Friday, February 16, 2007

I always hated vinyl

Even when I was a kid watching my parents putting vinyl on the turntable I thought there had to be a better way of reproducing music. When I started working at the Beeb I had a couple of professional friends who held the view that vinyl is the better medium for enjoying music. I've always held the opposite view - to me when I listen to music from CD or DAT it sounds like what you hear in the control room of a recording studio. It sounds like what the band/engineer/producer hear, and as such it's what I'd like to hear. Have you ever been to a vinyl mastering plant and seen what gets done to the master tape while it's being prepared for transfer? The RIAA characteristic is pretty brutal!
I did make a DAT recording (on a Sony PCM7030) of the same piece of music from both vinyl (on a Pink Triangle turntable) and CD. My 'audiophile' colleague didn't realise that both pieces of music were coming from DAT - he correctly identified the source of each, but evidently the DAT was able to capture from the Vinyl whatever it was he loves so much. We were doing this blind test using DynAudio speakers and matched amplifier (whole lot £5,000) - as an aside how do people with sub-£1,000 set-ups in their living room make these quality judgements?
My own thought is that people like the sound of vinyl - all those second-order harmonics and flabby LF response sounds comfortable to them in the same way that Technicolor movies from the forties and fifties are nice to look at - but Clark Gable never really looked that colour ! I don't criticise that but I do think that the tag HiFi should be reserved for DAT / CD (even though a 'Hi-Fi' vinyl deck costs more than a thousand whereas a decent CD player is only a couple of hundred).
You can't get away from the fact that CD has a dynamic range of 96dBs and is flat to 22Khz - signal to noise and bandwidth are the things that you hear when they aren't all there, and with vinyl recordings they aren't!

Anyhow - I remembered a couple of truly bizarre record players - one I'd seen and one I'd only read about. In the early eighties (a couple of years after Sony launched the Walkman) there was the SoundBurger - It was a battery-powered gadget that wrapped around the record and allowed you to enjoy your (delicate!) records on the move. It had a belt clip and I actually saw someone walking along with this one their hip with the record spinning - a bit like Boadicea's chariot coming towards you!

The other one was Crysler's in car record player - I can only imagine how much it jumped and skipped. A further problem was that it exclusively used Columbia's 16⅔ RPM format - so you were pretty much locked in to their releases. A kind of early DRM - iTunes would be proud!

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