Vinyl

Which Sounds Better, Analog or Digital Music?

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Let's #TBT to a timeless article trying to answer a timeless question:

"Record players have made a comeback over the past decade. Some of the credit probably goes to the hipster trend toward retro everything, but music lovers often claim records just sound better than digital music. I played my part in boosting record player sales after finding my mom’s old record collection in my parents’ house. The collection itself was not particularly exciting, but the possibility of listening to the exact records she had played as a teenager felt like some sort of time travel.

So we bought a record player. I distinctly remember playing The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had dutifully met the college student stereotype of blasting The Beatles on a regular basis, so I had heard those songs a hundred times. But when the cacophony at the end of “A Day in the Life” came on, it was not the one I had heard before. It sounded much deeper and fuller, like there were new noises in it. I was skeptical of the claim that vinyl sounded better, so I was surprised to be hearing a difference. Being a scientific-minded person, I’m not exactly swayed by one data point, but the experience did pique my curiosity.

So what’s the deal with the vinyl phenomenon? Is it really possible that records just inherently make a fuller sound? To have any hope of answering these questions, we have to start with something more basic: What is sound and how do we hear it?"

Read the rest over at The Atlantic.

The World's Worst Turntables And Why You Should Avoid Them

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I recently heard that Urban Outfitters is the largest seller of vinyl records in America. Sadly, it also sells turntables that aren't very good for your records. The proof? This amazing thread over on Reddit detailing exactly why you shouldn't place your valuable records on suboptimal turntables.

The list of offenders is crazy.

The Reddit thread's intro alone serves as a warning as to what not to do with that $25 vinyl you just splurged on:

Playing vinyl records is a great hobby. It's easy to get started and you don't need to spend a fortune to do so. However, like any hobby, there is both good and bad products out there at both ends of the price/performance spectrum. In general, a record player or turntable needs to do three basic separate, interrelated jobs to successfully play a vinyl record. Some players perform these three jobs better than others and cost much more for the commensurate research, development, and precision manufacturing costs that went into producing them.

Job #1 Provide a stable, extremely flat, non resonant platform for the record to rest on.

Job #2 Turn the platform and record precisely at the correct speed.

Job #3 Position a stylus and transducer above a revolving groove, allow the stylus to follow the grove and faithfully reproduce the vibrations encoded within.

As one moves up the record player/turntable food chain, more of the build budget gets dedicated to improvements that affect audio quality either directly or indirectly.

Most mass-market turntables are made by three OEM factories: Hanpin, Skywin, and Leetac. They all make a low quality, non upgradable, low performance, budget-friendly, entry level model with built-in speakers, a heavy tracking ceramic or moving magnet cartridge, and a barely adequate tonearm prone to promote stylus mistracking. Even the more expensive mass-market turntables tend to place emphasis on convenience features such as automatic play, sometimes switchable built in phono-EQ, USB connectivity, and cosmetics, instead of design improvements that increase audio quality.

Reasons to not buy these brands/specific models:

• Skipping during playback of loud passages, including but not limited to heavy bass/drums, and/or loud transients due to exceeding the tracking abilites of the included stylus.

• No upgrade options, nor serviceable parts that can be sourced easily other than the stylus and belt.

• The included sapphire sylus on many Leetac and Skywin-manufactured players, which has a maximum lifespan of between 65 to 100 hours due to the stylus' softer material than diamond. Yes, you can upgrade to a diamond tipped stylus for increased stylus longevity, but you will still have the exact same problems as described in this list.

• Heavy, inconsistently set, tracking force (Leetac and Skywin tonearms) with ceramic cartridges require vertical tracking force be set at roughly 5.0 grams but is measured anywhere from 4.0 to 10.0 grams. The Audio Technica AT3600L moving magnet cartridge, found on some Crosley models (i.e., the Collegiate) and Hanpin FU-700/R200 OEM models have measured anywhere from 4.0 to 6.0 grams. This can shorten the lifespan of the stylus, specifically the tip, cantilever, and suspension, but also accelerate groove damage to the records. Note that the AT3600L moving magnet's stylus has a recommended tracking force between 2.5 to 3.5 grams.

• Non-adjustable or fixed counterweight that severely limits cartridge and stylus selection (usually to just one).

• Shorter tonearms also experience higher levels of tracing error, where the stylus is not perfectly parallel to the groove, causing audible distortions The short tonearm also further contributes inner groove distortion, where groove speed is the slowest and tracking is most difficult. IGD is audible distortion that affects the midrange and treble frequencies during playback at the most inner grooves near the center label.

Click here to read the rest and get the full list of the worst offenders...

Is Vinyl Perfect Because It Isn't?

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Context is everything. I was born in 1971, so I remember life before CDs. I also remember listening to Everything But The Girl on vinyl, which is why I was so thrilled to see this vinyl op-ed written by EBTG's Tracey Thorn, which starts off like this:

"I had to listen to the test pressing of my finished album the other day. This is when you check what the vinyl version will sound like, so you sit very quietly in front of your speakers and, ignoring the songs completely, take note of the overall sound quality and strain your ears to listen out for any excessive surface noise, any unwanted pops or crackles. And, this being vinyl, there are occasional pops and crackles. But are they unwanted? Ah, that’s the question."

"Vinyl has had a revival, you will have read. And part of me can’t help feeling that it’s really the pops and crackles that have made a comeback, securing their place in people’s hearts as some kind of badge of authenticity. The clunk of the needle dropping. The faint hiss before the first song begins. Sounds that, if you’re the right age, whirl you back in time to those first records you owned."

Read the rest of her piece here.

Alex Roy, co-Founder of Noho Sound, Editor-at-Large for The Drive and author of The Driver, has set numerous endurance driving records, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.