Vinyl LPs vs. CD

   

What’s all this stuff I’m hearing about vinyl LPs? Are those fragile horrible things actually making a comeback? In this clean digital age, why are so many people thinking of going back to this ancient recording technology? Are 33 1/3 RPM vinyl Long Playing records really better than the modern digital Compact Disc or is this hullabaloo a bunch of esoteric nonsense? The surprising answer is twofold.

First, the last CD I bought new was in 2007 prior to the following incident.

It was late one fall evening about five years ago when I was relaxing in my media room. While sitting there not finding anything to watch on TV, I decided to look through my old…rather large record collection. I had not played anything for a long time, well over ten or fifteen years.

My dearest Chinese wife happened in with a load of laundry to put into the machine. At that time, the laundry room was off the TV room. She asked me what all those things I was looking through were. I explained they were phonograph records. That’s when she asked me if I’d be willing to sell them to make some money.

“You mean, sell my memories,” I despondently asked her.

After she left, I decided to play something. But first I wondered if the turntable was properly setup. It had sat atop the cabinet since I moved everything to the remodeled second floor in 1993…and it hadn’t been played since for…wow, 14 years.

After about 25 minutes of dusting, cleaning, and adjusting, I felt it was ready. The tone arm looks like a micrometer with a bunch of different adjustments. But it really wasn’t all that difficult to calibrate.

I pulled out a Deutsche Gramophone of Mozart Symphony Number Forty and put it on. I then set the needle in the groove. Efff… I was instantly reminded why I loved the idea of CDs when they finally cleaned up their act. Pops, ticks, snaps… I lifted the needle as the opening bars of the symphony began to play. I turned off the turntable, returned the record to its dust jacket, and put it back on the shelf. I reclined back in the La-Z-Boy defeated. I sat there for a while when I got up enough nerve to take a jaunt down memory lane by looking through my old rock and jazz albums. That’s when I discovered an unopened copy of Vince Guaraldi Trio – Black Orpheus – Cast Your Fate to the Wind.

“Hay, I got this on CD,” I thought. “So, the CD’s in the jukebox, let’s play it.”

I grabbed the digitized remote with the song list of 500 CDs and I selected the disc. It started to play a familiar melody I had heard and enjoyed a bunch of times before…except without the background accompaniments…the pops and ticks, that is. The piano and that cello… After the song was over, I stopped the CD and proceeded to break the seal on the album version. I carefully put it on the turntable and placed the needle in the groove. Just as I sat back down in the big leather chair the piano started with the opening bars. Then…

Holy s… Damn. What’s that fuzzy sound from the…that cello? Damn, damn! The stylus went bad! My wife is right. &#@%! Maybe I should sell this stuff after all.

Suddenly, the piano stopped along with the bass and then the drums.

“Colin, what’s this guy saying about the song,” asked some fellow in a rather indignant and confused tone.
“Vince, I don’t know,” Responded this perplexed male voice with a 50s beatnik dialect.
“Hay you, sitting in the big over stuff chair,” yelled Colin.
“Who…me…” as I looked around the room rather stunned.
“Ya, you buddy,” said another beatnik voice.
“Now wait Monte, let’s don’t get the audience all pissed off at us,” said Vince in a more refined controlling tone.
“Hay bud, what’s wrong with our music,” asked Vince getting more irritated.
I responded even more perplexed, “Um…the fuzzy sound from the cello.”
“Now hold on there! That’s what a bass fiddle’s supposed to sound like,” argued Monte.
Vince finally had enough of my stupidity and said, “OK guys, let’s keep going…”

I sat back feeling rather stupid as they continued playing.

“Yes,” I thought. “You stupid fool! You’ve been duped…”

I turned around and looked at all those CDs and again I thought… “I have been bamboozled. All these years I thought I had the best fidelity.”

It was shortly after that when I wrote the web page What Happened to Audio High Fidelity.

In my research into CDs, I decided to apply my computer literacy (my profession) and determine if these small plastic silver disks were the panacea they were and still are touted as being. What I found out startled me back to reality. It has to do with the simple concept of sampling rates and wave reconstruction.

The gist is, if my research is correct, a CD has 44,100 samplings every second which nets an average of two samplings for every 20,000th of a second of sound. “You can’t hear 20kHz,” said some sales rep trying to sell me a very expensive CD player. And, he’s right. But there’s one problem. What he failed to really say was there were only 4 samplings for every 10,000th of a second of music. This I can easily hear. Four points on a sign wave graph.

There is no way a full sign-wave can be accurately reconstructed with just four points. They did this and still do this by taking their best guess. Statistically, they barely have a chance of guessing correctly…well, the odds are very small. In reality, they create the illusion of sound…and they have done a very good job of fooling us. All along we have been listening to music that has been electronically reconstructed. The only ones who really know are those who listen to and really pay attention to live performances without amplification. This includes those who work, or rather, play in an orchestra or a group like a quartet.

You-know, I can’t believe all these audiophiles tossed out their expensive turntables for these CD things. Well, maybe I can. I too have been fooled. Thank God I didn’t succumb to my wife’s wishes and get rid of everything.

