Dr. AIX's POSTS — 31 January 2015

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Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday discussion of vinyl LPs and why they can’t match the fidelity of PCM digital. There is an article in the LA Weekly…check it out.

I cringe a little bit because I heard the same recording in the same playback environment. I wrote about how wonderful it sounded in a recent post. But it wasn’t anywhere close to the sound of John Gorka singing “I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair” from his album “They Gypsy Life”. And listening to the vinyl LP version would pale in comparison to both the analog transfer and a native 96 kHz/24-bit track. The vinyl LP advocates needs to read the LA Weekly article.

Sales of CDs have diminished while sales of vinyl LPs have increased. But vinyl LP sales still account for less than 2% of the record company revenue. It’s a nice enough format but as the article illustrates, it’s as much about the experience and the nostalgia of vinyl…the big packaging, turning the record over etc…as it is about sound quality.

Read about the frustration of Bob Ludwig and Bob Clearmountain as they tried…unsuccessfully…to get vinyl LP reference copies that matched, or even came close, to the mixes they prepared in the studio.

It is a myth to believe that CDs cannot exceed the fidelity of vinyl LPs. The whole discussion of bad filters in this day and age, pre and post ringing (which happens just below the maximum recorded frequency at very low levels), and the rest of the assault that is directed at digital is misplaced and just plain wrong.

Vinylophiles can lust after the distortion, the “warmth”, the lack of low end, the folded mono below 500 Hz, and the rest of the obvious imperfections of vinyl LPs. I have absolutely no problem with that. One of the tenants in my building brought in stacks of pristine classic vinyl LPs and I couldn’t help but be curious. I had a throw back moment. Does that mean that I’m going to go out and purchase a turntable and suffer through the clicks and pops in search of the “best” reproduction of audio? Absolutely not! I’m getting better fidelity, surround sound, HD-Video, mix choices without the hassle and fragility of 12” plastic discs.

It would have been nice to have Michael acknowledge the amazing fidelity of the recordings that heard from my catalog instead of having a “first ever” digital experience from an analog tape transfer.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. I think the “warmth” that’s so often blithely cited with regard to vinyl may partly be due to the inherently microphonic nature of the stylus/turntable itself, rather than maintained fidelity from the studio master.
    The artwork, nostalgia and “ritual” aspects of vinyl are perhaps why CDs seem unlikely to ever enjoy a similar revival …but who knows?!

  2. In ALL of these vinyl vs. digital discussions “audiophiles” always seem to talk in theory vs actuality and leave out key points like vinyl IS the more musical of the two formats where cd can come very close and even surpass that musicality it takes a lot more $$$ CD player to get there.In addition a turntables performance can be improved highly by better isolation:it delivers MORE when isolation is improved than say CD players or streamers.Mana acoustics years ago built turntable stands that delivered higher and higher levels of performance the more the table was isolated.

    • Tom…I’m not clear on what more musical is? Listening to my recording of John Gorka or Jennifer Warnes doesn’t get any more musical to me.

      • I’ve never heard a fellow musician ascribe “musicality” to a technological format or device. It’s a buzz-word favoured by equipment reviewers.
        Musicians and their playing may be musical: the technology, all the way from studio microphone to listener’s speakers, should ideally just convey that as faithfully as possible.

  3. Mark, I have read a few times in your posts the following: “pre and post ringing (which happens just below the maximum recorded frequency at very low levels), ” Can you explain further of give me a reference that explains why this is so?

    Thanks for your continued good work on defining exactly what hi-def music should be.

  4. While the increase in LP sales seems a lot, the numbers tell the real story. In 2013, according to Nielson Sound Scan, CD sales were 165 million, LP sales were 6 million. Digital downloads were 118 million. Statistics is an interesting game.

    Great LA Weekly article on lp vs cd by the way. Learning all the time!

  5. No one can challenge the fact that vinyl …well sucks as a recording medium. The thing I like about the older LP’s is that they are not mastered to death. This is something you’ve commented on before but I think it needs repeating. The loudness wars have literally destroyed newer music for me. I can not forgive the overmastered compressed schlock that passes for fidelity these days. I’ll take the odd click and pop it it means I can enjoy dynamic range.

    • Very good point…there’s a lot more than just which format you choose.

  6. Maybe CD’s are being lined up to be the next thing in retro chic? Actually I rather suspect they might, when the penny drops wider that sites like Pono are actually flogging 16/44 files that you can rip from any CD.

    • Well, I was hinting at that above. There may well be some resurgence of interest in the CD, after a period of time well out of public consciousness. However, in terms of packaging and artwork, it loses out to the LP.

  7. “The CD revolutionized the music industry, but it was never cool”

    AH, and there in lies the whole truth of the matter. Your having a few of your buds from the local audiophile club over for drinks and to spin a few new discs or show off that new $3000 power cord you just inserted into your system. . You pull a LP out of its jacket, spinning it in your record cleaner, putting it on your Continuum $200,0000 turntable, adding the spindle hold down clamp and a perimeter flattening weight and clean the stylus. You just KNOW this is going to create magic and your buds are in awe.
    Playing a CD or worse, a file from your computer, is never going make the same impression on the crowd.
    You then proclaim this is the only way to get great sound and the lowly masses are sure to believe it.

  8. I think my main take away from reading the article was that, if care isn’t taken at every stage of the process (recording, mixing and mastering) then your music will sound like crud regardless of your chosen playback medium.
    I really enjoyed the insights from Ludwig and Clearmountain and what went on behind the scenes on their various projects. It makes total sense why, objectively and measurably, the CD format should sound better than vinyl, but we all like what we like and that’s fine. I say produce music for CDs, LPs and High Res files to the best level that each format can support and let the public enjoy what they want.
    I know, I know….I’m wearing my rose colored glasses again!

    • You got it.

  9. Keep it up Mark! It’s hard to argue against religion, but someone’s got to do it!

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