Pure Vinyl LP recording & editing software Page 3

Normal playback with Pure Vinyl was always stable. It was only when I was changing configurations, or during rendering operations, that I ran into potentially speaker-damaging problems. According to Robinson, most audiophiles using the software have a dedicated audio computer, which he recommends as the safest way to use his software.

For serious listening, do you really want to digitize analog?
Everything you're about to read needs to be considered in the context of the $675 Lynx L22 soundcard, thought by many to be among the best of its type. However, it's usable in the Intel Macs, some G5s, and some Mac laptops only with the addition of a PCI adapter made by Magma (ca $1000). If you use other A/D and D/A converters, your sonic results may differ.

I started my testing by making a series of recordings using the $1599 Seta Nano phono preamplifier. With the Nano's Flat balanced outputs fed to the A/D converter of the Lynx soundcard and its RIAA-equalized single-ended outputs into the preamp, I could A/B the all-analog, RIAA-corrected "live" playback of an LP with the digitally corrected version. The digital domain version sounded superior—not because digitizing the signal somehow improved it, but because the digital RIAA correction was obviously superior to the analog-domain filter in the less expensive Seta.

Like a high-quality loudspeaker, the digital RIAA equalization's subjective neutrality revealed and resolved far more detail, particularly of low-level information occurring in the same frequency range as high-level information. I could easily hear its superior overall low-level resolution as well—particularly in how it resolved reverberant tails, which extended well beyond what the analog playback produced.

More apparent was the digital version's superior transient response. The analog RIAA version's attack was soft and lacked clarity and definition. Switching to the digital version tightened and clarified the attack and solidified the entire picture. Mush became tightly clarified punch.

If you're going to archive your LPs on your computer's hard drive, I suggest aiming higher than the Seta Nano. In fact, if you already have an accomplished phono preamp, just use that, and carefully set Pure Vinyl so it doesn't add RIAA playback equalization during recording, or you'll double your displeasure with massive amounts of possibly speaker-damaging bass. Switching to Channel D's battery-powered Seta Model L ($4798 with RIAA module) produced far superior results.

Though you'd lose the direct analog feed, if you like your regular phono preamp I'd recommend getting the Seta Model L minus the RIAA section and saving $999, especially if you have a substantial collection of pre-RIAA recordings. You could try recording both ways, and chuck your current phono preamp if you prefer the Seta Model L. And don't be surprised if that's what happens, particularly if you pay attention to the digital RIAA's finesse and robust attacks—particularly in the bottom octaves—and its unerring tonal neutrality. You know the old audiophile chestnut of the lifting of veils from the music? Listen and that's what you're sure to hear, without an additive penalty in terms of the usual digital edge and etch.

I recorded a test pressing of Nat King Cole's Love Is the Thing (45rpm LPs, Capitol/Analogue Productions SW-824); using the Seta Model L and playing it back using the digital RIAA, the sound wasn't exactly soft, warm, and romantic, but it was fundamentally accurate in terms of tonality and space, and its low-level resolution was remarkable. Did it sound "digital"? No, not as analog fanatics normally pejoratively use the word.

I then played the record "live," using the $60,000 Vitus Audio MP-P201 phono preamp. While the sound of the Vitus swamped that of the digital recording made via the Model L's flat outputs and the Lynx soundcard, it wasn't $55,000 better, and the differences weren't in the usual digital-vs-analog sense. The "live" presentation had greater transparency, immediacy, three-dimensionality, top-end air, and musical flow.

An A/B comparison of The Band's second, eponymous album confirmed the same fundamental sonic differences, though surprisingly, the digitized version produced greater bass punch and solidity at the expense of some subtle textures. Pure Vinyl's bottom-end performance was uniformly superb on all of the digitized recordings I made. Missing, though, was the sense of the acoustic space of Sammy Davis Jr.'s pool cabana, where the album was recorded. That's what made the "live" presentation sound more live, and the digitized version sound more like a very good recording. That said, without knowing which was which, I suspect some listeners might prefer the digital versions. (Did I just write that?)

