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dcrowe
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Analog Philosophy

The recent addition of the article at http://www.stereophile.com/thinkpieces/599digital/ about digital versus analog effectively makes the quite valid point that we should not argue one technology is superior to another (e.g., CD versus vinyl) simply on aesthetic, philosophical, or other theoretical grounds. The argument is made that "digital idealism" should not prejudice us against "analog realism". I agree completely. I do not prefer (contrary to the suggestion in the linked article) digital to vinyl on the basis of an allergy to things mechanical, rather I prefer digital to analog on the basis of what I hear. This is why, when high-end vinyl afficianados play their demostrations for me of what they believe is clearly superior sound from their expensive truntables, I am frankly amazed that this collection of wear-induced distortion (not to mention pops, clicks, and dust artifacts) can be perceived as superior. It makes them happy, so I am happy for them. It doesn't work for me, simply based on what I hear.

I expect that many analog enthusiasts will say I can't hear based upon this opinion, and certainly the sound of analog is different. The first play of a new and clean record on a fine turntable is enjoyable. But next month it is likely to be dissapointing. I think that transfer of a new recording played by analog equipment to digital form should be considered by fans of that sound. Here is where I challenge the analog fans to consider: are you against digital based upon "analog idealism"? Do you avoid preserving the pristine sound of a new record because digital will somehow contaminate your analog philosophy? If you believe that you hear degradation due to the digital process, then I recognize that you made the choice based upon listening and not upon philosophical expectations (prejudice against digital). Even if I prefered the sound of new vinyl, I think that I would be forced to preserve it in digital form, simply because I cannot tolerate the distortions in much-played vinyl.

What are your opinions, based upon the sound you hear?

RGibran
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Re: Analog Philosophy

I think it might be important to point out that the article you link to was written in 1999. Also I would ask, did you miss the part where he stated

Monty
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Re: Analog Philosophy

I like digital and solid state just fine and think that it offers the most appealing sound for the money. It's a whole lot less expensive to get great sound down that road than going the analog route. However, the only system that I ever heard that I absolutely couldn't find anything to fault was a tube and vinyl system...and it was expensive. Actually, the system did have some vinyl tics and pops. That didn't bother me in the least.

In my mind, the competition between the two formats is like a drag race. The digital and solid state leaves the analog at the tree until about the $4k range where it starts becoming competitive until the analog pulls away heading toward $10k systems.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Well, Devon, here's a little analog/digital story for you for what it may be worth. It has little to do with philosophy.

A couple of years ago I began trying out software packages with an eye to converting a forty year collection of vinyl recordings to Redbook digital format. I had a large CD collection, I'd upgraded the digital front end of my system, and was very pleased with what I was hearing. I found a good piece of software - easy to use, capable of cleaning up pops and clicks and enhancing ambience where that was desired - and began the transfers. Given the age of some of the recordings and the countless plays of the favorites, many of the transfers represented real improvements.

I thought the project was so worthwhile that I decided to upgrade my analog front end so as to produce a better product. Enter unintended consequences. Good grief, the new vinyl sound was spectacular, and the business of setting up a new turntable (something I hadn't done for years) was great fun. Next came taking a flier on a couple of audiophile vinyl reissues. They were wonderful.

I didn't scrap the conversion project. It just took a different turn. Rather than give away the best of the old stuff, I've kept it and am enjoying it more than ever. Virtually all of my recent music purchases have been vinyl. Based on the atrocious DRM moves of late (see Sony-BMG) and the abundance of really excellent new vinyl pressings, vinyl may account for all of my music purchases in the future.

Ignore the attributes of vinyl if that makes you happy, and good luck with the lunatic DRM stuff waiting down the road for you.

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:
Well, Devon, here's a little analog/digital story for you for what it may be worth. It has little to do with philosophy.

A couple of years ago I began trying out software packages with an eye to converting a forty year collection of vinyl recordings to Redbook digital format. I had a large CD collection, I'd upgraded the digital front end of my system, and was very pleased with what I was hearing. I found a good piece of software - easy to use, capable of cleaning up pops and clicks and enhancing ambience where that was desired - and began the transfers. Given the age of some of the recordings and the countless plays of the favorites, many of the transfers represented real improvements.

