaming/downloading experience. Fidelity is a factor but it plays second fiddle to the emotion. To compound this experience, a media streaming device also lacks the mechanical, flashing lights quality of a traditional source component. I do get a little misty-eyed about this when I reflect on my happy memories of spending my hard earned in Richer Sounds buying yet another source to add to my hifi.
      Thank God loudspeakers, interconnects and
      amplifiers still allow me to indulge emotionally in some of my hifi shopping!

    3. Ironic and somewhat frustrating indeed. I remember posting a comment on DAR about the BBC program ‘Click’ showing an outrageous example of poor jeournalism when scoffing at the price of the new Sony Walkman Hi Res player for “not much sound benefit”. Maybe audiophiles have better hearing than most of the population?

      I’m with you on this one John, we’ve always been a small minority prepared to pay for the best sound quality we can get and I can’t see that changing.

    4. Good stuff John! It is also interesting watching the industry struggle with things like Pono. They do not want to embrace Neil Young because he is not part of the Audio industry, yet his presence get the press involved in an industry trying to attract younger buyers. Strange times…..

    5. “When I was a lad……”

      Wait until all those people buying vinyl get fed up with the clicks and pops and the feedback, and the flipping sides every 20 minutes. Then the discussions as to whether belt drive sounds better than direct drive will kick off; then it will be “m/c cartridges are crap”, blah de blah….
      ……. and then folks will start to declare that digital is really quite good ‘cos it sounds clean, and it’s convenient, and it doesn’t have pops and clicks, and it’s cheaper, and …..

      Yep, what goes around, comes around.

      • “When I was a lad…” was back in the 60’s and 70’s, Bob, and though I can be extremely nostalgic about many things in my early life, the vinyl record is not one of them.
        Sure, I loved spinning discs back then and drooled over unaffordable hi-fi but I just love this digital age I now find myself in.
        I don’t miss album sleeves or the minutiae of recording information thereon; album art is beautifully reproduced on my pad or phone. I have a wireless multi-room system and the ability to stream clear, crackle and hiss-free sound anywhere is fabulous.
        Jason, below, is also spot-on; 16/44.1 can sound brilliant as can the humble iTunes 256 AAC.
        Darko has often hit on the critical ‘mastering quality’ question and this goes to the very heart of the issue. Fortunately most classical and modern jazz albums are superbly recorded and mastered so I’ve rather missed out on this ‘noise wars’ business.

    6. I have Tidal for me, Spotify for my teenagers and I have barely picked up a record or CD in at least six months. Why bother? Now I am obsessed with DAC’s, thinking that a better DAC can bring me closer to audio nirvana. Bought an M2Tech Young and Palmer power supply at around 75% off of retail probably because it doesn’t play DSD and can’t wait to try it out this weekend. To me it’s tantamount to trying a new turntable or cartridge 35 years ago! Frankly I can’t see digital downloads , CD’s or vinyl having a successful future now that lossless streaming is accessible and affordable to us masses!

    7. My young neighbour proudly showed me her Ion record player and records, which she wanted me to play on my Pro-Ject 2Experience. The records were filled with scratches, ticks and pops, which she said were the REASON she liked records. The cool factor of vinyl for her had nothing to do with sound quality.

    8. haters gonna hate. and find sone way to deny the obvious. vinyl-deniers all of them, living in their digital dreams, dream on.

    9. Thanks, John, for so elequantly stating the irony at play here. I was a Pono kickstarter backer, and was floored by the response from much of the press. Anyone who listens to my Pono immediately hears a significant difference. It’s definitely true that the improvement may not matter that much to some, but one could compare it to drinking $8 wine vs. $50 wine – I don’t hear anyone saying “buying a $30 bottle of wine and you’re a moron.” Personally, I like vinyl, but it’s figety and requires a perfect set-up and continual manual intervention that pulls me out of the listening experience. But that’s just my personal view – I’d never admonish someone else for their love of vinyl (or even their compressed MP3’s). Pay extra for what you care about, be mature enough to realize that what you value and your senses percieve may not match others, and be thankful for the variety. I just can understand someone who can’t hear the difference or doesn’t value the difference – then getting up on a soap box to chastise those that do.

