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ARE YOU back into vinyl yet? Or were you ever into vinyl?
B.C.D., Before Compact Discs, the vibrations of sound that we call music were shared by a wiggly spiral groove on a piece of pressed vinyl plastic. Well, actually, two grooves; one on each side. A needle followed the groove as the vinyl rotated; its vibrations got translated into sound. “Records,” we called them.
Then, in the early 1980s, along came compact discs and an entirely digital interface. The music’s original sound gets translated into digital data representing its frequencies; the compact disc stores these data; its CD player recognizes all these 0s and 1s and magically transforms them back into music.
CDs are quite amazing technology, particularly to those of us who remember a vinyl record’s susceptibility to dust, scratches and inevitable wear.
However, things become complex with the Internet and its easy transfer of data. There’s the legal matter of ownership and piracy, a digital copy being indistinguishable from the original. And there’s the audiophile’s problem of “lossy compression.” In general, the various methods of lossy compression involve reducing the amount of data with (relatively) little loss of content.
If the digital content happens to be music, the term “relatively” becomes relative indeed. What’s inaudible to my (tin and 70-year-old) ear could well be an audiophile’s difference between acceptable and unacceptable sound.
One partial solution to this compression shortcoming is to avoid streaming, downloading, sharing and other means of computer-associated transfer. The original CD contains all the information.
But even then, there’s the audiophile’s dilemma. By its very nature, music is a collection of vibrations, not a bunch of 0s and 1s. Ever since the invention of CDs, audiophiles have complained that a CD’s rendering lacked warmth, veracity, immediacy.
What has evolved is a real dichotomy: those happy with streaming digital and its compression; and those increasingly returning to the vibrating groove of a vinyl record.
Hardcore high-buck audiophiles have lots of fun with this. The world’s most expensive turntables cost upwards of $100,000—and this is only the gizmo that spins the record. At $1500, the VPI Traveler Audiophile turntable is considered entry-level high-end.
For my modest needs, a Sony PS-LX works fine for less than $100. At the moment, it’s wired into an Apple iMac. I use the latter’s GarageBand to transfer selected old vinyl into digital format that ends up on my iPod, iPhone and occasionally on CD.
I suspect there are loads of other ways to accomplish this task, but this happens to be the technique I first stumbled on. And, as Emile Levassor said about his car’s gearbox design, “C’est brusque et brutal, mais ça marche…” (“It’s rough and brutal, but it works…”).
Like many of a certain age, we have hundreds of vinyl records. Some are past their care-about date (“The Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman”). Others are sufficiently worn to buy a new CD (“Jazz at Oberlin”). Others have yet to appear in commercial CD, though curiously are available as MP3 downloads (Daruis Milhaud’s “Globetrotter Suite/Joys of Life”).
And there’s one that I’m sure the right audiophile would love: “Sonographic Series on the Road. No. 1. The Edwardian Monsters.” This record has the sounds of a 1907 20.5-liter Métallurgique Maybach, 1908 11.5-liter Napier, 1908 12.0-liter Itala and 1911 10.5-liter Cottin et Descoutes.
Talk about warmth and immediacy. ds
Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013