Monday, January 28, 2008

Two Turntables and a Nylabone


Spinnin' wax. That's how I keep it real. So real that I really have a turntable and LPs. This brings up the age old question:

"Which is better, digital or analog?"

People have been killed for asking lesser questions. If you ask an audiophile this question he may attack you with an anti-static gun.


No! Don't anti-static the dog, her barking will be louder and clearer! (no dogs were de-static'd with an anti-static record cleaner in the making of this photo)

But seriously, which is better? Hell if I know, it's a matter of personal taste. I don't claim to be an expert, but I am a jerk with a computer and Internet connection so I'll just give my thoughts on the matter.

I'm probably the very last generation that even remembers vinyl when the options were vinyl, 8-track and cassette. I'm 32 and even had some records when I was growing up. I remember playing with my dad's Dual turntable and listening to his Beach Boys albums back in 1980 or so. Our family once had a behemoth late 70's white Buick with a wood grained 8-track player and velour merlot seats. It was a hand-me-down from my grandpa and I'd kill to have that car today.

Anyway, back to the point. There are those who will tell you that vinyl sounds smoother and more realistic, that this is "what music is supposed to sound like". They will claim that CDs sounds like ice picks scratching on concrete. Others will say that CDs don't pop, click and hiss and therefore they sound better.


Some choice albums!

I personally believe that the sound quality varies by the source material. On a similar priced system the same album on LP will sound better than CD, or the CD will sound better than its vinyl counterpart. I've heard it both ways and will explain.

Take for instance Duran Duran's Rio. The CD was made in the 80's back when the technology was new and it sounds flat and thin. The LP version sounds rich and thick with sound, the synth and guitar sound fantastic and the drums and cymbals sound more real. Also I picked up the LP at Jerry's Used Records in Pittsburgh for about $3, cleaned it up and it's now one of my prized LPs.

The same goes for Faith No More's "Epic", which came out in the very early 90's. The CD sounds like piss. The LP sounds great. My belief on this is that these albums were recorded for vinyl and just sound better on that medium. Perhaps the engineers who actually created the physical media just did it better, they were trained to make awesome records, not CDs... just a thought.


Let's get to the negatives with vinyl. My biggest gripe is that the quality varies by pressing, which means that two identical records can sound completely different. This sucks when you want to buy a new LP, which is why I no longer buy new ones. It's not a big deal if you find a Van Halen LP for $2 in a shop and it sounds like crap... oh well, find another one. But if you spend $40 on a new record and find out that it was made with no quality standards at all... that's infuriating.


An example of a great pressing and a great album!

Vinyl is a complete pain in the ass too. They pop and click and are generally unpredictable, but through all this comes the music and analog does have a unique sound of it's own. Real instruments sound more real! It's just a friggin nightmare to get there. Record players are no easy matter to deal with. Sure you can get them cheap on ebay these days, but then you need a phono preamp and a cartridge to even play them. These things can all add up in cost. Records take up a lot of room. I have several milk crates full of them shoved into my closet. One other problem is that the tracks on the inside of the album can often sound pretty scratchy. This is due to a variety of factors like tonearm alignment and whether the record was abused before.

CDs are smaller and when bought new don't pop and click, that is certainly a positive. They are recorded digitally and smashed onto a 700mb CD, which is pathetically small by today's standards. I think that they've gotten much better at making CDs since the mid-90's, so the newer ones sound pretty good. But again, this all depends on what kind of speakers and audio setup you have and how picky you want to be. CD players are a dime a dozen. CDs can be played in the car and they're pretty cheap these days. brand new ones can be found for under $10!


I love iPods, in fact I have my entire analog collection digitized and loaded on my iPod. I can listen to my iPod anywhere and therefore can bring my closet full of LPs in the car with me. I also have my entire CD collection from high school and college loaded on my trusty iPod.

In my lifetime I'll say that DVD is the most amazing invention that I've ever seen, followed by the iPod. The ability to bring movies and music with me anywhere at any time is a dream come true. Kids today must take this for granted. Heck, us old-timers didn't even have cell phones in college.


In this 100 year-old house everything gets covered with dust no matter how hard we clean.

Purists will complain that iPods use more compression than CDs and therefore sound like crap. Well, that's somewhat true. You can digitize your own music at higher bitrates which, in my opinion, makes them sounds more or less the same. I think that convenience wins out though. The iPod and computers are the way to go for everyday listening. You can't set up a turntable at work (usually). If you listen to an iPod with the cheap iPod headphones then it will sound bad. But if you run it into a high end stereo, or run your computer with a great audio card into a good stereo you'll get good sound. In my opinion.

In conclusion, every now and then (like today) I want to sit on the couch, put on an LP and rock the house. Since I'm on vacation and the wife's out today it's Mark's loud time. I'm playing a few LPs that sound rich, warm and vibrant. I'm cleaning them off with my record brush and zapping them with my red gun that makes a neat static sound through the speakers. This has a feeling of nostalgia for me too, and it's kind of cool. I like records, I like seeing the spinning LP and knowing that it's not digital for a change. Also the cymbals sound better.


Even the iPod is dusty!

As I type this I'm listening to "Are You Normal" by the amazing Ned's Atomic Dustbin. I bought this record in England and it's worth every penny (or pence) and sounds way better than the CD. Am I normal? No. But I'm ok with that.


More on affordable turntable setups and home theater to come... making noise is my only hobby and it's good to sit home and not stare at a computer for once...

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