Starting with a wide-angle, let’s put our hobby up against the backdrop of the current state of our larger world and the US. There’s a lot to worry about. I’m thankful I’ve the time and means to also worry about how my hifi sounds.
I am, I suppose, format-agnostic. I stream music using Tidal and Roon, play ripped cds and spin vinyl too. All are welcome in our home.
I’ve been thinking about something again. For those who have only experienced listening to music in digital formats, or, who haven’t listened to high quality analog playback for decades – I’d argue that you would benefit from an all analog listening session.
Easier said, right?
A decent analog chain is not cheap, though more and more budget components are available each year. And, getting near a point where your analog source matches the quality of your digital source can be daunting. I know. I focused on digital audio for years, because the cost to switch was too high. My experience tells me that both formats require a significant investment in order to get to truly musical playback.
Of course, you decide what that means for you. There are no absolutes, though some will argue otherwise. There’s only you and your music. Hopefully some humans to share it with too. We get caught up in the handsome gear, but in the end they are tools – a means to an end. Rocking balls. Or, mellowing out to some ambient electronic, or grooving to some improvised tunes. Maybe all of the above.
I made a minor upgrade to my ‘table recently and experienced again what I’ve been told all along. Analog sounds phenomenal if done right. Digital can sound phenomenal too. Yes. This isn’t about analog being better than digital – I’m not interested in the fight. I don’t need to be right.
This is more about how they are different. They DO sound different. You’ll often hear folks comment that great digital playback “sounds analog”. Ok.
I find that I need (in fact, enjoy) to use both in order to maintain perspective. This is the point – if you don’t have a turntable then I would recommend sitting down at a friends house or local hifi shop and getting a healthy dose of vinyl. Or tape. Though the latter is more popular again, it remains a tiny niche within our tiny niche.
I believe you’ll hear/feel the difference. I am not arguing that you should drop digital, only that an aural palate cleanser may be enlightening. Change it up for a day. You may be surprised how the experience affects you. You don’t know, until you do. Plus, if you want to contribute to the ongoing dialogue within the community, a broader/deeper well of experience may ensure your contribution is valuable to others. Many appear to argue against or for things they’ve not even experienced. Not cool.
So, why not just listen to vinyl?
It’s decidedly inconvenient. True.
Collecting vinyl and, owning a great analog chain can be expensive, requires maintenance, more storage space, and, more of your attention. There’s the ritual. This last bit is important to me, and is one of the reasons I’ve become a vinyl fan. Again. It’s not my first round with hifi and vinyl, but it’s just been the last several years that I’ve gone deep.
So there are a lot of reasons why people today won’t get into vinyl. They’re very busy. Music can run in the background while they busy themselves with living. I get it. I’ve made different choices, of course – why this site exists.
For you vinyl lovers, this isn’t news. You know. Perhaps this is for the passive and dedicated digital listeners out there.
For those already over the fence and in the active listening yard, but are dedicated to digital – yes, vinyl is not digital tomb quiet. And, each records condition will vary. You cannot easily take it on the go. But with a great turntable and phono preamp, you will get an experience that differs from your digital source. This is my experience.
For me, my best quality vinyl, played on my system is more engaging than the same record streaming through my digital front end. There’s more presence, and that is simply more captivating and attractive than the relatively flawless playback of digital. There’s a trade, of course – I’m willing to make it. What does presence mean to me? Well, ultimately I feel more of the music. It’s less of an abstract, intellectual pursuit, and leans more toward a sensual one. It’s both for me, but I want more of the immediacy.
I acknowledge that I’m not listening to the best that is on offer for either dacs or servers. Perhaps at that level the gap is closing. That’s cool. That level of performance is now, and will likely continue to be outside my reach.
I would still argue that analog and digital playback are not the same, and so will never actually sound exactly the same. What I think doesn’t matter.
For me today, I’m happily focusing on upgrading my analog chain. What do you think?