What? Another Analog Versus Digital Comparison?

Comparisons between things occur in all walks of life and the audiophile hobby is certainly no exception. As audiophiles, we compare just about everything - from components to music. For instance, we compare tubes to digital, planar speakers to electrostatic to dynamic, one brand to another, one set up method against a different set up method and on and on...

AR-Analog-vs-Digital.jpgOne of the more pervasive comparisons is digital vs. analog. Some reside in one particular camp, some in the opposite camp, and some have allegiance to both. I see myself in that last group despite historically listening to mostly digital. 

Recently, I sent my music server back to the manufacturer to have some physical upgrades as well as some software upgrades performed. I upgraded from an 8-core processor to a 16-core processor, from Windows 8 to Windows Server OS, I had the file structure completely reorganized and a few other maintenance issues that simplified the server's use. All in all these changes, along with the installation of Teflon capacitors that occurred a few months earlier, raised the performance of my server to new, unheralded levels. To say I'm happy is an understatement.

The server upgrade process took about two weeks and in that time I had two sources of music available to me - analog and Sonos. No offence to Sonos but at this point, I'm not especially enamored with streaming, or at least as it now exists in my system. One day, maybe, but not today. So my clear choice for music was analog.

Besides, I reasoned, it was only five months previous that I finished a total revamp of my analog section and I felt like I hadn't given listening to LP's their due. So, with the server gone for two weeks, I would really get a chance to enjoy analog, something I found myself excited to do.

For fun, I decided to do a comparison of analog to digital. But not in the way most might think. I already like both analog and digital so comparing how one sounds against another seemed pointless. I tend to lean towards digital because of one factor - convenience.  Modern technology makes the process of playing a digital file easier than an LP. So I decided to compare the time it takes to get ready to listen to digital as opposed to analog.

AR-jriver.jpgMy server uses J River as the playback app. J River is fairly straightforward. I use J Remote on my iPad to connect to the server wirelessly and I can pick out music in a variety of fashions.

One, I can choose by artist name or by the name of the CD. I can choose by genre or scroll down the list of all my CD's copied to the server until I find one I like. My favorite method, however, is random. Doing this allows me to play a hundred or so songs at random. J River picks out what I'll be hearing and unless I look I won't know what will be playing next. Often times I find some little gem of a song previously forgotten. If I chose random, the time it takes for me to do this is about ten seconds. During playback, I have the welcomed option to skip a song I don't particularly like.

Analog is a little different at least as it applies to time.

While my server was being upgraded, and for comparison purposes, I picked out twenty-five artist's LP's that I both hadn't heard in quite a while, and were just plain interesting. Nineteen were single albums and six were double albums.  All totaled, that is 31 records.

Ar-Turntable222.jpgEach album had to be cleaned either because they were dirty or because cleaning improves the sonics.  All albums underwent a minimum of three minutes of ultrasonic cleaning and two minutes of drying. Some of the more dirty albums got four minutes of cleaning. I'll be conservative and use three minutes as the benchmark for cleaning each album with a total of five minutes for the whole pre-play, cleaning process. For 31 records times 5 minutes per record that is a grand total of 155 minutes of cleaning alone.

Let's say each song averaged four minutes in length and each album had an average of ten songs. Given roughly 310 songs, that's about 1240 minutes of music. Half the music was on one side, half the other so, basically 155 songs per side.

Naturally, I had to take them from the cleaning machine and put them on the turntable. That meant removing the center weight, the outer periphery ring, then replace them both, align the tonearm, occasionally clean the stylus, lower the tonearm, adjust the volume and sit back down. At the end of each side, I obviously had to turn the LP over.

That makes 31 trips from the cleaning machine to the turntable and fifteen times turning the album over at the end of a side. I'm guessing taking the LP to the turntable took about 30 seconds. And turning the LP over, oh, say 30 seconds for that as well. That makes about 15 minutes to place and turn albums over. Add all that up and I spent about 170 minutes doing something to listen to analog music on my system - as compared to 10 seconds for digital.

Given all this it might not come as a surprise that I'd choose digital over analog. But something funny happened on the way to the party. I had a completely unexpected result from my little experiment / comparison. I fell back in love with analog. Spending time with the cleaning and the placement of albums suddenly didn't seem so bad. In fact, it actually caused me to pay greater attention to the music because I knew the side would come to an end. I didn't have the luxury of hundreds of songs in a row and the option to pay attention or not.

I'll be paying far more attention to analog in the future. And as for my little comparison? Well, sometimes, such exercises don't amount to a hill of beans. Sometimes, the effort is worth the result.

Happy listening to whatever your choice might be and however long it may take.

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