I thought the project was so worthwhile that I decided to upgrade my analog front end so as to produce a better product. Enter unintended consequences. Good grief, the new vinyl sound was spectacular, and the business of setting up a new turntable (something I hadn't done for years) was great fun. Next came taking a flier on a couple of audiophile vinyl reissues. They were wonderful.

I didn't scrap the conversion project. It just took a different turn. Rather than give away the best of the old stuff, I've kept it and am enjoying it more than ever. Virtually all of my recent music purchases have been vinyl. Based on the atrocious DRM moves of late (see Sony-BMG) and the abundance of really excellent new vinyl pressings, vinyl may account for all of my music purchases in the future.

Ignore the attributes of vinyl if that makes you happy, and good luck with the lunatic DRM stuff waiting down the road for you.

Excellent post, Clay. How do your digital transfers compare in sound quality to playing the vinyl?

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:
I like digital and solid state just fine and think that it offers the most appealing sound for the money. It's a whole lot less expensive to get great sound down that road than going the analog route. However, the only system that I ever heard that I absolutely couldn't find anything to fault was a tube and vinyl system...and it was expensive. Actually, the system did have some vinyl tics and pops. That didn't bother me in the least.

In my mind, the competition between the two formats is like a drag race. The digital and solid state leaves the analog at the tree until about the $4k range where it starts becoming competitive until the analog pulls away heading toward $10k systems.

Have you tried making digital copies of sound from $10K analog systems? How does it compare to direct vinyl playback?

ohfourohnine
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Not only does Beth have it right, Mike, she represents the hope of the future. What a happy combination - someone whose hair isn't even beginning to turn gray who not only really listens to music, but spreads the word.

Monty
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Hey Devon, no, I haven't. I do have a number of analog transfers that sound wonderful, but they were done professionaly.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Analog Philosophy

How did the transfers sound? Well, some of the old Blue Note stuff like Eddie Condon, Edmund Hall, Jack Teagarten, Bessie Smith etc., sounded better because I'd cleaned up the worst wear and tear. Some of the others like the old jazz from Pablo and Concord weren't copied to make A/B comparisons but to preserve the music and make it playable in my car, iPod, etc.

One careful comparison of original vs. transfer which I have made is of a 1981Angel recording of Itzhak Perlman playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Carlo Maria Giulini and the Philharmonia Orchestra. I must have six or eight copies of that concerto with different soloists and Perlman's performance is my favorite. The recording has been played countless times on various levels of equipment. It is, however, palpably better than the digital copy.

Since you're interested in comparisons, here is another which I thing argues mightily for vinyl today. One of the old favorites in my collection is an old Pablo from the early eighties called Trumpet Summit - Dizzy, Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Joe Pass, and Bobby Durham. I just got an Analogue Productions Revival Series recording (vinyl of course) of alternate takes from that same session mastered and manufactured with the benefit of today's finest technology. It's a knockout. Give a listen to the likes of that one or the Audiophile Master recording of Gene Harris and the Ray Brown Trio called Soular Energy and you'll have a better understanding of why some of us are not only still playing our old stuff but are buying new records.

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy

If Clay, Monty, or anyone else has a recommendation for: 1. a few of the best modern vinyl sources, and 2. a state-of-the-art transfer company who will make vinyl into CD or SACD using the best available analog equipment, then I will try that experiment, since my experience with vinyl is not recent. Is there a digitizing service that will make both a copy through solid state and another copy through tubes for comparison?

Thanks,
Devon

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Re: Analog Philosophy

Regards sources for great new vinyl, try the websites of Music Direct and Acoustic Sounds. They're my favorites. Regards professional transfer services, I can't help you. Perhaps Monty can. As I recall, he made reference to owning some professional transfers.