    10. I am convinced that the resurgence of vinyl comes from the combination of two factors: being fed up with the low quality of the iTunes compressed downloads and a nostalgia reminding people of old times when the sound of LPs was much better.

      There are three kinds of people, in general: one that looks back for a solution (conservatives, vinyl worshippers), another, who looks forward for the same purpose (progressives, hi-res files lovers) and there is the third (most abundant kind), who simply has no knowledge and no opinion – those who are the mass-market customers.

      This third kind is always chosen by all kinds of propaganda, because they are the easiest target. That’s why we see so many articles that bend the truth or simply lie to them. Ignorance is not only pervasive, it is also something that ignorant people are proud of. They call it the power of conviction – to feel better about themselves.

      Exactly the same situation has been happening in photography from about a decade ago to about 3 years ago, where the conservatives were singing praises for analog (film) based photography and the progressives were quickly adopting digital-based equipment and workflows. Today, nobody in their right minds would still argue that the film-based image has any advantage over digital. So, I hope that in a few years, we will experience this same change of tide in hi-res music formats.

      • ‘Low quality of the iTunes compressed downloads’?
        What have you actually listened to? Have you heard any ‘mastered for iTunes’ albums?
        I often struggle to differentiate 256 AAC from 16/44.1 over my system but maybe that’s just me.
        As a lover of modern jazz, I’ve bought a lot of stuff from the ECM label from iTunes and it sounds fantastic, even when cranked up a bit.
        I can’t help feeling that iTunes, much like Apple itself, gets a bit of a kicking based on what it was like 10 years ago when the bitrate was lower and the mastering quality of much of the content highly questionable.

    11. hi res or vinyl not required, just well mastered cd quality streaming is perfect. Even tho I have some pretty reasonable audio gear amps and dacs and high end headphones (hd800 balance) the hi res music v cd music is so tiny a difference especially on well mastered stuff that the extra money companies charge for these versions, you will get more improved sound quality by setting up your hifi to fen shui practices.
      A different debate is whether the hi res music has been better mastered to charge the extra…. which opens a can of worms where companies only give you the good mastering on the hi res stuff….

      • Jason, you got it…and the audiophile community refuses to talk about it or even acknowledge the problem exists.

        • Hey, Alex, perhaps you’ve never stumbled upon this topic before, but it’s been discussed at length in the past and we all agree that good recording and mastering techniques are the most important ingredients of the high fidelity sound… 🙂

          • Then let’s act like when we apply that logic to Pono and vinyl.

            Why would you pay double the cost for high-res files that have been sourced from CD compressed masters? Beats me.

            • Alex, you’re absolutely right.

              That’s why I buy hi-res downloads with a known provenance – mainly coming from original master tapes, sometimes as old as 1950s-60s.

              And I agree that there is no justification for the ridiculously high prices of those downloads, in comparison with CDs (CDs themselves are overpriced). On the other hand, streaming subscriptions are unjustifiably cheap – they don’t provide sufficient compensation for the artists.

              On another note, some record labels are known for their excellent recording and mastering quality and that’s where I buy CDs (ECM comes to mind first).

    12. The good thing is that the main stream press are talking about it. I haven’t seen or heard anyone talk about hifi since the introduction of the cd player, or maybe the ipod. Maybe we’re onto something here…

    13. I’ll use two metaphors offered by Srajan Erbaen, a self-confessed vinyl heathen who doesn’t own a single black disk.
      Why, in the age of Nespresso, some of us are still brewing our own coffee? Because, as with listening to recorded music, to enjoy the final product you have to put yourself through certain intellectual, emotional, and yes, bodily motions. Vinyl helps to do that in a particular way; even on the level of a Debut Carbon. Just as rosary or mantras do with other practices. It’s the ritual, stupid. Calling ritual ‘fashion statement’ is ironic indeed. This is as misplaced as castigating digital playback for the alleged sacrifices it makes to ‘convenience’.

    14. Is it possible to be agnostic?

      The narrative problems of modern digital music are, in part, a direct result of all the negative story-telling proponents lathered us with in the 80s and 90s. You know, ‘bits are bits’, ‘perfect sound forever’ and so on. It got worse with the advent of ATRAC and lossy compression techniques – itself a result of the then, high cost of storage. It was consistently argued that one couldn’t hear the difference between full resolution digital and lossy compression in ‘normal’ (non-audiophile) circumstances and that MP3s were ‘good enough’. The problem is, that narrative has semi-permanently stuck.

