My T+A MP2500R digital player sounds as good as an excellent Well Tempered Labs/Dynavector rig and factoring in convenience, where I can use it to play CD’s/SACD’s, my ripped music library of over 2000 WAV ripped CD’s, plus streaming via Qobuz, as well as Internet Radio, a lot easier than switching LP’S to enjoy a lot more music and do so quickly.
However, LP’s have their niche and I totally get it.
Complexity of sound
Thinking a bit recently about needle drops and the sound of vinyl (as I mentioned in my earlier post).
It occurs to me that if one can fully capture something without loss then logically the capture method is better than what’s being captured.
It’s only been recently that digital capture has gotten good enough to grab what’s on analog without much change, yet for some time now we’ve been able to capture perfectly the sound of vinyl (Fremer’s been doing that for years).
Which says to me that pure analog as captured by a microphone is far more complex than a vinyl reproduction of it.
As I write those words it seems rather obvious to me that of course that’s the case. That vinyl, for all its wonderfulness and loyal followers who prefer it to digital, could never capture and reproduce all that comes from a microphone.
Not to diminish the magic of vinyl because that’s obvious to anyone with a great setup.
No, this rant is just an observational rambling about what’s possible in the world of perfecting audio capture.
We’re so close.
The art of impurity
In a recent comment in response to my video about vinyl LP’s, viewer Richard Haggerty wrote:
“Vinyl is a physical medium, having a stylus riding on the surface causing friction. No matter how minimal, it remains no matter what measures you take to eliminate it. It’s the laws of physics. This contributes to the feeling of warmth. It’s like poetry read by a crackling fireplace. Next is resonance. Again, you can’t completely eliminate that either. The vibrating cantilever effects all solid matter making contact in the chain. All this is not a negative. The physical properties are candy to the auditory nerves. It’s the art of impurity.”
Not only was this a well written, thoughtful comment, but it also sparked something in me.
Is there perhaps a measure of truth to what he writes?
Is it possible that some of what we hear with vinyl is caused by the friction of the needle rubbing the walls of vinyl—friction that adds a kind of audible bias like a warm blanket following perfectly the music.
The art of impurity.
What a fascinating concept.
Besides stereo electronics and loudspeakers, PS Audio is now making LP’s. Quite a company!!!
It’s been a long slog getting here but, at Octave, we’re finally launching vinyl LP’s. I am over the top excited.
As some of you may know, there are only a couple of excellent vinyl pressing plants in the world and of the one or two of the best, they are back-ordered beyond anything I would have imagined. Lead times of 6 months or more are commonplace.
We waited for the best.
Being patient is not one of my few virtues despite the sage words: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”.
Part of the deal with vinyl is we’re running a single groove-coated stamper so the run will all be identical (though small). These high-performance 180-gram virgin vinyl stampers are limited to about 500 pressings so that’s what we’ve limited them to. They are also individually numbered so you know where in the batch your copy comes from. If you’re interested in reading about the whole vinyl process, go to either of the two releases and click on the vinyl details page just below the samples of the music.
We sent an announcement out the day before yesterday and nearly half of the run was spoken for, another hundred or so are gone as of yesterday.
The vinyl sound so magical….I mean…wow.
The two we have still available are Gabriel Mervine’s Say Somethin’ and Don Grusin’s Out of Thin Air.
These collector’s item gems won’t be around long.
Very different vs. right or wrong
Octave Recording artist and trumpeter extraordinaire, Gabriel Mervine, notes near the end of this video that “vinyl sounds different. Very different.”
In fact, identical master recordings sound very different depending on the recorded medium.
Which one is right?
One could easily suggest that because the recording was captured on DSD that playback would be right only when reproduced using the same technology.
Yet to many, the music sounds more “real” and “right” through the lens of LP’s.
As audiophiles, we’re always in search of sonic truth.
Though truth, as I mentioned in an earlier post, isn’t always the same for everyone.
Very different can be just as right as very right.
It’s all in your perception.
Our son played trumpet for much of his pre-teen and early teenager years and we had two dogs that used to howl when he played. However, when they would hear recorded versions of the same material, played back on my wife’s cellphone, they would also howl. So, our experience is different than Ed’s.
The dog gets it
When HiFi Family member Ed Spilka sent me the following note I just had to smile. How many times have I heard a similar story? Too many times to count.
And here’s the thing. It’s not just about vinyl. I have heard the same stories about DSD, vacuum tubes, and even good vs. bad cables.
I am sure the measurement folks will have a field day with this one.
“I wanted to share an interesting audio experience that happened the other day. We were visiting a friend of my wife’s in San Antonio. She was showing us around their new house when we walked into “his” room which held Wilson Alexandria speakers, D’agostino amps, Berkeley DAC’s etc. You get the idea.
When he came home he invited us into his inner sanctum and we began to play. At one point we were A/B’ing between his vinyl collection and streaming on tidal/Qobuz with Sonny Rollin’s Way Out West. On one cut it is just the drummer and Sonny. When Sonny started blowing on the vinyl version, their dog began singing along—howling like crazy. As soon as we switched to the streaming version, the dog was silent, uninterested.
My wife pointed it out to us since we were too engrossed in “listening” to notice the obvious! It happened every time we switched back and forth between vinyl and streaming. Have you experienced that before?”
As I said, this has happened to me with animal reactions more times than I can count.
We might argue like crazy, but the dogs get it.
Finding the golden nugget
The sweet flesh of a Bing cherry exists to support that which we throw away. The pit. From the cherry’s perspective, it’s all about the seed. From the eater’s perspective, it’s all about its outer wrapping.