Gees, my current turntable must have cost the fellow I bought it from over $2,500 in 1980s dollars. I got it in 1985 for $200 because he had discovered digital audio and CDs. I continued to do LPs because a good CD player in the ladder part of the 80s that didn’t sound like a Moog Synthesizer cost $4,500. But then in 1989, I finally bit the bullet and bought a used…very expensive Denon CD player for over $900. I was told it had 8 times over sampling, etc., etc., etc. Also, CDs at that time cost $15.00 each. I took to buying used CDs from a place called Mole’s Record Exchange. Yes, I…drank the Cool-Aid.

But then…what happened? Why did people start buying records again?

I think these young guys with good hearing got into their dad’s album collections and started playing things like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or Pink Floyd. That’s when they discovered something wasn’t quite right. The word did eventually get out. The internet helped a lot.

Now today…

Last week while my wife was off somewhere looking at clothes, I walked into a CD store and eventually found myself looking through some record albums. There was a whole isle of them. For some reason while I was looking at the new age section, I started thinking of this girl I dated in the early 80s. Then it dawned on me. I became momentarily frightened thinking I warped back through some temporal vortex to 1981. Then I saw my wife and realized I was here in Y2K+12. I said to myself, “These must be old used records.” But they weren’t. They were all new. I then asked the store clerk and he said vinyl is coming back.

YES! Vinyl LPs are back. There are bunches of YouTube videos on the cleaning, caring for, and playing of records.

This store in the mall had four isles of music and DVDs. The guy said they were starting to put records in the second isle. He went on to say that everyone was buying their music online, that CDs would eventually go away. He stress to me that LPs cannot be sold electronically because the resolution is nowhere high enough to accurately reproduce the sound that comes from an analog disk.

Well, I guess I’m ready for the resurgence of...God, records. I have over 2000 LPs and a really expensive turntable I got used for a really cheap price at the beginning of the CD revolution. But still, what the hell do I do about those annoying ticks and pops? My question really should be: what did I do about them when I was much younger and had much more sensitive ears?


Ronco Record Duster

In the old days, I had this record dust vacuum called a Vac-O-Rec which was very similar to the cheap Ronco battery powered thing they sold on TV in the 70s. The one I had, had an AC motor to spin the record as well as drive a tiny squirrel cage fan to serve as the vacuum, which I took out. I cut a hole in its side for a hose and connected a small external hand vacuum cleaner which I got from a Xerox repair guy. Just before playing, I would put the LP in this thing and it would spin around dusting the record. Then when I played the record, I had an arm with a velvet roll and a fine brush like thing with a few strands of very flexible wire, all of which would remove any dust that might collect on the record and discharge the static. This would ride on the opposite side of the record from the tone arm. It was so soft and lite that it didn’t damage or harm the record, generate any noise or drag down the rotation of the platter.

Now today, there are a variety of record vacuum cleaning machines on the internet ranging in cost from $4,000 down to $450 for the Nitty Gritty simple hand turn model.


Dust Bug

I tried to find the arm thing that I had on the turntable, but…I don’t know what happened to it. As for the vacuum thing I made, it probably got toss out. So, I opted for the $550 VPI one with the noisy internal wet vac.

But, why should I and many others go through all this hassel, not to mention, the expense just to be able to play vinyl? Isn’t there a digital technology with a high enough resolution to accurately capture the sound equivelant to that which is recorded on an LP?

The second answer is, there is. Problem is, the recording industry doesn't wish to use it.

This technology is labeled Music DVDA. It is two-channel, 192 kHz, 24 bit resolution sound reproduction.

This technology allows us to have at 10 kHz audio, 16 points that describes the sign wave. The CODEC wave reconstruction of this technology does equal direct-to-disc and surpasses standard pressings of the average vinyl LP. On the scope, the digital form is virtually indistinguishable from its LP counterpart in so far as wave form reconstruction. However, because of the background noise inherent on most LPs, this digital form is much better for dynamic range. A good unplayed direct-to-disc LP is 70 dB and 24 bit audio is 100 dB or greater. Note. In raw computational form, using the same codec as WAVE CDs, 24 bit computes to be 144 dB, whereas 16 bit is about 90 dB.

The issue with us not having high resolution digital recordings is the recording industry refuses to adopt this standard and produce music in this format.

Why?

The answer to this is also twofold.

First the investment in new equipment would be tremendous. Secondly, who cares?

Yes, when the vast majority of music being sold today is being downloaded in MP3 form, which is even lower in quality than CDs, the recording industry has no incentive to upgrade.

This is why vinyl is making a comeback. However, only a small percentage of the population is a part of this movement. The average listener has no interest in hearing sound as it was produced by the original instruments. But who-knows. Maybe someday people will catch on and demand a higher resolution. In the meantime, we’re…stuck with listening to vinyl.

SteveS August 1, 2012

P. S. For those of you who didn't understand my imagined dialog with Vince Guaraldi, Piano; Monte Budwig, Bass; and Colin Baily, Drums; I apologize. It was the realization of what was missing from a CD occurred while playing the LP version.  This insite happened within several bars of the music after the bass began to play. In an instant, I thought the needle went bad. Then I realized this is the sound generated by a bass cello being played with a bow.

One more thing. I’m a nice guy. I don't mind lending things to people to help them out.  Even though some of the things I did lend out either never made it back or were damaged in some way, I didn't get mad. But as early as 1975 I said, "I will lend you my cloths, my tooth brush, my bed or even my girlfriend, before I lend you my LPs. Meaning, no one ever borrowed my records."

Today? I've lent my CDs to a lot of people.  But to date, no one besides myself has ever played my vinyl.

   

 Steve 2012