      Hidden in this conundrum are the seeds of the disparaging commentary we now face toward hi-res digital audio, as the inertia of such mass-messaging takes a long time to shift and move. Ironically, as you have noted, it doesn’t apply to vinyl. I believe this is in part the result of the phoenix-like characteristic attributed to vinyl and the coincidental hipster-phenomenon. Lossy digital was used to bludgeon vinyl and analogue systems back at the end of the last century for market and business purposes. “Sorry, vinyl, it’s not personal” as it was perennially kicked into the past. But they didn’t hit it hard enough.

      Fast forward to the early 21st century, the X-Factor and reality TV-show era, and the new, mass-production of pop alongside distribution channels that championed the same. Listeners actively sought out alternative music streams (pardon the pun) and re-discovered great performances, old and new, were available on a media with instant appeal and cachet – vinyl (and more recently, the analogue cassette). Set alongside this are the marketing problems of digital: how do we get folk to buy again and again if we’ve lied and told them that MP3 are all they need? So every time publishers attempt to promote hi-res digital, their audiences retort that MP3s are enough, aren’t they?

      For my part, I chase the performance, the music. A lot of what I like is on vinyl, but I buy CDs too. Streaming, for me, is a modern, interactive subscription digital radio service. Nothing more. But I watch with interest.

    15. Vintage sound, eh? Alright John, go grab yourself a used 909 that’s had more than a few beers spilled on it, and I’ll be in the back munching some ribs, with a mic in my face to record the crackling sounds. Together, we’ll make millions!!

    16. John, vinyl does NOT have a “lack of transient definition, a paucity of dynamics, or layer congeal,” and that’s *not* what your readers were comparing. What they were comparing was the CD vs. the sound of your needle drop. I’m perfectly willing to send you one of *my* needle drops if you’d like to do the CD vs. vinyl test again. You may find the results to be a little different.

      The reason why I think people are beginning to appreciate vinyl again has mostly to do with its tangible aspects, not necessarily sound quality. Nobody cares about CD, and who wants a cheesy plastic case and tiny 5″ artwork when you can have a gorgeous heavyweight gatefold cover, that you can really hold in your hands and appreciate while you listen? It’s true that the price of one new album on vinyl may cover a month of a lossless streaming service, but at the end of that month, you still own nothing. You just rented access to music for a month. That vinyl record on the other hand is yours for as long as you like, and if you grow tired of it, you can get real money back at the other end. Try returning that month of streaming for a refund. Or for that matter, try selling an album you bought on Pono for $25. See how far that gets you.

      Not all vinyl costs $20 a pop either. There are tons and tons of used records available for a couple of bucks a pop. How many Pono albums or HDTracks albums can you buy for $5?

      Its true that some pressing plants are unsure about how long the vinyl boom will last, but that hasn’t stopped them from buying every used press and lathe they can get their hands on, and some plants are even going so far as to commission *new* presses, which would’ve been unthinkable 10 years ago. The fact is, for the time being at least, the plants are going 24/7, and are still struggling to keep up with demand. Meanwhile, CD sales are in the toilet.

      In some ways, vinyl is a lot like vacuum tubes. Tubes are obsolete, outdated, technically inferior to solid state in every way, and yet there are the diehards that will make you pry their KT88s and 300Bs from their cold, dead hands, and vinyl has those same folks. There are also people who just think tubes are cool, and don’t really care about the sound, just like vinyl.

      The difference between tubes and vinyl is that there are some albums where the vinyl version has an advantage that’s insurmountable – Beck’s latest, for example. The production is a cobbled together mess as you know and that’s true of all versions, but the vinyl still sounds the best by far.

      • Hey Dave. I beg to differ: the Pro-ject Debut Carbon needle drops that readers voted on last week *do* present with a “lack of transient definition, a paucity of dynamics, or layer congeal”.

        What table, cart and phono-pre amp do you use to do yours?

