It’s the time of year for saving money!
My, my how things have changed in our little cottage industry. In a relatively short amount of time, no less. We’ve moved from tubes only equipment to solid state, vinyl to digital, physical media to streamed in a time frame that seems to me to be a mere blink in the space time continuum.
In thinking about this more, I realized recently the result of this is likely due in large part to manufacturers trying to keep up with modern times. Older audiophiles, of which I reluctantly admit I’m one, and any audiophile with decades in the hobby, essentially grew up with “legacy” technologies firsthand. Most twenty somethings, and well, maybe even a few early thirty somethings really haven’t.
Put differently, older audiophiles grew up with many of the technologies on which modern times places less and less focus. And for young kids, it’s almost a matter of “what’s that” as opposed to yeah, that’s cool!
I came to the decision about five years ago that one reason those who love vinyl above all other musical formats is the process of listening itself. Yes, the warm, lush sound of an LP is certainly inviting. I am not speaking to sonics. Rather, I point out the steps most vinylphiles take in actually playing a record – removing the LP from the sleeve, (hopefully) cleaning it, cleaning the stylus, placing the record on the platter, lowering the cue lever, sit down to listen, and frustratingly enough, repeat most of that process about fifteen minutes later. I can attest that on the days when I really crave hearing one of my cherished LP’s, I truly don’t care how long it takes me to get the album out of the rack and get it playing. Don’t care about the effort to do so. Don’t care about flipping the thing over after just getting comfortable. I want to hear vinyl and that’s all there is to it.
I feel that way because I was introduced to the hobby when vinyl was the only game in town. Such is not the case today. Young kids of today grew up with streaming. They, by and large, grew up with wireless. Yesterday’s technologies are just that. Playback systems are more lifestyle products however they may sound – and style may be even more important than sonics.
Such is the new sales prospect in today’s time. They are the goal high performance manufacturers are trying to capture. By making equipm
ent that appeals to a twenty something with their first job out of college, living in an apartment, out from under the dictates of Mom and Dad, yeah, that’s the new potential customer base. Were I a manufacturer, that’s exactly who I would be targeting, and I’d have components priced to do so. Look around, that’s a very viable landscape in high end audio today. And why not, equipment builders aren’t fools.
Personally, I go sort of hot and cold on this issue. I certainly enjoy new audio technology. If I am anything, I am one who tries to realistically keep up with the new and improved. On the other hand, I still see value, well, maybe not value but more appropriately, see considerable interest in legacy. As long as those legacy technologies are sonically on a modern level.
I see sonic value in physical media at a time when the opposite is far and away more popular. I’ll continue to buy CD’s, copy them to my server and enjoy them as long as I am able to do so. And why not. That sounds better on my system than streaming – for a variety of reasons but it is true. I do stream but more as a means to discover new music I want to purchase. Just recently I heard a smooth jazz track on a Polish station on Sonos. Who is that? I found out the name, checked Amazon, ordered it, and despite actually coming from Poland, was happily introduced to a new artist I would have never heard without streaming. It’s now on my server.
Okay, fine and good. What’s my beef?
My “beef” as it were, is how long will it be before I am forced to adopt a new way of listening as opposed to the ones I grew up with, the ones I prefer, and the ones with which I am most familiar and comfortable? How long will it be before I am forced to adopt a “new and improved” way I see as inferior for whatever reason, be it sonics or familiarity? How long will it be before manufacturers, in their messianic mainstream zeal, force me to adopt technologies aimed at a much younger audience?
Am I being overly dramatic? Possibly. Maybe even probably. Still, it makes me think. In my view, streaming is more a lifestyle product than anything else.
OK, yeah, I’ll be castigated for making such a claim, especially when streaming CD quality or better is now an audiophile standard. Most audiophiles don’t even give it a passing thought. It’s the “now” way to listen to music. My way? Think dinosaur. And I’m okay with that.
Many audiophiles eagerly anticipate the day when wireless technologies will enhance our hobby. Imagine having speakers, and I mean really fantastic sounding speakers, not something purchased at a gas station, freed from those expensive cables that cause so much disagreement and empty checkbooks. Think that might be welcomed? How many who feel that way, and who have a significant, five figure and up investment in their system would, right now today, seriously consider replacing what ever speakers are now in use with a wireless version from the gas station? Umm, I’m guessing none?
I love a fabulous sounding audio system. I have spent a considerable sum, and even bought a new home so I could have what I wanted, within reason.
We all have our limits. I look forward to the changes new technologies will HOPEFULLY bring. I am hopeful some new format will appear tomorrow that will replace everything before and will be indistinguishable from live music. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see that day.
In the meantime, I continue to wonder if today’s new and improved will make my hobby more difficult to enjoy.
I also grew up in the age of vinyl when it was the only option for high fidelity sound (unless you could afford a reel-to-reel tape deck). But I readily tossed my turntable aside when CD players became affordable. CDs are so much easier to care for than vinyl albums. So I have readily switched formats before. These days I do stream music most of the time, just because there is so much available and it is an excellent way to discover new music. However, I do still like to take a CD, put it in my player and listen to a whole album that way. And I love that so many inexpensive used CDs are available for some of the not so new music I discover streaming. Will I eventually be forced to abandon my CDs, I hope not, but i can definitely imagine it happening by looking at the disappearance of CD drives on computers and Samsung and OPPO getting out of the BD player business.
