Big Discs Are Better?

by Nick Seiflow

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a very fine stereo system. It consisted of a good CD front-end, high quality cabling leading to tubed preamplifier and mono block tube power amps, finally into a pair of excellent custom speakers.

It was one of the first times for a long time that I’d listened to a digitally sourced system, and the experience was revealing. As expected, there was absolutely none of the noise one might expect from vinyl; no obvious compression on peak signals, and imaging and bass control was superb.

But it didn’t sound quite correct. On first listening it was perfect, but the doubts crept in quite quickly. Something was missing. Perhaps the best way to describe the paradox of perfect/imperfect sound was the lack of low-level information. Although everything seemed to be there, there was a sensation that the subtlest cues that exist in all sound – and music – were absent. This is perhaps the crux of the debate between analog and digital sound; although digital sources can provide seemingly endless energy with the peaks, they so often appear to miss something at the opposite end of the dynamic range. Of course, sampling rates and recording and mastering skills can go a long way to rectify this, and no doubt techniques will improve if we demand it, but this particular demonstration left me feeling that I had looked at an image of the thing, as opposed to have heard a live performance.

Until they put record players back into cars (again) I’ll be very thankful that we have digital sources, and that we can have music on demand. But at home I’m afraid that my large collection of CDs will carry on accumulating dust. I might be deluding myself, but I will soldier on with the Big Discs. To horribly mis-quote C.S. Lewis’s Lucy, my love for vinyl might just be the product of make-believe, but I for one will carry on believing in it!

 

One thought on “Big Discs Are Better?

  1. My $0.02 on this issue of why people prefer listening to records versus digital sources definitely agrees with what you are saying in that the way a binary system like a cd file does not produce the same smooth wavelength when it is turned into sound. What you have is on/off states which when blown up look like steps rather than a smooth arc. The mimcry of th analogue source by digital is very good, but so are our ears at picking up when something is not quite right. And I thinknthis leads to the other major reason why vinyl is still preferred by many, and that is listening to digital sources cause listening fatigue, while a decent analogue source doesn’t. I find that after an hour or so of listening to streaming music I need to give my ears a break. This just never happens with records being played through the same amp/speakers.

    Recently my mom was at my home and I had Bowie’s Space Oddity album playing in the background as we were talking, and once both sides were done, she asked if I wouldn’t mind putting something else on as it had been a long time since she had actually enjoyed sitting listening to music for any period of time (so she sat and enjoyed all four sides of the Beatles Past Masters). She mentioned that at their home she never listens to CDs and only listens to a song or two in the car before she turns it to talk radio or off. Obviously a sample size of two is not scientific at all, but the way music is produced today with digital equipment and having every slider up to 11, I don’t think listening fatigue is really that hard to swallow as a concept.

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