    17. While we’re at it, perhaps it’s worth pointing out a piece of research that Michael Fremer reminded us of earlier this year. This pertains to filtering in DACs and what it does (or doesn’t do) to you brain when brick wall filters above c.20kHz are used:

      It seems our brains are responsive to “hypersonic” sounds, even if our normal ear apparatus is not, and we find it more “pleasing” when such spectra is captured and played back intact. Another reason to love AAA vinyl?

      • The thing is, this piece wasn’t intended as a digital vs. vinyl stand-off in an absolute sense. It’s about how digital products get a thorough going over in the mainstream press but anything vinyl-related gets a free pass, no scrutiny required. That’s a double-standard, no?

        • I find not just the contrary evidence, but the counter-contrary evidence of the effect of hypersonic sound to be most interesting. Essentially, the contrary evidence focuses on the subject’s ability to consciously discern the difference in source track and NOT the bodies incontrovertible response to it. In other words, your standard audiophile listening session and/or DBT test proves… not very much.

          • Actually, just the opposite, a DBT proves quite a lot!

            If you can not statistical discern the difference between two samples in a DBT, that means at a purely perceptual level, it doesn’t matter whether or not there are any actual differences. In other words, the listener is statistically guessing because he or she doesn’t have the perceptual tools to accurately tell one track from another.

            This has been the crux of almost all accepted scientific studies regarding perceptual encoding, hypersonic effect, etc.

            Again, both to underscore and an attempt at absolute clarity: A DBT doesn’t prove that there aren’t any differences between two subjects or source material. On the contrary, *** there are almost always differences *** which is why the test is performed in the first place (MP3 vs lossless, lossless vs high-res, amp A vs amp B). A DBT proves rather that the subject doesn’t have the perceptual ability to discern them. That’s it.

    18. They do. Where I take issue is that you’re implying that because your drops have those issues, it’s in the vinyl. At least that’s the way it comes across. I also don’t believe that you need to spend a fortune to outmatch a modest CD player.

      I’ve done some needle drops on my Yamaha YP-511, which is a late ’70s era vintage direct drive. It has a 3.5lb aluminum platter instead of the MDF that you get on today’s basic belt drives. You can pick one up today for around $400, maybe less. On it I have a $75 Shure M97xE cart with the Jico SAS upgrade, connected to a Musical Fidelity V-LPS MKII. ADC is through an E-MU 1212M. If the vinyl came from a dedicated master, this setup can eat CD players for breakfast, and nothing aside from the table was more than $200. If on the other hand the vinyl was cut from the same source as the CD, the sound is pretty close.

      The MF is fixed gain and there are no loading options aside from MM/MC, so there’s nothing to do there. You just need careful setup of the cart and arm, and some patience.

      The last step to a good needle drop is post processing. You want to remove the occasional clicks and pops *without* harming dynamics, and the only effective way to do that in my experience is to go in Izotope and take them all out by hand, one at a time. Automatic de-click software absolutely kills dynamics and basically makes the sound completely lifeless, it’s better to just leave the sound raw than use that.

      • What I’m implying is that these issues are typical of entry-level vinyl setups and that’s rarely discussed. In the mainstream media, vinyl is held up as the master of all formats whilst digital hardware of a similar price (Pono) and software (Tidal) is kicked again and again. And yet, all other things being equal (including masters), a Pono Player fronting a main rig will easily best a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon or Rega RP1 partnered with any entry-level phono-pre you care to mention.

        • That’s fair, although I’ve seen differing opinions on the Pono player itself. Some mainstream sites are willing to admit that the Pono player actually sounds pretty good, UI issues aside. I have a far more costly Hifiman DAP, and if you use headphones with it that cost less than $200 or so, it’s nearly impossible to tell it apart from something like a Sansa Clip. That doesn’t mean differences between the two players don’t exist, they most certainly do, but the headphones have to be good enough to show those differences. I’m therefore not surprised if mainstream sites do comparisons with cellphones or cheap DAPs using cheap headphones and don’t hear a difference – they likely wouldn’t hear a difference from a Schiit Ragnarok either. The only thing that proves is that cheap headphones are cheap.