Sarcasm: You left out the most fun part of vinyl. Buying a box set of symphonies or string quartets or whatever, and wishing that the continuation of a piece is on the other side of the LP you are currently playing. Otherwise those box sets intended for record changers, will have the next movement(s) scattered throughout the box set.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Don’t get me wrong I just finished spending over $1K on my turntable – new cartridge, etc. – I think the world slows down a bit whenever I play an old LP. But I am done buying or investing in vinyl as a medium.
I subscribe to IDAGIO and SPOTIFY Connect and have all of my CD collection on my NAS. I regularly purchase downloads but will not spend a penny on LP’s again.
I had some old Shure test records I bought decades ago and pulled a few out to test the HF extension of my main TT rig. It did have extension out to 15khz on the test discs, but on 3 commercial discs I randomly pulled out to play none of them had anything past 10khz. I recorded all the files at 2496 for the best resolution. I could also see that I had platter rumble at -38 to -40 db, unweighted which is usually the case all below 50hz. Whether it is any mechanical medium, LPs or tape, there is always an issue with higher noise floor and speed consistency that digital does not have. I have a -80db noise floor in my recording software before I open my microphones. I’ve worked had to get rid of all the AC noise I can and even filter the usb cable lines into my Focusrite 24192 usb AD/DA converter. I have good and bad sounding CDs and good and bad sounding LPs. I look at all the plug-ins in my recoding software that I can “master” with, and when I think of all the commercial mastering engineers with all of THEIR gear and they all use different monitors and all have their own sonic likes and dislikes it is no wonder CDs all sound different.
Computers have only made it slightly more complicated, but the wealth of music available is staggering, but all one has to do is stay away from MP3s, get a nice USB DAC like the $159 Focusrite Scarlett that will pass up to 24 bit/192khz files. If you want to make some nice YouTube material I would recommend buying a Yamaha MG10XU that is a little mixer with 4 mic inputs that has nice compressors on two mic channels, has nice built in effects and a USB path in and out for up to 24/192 audio. This is my fav device for about $200. NCH Debut software makes it easy to make videos and voice overs of screen shots. The Yamaha even has 2 pair of line inputs that would allow you to run your LP playback into your computer as high rez if you choose. I just installed two, IFi Purifier 3 USB noise eliminators on my USB inputs to my audio devices that I think has made the sound even better, for all of $129 each. I still use my two turntables nearly everyday and I am having the time of my audio life. At 73 I like the sound of vinyl, but I also have some bad sounding vinyl and CDs, so that is about the same issue for any format. I do like LPs as I can actually see to read the liner notes. lol When I think of where I came from playing 78’s for my late father who contracted polio in 1952 I find little to complain about with audio quality today. Great audio is everywhere for the taking.
As I see it, the question addresses accumulation of newly-recorded music, such as the Polish jazz example, and whether new music will be released on traditional music formats. I would say that the time is coming when streaming will the only way to get newly-recorded music, but it will depend on what happens to vinyl in the coming decade.
CD’s, for good or ill, will be going the way of the 8-track; it’s only a matter of time. The fade will continue to be slow, but it’s hard not to see the writing on the wall.
So vinyl, also for good or ill, would appear to be the last stand for physical media for newly-recorded music, and who could have foreseen that a decade ago? Certainly not I.
But in terms of transitioning to new technology, I am generally resistant, but take a look at what Neil Young has done with his archives site. And listen to the sound quality he’s able to deliver. If newly-recorded music can be delivered at the quality his site is able to, then I’m perfectly okay with just collecting old music on that old format.
Having moved to file-based playback over my home network, I find some things more fun, some things less.
More fun is being able easily to compare versions of the same piece, or listening to a program of tracks by different artists chosen on the fly, or being able to find that piece by Beethoven on an otherwise Brahms disc. It’s also fun going to Qobuz and exploring new things or old favorites I’ve never bought. The Coasters, anyone? I enjoy bringing up eClassical every morning to see what the Daily Deal (50%-off download) is that day.
Less fun is network trouble, when it occurs — the worst real buzz-kill! Also less fun are downloads that don’t include a PDF booklet. Really, a label can’t be bothered to scan the booklet when it’s selling me electrons for the price of a physical disc — or more?
All modern troubles pale when I remember the fun of buying a 23-CD set, and finding that disc 21 wouldn’t play. One had to return the whole thing, and invariably, it would be disc 22 of the new set that didn’t play. I’m sure glad those days are over for me!
By and large, I’ll take the nits over the constant tweaking, cleaning, warps, bad pressings, and pitch instability of LP playback. I know many miss (or still love) those big discs, but I’m not among them. I love the memories, but not LP playback itself.
As a child, I have pleasant memories of listening to the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas record on my father’s RCA Stereo Record Player but that is where my love for records ended. Better audio equipment just amplified the snap, crackle and pop of records. Tape like 8-Track and Cassette were was not really better with the constant hiss. Digital Audio may not be favored by the Audio Purist, but it sounds so much more clean, clear and alive to me.
Anything wireless is problematic…and unreliable….Blue Tooth for CarPlay…..unreliable…my Mac cannot connect to my Apple Blue Tooth keyboard….the idea of connecting speakers by this method ignores the many problems of the method