For most people, even many audiophiles, analog LPs played on a turntable has not notably, nor dramatically, changed since Emile Berliner introduced the flat disc with a spiral groove in the 1890’s. Then as now, most would probably assume the technology has not changed all that much. Has it?
For most of the past decade anyway, LPs have been enjoying a renaissance if you will. Never really abandoned by audiophiles when the digital age (craze) began, it now seems even non audiophiles are taking renewed interest in LPs. So much so, they are selling better today than they have in many years. Even still, we find ways to disagree.
It almost seems as if we audiophiles have the inherent need to disagree about certain subjects. Cables certainly qualify. Perhaps equally venomous is the continuing debate between analog and digital. Specifically, which one is best.
This is not and will not be a discourse about sonic superiority. At the end of the day, I enjoy LPs equally as much as digital. End of story. How I divide listening time between the two is typically guided by some unknown, spur of the moment decision. Basically, whatever my mood strikes.
Sonically, I see digital and analog as two coexisting formats. There are times I prefer digital, and the same may be said for analog. In simple terms, some days, for no particular reason, I favor one over the other and will listen accordingly. There are attributes, however, both pro and con, as they relate to the analog format.
What I like about turntables.
Turntable engineering has decidedly improved. Yes, the fundamental technology remains unchanged but what is now possible with analog is exceptional. Better, more accurate, more stable motors and platters are commonplace today. Vacuum hold down systems for flatness. Highly engineered tonearms and cartridges. And despite the inherent difficulties in turntable setup, there have been advancements made there as well. Yes, more would be welcomed!
Turntables are now more cost effective than in times past. Several manufacturers make entry level turntables, most with a pre-mounted cartridge, for less than a $1000.00. In fact, several models are available for about $600.00 so the cost of admission is not very expensive. There are even budget minded models with a built in phonostage so all one would need are some speakers and music awaits.
Analog devotees have a wide range of products at all price ranges from which to choose. If $2000.00 will get a nice table, $5000.00 will deliver a better one and $10,000.00 gives something to write home about. And yes, if one so chooses, they can have a turntable costing in excess of $500,000.00. Can anyone say TechDAS Airforce Zero? That is my hyper car of analog audio!
Albums are more available now than really any time since the 1980’s. These days, finding a place to purchase a CD might be a challenge. Many retailers don’t sell them anymore. Here in Charlotte, we have three music stores that carry both but the predominate format is the LP. Even Barnes & Noble has a respectable variety of LPs in most of their stores.
What is possible with analog is improving. I recently purchased a Mobile Fidelity Ultra Disc remaster of the Blood, Sweat & Tears self-titled album. I have never heard a better sounding analog recording on my system. Ever. Period. In fact, this release is so magnificent it eclipses many of my digital recordings. If these very limited edition, very expensive ($125.00 ea.) LPs were more plentiful and affordable, they would be the only analog version I’d buy. Most importantly, they effectively represent what modern technology can deliver.
What I don’t like.
Can anyone say convenience? I find analog decidedly time consuming. Clean the LP, clean the stylus, demagnetize, move the tonearm, lower the tonearm, flip the LP, on and on. With digital, I sit down, pick something of interest, and push play. No fuss, no muss. I can even have the software pick music for me if I so choose.
Another issue is correctly setting up a turntable. Oh, my! It seems these days ancillary devices are needed for proper set up. Most experts use a digital microscope to ensure the angle of the stylus to the LP is exactly 92 degrees. Azimuth cannot be done by eye, perish the thought. I use a Fozgometer to get that adjustment as accurate as reasonably possible. There are, of course, more precise methods. VTA, tracking force, overhang, null points, ugh! Most frustrating of all, as you zero in on one calibration point, it often alters a different one previously set. It can be so frustratingly confusing there are even set up experts making a living just dialing in a turntable. Go figure.
I also find it annoyingly inconvenient that I am only able to play one LP at a time. One side even and then I must get up and do the big flip. And if I do not really care for one particular song? With digital, I push next. Analog? I’m far too lazy to haul my backside from the chair, walk to the rack, lift the tonearm, move it forward, lower the tonearm and go sit back down. No, I just suffer through a song I don’t really like.
With digital, I can listen to music for hours and never get up. With LPs, I am forced to get up about every 20 minutes or so. I’d love to see an audiophile approved method to play multiple albums, one after another, without doing damage to the LP, the turntable, or my rear end. And yes, I am absolutely a lazy audiophile!
What I like most about BOTH formats is the enjoyment I happily receive from each. When I am in my audio room, eyes closed, not a care in the world, listening to music I appreciate and enjoy, tapping my foot and at times singing as if I knew how, nothing else really matters. I am not trying to decide, or argue even, about which is the better format – which one sounds superior. Who cares! I’m happy.
At the end of the day, what more from an audio system can, or should, anyone ask?