I do have a question though. Given that someone can take a great new vinyl pressing from you and do a thoroughly professional job of converting it to digital, what do you expect to get from what you call your "experiment". In your opening post, you stated that you prefer digital sound and you gave your reasons. You even cited instances where friends with good vinyl systems had treated you to listening sessions where they were happy with what they heard and you were not. Are you really likely to change your mind simply because some of us out here disagree with your position?

If you're happy with the sound of your music, why not just keep playing it? It is, after all, the music, isn't it?

Monty
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Here is another great source for all things vinyl and hard to find discs.

I didn't mean to give the impression that I have a source that transfers analog to digital, what I meant was that I have many discs that were purchased as analog transfers. Mostly music from the early days of stereo that were originally reproduced with analog and subsequently remastered to digital from the original analog recordings.

Since any transfer of format is only going to be as good as the source, it would not be very cost effective to try to get superior sound from a used album. Still, there are many reasons to transfer albums to digital that would justify paying someone to do it.

This is just one of many companies that are tapping into this demand.

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:

I do have a question though. Given that someone can take a great new vinyl pressing from you and do a thoroughly professional job of converting it to digital, what do you expect to get from what you call your "experiment". In your opening post, you stated that you prefer digital sound and you gave your reasons. You even cited instances where friends with good vinyl systems had treated you to listening sessions where they were happy with what they heard and you were not. Are you really likely to change your mind simply because some of us out here disagree with your position?

If you're happy with the sound of your music, why not just keep playing it? It is, after all, the music, isn't it?

The problem is, of course, that I am not happy with the sound of my system. I seem to be very sensitive to distortions that occur in massed orchestral passages and on some vocalizations, and I have yet to hear the system that is free of these effects. I do not claim to have comprehensive experience, and have not heard the latest vinyl played with turntables in the over $10K class.

Yes, it is the music, but I must play at very far less than realistic levels to not have the enjoyment degraded by the distortions in my system, or the other systems that I have heard. The lowered level itself degrades the experience. I am always in search of improvement.

I am always willing to listen to the systems that others describe in glowing terms. And the claim that the very best analog systems using the new state-of-the-art in pressings is superior is something I have not tested. That is the reason that I am willing to run the relatively inexpensive experiment of trying the sound if I can identify a truly state-of-the-art transfer source.

300Binary
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Happiness is just a mood. Listening to music, or to reproduced music, or to artifacts of the reproduction chain is just for fun. Insisting it is a serious pursuit which leaves you miserable is a bit much.

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:
Happiness is just a mood. Listening to music, or to reproduced music, or to artifacts of the reproduction chain is just for fun. Insisting it is a serious pursuit which leaves you miserable is a bit much.

These are your words, not mine. If I didn't enjoy it, I would not bother.

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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:

The problem is, of course, that I am not happy with the sound of my system. I seem to be very sensitive to distortions that occur in massed orchestral passages and on some vocalizations, and I have yet to hear the system that is free of these effects.

Sometimes the problem is not your equipment. I had the very same state of mind several years back. Imagine my surprise when I had an opportunity to hear an original two track recording that caused me to blame my system. The result was that I heard the distortion on the two track recording. Now, I could blame the studio's gear, but I tend to believe that if two completely different systems play the same distortion on the same passage, the distortion is on the recording.


Quote:

Yes, it is the music, but I must play at very far less than realistic levels to not have the enjoyment degraded by the distortions in my system, or the other systems that I have heard. The lowered level itself degrades the experience. I am always in search of improvement.

Sometimes distortion that is audible becomes inaudible with a low enough volume level. It's still not certain that your equipment is to blame. Do you know anyone that can play this particular music without distortion? At the levels you prefer?

stealthaxe

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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:

Sometimes distortion that is audible becomes inaudible with a low enough volume level. It's still not certain that your equipment is to blame. Do you know anyone that can play this particular music without distortion? At the levels you prefer?

stealthaxe

Thank you, Stealthaxe. You are quite correct that some recordings are more distorted than others. I do have recordings that have a consistent distortion on any system. I can even test this myself by comparing the living room system to the bedroom system to my Sennheiser HD 600's. If these recordings that are distorted were recorded that way on the master tape, there is no hope for them. In some cases, the SACD versions are either less (usually) or (sometimes) more distorted than the CD version, indicating a mastering issue. Often the CD is the same as the SACD also. The question in this thread has been whether analog pressings differ from the CD's. In the cases of the analog playback that I have heard, there was enough wear-induced distortion that the digital versions always sounded better. I have not had the opportunity to hear an over $10K turntable system with a new pressing played for the first time, however. I also have been unable to find a transfer company that owns such equipment, by the way!

