The definition of pure is pretty simple: “not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material.”
When it comes to purity of sound, we can extrapolate that to mean a pure signal without any added byproducts like distortion. Yet, I am not sure pure alone gives us what we believe we’re looking for in performance.
For example, pure water is tasteless. If you don’t believe me, try a swig of distilled water. It’s the impurities in water that give it flavor. It’s why you pay more for “spring” or mineral water. You’re paying extra for their distortion.
Some of the lowest distortion audio products on the market are similarly unremarkable. I’ll not be naming names or foisting my opinion on others, but let’s just say a triple digit low distortion amplifier is not in itself a mark of great sound. Sometimes, quite the opposite.
Purity on its own is not always what we strive for. It is the balance of purity and flavor that makes for both great tasting water and great sounding audio equipment.
As we’ve seen so many times before, it’s the balance of a product that defines its character.
All this to compete with a turntable?
In response to Ted Smith’s video explaining DSD, a viewer posted a great remark that is the title of today’s post. I just couldn’t resist writing about it.
Indeed, when digital audio first came on the scene in the early 1980s, the intent of designers was clear. Outperform the turntable. From day one their goals were met in terms of fixing vinyl’s many weaknesses: degradation over time, mechanical interface, ticks and pops, surface noise, limited dynamic range, stunted frequency response, mechanical nightmare.
For most, the advent of the CD was all they needed to retire their vinyl collection. Few looked back with regret.
Of course, our sector of the market reacted rather differently. We were horrified with the one aspect most important to us. Sound quality. Compare an old CD to the same in vinyl and it’s easy to see why.
Today, the situation has flip-flopped. While vinyl’s still a great sounding medium whose popularity has soared once again, digital has long ago exceeded our expectations for sound quality. Consider that nearly every new vinyl release of the last few decades was recorded on a digital system before transferring to vinyl. That what modern purchasers of vinyl are hearing is a second-generation copy of a digital master.
Sometimes change happens without our even noticing it.