It’s the time of year for saving money!
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.
But from a purely technical point of view Jerry was correct. But technical considerations aren’t the only factor in the reproduction and enjoyment of recorded music.
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…
The “ritual” of vinyl puts audiophiles in this mood.
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.
And in the end, when faced with the eternal void, experiences are really all we’ve got…
“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.” This is an interesting and viable viewpoint I hadn’t considered. Not sure how you could test it other than scanning the subjects’ brain waves or something like that … but I’m not sure it really needs to be tested.
I am working on a follow up piece from my article based on some of the interesting comments on the article.
As for Steve’s post above – I tend to agree. There is NOTHING WRONG with the ritual of analog. I don’t like reading books in the digital domain and Dennis Burger gives be the business about that. Its OK. Everything else in my life is digital. I like my wood-burning pizza oven because its not-Alexa controlled or part of the Internet of Things. And for people who like vinyl for those reasons – I am 100% cool with it.
Here’s where I get pissy… Don’t tell my vinyl is better performance or even high performance. Its not. Not even close. Could you and I have a good time out in a Ferrari Dino from the early 1970s driving on PCH? We sure could. Is it better, faster, safer than today’s 458? Not even close.
The audiophile elders have ALWAYS been anti-new technology and there is a strong possibility that this hobby will die with them.
We live in an era when for $20 per month we can stream HD files from a nearly unlimited collection of music right into our audiophile systems. For those who want to own records, you can buy 24-96 files (basically like the master tape) for your own consumption of MEANINGFUL, RIAA-CERTIFIED PLATINUM SELLING records for about $20 each. Enough about vinyl. We live in an era when we have have the master tape and that is because of digital technology.
But Jerry, the point is that the “audiophile elders” and other vinyl listeners may have developed a deeper level of receptivity to music through the ritual. Are you as good a golfer on a particular course as someone who plays it regularly? I doubt it. Same with listening. Some of those elders have developed extremely keen hearing using analog sources that are not related to merely frequency response curves…
I’m going to use a calibrated mic to actually measure an album playing on my turntable, on my R2R, and the same album in high-res digital through my streaming DAC, then do an FFT-based analysis of all three and see, visually, how much has been lost and saved by each medium. I dare anyone to argue with objective, empirical measurement and 64-bit floating-point math. I don’t know what the results will be, but they will be factual data, not “information theory” and pop psychology.
In the golf world (as I am pretty avid at that silly game) you are considered to be a VERY GOOD player if you have the game to “travel” to tough courses and play well.
When you’ve memorized the breaks and the course strategy at home, its easier to shoot a lower score.
I mean this in the kindest and most constructive way, Jerry, I really do; but you can’t really think that a side-by-side comparison of two different models of Ferrari’s is at all analogous to CD’s or high-resolution digital versus specifically vinyl, right? A Tesla Roadster versus a Porsche 911S or the venerable Ferrari 458 might be more appropriate, don’t you think? You’re trying to compare two very different technologies.
One car is decades old and limited in performance but comes with a retro appeal that make the car sell for $300,000 at auction these days.
The other car is made by the same company and represents much of what a winning F1 team can deliver in a street car. Sells for about the same amount for a 2018 model.
Audiophile elders would pick the low performance, older car. New technology is yucky. For the kids. We can hear better (despite our age) and we know and we base this on 100% subjective matters. Measurements are yucky too.
So yes, I stick with the analogy.
Articles promoting vinyl are getting ever more desperate and distant, we now don’t care about what vinyl actually sounds like because its a spiritual experience. Well it does seem, at last, that trying to say vinyl is BETTER is a dying illusion. As an older enthusiast I have for over 50 years watched and listened to a portion of the audio fanbase blindly (deafly) praise out of date speakers, useless formats ( read mono) and ancient technologies (read vinyl) when blind and deaf freddy can tell you it sounds terrible. Perhaps we need a two aspect hobby, like with motoring, we have people who like cars and then people who like old cars. There are people who like old cars for what they are, i do myself, however very few of them would bother arguing that old cars are BETTER. They are not BETTER in a technical sense they just make you feel BETTER. So vinyl fans, we love you, we love that your old technology makes you feel BETTER and at last perhaps we can all accept that for you that is enough. As for audiophilia that is about SOUND quality not an out of body experience bought about by ritual and illusion, my hifi has no smoke or mirrors, unless its broken. We are not telling AA’s (ancient audiophiles) to discard their turntables, quite the opposite, enjoy them and the noise the make, enjoy cranking the handles and fiddling with the knobs, play endlessly with adjustments and revel in a hobby where you can have a mechanical input, just like lovers of old cars. For the rest of us well we shall enjoy motoring through the clouds in our computer controlled environmentally sterile digital world, vive la difference!
