Month: August 2011

Why Vinyl Sucks and You Know It!

“You can buy our latest record on vinyl at our merch booth… of course it comes with a free download of the songs in MP3 format.” Everyone wants to be a little bit of a connoisseur (What the Cuss? Why is it not spelled connaisseur in english?) these days and seems to know exactly that vinyl just sounds the best – only if it comes with the MP3 download though.

I recently sold my player and conquered my inner hipster. It was even a really good vintage model with a mint modern cartridge. All in all a great sounding thingy-ma-jiggy.

But really, who sits down these days, pulls out a great piece of vinyl, puts it on the platter, spins it up, pulls out the brush, cleans it, properly lands the needle in the groove and sinks into the musical sound scape of … whoever-is-big-this-nano-second.

I was just going to let this topic go by without ever saying anything, but it flared up in me again when I read a great article in “Hear the World“, while waiting to see my audiologist. The article was titled “MP3 or hi-fi? Is MP3 really destroying music, or is it the musicians themselves doing it?”. The article argued, that there is certainly nothing wrong with MP3’s (or AAC’s, the much better and newer format), but rather the musicians and producers and the music industry, which drives music to sound worse than ever. And here comes the best quote of the article: “Some high-end audio fans are more interested in mysticism than solid improvements in sound quality.” (Professor Karlheinz Brandenburg) Amen, brother! You hit it on the head.

Analog certainly has much more information than any digital format has (infinitely more in theory). I’m not going to argue that. Vinyl does have some limits though – you have to properly master the music to create a great groove, which BTW is probably what appeals to most people. The real problem is that music is mastered to be as loud as possible and has lost all dynamics, to stick out of the crowd. This has nothing to do with Vinyl or CD’s or MP3’s for that matter. The article puts it like this: “For example, amplify the sound of a bird chirping to the level of a passing truck.”

I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of vinyl records which sound totally amazing on great stereo rigs, but I can’t afford them. Sure a $50 record, on a $1000 player with a $500 cartridge, a $1000 pre-amp, with a nice $2000 amp and $4000 worth of great speakers sure sounds great (don’t forget those $1000 oxygen free pure silver cables). But I can’t afford it, and I’m pretty sure that most of you can’t either, and never actually want to spend this kind of money on a rig. (If I remember correctly n’s principle is that you have to spend 10 times more, to get 10% better sound, which will very quickly break the bank of the average music lover.)

So here is what I did. I figured out how I can consistently get the best sound, without cracks and pops, at the lowest price (I buy quite a few used CD’s at flea markets and even at Value Village). I just can’t beat the sound of a $3 CD vs. a $3 Vinyl record (which is very likely completely junk), with music that I absolutely love, through a half decent stereo. Most of my music is digitized (Apple lossless, or AAC 320kbps for the music that I’m not too fond of) and I use an Apple-TV to stream the music to my stereo. “Light pipe” (optical) to a neat little amp (Peachtree Decco with Tube Pre-Amp) to a great sounding set of speakers (B&W DM302) that don’t break the bank.

Now I can concentrate on just buying great music and enjoy it with the click of a remote. For a second I think about the guy that was rummaging through the used vinyl section at the flea market, just to find out at home that the record is totally wrecked by someone that did not clean it properly in the past and stored it in a sunny spot for decades. Just for a second though, because I almost missed the great lick of the Hammond Organ in Feist’s “Leisure Suite”. Who is enjoying the tunes now?