In the end, I expect that you are correct, and there is a significant amount of distortion on a significant fraction of recordings as delivered to the consumer.

Devon

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Re: Analog Philosophy

Personally, I think that each person should find and enjoy what works for them. I have a great friend and audiophile (with MUCH better gear than I) who detests vinyl. Good for him, one less person competeing for the good used vinyl!

The arguments that I've heard against vinyl tend to center on the issue of surface noise. OK, fair enough, however, if you take proper care of your LP's...I'd say 90% of that surface noise is a non-issue. I hate tape hiss on CD's, so to say that extraneous noise isn't present...I don't buy it. There is good and bad in both formats, the trick is to find what's right for you (in my case it's about an even split) and keep an open mind about the other.

BDT

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Re: Analog Philosophy


Quote:
Personally, I think that each person should find and enjoy what works for them. I have a great friend and audiophile (with MUCH better gear than I) who detests vinyl. Good for him, one less person competeing for the good used vinyl!

The arguments that I've heard against vinyl tend to center on the issue of surface noise. OK, fair enough, however, if you take proper care of your LP's...I'd say 90% of that surface noise is a non-issue. I hate tape hiss on CD's, so to say that extraneous noise isn't present...I don't buy it. There is good and bad in both formats, the trick is to find what's right for you (in my case it's about an even split) and keep an open mind about the other.

BDT

All quite true. And surface noise is not my main issue with vinyl. For me, it is the audible wear that causes distortion. For those who enjoy vinyl, I am genuinely happy for them.

No technology is ever obsolete in the sense that it still does what it always did. Old computers may be slower, but they can still perform a function if speed is not an issue. More interestingly, sailing is still fun and has aesthetic advantages in the age of power boats. Something similar can be said for bicycles. Analog playback of vinyl has nostalgia for many, and just the act of setting up and operating the equipment is enjoyable for those who are not spoiled by nearly instantaneous random access of large amounts of musical material. All of these activities are also enhanced by the fact that modern technology continues to refine sailboats, bicycles, and turntables and catridges. Enjoy!

Buddha
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Re: Analog Philosophy

I apologize if I end up sounding like an analog apologist here, but I'll try and give this a go.

I'm still an avid LP fan. Right up front, I do not deny to tactile pleasure of LP play. Playing LP's is a little ritualistic - maybe a touch toward why they have the Japanese Tea Ceremony or the National Anthem before the Super Bowl; the ritual sets the stage for the enjoyment that follows. Maybe getting an LP set up for play creates a bit of pleasurable anticipation. So, yes, there is most likely some residual nostalgia in the LP playback process that gives me "non-sonic" pleasure.

The bottom line, though, is that I still find LP sound more enjoyable than CD sound.

I confess, it may be a case of having learned to "hear" in the LP era of hi-fi, so that is the sound I identify with. I hope that isn't the case, but who among us is 100% "objective?"

(I also enjoy CD listening, it's not an "either/or" thing.)

My preference for LP's is almost ineffable, and my first impulse trying to describe my preference is too weak a point to use in any emphatic way, "it just sounds better."

(In case I forget, whenever I make statements like that, always add "to me" at the end!)

To try and be more effable...

I think there is something on/in LP playback equalization curves or whatever that makes it so the ear is able to better focus on what part of the sound is meant to be attended to first. I give CD more credit for flat frequency response. LP's are almost like a great painting compared to a photo (CD sound)...the painting conveys the emotional information of a scene better than a photo and perhaps allows one to more readily assimilate the information that is trying to be conveyed. LP is like that, it seems to make it easier for me to catch on to what I think the artist was intending to have me hear.

