Knowing I would be on a flight from Charlotte to Chicago for AXPONA, I decided to save a few issues of The Absolute Sound (tas) and Stereophile to read on the plane. In addition to the print version, I also subscribe to the digital version of both so I had my more recent editions on the laptop. When I realized that breakfast wasn’t being served, the flight time was only 1:48, slightly below the two-hour threshold for breakfast, and adding in time on the ground, I realized I had about three hours to catch up on my reading.
In one issue of tas, Jonathan Valin laid out his reasoning why he prefers analog to digital. He is certainly not alone in that preference as there are many, both in the audio press and in the audiophile community that also prefer spinning an LP. I thought his reasoning was quite sound (no pun intended) and at the end of it all, it is his business if he prefers one format over another. That same declaration could be said about any of us.
Later in my reading, I saw an advertisement for a remastered version of Chicago II. I couldn’t help but think there was some irony in the fact that I should see an ad for the band Chicago while on the way to the city of Chicago. This new version was re-mastered by Steven Wilson using high resolution 96 / 24 digitally transferred files. Upon my return to Charlotte, I decided to order Chicago II out of nothing more than sheer curiosity. The original album was never regarded as a high quality recording and I wanted to see if this new version set things right.
I have Chicago II in digital form copied to my server. However, for my little comparison experiment, I decided to purchase the analog version. That way, I could compare the forty plus year old album I already own, and the specific version that has been mostly criticized, to the new one.
First, I cleaned and played my original version. Despite using an ultrasonic cleaner, a little surface noise was noticeable. Given that my original LP is almost forty-four years old, I didn’t get all that upset about a few pops and clicks. In all honestly, I thought it was surprisingly quiet.
After cleaning the new version, I admittedly didn’t expect very much. I’ve gone down this road before. It is not at all uncommon of me to purchase multiple versions of the same work just to see what, if any difference between them might exist. To say this Steve Wilson remix absolutely floored me is an understatement. The sonic quality was so far beyond the original version I was completely dumbfounded.
While not a music review per se, the point of this is that during my little listening comparison of a new album against an old one, I also noticed something else that I perhaps have been overlooking for the last few months. My analog section sounds, as compared to my digital section, absolutely, positively remarkable.
Digital has always been my preferred format. It should be noted that this is strictly a personal choice and I am in no way advocating one format over the other. In fact, one of my reasons for preferring digital has nothing to do with sonics. Because my main preference for digital is far less dramatic – simplicity of playback.
Yet by the same token, I have spent decisively more in terms of dollars on my digital section than my analog section. Something like two and one half times more on digital than analog. I also subscribe to the theory that the more something costs, the better it usually will perform. So the fact that I am so completely taken, and taken mostly all of the sudden, by the analog section of my system comes as a complete surprise. And trust me, it hasn’t been that way up until now. Yes, I liked analog, but didn’t really play it as much as digital.
All audiophiles have their own reasons in a preference of one format type over another. I’m no different. I have always like both, in all honestly. There have always been days when I craved spinning an LP. By the same logic, I will always enjoy the sound my digital section produces. Frankly, it sounds remarkable as well. Mostly, it is an in the moment decision which one suits me best. Historically, and considering how and when I chose one format over the other, if I did show any measurable preference towards digital it has been for two main reasons – one, I have a better selection of music in digital. Two, digital is easier to execute – it is just more user friendly. Sonics really didn’t really enter the picture – until now.
Since my little revelation, so to speak, I’ve been playing more LP’s than in the past. I’ve almost come to the decision that maybe Jonathan Valin might be correct, LP’s do sound better. I’m buying more LP’s for the first time than I do digital music. Perhaps most surprisingly, I’m not nearly as bothered by having to get up out of the listening chair about every fifteen minutes and change the album. My one and enduring wish is that there was an equal availability of LP’s as there are CD’s. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that condition will ever change.
Playing analog requires a decided effort. For me, it involves warming up the tubed phonostage for about an hour, spending five minutes cleaning an album on the ultra-sonic cleaner, especially one I haven’t played in some time, being content with pops and clicks on those albums where they are present, and changing the album at a time that seems like all too soon.
But that is all okay. Because for the time being anyway, there’s magic in vinyl