Is Analog Dead?

1950: "The ultimate in disc recording is to make the reproduced sound as near as possible to the original..." (The founder of Audio magazine, C.G. McProud, in "Recording Characteristics," Audio Engineering, January 1950, reprinted in The 2nd Audio Anthology, p.67, Radio Magazines, 1954.)

1951: "One of the important factors in the public acceptance of LP discs is the fact that they can be played with a total absence of surface noise..." (Maximilian Weil in "Phono Facts," Audio Engineering, June 1951, reprinted in The 2nd Audio Anthology, p.62, Radio Magazines, 1954.)

1979: "Digital audio recording promises to bring us a level of fidelity so far above that of both the mechanical disc and the analog tape recording that it cannot be ignored by anyone seeking the highest possible fidelity." (Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, in Stereophile, Vol.4 No.4, p.3.)

1980: "It has become a mindlessly parroted truism...that digital recording is the...wave of the future. At the same time, there isn't a single audiophile-oriented equipment reviewer, record producer or music critic who finds the treble range of current digital recordings musically natural and enjoyable." (Iconoclastic audio critic Peter Aczel in The Audio Critic, Vol.2 No.3, Spring through Fall 1980, p.18.)

1981: "Our that [digital] doesn't offer any significant advantages over the best that analog can do. But we expect that in time it certainly will." (Recording engineer Gerald Reynolds of Nimbus Records, who a year or so earlier had produced a 45rpm LP set, Comparisons, where pianist Bernard Roberts had recorded Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata direct-to-disc, on a ½" Ampex analog tape recorder using Dolby-A noise reduction, and via an early Sony PCM-1600 A/D converter. (It is one of life's delicious ironies that though Nimbus started the 1980s furiously committed to direct-to-disc and to analog tape, they were one of the first record companies to stop issuing LPs.) Quoted in HFN/RR, January 1981, p.61.)

1982: "Compact Disc...will not make the analog disc obsolete...Both systems will coexist for a long time. It is true that, last time around, the new and compatible microgroove records established themselves very quickly; but there was not, then, a record player in almost every home..." (Sony's Roger Lagadec, then with Studer-Revox, in "Digital Audio, the Studer View," Studio Sound, March 1982, and reprinted in HFN/RR, May 1982.)

1982: "Most critical listeners...have agreed that there are certain things unmistakably wrong with the majority of digitally-mastered analog discs." (J. Gordon Holt in Stereophile, Vol.5 No.7, September 1982, p.6.)

1982: "Just as Compact Cassette hasn't replaced the LP...CD in the immediate future will join, rather than replace, analog technology." (Myself in "Compact Disc, John Atkinson scratches his head," HFN/RR, November 1982.)

1983: "You're looking at the extraordinary new Compact Disc, the music format of the future." (A Sony UK advertisement in March 1983.)

1983: "It will take 10 years for the CD to replace the LP." (Steven N. Harris of Tannoy, then Product Manager of Marantz UK, commenting to me on the British launch of CD in March 1983.)

1983: "I have heard our hi-fi future, is a clattering, clamorous cacophony." (Sacramento high-end retailer Keith Yates in "Slipped Discs," Sacramento, May 1983.)

1983: "I have watched with more than casual interest the unprecedented promotion for the CD. The traditionally noncritical audio magazines in the United States have been positively drooling over the merits of the CD. This created a demand for the player months before they even went on sale." (Famed mastering engineer Doug Sax in "CD: A Lie Repeated Often Enough Becomes Truth," Stereophile, Vol.6 No.5, November, 1983.)

1985: "I have not heard a single compact disc that sounds as good as the identical recording." (Music critic Edward Rothstein in "The Quest for Perfect Sound," The New Republic, December 30, 1985.)

1986: "Every technological advance in sound reproduction has been hailed as 'unmusical,' 'unnatural,' and 'contrary to God's law.' The first stereo discs were castigated by most sonically-aware critics on precisely the same grounds, except that two new cavil criteria had been added: inner-groove distortion and mistracking. Could we really have expected CD to be greeted with any less skepticism. What about giving CD the 28-year chance to prove itself that we gave the LP?" (J. Gordon Holt in "Give CD a Chance," Stereophile, Vol.9 No.6, September, 1986, p.5.)

1986: "It will probably be several years before the CD repertoire catches up with that of the LP phonograph record." (Two widely read mainstream audio writers, Hans Fantel of The New York Times and Ivan Berger of Audio, in The New Sound of Stereo, Plume Books, New American Library, February 1986.)

1988: "The existence of more than 3 billion LPs would suggest that it will be some time before the flimsy little silver discs entirely obsolete the LP." (Harry Pearson in answer to a reader's letter in The Absolute Sound, #52, Spring 1988, p.22.)

1988: "A 16-bit digital system with a sampling frequency of 44.1kHz is of the most heavenly and incontrovertible perfection (barring vulgar hardware and software foul-ups...)." (Iconoclastic audio critic Peter Aczel in The Audio Critic, Issue No.11, Winter/Spring 1988, p.35.)

