My publisher, Jerry Del Colliano, recently wrote apiece comparing the technical aspects of digital with analog vinyl and concluding that high-rez digital was superior. Of course, the article received a lot of negative reactions, as I would expect from such a piece.
There’s the human factor.
Every vinyl enthusiast will tell you that there is a “ritual” to playing an LP. You must first find it, then remove the record itself from its cover, clean it (maybe), place it on the turntable, lower the tonearm, return to your listening seat, and begin listening. This usually takes quite a bit longer than choosing a selection from your smartphone’s playlist. And that is important. Why? Because during that time you are preparing yourself to listen to music.
Since listening to music IS an experience, proper preparation for that experience puts humans in a more receptive mood for that experience. Duh…
Let me use the corollary of food. When we smell a food, we know our bodies react almost immediately in anticipation, producing more chemicals that can break down the food and enhance the digestive process. I suspect that a similar function happens with our ear/brains when we prepare an LP and sit down to listen to it.
So, the “ritual” of vinyl isn’t merely something you have to do to play a record, it’s also what you need to do to put your body/mind into a state where you can enjoy the music more fully. For some this can be a form of meditation or even self-hypnotism – whereby the listener is in a deeper state of receptivity to outside stimuli.
When you look at a wide range of human activities that require peak performance or peak awareness, you’ll find that ritual or habitual processes play a big part in the human preparation process, whether that is religious activity, high-performance sports, or in an audiophile’s case, listening to music.
I would love to see Harman’s Sean Olive do a test where subjects listen to a piece of music that they are told is either a digital or an analog recording, but is actually the same recording and see if test subjects prefer the “vinyl. Of course part of the test would involve taking the time and going through the motions of setting up and playing an LP. I wonder if those who self-identified as preferring vinyl will get different test results from those who are agnostic or preferring digital. I suspect that the ritual or anticipation of listening is a fundamental part of the listening equation that hasn’t been considered as an important element in the enjoyement and preferrence process.
While I don’t doubt that high resolution digital is a technically superior encoding, music storage, and retrieval methodology than a vinyl LP, that does not mean it will always be preferred by listeniers or deliver a superior musical experience.