The narrow vision of vinyl (analog) doubters


This is not about saying that listening to anything but vinyl records is wrong. I say if all you have is CDs or what have you that is perfectly fine. It’s about listening to music, period, no matter the format. This editorial/opinion article if you will, is about one of the unsubstantiated things out there. The spreading of untruth.

Ok, I’m the last one to be talking about poor vision, but this is a different vision. This is the vision of the mind. Lately I have been running into more vinyl/analog doubters than ever before when there used to be larger numbers of them. Anyone doubting aspects of vinyl records is not a problem, to each their own preferences. I myself have room for vinyl and CD and streaming, each with it’s own merits and downsides. There truly is something special about vinyl playback that one does not get with CD or streaming or digital files. It’s not any one thing in particular, but a combination of a few things. First of all and most important is the sound quality of vinyl playback or aka, analog. I have found over time that I can’t just describe it in one word or phrase such as “warm” or “tube-like” or “deep” or “sentimental”, etc. like some try to do. I have found it’s all of those and more. I grew up with vinyl and my first was listening to records on one of those toy-like phonographs with the little speaker and flip needle. (What ever made me so abusive towards records like that?….Oh, yeah, I was all of maybe 5 or 6 years old, so what did I know?).
By the time I was 17 or 18 I had a slightly better analog set up with a Sony linear tracking turntable, which I would quickly discover was no better than my early toy turntables. I got it right before the insurgence of CDs. I was a late-comer to CDs too. They were expensive and I had to wait for prices of both the CDs and the players to come down. When that finally happened I started buying CDs. (Don’t panic Michael Fremer, I’m not done with the story…ha ha ha).

I had decided to switch to CD because I too got caught up in the marketing and fell under peer pressure. However, somehow I had the forethought to hang on to a few of my vinyl LPs for later and I still kept my Sony turntable for some reason I was not fully aware of (the sub-conscious mind can be interesting). Remember, this is before the selection of RCMs available and before my education in all things records and such.
I did foolishly get rid of some of my records I had which was not many, I had around 90 records total and got rid of about 30 of them. Unfortunately, some of the ones I got rid of were Beatles records that I purchased new, but they were purchased in the late 70s and most were U.S. re-pressings, not originals or UK pressings or anything. More depressing was getting rid of a couple of records that were long out of print even by then. They were obscure records and not any one artist’s works, but still.

So fast forward to the 1990s, I found myself not enjoying music like I did back in the day. I felt like I lost something tangible that I had with vinyl and do not have with CDs (and certainly not streaming). I admit that maybe part of it was the fact that I was weened on and grew up with vinyl records from playing my parents records on their mid-century console system to my toy players to my better turntables even though the sound quality was sub-par, there was still something pleasurable about it. However, I also submit that with the better analog play back gear and front end systems I eventually got to hear, it made it all too clear what I was missing.
I had started remembering back in the day when I would occasionally see what was the somewhat higher-end systems of the time when I went with my parents to visit their friends and other members of our family. I remember just sitting there staring at the shiny gear and listening to it play softly. This was back in the days of the heavy Sansui, Pioneer, Marantz, etc. receivers and turntables and such. They were the high-end of the time and my parents could not afford them. So back only about 7 or 8 years ago (very late to the party) I got into the vintage audio gear thing. I had acquired (and still have and use) a couple of receivers and turntables from the time and dug out my old records. (I also got rid of my Sony linear tracking turntable at that time and it eludes me as to why I hung onto it). Anyway, it was at that point of dropping the first needle on the first record that I was blown away and realized that now I could listen to records as much as I want. Mind you, this is just on a vintage receiver and turntable and looking around these days one can easily imagine the possibilities with analog. (I will say also that to this day I still use my vintage gear because it actually sounds fantastic as it was built for analog vinyl record playback and built around the important components for that at the time. Of course, today one can really get crazy, which is great).

As I wrote about in my article about Vinyl vs CD vs Streaming, there are many great things about vinyl records. First there is the tangible aspect of them. You have the big 12 inch cover art and such, sometimes special inner sleeves too. You have the whole feel and such as well which for many triggers memory points just by looking at the record before even playing it. You also have the educational properties of peaking one’s curiosity about the record one is looking at. One tends to find themselves reading the liner notes and whatnot on a vinyl record instead of the near impossible to see notes on a CD insert. Then of course you have the sound quality which no CD can beat especially on recordings done from the early 80s on back and recordings done analog. For instance, I find that I can’t listen to stuff such as Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, Buddy Rich, Sinatra, Mama’s and  Papas, Crosby, Stills and  Nash, etc on their CD counterparts. Why, because the CDs sound like chunks are missing. They sound like there is no depth, like the dynamics are as thin as the layer of aluminum used in a CD. Basically, those CDs sound well, sterile to use a one word description. It’s like staring into a post collapsed society ruled by some iron-fisted corporate ruler. Like a scene in a grey post-apocalyptic movie. (Of course that is not saying that there are not well-done or appropriately done CDs out there these days. there are, but not for the older music). In fact, today vinyl is being pressed (made) again and in lots of cases done very well (though expensive due to the cost of restoring the pressing machines or even building new ones, plus the cost of materials, etc). However what is also up are used record sales. In fact, vinyl sales are near what they were back in the day, if not maybe even more so now.

However, what I have been running into lately is vinyl record doubters in inappropriate places or situations and it’s not just that, but they spew much mis-information from stuff they spin in their direction and ignore the facts at hand (much like the news media, but that’s a whole other subject).
Let me tell you of the last couple of recent occurrences. Back in the beginning of June at The Show Newport, I was visiting a room where a vinyl click and pop eliminator and recording device was being demonstrated. It was the Sugar Cube device from a company called Sweet Vinyl. Fantastic device that eliminates the clicks and pops while playing back a record without losing anything in dynamics or making it sound unnatural or adding anything. It does more than that too. Anyway, I’m sitting there watching and listening and the guy sitting next to me is also a journalist for somebody it turns out who I also estimate to be past 60 years of age. After the main part of the demo he starts questioning the whole vinyl resurgence and everything about vinyl and going after the guy doing the demo. I found myself thinking while looking at the guy, “what the hell are you going to write about”? He was going on about how much blind faith the demo guy and the rest of us in the room have in vinyl and that he feels it may be mis-placed. Now I’m thinking, “What the hell man! Your 60 and no doubt grew up with vinyl records and your saying it’s a passing fad”? So he goes on and on at every turn and even used the hipster argument, at one point while not an expert like Michael Fremer, I tell the sugar cube rep, “I’ve got this” and I start to engage him. I got in a few hard facts trying to just get him to come to terms, but no go. I finally said, “you need to talk to my friend Michael Fremer over at Analog Planet”.
On top of that, this other guy walks in after the demo and starts spouting, “you know the kids today don’t have thousands of dollars to invest in a turntable on top of this thing to make it all work”. They were using a Music Hall MMF-2.2 (a $200 table) to demonstrate! The rep, myself and a few others tried to point that out to this other guy, but he stuck to his argument stating that in order to get real quality sound from vinyl playback one needs a very expensive turntable. I wanted to go over and strangle the guy, but of course that would not help anything. I just sat there thinking to myself, “You’re the reason I did my website, because of idiots like you that bitch about the demise of the audio industry and hobby because nobody can afford it, while at the same time making sure it does die”. (Continue reading on page 2 below)

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