For all but the most well-heeled vinyl fanatics—and not even considering the convenience factor and the ability to play LPs using the correct EQ curve—Pure Vinyl plus peripherals offers a relatively inexpensive way to achieve an extremely high level of vinyl playback. Pure Vinyl will change the musical lives of collectors with large collections of pre-1954 discs.

But wait! There's more!
In addition to Pure Vinyl, your $300 gets you Pure Music, a "parasitic" music server program that acts as a front-end for Apple's iTunes. When you open Pure Vinyl, you'll see an embedded iTunes icon. Click on it and iTunes opens, framed by Pure Vinyl's control panel and metering system.

While iTunes remains the organizing database for your music collection, Pure Music bypasses Apple's less-than-stellar-sounding playback pathway. Most importantly, it changes the sample rate of Apple's CoreAudio engine to match that of the file being played, disabling CoreAudio's real-time sample-rate converter. Using iTunes alone, every time you want to play a file with a different sample rate, you have to quit iTunes, change the default sample rate with the AudioMIDI utility program, then reboot iTunes. Pure Music includes high-quality sample-rate upconversion in real time to resolutions as high as 24-bit/192kHz, as well as a whole host of additional features, including a properly dithered volume control and the ability to play files from memory rather than hard drive (footnote 1).

Pure Music works seamlessly, and definitely improves sound quality over iTunes alone. I didn't compare Pure Music with the Amarra software player, its only competition, but the full Amarra suite alone costs about three times as much as Pure Vinyl, which throws in Pure Music for free. Or you can buy Pure Music separately for $129, and add Pure Vinyl later for the $170 difference.

Even if all you want to do is transfer your LPs to digital for use in your iPod, Pure Vinyl for Mac is a worthwhile purchase. There are less expensive ways to accomplish this, but I doubt any of them will be as ergonomically pleasing or as much fun (yes, fun)—and with the right soundcard, none will likely sound better, especially if you avail yourself of the digital RIAA equalization feature. And as long as you're bothering to do a digital transfer, given how inexpensive 1TB drives have become, why not do it at 24/192?

Beyond that, add a high quality soundcard like the Lynx L22 and either a microphone preamp or a Channel D Seta Model L phono preamp, to take advantage of Pure Vinyl's digital equalization capabilities, and you might find the resulting sound superior to what you hear from playing the LPs directly. Can that be me talking? Yes, based on what I heard.

Expect a steep learning curve, frustrating glitches and malfunctions, program crashes, and mysterious, confusing windows packed with mind-glazing check boxes and pop-up windows. Expect to get no sound, and then speaker-damaging loud sound. Expect upgrades and incompatibilities. After all, computers are involved.

However, once you've got the hang of Pure Vinyl, you'll find yourself saying, "As long as I'm playing this LP anyway, why not archive it? And as long as I'm archiving it, why not listen to it at 24-bits/192kHz, equalized in the digital domain?" I like what I'm hearing.

You can download both Pure Vinyl and Pure Music for 15-day free trials and try them yourself.

Footnote 1: I found Pure Music's Memory playback consistently gave better sound quality, using a USB connection to a dCS uClock and Puccini D/A processor, than playing from hard drive. (This might be because my iTunes library is stored on an external, FireWire-connected drive.) There is a slight delay after you press "Play" while the file is being read into RAM, then a small message beneath the meters at the top of the Pure Music window indicates that the file is being played from RAM. There is also a Hybrid Memory Play mode, where Pure Music commences playback while simultaneously loading each track into memory. As it doesn't have to wait for the track to be completely loaded into RAM, this gives gap-less operation, but with the sonic benefit of Memory playback. For $129, Pure Music is a bargain.—John Atkinson
Channel D
Trenton, NJ.
(609) 393-3600