Rich Warren: Audiophile shares experiences in sound
This reader mail closely parallels views expressed in a recent column. I've paraphrased portions for clarity:
"I probably would consider myself an audiophile. I certainly am selective of what I listen to. Vinyl records are very nice. A decent record player is not easy to find. I just got a $100 one, supposedly, from Sony, and it copped out after limited usage.
"Anyway, I've recently discovered big headphones. They offer very good sound even with digital files. I'm considering getting an mp3 player for convenience. I'd love a pair of big wooden cabinet speakers.
"In closing, I'll say that when a radio station broadcasts with full, true sound quality, even an AC Delco can sound good, and I suppose those stations still use a CD format. Ford's JBL seems better than the GM radios.
"However, you take a song that has music fatigue (anything by the Doobie Brothers or Elton John comes to mind), and the only way to enjoy that song again is to hear it near to what the sound engineer heard the day he made the masters. To hear 'moldy oldies' in a tinny or compressed format is awful. Like supermarket-piped-in-music awful."
Even analog audio fits the old computer axiom: garbage in, garbage out. Whether it is a record producer or a radio station, care shows in the final product. Fortunately, you can hear impressively good sound without big wooden speaker cabinets. Even without those big cabinets, really good small speakers can be expensive.
Returning to the topic of vinyl LPs, their current popularity is amusing. Our reader refers to purchasing a $100 turntable. Unless you found a used gem, such as a Thorens, AR, Linn or Rega from a couple of decades ago for $100, most new cheap turntables sound mediocre while tearing up your vinyl.
If your goal in returning to vinyl is to recapture the glories of analog sound played from the groove, then spend at least $250 on a decent turntable and phono cartridge. Geoff Poor happily will guide you to an affordable quality turntable.
Many listeners pine for the vinyl rituals of cleaning the disc, precisely setting up the tonearm and cartridge and regularly brushing croft off the stylus (needle) after each play. CDs present no challenge or ceremony. If CDs are like making toast, then LPs are like making French toast.
There's a wonderful, now out-of-print book, last updated in 1977 before the current digital era, titled "From Tin Foil to Stereo" by Oliver Read and Walter L. Welch (Sams Publications) that you might find somewhere on the Internet.
The authors write in great detail about the vociferous reaction by many listeners and musicians during the transition from acoustical recording and reproduction to electrical recording and reproduction during the late 1920s into the early 1930s.
Large numbers of listeners railed against electrical reproduction, claiming it completely ruined the natural, authentic sound of acoustical recordings. Why place vacuum tubes between the source and the listener?
Although I have a 1922 acoustical phonograph, I still prefer my electric stereo system, except when Ameren suffers a power failure.
In contrast to the vinyl craze, manufacturers continue making gear more digital-, wireless- and Apple-friendly. A press release reveals Rotel will roll out a quartet of home audio components that include an integrated stereo amp with a USB 24-bit/192kHz digital to analog converter.
Since most computer companies, whether Apple or the PC crowd, consider audio an afterthought, Rotel intelligently provides a truly audiophile alternative.
Then there's the headline on an Internet site: "Onkyo builds Bluetooth, Wi-Fi into more audio/video receivers." So it's more and more likely that if you plug your turntable into a current audio component the sound somewhere along the way ends up as bits rather than analog waveforms.
Enjoy your music in whatever format pleases you. Marshall McLuhan presciently proclaimed: "The medium is the message."
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.