Written by 6:00 am Audiophile

Audiophile Fussbudgets (Part II): Is There a Musical Disconnect?

Mark Smotroff digs further into the fuss of some fussbudgets…

In Part 1 of my look at the perhaps overly persnickety audiophile around (and perhaps within) us all — the fussbudget — we began to explore some of the options out there in our quest for better sound. In particular, we offered a heads up to those unaware of the potentially inferior recordings masquerading as audiophile flavored packaged commercial product.  Wolves in sheep’s clothing, if you will… 

AR-ConsumerFussiness225.jpgIf, ultimately, what you are seeking as a music enthusiast is great sound, it may behoove you — yes, behoove! — to get some better understanding of the ins and outs of the hobby. Whether you are listening on vinyl or an MQA-encoded audio stream, there are things to look out and listen for that may impact your enjoyment. We’ll touch on this a bit here today…

Going back to that notion of buying those pricey “grey market” import vinyl pressings of dubious origin, I do want to pose the notion of considering what you are listening for in a recording. If you are into vinyl and want to hear the music closer to the original source, finding an original– or “OG” — pressing will be a good step for you to take. Especially in the pre-digital era, the earlier pressings tended to sound better for numerous reasons including the likelihood that original master tapes were used to to make the earliest pressings.  

That is not to say that some reissues are not any good — no, in fact in recent years there have been some fabulous reissues of vintage recordings which are sometimes hard to find in pristine condition original pressings…. from Frank Zappa to The Beatles. I have reviewed many of these recordings here on Audiophile Review so do poke around to read more about some of the great reissues happening these days.  Point is, you need to be aware that not all reissues are created equal!

AR-ConsumerFussinessColtraneColoredVinyl225.jpgThis extends to the digital universe as well.  Finding a download or stream that is confirmed to have been made from the a genuine first generation master tape and processed with extreme care can also make for a more definitive listen.  

I’m not just talking about MQA or Qobuz or whatever other codec-ular flavor (if you will) of the moment which you may be embracing… Ask questions about the source used to make the digital copy of the music you may be streaming.  A high resolution copy of a crappy multi-generation slave copy of an album isn’t necessarily getting you any closer to the master recording than it is when listening to your favorite 70s hits from a cheesy mail-order K-Tel vinyl compilation album. 

Of course, all this is easier said than done.  Again, keep an eye out here on Audiophile Review as we try to offer up those details when we can.

AR-ConsumerFussinessWolfSheep225.jpgThese days more than ever, with so many choices at hand it can be daunting and confusing for the uninitiated to figure out which direction to take when building a music collection, audiophile or otherwise.  They may find themselves asking:

  • Do I buy the new 180-gram vinyl reissue of The Clash’s London Calling for $25?
  • Do I buy a used original UK copy of it for $35?
  • Do I buy a used original US copy of it for $15?
  • Do I buy a fancy new MoFi super deluxe 45 RPM boxed set for $100?
  • Do I buy a new CD of it for 15?
  • Do I buy a used CD of it for $2?
  • Do I just stream it for free on YouTube or Spotify? 
  • Is it worth it to me to get a subscription to Tidal or Qobuz?
  • Should I copy my friend’s MP3 version?

AR-ConsumerFussinessLPs225.jpgYour choices may vary wildly dependent upon what type of customer you are, what kind of playback gear you have at your disposal and how much you value the quest for the best possible sound.   

Some of us are on a quest for the ultimate home listening experience, seeking out the latest greatest in audio components and the finest of high-quality reproduction media  — 200-gram LPs to Pure Audio Blu-ray to high resolution downloads, surround sound and beyond. Cost is not an issue for this consumer.

Others simply want to hear a “good” basic reproduction of the music and will go to certain extremes to make it a part of their daily reality within the constraints of budgets and living considerations (ie. not all of us live in a suburban McMansion that can house a quarter-million-dollar dedicated listening room …). Dare I say it that perhaps most of us fall into this category in one form or another.

Many consumers are more interested in the performances than the media conveying it. They can find as much satisfaction with an SACD of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme as an original Impulse Records pressing from 1965.  As long as it basically sounds “good” to their ear and representative of the music within …

Of course, the rub with all this is that “good” to the untrained ear may be “awful” to the experienced audio enthusiast. So, again, if you have a hint of interest in growing your knowledge in this area, take some time to listen closely to different versions of the same record… read the reviews and talk to your friends about their listening experiences… 

AR-ConsumerFussinessOstrich225.jpgFor me, I would rather hear a warm original pressing on vinyl of A Love Supreme and endure a few ticks and pops than listening to a sterile CD transfer or Mp3 quality digital stream… However… I love the recording enough that I have invested in a lovely Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc version (which I reviewed here) for my go-to digital experience version of that album.  I have the best of both worlds at my fingertips!.  

One’s level of audiophile fussbudget-ness (is that even a word?) may well vary from recording to recording, and that is fine…  

In my next piece on Audiophile Fussiness I’ll look a bit more into the used music market and maybe offer some suggestions how to navigate those waters without breaking your budget.

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