Future Tense: The Magic of Plastic



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A lot of these arguments I'm seeing here seem to point to the fact that the digital process makes music sound flat and tingy.  But is that really the fault of the digital process?  Isn't it more the fault of the sound engineers and producers who are not laboring hard enough to preserve the qualities of hearing the music in person?

I'm sure we've all seen situtations where individuals become enamored with the technology and forget to concentrate on the quality of what they are creating.  Coders sit down to type code before sitting at a white board with coworkers to design the structure of the program.  Kids sit down and start whiping up a presentation, picking and chosing fonts and colors and artwork before writing up the content (subject, ideas, text) of the presentation.  Network admins unpack and install new workstations without a solid base image, resulting in every workstation having a different setup.

I listened to an All Song Considered podcast on some lost music of the Rolling Stones.  The person assigned to dig through boxes of old notes and recordings discussed how some of the recordings were originals, as in they had never been in the hands of an engineer, while other recordings of the same songs had been through the hands of engineers and producers.  Despite it all being in analog, he stated how different the songs sounded, and this was because of what the producers and engineers thought the music should sound like, not the technolgy they used at the time.

Hence, I would say it is not the digital process that it ruining your parade.  It is the music industry that has become enamored with the digital process and in cranking out as much music as possible, damned the quality (in both content and recording) that is ruining everything for you.

Please don't think I'm poking sticks at you.  I have recently found myself prefering live performance albmus of my favorite artists because the regular albums seem no sanitary, clean, and programmed.  I'm coming to enjoy the tiny differences that stage performance brings to a song, as well as the enthusiasim of the crowd at the event.



"That decades of engineering brilliance have made it possible for such stunning sound to come out of such an obstinate signal path..." 

When the topic of 'digital vs. analog' comes up between my audio engineering friends and I, invariably, we return to one inescapable fact.  Decades of engineering brilliance had made analog recording and playback technologies mature and refined.  By comparison, digital recording and playback technologies are still developing and at this point, if we are to consider 1982 the introduction of digital technology to the public market the birth of the technology, then the digital medium still has another 40 to 50 years to approach the same level of maturation and refinement that analog technology had achieved before the introduction of the digital medium. 

I'm fairly certain once that much time has passed (and likely, well before) we'll be long since done having this conversation.  Digital audio is much maligned by those longing for a "simpler" or perhaps a more romanticized past.  However, in the end, as is evidenced by the vast majority of the world's population who listen to terribly inferior mp3 encodings of their music collections, what matters most is not the medium but the message.  Some of the worst sounding recordings out there (analog or otherwise) are still some of the biggest selling recordings in history.  What matters most beyond all other considerations is a great song and the spirited, emotional performance of it.  Capture that and the rest is simply academic.



This arguement isn't even worth elaborating over. Let's assume vinyl gives slightly better quality tha digital. And when i say slightly, I mean indistingushingly better. No one can sit in a room with tarps over 2 speakers and identify a vinyl versus digital, short of an educated guess. With that aside, it's obvious that without the CD, without the Mp3 and mp3 player, music wouldnt be where as enjoyable as it is today. You'd have no music on your pc, none on your console, none in your car, none in 90% of the places you go.


Digital is superior for its capacity to be transported and played anywhere alone, regardless of quality. And quality, of course, can always be improved in digital recording. Vinyl is stuck, and will always be technologically stuck where it is currently. If you thin human beings have perfected sound reproduction 4 years ago with the Vinyl player, you are sad and wrong.



The mastering process is part of what ruins the sound of digital audio.  The choices made by producers and masterers in putting together an album also contribute to why digital audio sounds weak, thin, and trebly for the most part.  Wall of sound rock sounds tinny and thin, and ambient-shoegazer just doesn't work on digital formats unless you rip them yourself and tweak the mix to jack up the midrange and bass.

I have digitally remastered copies of Cocteau Twins' Victorialand and Head Over Heels, for example, that I bought to play so I could save my vinyl copies.  I ripped the vinyl recently and tweaked the sound using a couple of different softwares and turntables, and the vinyl rips win.  Same with Dead Can Dance.  Alien Sex Fiend?  Better on vinyl.  Girl Trouble, Mudhoney, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Ramones, Black Flag, Discharge, Subhumans UK, Gang of Four-all sound better on vinyl, with the audio tweaked right.

