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Reference Library: The Vinyl Frontier

From: saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu (saki)
Newsgroups: rec.music.beatles
Subject: Vinyl fetish
Date: 25 Mar 1999 07:43:24 GMT

saki wrote:

You'd be surprised beyond all get-out to hear 45s on a good turntable; even a semi-good one reveals music that you just can't hear once it's transferred to CDs.

then Soujurn@Netscape.net wrote:

Well unless you consider clicks and pops to be music. Otherwise your statement is totally ridiculous. But do tell, exactly which frequencies are missing from the CD's that are not missing on the 45's? Explain how CD's with the greater dynamic range and wider frequency response excludes music that is on the 45's?

I've been told this is a game for fools, or a fool's game. Never mind. It's irresistable.

First, some essential facts. I've got vinyl flowing in my veins. Check and see for yourself. If you expect an unbiased argument from me, you're out of luck.

This may be a handicap of age. My first media was probably electronic recordings---prior to TV, prior to anything except the radio, and in my infancy they played records too, in AM to boot, so a true hi-fi experience was likely not my first encounter with audio. Digital? What language is that?

In a sense, those who know CDs first are probably at a disadvantage...but enough of this insufferable elitism.

At three I fell in love with a record (a 45, mind you...that means a single) that made me dance. It had a purple label and silver letters, and a domed building that revolved hypnotically on the turntable. The song, released in 1957, was a little ditty called "Swinging Sweethearts", by a British bandleader called Ron Goodwin. Goodness knows why my uncle had the record. But he did, and before I could read I knew which record among his many selections was the one I loved. Years later I discovered that it had been produced by a fellow called George Martin. It was destiny, surely.

Skip to 1959, when I was five. I fell in love again with Johnny & the Hurricanes' "Red River Rock"; fickle me. It was a joyous and energetic rendition of the old classic; I played it over and over again until one fatal day when I left my treasured record on the window sill which faced west. In the summer. In the heat. The next day it showed the effects of my neglect...undulating waves of plastic, warped and unplayable. I was undone, unaware (at that tender age) that replacement copies might be available. That moment of loss haunts me even today.

These two episodes shaped my being. Since those halcyon days I've been convinced that vinyl is not only the stuff of satori but the fleeting pleasure of life, a treasure that can vanish in a hot, incendiary instant, and thus should be treasured among the very best of life's sheer joys.

Naturally, I adore the very shellac from whence it evolved, and treasure its transitory nature. Naturally, its pops and clicks only enhance this alluring character. A good Merlot, a good record---78, 45, 33... choose your poison, it's all the same vintage, with the same visceral charm, the same scintillating chemical scent. Vintage records have an aroma that's best described as we would a good wine.

How can the digital age match it?

You might as well say that you'd reject all natural wood (Norwegian included) because it has knots and roughness; tell me that the plump, sensual garden-grown tomato is unfit for your table because it has a flaw in its skin. What about the public speaker? He may have the charismatic cadences of a preacher but if he hesitates to cough or "ummmm", will you show him the door? If the Beatles drop a tambourine in "I'm Looking Through You", are they all through?

Say it ain't so.

To prepare for this interview with you, Mr. Gallard, I admit I went to a fellow I know who has more vinyl in his veins than I do myself. And he's smarter; this is always good for quotes.

This is what he told me, to paraphrase.

If you record a sine wave, a CD will play it back more exactly than vinyl will. However, a sine wave isn't necessarily music.

And that's a point worth noting.

It's also true, my expert tells me, that digital playback systems have the potential for much higher frequency and dynamic range than vinyl systems.

This remains a potential that is often ignored. If there's a possbility that remains unfulfilled, where's the pleasure in the digital world?

Is someone sleeping on the job, digitally speaking? Is there a reason why digital recordings still seem cool and cucurbital to many discerning ears?

What accounts for the warmth of a record, when placed side by side with a CD? Maybe warmth is an inexact delineation. Maybe we should speak of dimensionality.

We have an excellent example at our fingertips---the Fabs.

Check the Beatles' CDs against ther Mobile Fidelity Systems Labs recordings, which are half-speed masters of the original releases. Have you heard them lately? I can't describe the difference in technical terms, because I'm not a technician, but I can suggest some metaphors.

Imagine a circle and then compare it to a globe. The circle is the Beatles' CDs; the globe is the vinyl, played half-speed. Or if you prefer: in the CDs, the Fabs stand happily in place and play their musical fare in two extraordinary dimensions---up and sideways---within your speakers. On good vinyl, the Fabs step from side to side and then sashay *in a circle* around and behind the speakers before resuming their place in audiospace.

So does this suggest, according to my expert witness, that CD manufacturers have no respect for their audience? I'd hate to think it, but I fear it's so. Maybe they're afraid that we'll listen to the original vinyl and find out what's missing!

You say your vinyl has scratches, pops, clicks and other audio effluvia? Could it be that the former owner (or you) have abused the medium on which this sacred music is recorded? Not your fault if you're the second owner; but if someone used the record as a frisbee (or worse), or played it on a turntable that's not much more than a toy, no wonder it's noisy. Records are alive; they deserve respect.

And yet noise isn't inherently evil. Tonight I pulled out the first LP I ever bought, The Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" (1966). I hesitate to tell you how many record players this album's been subjected to for thirty-three years, but it's shameful. Nevertheless, on a relatively humble turntable and speakers, the first track of side two ("Jug Band Music") sounded remarkably virginal.

Some of the other tracks weren't quite so pristine. What did they evoke? A time before the beginnings of psychedelia; pre-hippiedom, pre-"Revolver" and "Good Vibrations". There was then no Doors, no heavy-metal revolution in music (except the one that was then subliminal). It was just prior to the summer of '66, a true time of transition.

You hear all that in the very grooves. Who would take away a single imperfection in this little bit of plastic? Not me. It's also my own history...how many times I played it. How many record players, how many places and moments and expectations were presaged by this record, bought one day in April 1966 for two dollars and ninety-eight cents. What a bargain; it's the history of an era, a record of how much someone loved it. Can A CD reveal this particular detail?

I think not. No matter how perfectly digital, it can't explicate its own existence, or that of its owner. If a record skips, you know why because of where it's been. If a CD skips, it's defective.

If your argument is that digital logic precludes all other audio pleasure, I would urge you (as does my mentor) to actually *listen* to vinyl to discover whether there's something hidden there that you may not have previously encountered.

My mentor reminds me that there's magic in the grooves. I need no reminding. For ninety-nine cents I can find a discarded LP at the local record shop that has life in it, not to mention vim and vigor, verve and virility. A CD is useful and easy to play, and helps when one needs forty-five minutes of uninterrupted playtime...but where's its core of passion?

When you want to explore the life between the grooves, you don't turn to CDs.

I don't have scientific evidence to prove my opinions, which makes my argument rather easy, and yours rather hard. As my vinyl mentor remind me, I don't need charts, graphs, or even oscilliscopes. As George Martin said, "All you need is ears".

(Many thanks to Bruce Dumes for his guidance in this debate!)


"And in a week or two if you make the charts
the girls will tear you apart...."
--------------------------------------------
saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu


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