          Tidal on the other hand is where you start to lose me. I’m just not sure that I need lossless streaming, and I’m really not sure that I want to pay twice as much money for it. Same with HD res files. My DAC upsamples everything to either 176 or 192 anyway, and the filter is an apodising, minimum phase type designed to limit pre-ringing as much as possible, which as far as I can tell is normally the biggest downside of using 16/44. If the HD version was the same price, for sure I’d buy it, but the answer given so far as to why HD versions cost 2-3X as much as the CD is “because reasons.” It costs *a lot* of money to put out an album on vinyl, so I understand the price structure there. But artists are most likely *already making their music in HD to begin with* and then I’m expected to pay 2-3X as much money for them to NOT dither and downsample it to 16/44. If HD sounded dramatically better to me I’d pay the difference anyway, but it just doesn’t.

          And yes, given equal masters, a Pono player will make short work of a Rega RP1 or Debut Carbon, no question there. I guess the question is then, what albums do you want to listen to, and do those albums have special vinyl masters. If a lot of them do, you may want to think about investing in a good vinyl rig. If not, then vinyl probably isn’t worth bothering with….unless you just care about the touchy feely aspects of it, in which case a $99 Audio-Technica LP60 will do just fine.

          • In your final para you neatly summarise my point these past few weeks: if you listen to the kind of music that gets written up on Pitchfork or Resident Advisor (as is DAR’s beat) – Sufjan Stevens or Aphex Twin sping immediately to mind – then alternative vinyl masters are VERY few in number. That means the CD, download and vinyl are all sourced from the same master.

            I’d therefore contend that people are buying the big black discs for many reasons, one of which that they’re endlessly being told by both the mainstream (and audiophile) press that vinyl gives the best sound possible. At the entry-level at least that just isn’t true.

            • Your last paragraph says it all. As you say this is the miss reporting being propigated in the press. I have a large number of rips that I remember well being played over and over again on a 1980s direct drive turntable, some of these records were painful to listen to such as Bowie, Nick Lowe, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton all of which had a busy compressed high frequency ring to them. Listen on a good dac and the sound is open, detailed and more realistic dare I say more relaxed, yes relaxed digital! Entry level vinyl is no match for good digital. Hell most masters are recorded and mixed digitally. Come on press listen before reporting crop.

    19. Great post and couldn’t agree more. Audio quality and hi-res audio definitely polarise audiences.

    20. Vinyl has a free pass right now. Because those who have history buying them are back to enjoying buying music again. Because let’s face it, I NEVER had that sensation of a crisp new record when buying a CD. Never. So, I never got rid of my vinyl, and I pas myself in the back for having taken care of them so much. Vinyl has a free pass right now, because those new hipsters with money to spend have parents who bought CD’s and nothing their parents do is cool. Nothing.
      Does it sound better? Not all the time. Does it give better satisfaction? You bet it does. And no need to have a 10G turntable to enjoy them, but at the very least a decent 150$ needle mounted on at LEAST a turntable with a heavy platter, steady speed and a good system.
      These new vinyl lovers will, in time, realize how much care must go into them and will eventually get tired ot surface noise, warping, broken needles and HAVING to buy another LP to get that new sound again. THEN, Digital will make a comeback, one way or another, and I bet we’ll all be able to buy those new vinyl at a fraction of the price, for a while.

      • That’s right satisfaction and sound quality and necessarily connected. One can get the former without the latter – as you say, through ‘sensation’.

        “…at the very least a decent 150$ needle mounted on at LEAST a turntable with a heavy platter, steady speed and a good system.” <--- care to specify here, Erik? Which cart, which arm, which table?

    21. Hi John,
      Great article. A lot of the responses have focused on the vinyl vs digital question from a technical perspective but I believe your central (valid) point is that a double standard exists in the way the mainstream press reports on the vinyl revival and this double standard springs out of a glib ‘fashion’ stance rather than any actual interest or investigation. I am not too bothered about this debate and have zero nostalgia for vinyl beyond the fond memories of thumbing through crates of ‘imports’ to find a new release I wanted to check out. I believe that just getting the topic of sound quality out there will lead at least a few to actually try to get a better audio experience and from there they will possibly begin a lifelong journey to enhance their enjoyment of music.