I'm not some super audiophile ninny type but there is just something right about how vinyl sounds.  Only recently have the people who make digital masters started to make music with punch that comes through-Rammstein's Liebe ist fur alle Da really works, GaGa works because it is meant to sound like that, mashups mostly seem to work because the mashers are tweaking the sounds anyway.  And there was bad production back in the day-in digital form you can hear the bracelets Black Flag's drummer was wearing when he recorded the drum tracks for Damaged, but did you really want to?  Real gutbucket music really benefits from the part of the sonic spectrum that audiophiles hate.



I'll be 30 next month, but I currently listen to a decent sized collection of vinyl records on a regular basis.


We have a store here called Toad Hall, it's one of the oldest and largest record stores in the area, probably houses over 10,000 albums, perhaps 100,000, from a vast assortment of genres including rock, pop, country, classical, gospel, etc.   They have albums spanning nearly as many years as albums have been made, as well as brand new albums, including the likes of Green Day, U2, Lincoln Park, etc.


There is something "magic" about a record, it has a very nice "rich" and "warm" feeling about it.   I play them on a used turntable I also purchased at Toad Hall, with a receiver I bought on Newegg.   I'd wager I listen to Vinyl around 1/3 of the time I listen to music at home.


Call me odd, call me strange, but at home I rock a Quad-Core CPU, a 14.5 Megapixel DSLR, and Turntable.


Dan O.



Despite being a self professed audiophile I've never ever had the budget to facilitate my habit. Same goes for books. Same goes for hardware. the digital age has afforded me the opportunity to amass a collection that I could not gather physically. With books, the aesthetics of physical pages are lost. With hardware virtualization, the VM is never as fast. I find music has the least tradeoffs. Currently I use winamp with a slew of DSP plugins that basically ruin the sound because I don't know any better. I'm constantly tweaking to get that right sound but I don't think I ever will get a setting that fits all the genres(everything including country) I have on my PC. I recently made up my mind to start filling up a bookshelf with real books even though I plan on getting an Ipad knock off to read the several thousand PDFs that are digitally deteriorating on my HDD. I don't think I'll ever start an LP collection just because of my short attention span but I will definitely purchase a turntable and a few LPs of my favorite artist's singles, if only to weird my kids out when holographic storage becomes the norm.



Audiophiles: after Twi-hards, Apple fanboys, and knitters, this is one of the more annoying subsets of humanity currently inhabiting the Earth. I think of the over-fetishization of audio playback by the audiophiles (with their air-cushioned self-balancing turntables, thousand dollar audio cables, and worship of vacuum tubes) and it makes me want to run to the nearest Goodwill to pick up a well-worn Sony Walkman cassette player.






Besides the other preparations, I also use a ZeroSTAT.

My H/K T25 with Ortifon cartridge was my first "audiophile" component that I purchased. That was back in '84, I think. It's still in pristine condition. I currently have it hooked up to an ES receiver that powers DefTech BP UIW and a Klipsch SW12-II. Unfortunately, I seldom have time to listen to albums at home any more...



What are these "CDs" you speak of?




I was never by any means an "audiophile", but I'm old enough to have a collection of vinyl records, remember spending lots of money (at least to me as a teenager) on "better" audio equipment, and recall doing all those things you do about playing records.

I also remember the introduction of the CD and getting my very first player. To me, compared to vinyl, the sound was incredible. I didn't have to go thru 5 minutes of prep time when I wanted to listen to a record, and I didn't have to put up with the horrible hiss of a cassette. So for me it was a win-win. But even to this day I still have all my vinyl and a turntable, though it's not currently hooked up and needs a new stylus (I keep saying someday...)

As for the audiophile claim that vinyl sounds "better"? My only guess would be color the analogue sound would acquire from the hardware itself -- the stylus, the cartridge, the phono pre-amp, the amp, etc. There are a lot of steps along the way that inevitably add their own characteristics to the sound. All of that is lost with the CD, and I'm sure it's something that a true audiophile will notice.

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