Focusing only on one aspect while ignoring everything else can have consequences.
In our quest for the absolute sound, that golden nugget of musical truth, we sometimes get so entrenched in what we believe to be inviolate that we miss out on possibilities.
For example, if we identify as vinyl-centric or digital-based we sacrifice potential. One brand preferred over another. One type of amplification preferred over the other.
If possible I strive to put musical truth above technology and brand identity.
It isn’t always easy. At times I have to forego my perceived identity in order to try on another.
In your quest for the golden nugget—the absolute musical truth—are you open to new ideas and different means of getting where you hope to go?
It might feel safer to close ourselves into a small predefined box, but I suspect the view is better outside.
A whole new experience
Octave Record’s first release, pianist Don Grusin’s Out Of Thin Air, was a huge success and much loved by those who bought it on SACD or download. We’re nearly sold out of the final edition of the SACD.
The recording is one I am very familiar with, having heard it any number of times on the big system. It’s one of the best piano recordings I have ever heard.
And now we’re getting closer to releasing Out Of Thin Air on vinyl. We will press a limited edition of 500 LP’s on 180-gram virgin vinyl, mastered at 45 rpm and released on 4-discs.
But here’s the crazy thing. Having been personally involved in the process from day one, as Gus worked with the cutting engineer, I am flabbergasted by the sound. It is Soooo different (in a magical sort of way) than the master DSD from which it was cut.
How can this be?
These discs were cut directly from the DSD master, something almost never done (as we’ve learned). To facilitate the transfer our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, designed a DSD delay splitter that made certain the real-time cutting head feed (that sets the groove width in accordance with the signal amplitude) is identical to the delayed musical signal. Every step of the way we made certain the purity of the original master DSD tracks were perfectly preserved.
It should sound pretty darned close to the master.
It does not. There’s a vinyl magic that sets it apart from its source.
This drives me frickin’ bonkers. I know we’ve been many times down this road, but still…
It’ll likely be a few months before we have the finished discs so you can hear for yourself.
I think I am going to go run some cold water over my head.
Mine is break in and warm up, once a piece of stereo equipment is sufficiently broken in.
Audio taboos and sacred rituals
There are certain audio taboos we’re loathed to violate. High atop my list would be plants atop speakers. (But it behooves us to be diplomats if we’d like not to sleep on the couch)
Diplomacy aside, we purists rarely tolerate violations of our taboos and sacred rituals.
Some taboos make sonic sense: plugging all your equipment into an AC extension strip, stacking a turntable atop a power amplifier.
Perhaps more prevalent than taboos would be the sacred rituals which cover everything from record handling, room light levels, seating positions, warm-up time, and source protocols.
I never start a listening session with vinyl. My ritual is to get the system warmed up and me adjusted to it with known digital references. Then, and only then, am I comfortable switching sources.
What are your audio taboos and sacred rituals?
Most of what we listen to is PCM and with a great DAC, like the T+A DACS’s, PCM can sound fantastic.
In my earlier post, Audio Pedigree I waxed on about how nice it would be to know the true origins of our music’s recordings. Remastered vinyl “improved” by digital enhancement from the original analog tape is rarely as good as the original and often worse.
This prompted a few juicy questions about our own Octave Records process as we move into vinyl. While we’re completely transparent as to the recording methods and source materials, it would seem to some that vinyl mastered from DSD falls into a similar category as the aforementioned digital remasters I do not like.
The ultimate quality of vinyl is achieved by what we used to call Direct-to-Disc recording. Where the long-ago norm was to first record on magnetic tape then transfer to vinyl, a few labels skipped the tape recorder altogether. Artists would play live while vinyl cutting engineers went direct to the lathe. These direct-to-disc recordings were amazing but not because of any superior cutting techniques.
What made direct-to-disc recordings sound so great was the elimination of the magnetic tape recorder. That was it. Tape recorders have limited dynamic range—less than what’s possible on a vinyl disc.
So the problem is in the recorder, which is why it seemed to make sense to record digitally. Digital recorders have dynamic range capabilities that far exceed the limitations of vinyl. Thus, with digital, it should be possible to obtain the same performance as we got with direct-to-disc. And while that is true when it comes to dynamics, it isn’t true when it comes to sounding like the live event.
This is where we draw the line between PCM and DSD. PCM can often sound artificial while DSD in the right hands sounds analog-live.
A new era is upon us. It is now possible to create direct-to-disc quality vinyl without requiring the musicians to play live.
As we move forward with a limited edition vinyl release of Octave Record’s first recording, Don Grusin’s Out of Thin Air, I got to thinking about liner notes.
A rush of memories flooded back.
I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember grabbing an unknown album from my collection (I had a lot of unknowns because of my years in the music/radio business), dropping the needle on track one and reading the album’s liner notes. If the first few paragraphs and notes both spoke to me, I delved deeper into both liner and musical notes so that by the end of side one I felt in tune with the artist and her music.
Today I can do the same thing with a digital platform but somehow it just doesn’t feel right. Reading from an iPad loses the feel of the cardboard cover, the smell of new vinyl, the permanence of the printed word, the myopic read without the possibility of a click for more info. You got what the artist wanted to share with you. No more, no less.
Which is why I am excited we’re doing a classic vinyl release with lots of liner notes and pictures. The double-disc set will be on heavy virgin vinyl and playback at 45 rpm. I’ll let you know when they’re available.
Sometimes more isn’t always better.