      One issue that bothers me is the paradox that the sheer volume of new music and the incredible ease with which it can be accessed today through streaming services are fantastic but at the same time I feel uneasy that the 15 minutes of fame is now more like 3 minutes. What the physicality of vinyl does offer (and I believe this to be a good thing) is that the object/music interact and encourage the listener/owner to really invest in the experience in a way that the ephemeral stream does not. Are we becoming continual ‘snackers’ at an endless music buffet? Is vinyl the ‘slow food’ of music?

      • “A lot of the responses have focused on the vinyl vs digital question from a technical perspective but I believe your central (valid) point is that a double standard exists in the way the mainstream press reports on the vinyl revival and this double standard springs out of a glib ‘fashion’ stance rather than any actual interest or investigation.”

        PRECISELY. This isn’t about which format is better/worse but the treatment each receives in the media.

        And yes, I too reckon vinyl IS the slow food of music. The abundance of music available via streaming services could be overwhelming for some.

    22. 🙂 Felt forced to do some comparison.
      So, on the digital side – Metrum Hex fed through its AES/EBU input from a Naim Uniti (ok, it is not ‘true’ AES/EBU, but there’s a good clock and PSU there). (4480 EUR)
      On the analogue side – Pro-Ject RPM 10.1/Decca Super Gold cart/Croft RIIA R (circa 4500 EUR)
      I swear, to my ears, the analogue easily beats the digital on a wide variety of source-material and mostly on dynamics and resolution (I am not even touching on things like ‘musicality’ and such like).

      • Thanks Alex. Extra data points like yours are most welcome. Mind if I ask what records you played?

    23. Sure. Since this was an experiment, I plaid all sorts of stuff. Jamie xx’ rendition of Gil Scott-Heron, Hype Williams’. Find Out What Happens…, Bowie Scary Monsters, Tom Waits Nighthawks…, Nick Cave Push The Sky Away, but also Joni Mitchell Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Coltrane Blue Train and Mingus Ah Uhm…
      The most amazing comparison was that of a Japanese pressing of Bill Evans Trio Waltz For Debbie and its 24/96 HD Tracks download. Transients on vinyl were way better than on the digital file. But that could be also due to some relative lack of bass. And yet…
      Everyone who know this album recorded live, knows the jerk who keeps talking at a nearby table during the performance. On vinyl he was much more subdued. Still clearly present and clearly audible, but equally clearly located in the background. On the hi-res file he is always ‘in your face’ (in my experience – more so on oversampling DACs which appear as offering more resolution).
      This supports a kind of ‘theory’ I have for myself (without having an explanation, since I am not an expert and don’t pretend to be). The analogy I use for myself is with the 3D movies. Most of them overwhelm you with detail, but fail to put this surplus of detail into a coherent overall picture. (There are exceptions, as always. Think Gravity, as the most obvious one.) Now, this is precisely what vinyl does for me – it maintains coherence. Some detail fades into the background, but you feel – well, I feel for sure – that this is where it belongs.

      • I’ve heard the SACD/DSD of Scary Monsters and it sounds flat and lifeless compared to (even) an Australian vinyl. Different masters though, so not exactly a fair comparison. But still…

    24. Digital Audio is really in a weird position where in recent years the most important advancements to the general public have always been in terms of convenience, not audio quality. DVD-A and SACD couldn’t get past a niche, whereas MP3 and streaming made it big.
      Even audio quality aside, it’s funny how the mainstream press embraces vinyl so much despite being kindof the antithesis of “convenience”.

      I think the best thing that could happen to digital audio really isn’t a mainstream succes of hi-res, but rather an end to the silly loudness war.

      I got so frustrated with over-compressed remasters that I mainly buy used CDs from the 1980s now, which by and large are much more sensibly mastered, and there is so much music from that era I never had on a better medium than a worn-out casette recording off FM radio that I really can just sit this one out as far as new releases go. 😉

      Granted, I’ll miss out on Daft Punk and the recent Dead Can Dance album (great on vinyl, just a pain on CD/MP3), but I’m not that much of a fan that I’d go buy a turntable just for those. I think my Squeezebox Touch will suffice just fine.

    An affordable single-driver standmount from Omega Loudspeakers

    Lou Reed’s New York, Magic & Loss sound terrific in hi-res