1988: "A properly dithered 16-bit digital audio storage system with accurate analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters will outperform any analog storage medium in existence..." (Stanley P. Lipshitz, erstwhile President of the Audio Engineering Society and, with his associate John Vanderkooy, one of the acknowledged "Fathers of Digital Dither," in "Are D/A Converters Getting Worse?," AES Preprint 2586, presented at the March 1988 Paris AES Convention.)

1989: "149,700,000 Total CD sales for 1988. 72,000,000 Total LP sales for 1988." ("Broken Records," The San Francisco Examiner, July 9, 1989.)

1989: "We'll...carry turntables as long as they're available...I believe they'll be available for 10 years." (Wayne Inouye of retail chain The Good Guys, quoted in that The San Francisco Examiner article.)

1989: "We are living in the Golden Age of the Used LP...the non-audiophile music lovers of this country are divesting themselves of their LP collections at a rapid rate. Though this reflects the tragic demise of vinyl as a viable retail commodity, it's a bonanza for those of us who continue to love LPs." (Stereophile Publisher Larry Archibald in "Get' em while they're hot—before they're not," "The Final Word," Stereophile, Vol.12 No.5, p.210.)

1989: "It's a rapidly declining market, but...yes, I could sell more [LPs]...[The major labels] have cut out so many LPs and the ones they haven't deleted...often take as much as 3–4 months to come in." (Specialist record store owner Jim Albright, interviewed by Richard Lehnert in Stereophile, Vol.12 No.9, p.32. His store, Rare Bear, Santa Fe's last to stock an in-depth LP catalog, will be selling exclusively cassette and CD by the time you receive this issue.)

1989: "Stop buying records and start getting CDs." (Stereo Review Editor-at-Large William Livingstone in "Goodbye LPs, Hello CDs," USA Weekend, September 29, 1989.)

1990: "Turntables and scraping needles are as out of style as a Hyundai, the Berlin Wall, junk bonds, Cabbage Patch dolls, and blackened redfish." (An anonymous writer in "Current Samples," CD Review, January 1990, p.10.)

1990: "6,500,000 CD players." (The EIA's estimated sales to dealers of home and portable CD players in 1989, quoted in This Week in Consumer Electronics, January 15–19, 1990, p.28.)

1990: "CD player sales will still continue to grow at a faster pace than any other category in the industry." (Sony's director of hi-fi products, Bob Weissburg, quoted in that TWICE article. (LP turntables were not listed.)

1990: "Vinyl records...are all but extinct." (Tristram Lozaw in "Is the CD boom good for sound or just sound business?," The Boston Herald, March 30, 1990.)

1990: "I sold off my LP collection (about 2500 LPs) five years ago. I miss many of the records..." (Charles C. White, Jr. in a letter to the editor, Stereophile, Vol.13 No.5, p.37.)

1990: "Considered as sound, the early CDs were perhaps the biggest scam in the history of consumer electronics." (Movie critic David Denby in New York magazine, February 19, 1990, p.38.)

1990: "The record industry has been successful in its pogrom of destruction of analog..." (Loudspeaker designer and recording engineer David Wilson, interviewed elsewhere in this issue of Stereophile.)

1990: "Analog is finished." (A statement made to me by Goldmund's Michel Reverchon, over an excellent lunch one April 1990 day at Santa Fe's Comme Chez Vous restaurant, explaining why Goldmund is no longer manufacturing analog turntables.)

1990: "We are selling the last of our record players...whether we start up production again [at the end of 1990] depends on the market...we are hoping to manufacture a CD transport for another company." (Gifted engineer and turntable manufacturer John Bicht of Versa Dynamics, in a telephone conversation with me at the end of April 1990.)

1990: "Unless people walk over records with golf shoes or let their lava lamps explode on them, vinyl records will virtually always sound better than a CD." (TAS Senior Popular Music Editor Michael Fremer, quoted in the Lozaw Boston Herald article.)

1990: "JA, TJN, and I are just back from the recording sessions for Stereophile's second LP—if we can get the master successfully transferred to lacquer...the record will be something to hear." (Larry Archibald in "The Final Word," Stereophile, Vol.13 No.3, p.226.)

In response to the question that titles this month's "As We See It" column, I'll leave it to these objets trouvés to convey what the world thinks the answer should be. (I assume it's pretty clear how Stereophile sees it.)

While compiling these quotations, however, I find it hard to believe that almost exactly eight years ago, I sat in on a series of conferences where the then Managing Director of Sony UK, one Tim Steele, tried to hard-sell skeptical record-company executives on the benefits of CD to their business. "Who needs it?" was the overwhelming reaction to that Sony presentation; even in November of 1982—after the Japanese launch of the medium—a friend of mine who was a classical label manager at a major classical company was asking my opinion on the long-term viability of CD. These days, I wished I'd been a little less positive in my reply!