I fail to see the reason to get “pissy.” Like other disagreements I’m sure we’re all familiar with, both sides seem to be having different discussions; one is talking about musical accuracy, and the other is talking about listening experience. I understand Hi-Res digital is more technically accurate, but to say that vinyl “[isn’t] even high performance” is trolling.
Sadly, I agree.
I think the world becomes a better place when we learn to say “I Prefer…” I completely understand the preference for vinyl and its attendant rituals. I understand why some listeners feel a deeper connection to their music when they flip through the records and then clean and fiddle and adjust, etc. I wish to deny that to no listener! But, I PREFER when I only have an hour, to flop in my chair, queue up 59 minutes of music, settle in and relax. I can’t remember the last time I would have felt like doing the ritual. But I find myself getting really frustrated when someone chastises me that “it’s better…” It can be better for you! And I’m great with that! But why can’t digital and streaming be better for me? Why can’t a vinyl guy be OK with that?
Jeff Haagenstad – it’s not that “vinyl guys” aren’t ok w/digital, and streaming. in fact, many (most?) also partake of digital. it’s typically the other way around – digital guys who aren’t ok w/vinyl. jerry d.c. is a perfect example. and, from someone who supposedly is concerned about the health of the audio industry, he’s his own worst enema. besides being a total jerk.
Never had any interaction with Jerry so I’m just totally staying away from that!
Some of the preference on the part of some for vinyl may relate to the significant investment they have made in media and the playback chain over the decades. Having lost all of that a year ago, I thought long and hard about reconstructing some or part of my vinyl collection (which was huge) and since the sunk investment is no longer relevant, I see (hear, actually) no significant benefit to rebuilding my collection of the older technology. Given a limited amount of funds to spend, I’ve elected to ignore the analog domain for media and concentrate on the digital domain, which is vast and expanding and improving. Tech-wise, I suspect that we are at the very end of improvements in the LP based analog experience, but there is still much room to develop in the digital realm.
(Parenthetically, when we moved to CD’s many decades ago, one of the first things I did NOT miss was the ritual of cleaning the disk and needle, flipping the disk, waiting for the first scratch to present itself, etc. I DID enjoy reading the album and liner notes, which were never successfully replicated in the CD experience, but Roon has fixed that for me and then some.)
Happy turkey day to you too.
For $20 per month Tidal seems like a perfect place to start.
I once had my beloved CD collection (in Case Logic cases) stolen during Spring Break at college Freshman year. Thankfully, I had all of the jewel cases sitting back in Philly thus I got Sam Goody (high) prices for everything from USAA.
In a way it was musically liberating. I lost some very cool stuff but I got to ask if I wanted to buy everything I own back again. I didn’t. I changed and it was a good thing.
…and for an example of why I prefer digital, on Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”, when Winwood fat-fingers a few piano notes during the instrumental portion, digital renders the mistake with absolute perfection…
i like vinyl because of how it sounds. in SPITE of the “ritual”, which i happen to think is a pita…
I’m always prepared to listen to music and that’s why I like using Media server for my Listening .
And long Playlist are so much fun .
No analog for me then…
This reminds me of the man who kept hitting his head with a hammer because “it feels so good when I stop.”
Vinyl advocates, me included, don’t need to defend themselves, but, since they’re probably much in the minority with regards to this hobby, they shouldn’t start discussions with proclamations, either. “Live and let live” is really almost too trite, but it sure seems to me the way to go.
In an interview published in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune (I believe it was syndicated), Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones laments digital and praises analog recording and the resurrection of vinyl playback. He basically stated that digital was a sterile piece of $&*$#. Rock on Keith!
Vinyl to me is a mixed bag. Old recordings that don’t sound as “good” as digital, seem to sound richer and more complete on vinyl. I’ve listened to new albums on vinyl where I could hear things with clarity that I could never hear on digital. Some people claim that the frequency range of vinyl is inferior, but at least analog sourced vinyl can get up to 50,000 Hz, and HD Vinyl coming out later next year is claiming 100,000 Hz on the sides. I’ve heard of a study that even though the ear can’t hear past the CD bottleneck, higher frequencies still make the brain react, but it would probably subside if you wore a tinfoil hat. 🍙 I’m a music fan – I missed vinyl the first time around (X-ennial), I’ve got cassettes (old and brand new), CDs, and Spotify & Apple Music Premium accounts. I tried Tidal, but in my setup it just sounded muddy, plus their interface is horrible. CDs are passé and and are OK if you can buy a lot of them for cheap. Cassettes (in a good player), and vinyl, impress me. I’ve tried to get Spotify to start lossless service, just because I don’t want to buy a bunch of FLAC files, but the CEO just seems to be resting on his laurels. In this age of disposable entertainment, old, new, and future formats all have something to offer, in my life, vinyl will hold a prominent spot in it.