Maybe its the flaws in LP that make it easier for me to zoom in on something in the music?

With a CD, I get more of a feeling that all of the parts of the "sounds that were made" during the performance are being given equal footing, so it hits me more like a Wagner opera than a more intimate experience. It takes me a split second longer to "get it" and isn't as enjoyable.

I really apologize for these "chocolatey" descriptions!

I have another way of saying it: LP sound is like looking up at a full moon and feeling like the whole night sky is full of that giant moon, but when you take a picture of the same event and then look at it, the moon is suddenly very small. The two events are different, even though the photgraph is very "accurate." So, just like the moon seeming larger because you are focusing your attention on it, LP sound does that for what I want to hear on a disc. CD is more like the photo of the moon.

Oh! Even another example! ----> Have you ever liked the look of your room, the furniture arrangement, the ambience, the wall coverings, etc, and then taken a picture of it? (This is especially true of taking a picture of your hi-fi rig.) Then, when you look at the picture, you suddenly have your attention drawn to the presence of all the wires and cables and you see the flaws in the fabric and the dings on the wall? This happens to me all the time: To me, the picture did not accurately convey what I saw with my own to eyes when I beheld the room! The photo actually made the room look worse and does not accurately depict my experience of the same room. That, to me, is the difference between LP and CD sound!

____________________________
____________________________

Even though LP's have surface noise, I honestly don't hear it most of the time. Not to poo poo the importance of noise, but I seem to be able to easily listen through it for some other unknown reason. This occurred early on, even before I learned to listen to music through kid noise. Maybe it's because even the best live performance has some noise in the hall or from the surrounding audience, LP noise just becomes part of the scenery. As someone else mentioned, it's also not an issue around 98 or 99 percent of the time.

_________________________________

Now, I know this next part will sound nuts, but I find LP's to be "quieter" than CD's when listening to low level passages.

On an LP, a single voice or instrument risining out of silence seems to "emerge" rather than just "appear" like it does on CD.

Picture this description as a late night listening session, maybe during the holidays 'cause that holiday choral music uses alot of quiet passages with voices rising out of the darkness. On those passages, LP seems to convey the process of sounds emerging from the background better than CD does.

I refuse to use the word "palpable."

_______________________________________
_______________________________________

Also not to sound too crazy, but LP gets a little credit for sounding "better than it should," and CD gets a little debit for not sounding "as good as it should." No medium is really "there" yet, CD is the astoundingly talented rookie, full of skills and raw ability (lots of tools, but not all the skills, yet), LP is the mature and wiley veteran who is in full bloom of his skill set, and succeeeds by being very good at what he does, even though he lacks the rookie's raw power.

Well, that ran long. Hope it makes a little sense about what keeps this vinyl head going.

Monty
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Re: Analog Philosophy

"Writing about music is
like dancing about architecture..."
- Elvis Costello

dcrowe
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Re: Analog Philosophy

Thank you, Buddha, I always enjoy your posts. I may be inventing this rather than hearing it (it is a subtle effect if it exists), but to me vinyl sounds just a tiny bit sweet and soft, while CD's sound a tiny bit hard and edgy. Both seem not entirely accurate to me. I can certainly understand a preference for the ease of the vinyl sound. It does seem (to me!) a little bit like fitering to remove part of what is actually on the recording, which makes it more enjoyable for fans of the sound. My mother used to say that men (recording engineers) were not sensitive to treble, so they turned up the treble. To compensate, she always turned down the treble control (remember those?) about halfway. I explained to her that the response was flat when the treble control was set in the middle, but she didn't believe me! To me, vinyl sounds like it is hiding some of the sound. What it hides may be something you don't like. If you prefer it that way, enjoy! On some recordings more than others, the edge on CD's borders on harshness, and I can sympathize, but for some reason with vinyl I feel cheated of part of the recorded information, even if I don't completely like all of it! This is entirely subjective and YMMV.

Before I get another response about "it's the music", yes I really do enjoy what I hear from my system. It is human nature (at least for some of us) to never be satisfied if we can still imagine improvement. That doesn't mean we don't have fun!

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