Written by 4:26 am Analog

When Is It OK to Listen to Vinyl?

Jerry Del Colliano makes peace with Records, sort of…


Avid readers of AudiophileReview.com and HomeTheaterReview.com know that our stance on vinyl and its so-called resurgence is clear. The nearly 100-year-old music playback format absolutely has its place in AV history. But because of poor performance in dynamic range and endemic distortion based around the pure physics of dropping a stylus into the groove of a record – vinyl simply can’t compete with the near “bit perfect” facsimiles of meaningful master tape material being sold today in places like HDTracks.com at about $20 per title or streamed, often in 24 bit formats and-or using MQA via Tidal. 

AR-makepeace1acopy.jpegBut is vinyl always bad? No. Not at all. It is just important to remember that vinyl isn’t high performance audio that pushes the limit of musical reproduction be it trying to replicate the live experience or capturing ever musical nuance on the master tape of a recording. The only people who suggest this is possible say that they ignore the facts and “trust their ears” be it old industry executives or Boomer audiophile writers in the print rags. I know its popular to ignore facts in Washington but c’mon people. Selling vinyl as an HD audio format is like denying climate change, measuring your Operating Thetan levels or any other voodoo that people want to sell you that isn’t backed by science and math. 

With that said, we live in an often overly-digital world. Everything is a connected device. An unending stream of media comes beaming in via email, text, feeds, flows and whatnot. Many can’t be an hour without the stimulation of their phone. Others, yours truly very much included, spend hours upon hours daily staring into the always captivating world of the computers and the Internet. En route to the recent AXPONA show, my United flight from Los Angeles to Chicago on a relatively new 737-800 didn’t have Internet and I could feel the cold chill run through my veins. I was stuck listening to my new Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless headphones while either listening to music on my Macbook Pro or watching Season 5 of Shameless (perfect to prepare for a trip to Chicago, right?) on my iPad Pro all while my iPhone X was waiting to be fired up the second that I landed. I know, I know I am a digital junkie. 

AR-makepeace5a.jpgWhile on my 33 hour trip to AXPONA I did read an analog book by celebrity chef, Eric Ripert called 32 Yolks. And you know what? I loved the time reading an actual paper book. I find it quiets my mind a little versus the more plugged in version of reading books on my iPad which leaves me just as connected as I am when I sit in front of my computer. I am buying more and more books on paper and trying to take the time to pry myself from the addiction of the Internet and my gleaming computers and devices and spend some time listening to music and reading analog books. It seems better for me. 

If one wanted to make the same argument about vinyl being a more ritualistic, analog experience – I couldn’t and wouldn’t have an argument. If one wanted to say that the cadence of an album, especially ones that were recorded during the heyday of vinyl, is better on an LP – I would agree too. Seriously, select Electric Ladylandor The Wallon your digital device and hit the all-popular “shuffle” and tell me what the record sounds like now? It’s out of order, missing the needed transitions between songs. On an LP, albums have two acts (or four in the case of the two double albums I mentioned above) where songs are blended to mesh just as the musicians, producers and engineers want. The keys match. The tempo has flow and coherence. The timing between the tracks is carefully considered in ways that shuffle butchers back into a pre-1960s world of singles. 

AR-makepeiac3a.jpgThe tactile feel of an album’s sleeve is more engaging that looking at cover flow art work even if its broadcast on a 4K OLED HDTV between your speakers. The ritual of placing a record on the platter and slipping it is somewhat calming in a world of on-demand media everywhere we look. Taking the time to read the liner notes of a record and enjoying the art on the cover and sleeve is a time-tested and beloved act. 

One can see why people in an overly digital world might want to revert back to the ways of the past. Our issue is that while vinyl has its calming advantages – it in no way represents high performance audio at a time when the founding generation of audiophiles are aging. Go to a specialty audio show like AXPONA, Rocky Mountain Audiofest, Capital Audio Fest or the like and the demographic is close to 100 male and with a median age of pretty damn old. There are an entire cadre of writers, mostly in print magazines, who have whipped up the fury of vinyl’s so-called comeback into something it simply isn’t. The facts are: the format at the height of its resurgence never really sold that many records. A few million when a “free” video game like Fortnite can do $223,000,000 in accessory sales to a much, much younger audience in one single month. 

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Shouldn’t audiophiles be focusing on the next generation of enthusiasts? Can they accept that much like Elvis, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were completely different than the Sinatra’s, Tony Bennetts and Doo-Wop artists that their parents listened too – that Millennials and Generation Z will consume media differently. I question many prominent audiophile companies as to their overall goals as they pander to Baby Boomers selling $20,000 tone arm cables and $40,000 turntables when that format physically cannot reproduce the master-tape level of excellence that today’s digital tracks and digital streaming can do at a fraction of the price. 

With Mom and Pop audiophile stores closing left and right – perhaps it’s time to stop bloviating over a 100-year-old format that belongs and should be appreciated as a part of our audiophile history but doesn’t represent the future in terms of high performance playback. As one commenter said as part of the discussion a recent news story “a Toyota Camry can outperform a super-car from yester-year” and he’s correct. That doesn’t make that classic car bad because in so many ways it is super-cool but just don’t sell me on the broken concept that when I am listening to a $300,000 pair of speakers on $150,000 monoblock tube amps using vinyl as a source that I am getting anything better than the experience of gassing up a La Ferrari with 50 octane fuel in a world where for $12 a gallon (yes, our hobby is expensive) you can buy 110 octane fuel. Don’t you want to know how fast the fastest system can go or is a $500,000 plus audio system performing at half its potential good enough for you? I sure do.

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