Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Vinyl and Digital sound

Vinyl vs Digital.

Why do people get so emotional when discussing these two formats?

Speaking for myself I certainly was very peeved in the 1990's when some LP's I wanted to buy were not available (locally anyway) and I had to buy the CD.

Back then I listened to all my music on vinyl. I was used to the sound, and I found the sound of CD to have a harsh and unnatural top end, and a glassy harsh and unnatural presentation to the sound. I was using a Marantz CD-40 with the famous TDA1541A.

After many years of searching I eventually found a CD player which was relatively pleasing to my ears. Strangely it was a vintage unit -The Akai CD-A7 with a Burr brown PCM53.
It was the first CD player that I found to have bass that was reminiscent of a vinyl LP, and a top end that was reasonably gentle on the ear. The unit had a substantial weight due to the two huge circuit boards and wires that ran between each board. Quite unlike new CD players that often have only one small board, and one chip to control the CD drive and another one or two chips to do the DA conversion.

This was a turning point for me. Finally I could listen to CD without being grossly offended. I purchased many CD's after this point, but still continued to listen to vinyl. I should mention that despite finding this inoffensive CD player, I still preferred the sound quality of vinyl.

Since my CD collection had grown, and tastes in the music I listened to had changed, I found myself listening less and less to vinyl. My record player had become old and my stylus was worn. I retired my record collection, and exclusively listened to CD or music ripped losslessly to my computer, and played back on my DAC.

I've owned many DAC's, and after going through quite a lot of them trying to find the right sound, I finally came back to the the TDA1541A in non oversampling mode. I use a now discontinued kit DAC which was made by HiFi DIY with a 6922 valve output stage. This DAC is really nice to listen to. It provides deep bass, ultra clear midrange, gentle highs and a warmish / un-digital presentation. When comparing it to other DAC's this one has everything the others have but with greater frequency extension and greater tonality to the sound. I have heard DAC's with a clearer top end, but their overall presentation is not as conducive to long listening sessions - in other words I get fatigued with these DAC's and end up swapping them out for my NOS TDA1541A.

I recently got back into vinyl. I bought a number of record players and some new old stock cartridges. I also bought a little bear phono preamp. I never sold my records, and have recently bought over 200 used records from op-shops. I've washed them, and listened to a few of them.

Being a continuous waveform, analog has a certain sound. The audio is not sampled many times a second then reconstructed for listening, basically what went into the microphone is what you get out of your speakers. When you have a record in good condition, the music comes out like silk - Its very easy on the ear. When I exclusively listen to CD or digital files, I get used to the sound. When I listen to vinyl after listening to CD, the analog sound its obvious, it's so smooth and organic and natural.
Going back to CD sounds clunky, brittle and harsh.

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