Reference Library: The Vinyl Frontier
From: email@example.com (saki)
Subject: Vinyl fetish
Date: 25 Mar 1999 07:43:24 GMT
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
When you want to explore the life between the grooves, you don't turn to
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...."
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