Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pop! - The sweet sound of vinyl

Every once in a while I read something or someone makes a comment about how records sound better than CD's. I used to listen to a LOT of records, and I was very happy to go digital when CD's came out. I haven't played a record in years. But a couple of days ago, I was given a turntable. A very nice, if rather old (nearly 30 years old) one. A little research shows that this is one of the few sought after turntables of the late seventies, early eighties. In short, it rocks.

I was actually quite excited. I've been lugging around a not-insignificant number of records for years, never quite willing to part with them. So I decided this was the time! I brought it home, and first thing out of the gate discovered that the cable wasn't long enough to reach my primary receiver. I don't have any male to female extension cables, so that wasn't going to work. The cable is hardwired in, so replacing it was out of the question.

Ok, next idea, plug it into my receiver in the library. I connected it all up, and couldn't get the arm to drop. I fiddled and tweaked with it for a while, and finally got it to play. But it sounded TERRIBLE. To make matters worse, I was reminded of all the reasons why we all gladly gave up records for CD's so long ago. Pops and cracks were everpresent, and the records are considerably more fragile and require a lot more care than CD's. Jacob mentioned that it sounds like the house is on fire with all the pops and cracks. :-)

So the next day I downloaded an owner's manual and took the time to make all of the proper adjustments to get the turntable operating properly. It sounds a thousand times better than it did the night before, so that is a big relief. But the pops and cracks... well, they are still with us.

Tonight we had fun putting old vinyl in and enjoying music we haven't heard in YEARS. Loads of fun, and the thing sounds pretty good. Hearing a good quality record player does reveal a very nice warm sound, particularly for orchestral works. Better than CD? Well, how about different. It doesn't have the dynamic range, and it is certainly a LOT more work to deal with, but the music sounds really good once you have it dialed in. The biggest difference is a warmth that is lacking from CD's, something that is rather an artificial addition to the music. The issue though is that the older stuff was mastered with this warmth in mind, and although the CD may be a truer replication of that music, it does sound different than it would have when it was first produced. I would venture that pre-1985 stuff probably sounds better on vinyl unless it has been specifically remastered to emulate that sound in a digital world.

Music has become something totally different than it used to be. We listen to music on the go, in our cars, with our ipods, on our phones, at our computers. I don't just sit in front of the stereo and LISTEN to music anymore. Very few people do. But records aren't convenient, they don't lend themselves to skipping tracks, and they end after about 25 minutes. They require attention. They require you to listen. That is the difference. That is what makes the record player something cool to have around again.

My son, 7 years old, is absolutely FASCINATED by the record player. He begs me to play it. We sit and listen to the music and talk. It's a different experience than he has ever had as well.

Am I about to become one of those guys who shrieks about how terrible CD's are and becomes a record devotee? In short, No. I can setup 300+ songs to play at 320kbps AAC and not have to think about music for hours. That convenience is simply too good to pass up. On the other hand, taking time to stop and listen, to smell the musical roses so to speak, that is a pursuit worth engaging in.



Armor and Sword said...

Ah the sound of vinyl. I have several LPs that I have been lugging around myself. One of my favs is a 180 gram of Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue.

Got to love the sound of vinyl.


Porthos said...

I need to go home and listen to records now. Tonight.

chad said...

yeah that's all great, but how does a CD sound on a record player?

Or better yet, a record in a cd player.

here's what you do to make the record fit the cd player...

-get a lathe.....

Armor and Sword said...

Careful with that lathe idea. Knowing Joel he just might try it. :) See the Quadra 700/900 hack he did a few years ago. :)