The loneliness of the digital audiophile…


For every ten people that bought a record today there is a writer somewhere in the world penning a piece on the resurgence of vinyl, within which they pontificate on the how and the why. Many diss digital audio in order to play up the romantic associations older listeners might have with records. I tried to take such a position with this article, asking myself: what’s wrong with digital audio? Why am I buying records that I already own on CD and/or digital download? Why do I enjoy visiting my local record store – The Record Crate in Sydney’s inner westso damn much?

Here’s why

I don’t know about you but my digital library is a work of art, a thing of anal-retentive beauty. Thousands upon thousands of songs gleam in iTunes, ready to have their Apple Lossless digital audio content fired through Audirvana+ at the double-click of a mouse.


This is the culmination of years of ripping a ten thousand strong CD collection bought during the eighties, nineties and early noughties. Hard-to-find CDs aside, these days I bypass physical digital media altogether; direct purchases from Bleep, Boomkat and HDTracks are now the norm.  I’m no longer forced to leave my house to buy music. I don’t even have to leave my listening room. Buying digital music is exacted in splendid isolation from the comfort of the listening chair.

A credit card or PayPal transaction leads to a fresh set of FLACs on my hard drive, which then undergoes a strict workflow process. Bliss’s library management software [Win/Mac/Linux] ensures that tags are present and correct and it adds artwork when required. The FLAC files (and their containing folders) are renamed based upon tag data, after which XLD [Mac only] takes care of the transcoding from FLAC to ALAC and adding the latter to iTunes.


The beauty of this digital music library is in the perfection of tags, artwork and file naming. It’s in the alphabetization. It’s in the availability of everything, all of the time. There are no flaws and no holes. Not very rock n roll, is it?

Digital is cheaper, easier, faster – yes. But just because it’s all of these things doesn’t mean it is necessarily better.

Homogeneity. The uniformity of iTunes’ visual presentation means no single album cover catches my eye. Digital audio gives up no war stories. Your CD rip is likely the same as my CD rip. And if it isn’t, that’s easily rectified. There are no trips to outer-nowhere or one’s local store to acquire a physical product; my vinyl buying has taken me to hitherto unvisited parts of Sydney and Melbourne as well as Phoenix, Sacramento and Portland (where the number of record stores is mind-boggling).


All records are – by their manufactured nature – unique. Their sleeves each display battles scars, each one playback surrenders different surface noise. There are memories attached to the smallest artefacts: price stickers and sleeve wear.

Digital audio might be too easy. There’s no remote-controlled track skipping with a record. It demands patience. A life with vinyl forces you to slow down, to indulge in the ceremony; it’s similar to that which the Japanese perform with tea. You must set aside time for a record and give it your fullest attention. Do you find it harder to walk away – into another room – whilst a record is playing?  Some people do.

Is this why folk are buying vinyl again? For the majority of record buyers, I don’t think it’s necessarily down to a widely touted reason: sound quality. I have a bunch of mates who buy records on a regular basis but not one of their hi-fi rigs would expose differences between recordings/masters/pressings/formats. Playing back a 128kbps MP3 through these battered 90s midi/mini systems would sound the same as the black stuff. Moreover, these friends have never heard of compression, compromised dynamics or The Loudness Wars and yet they all speak of how vinyl sounds so ‘rich’ and ‘warm’ – they endlessly pay forward this received wisdom.

Like me, they also buy vinyl because they want something tangible, something to collect. With digital downloads eroding the CD market at a furious pace and with huge iTunes libraries (some tagged to perfection), we continue to find new ways of tapping the hit of a physical product, one to collect and perhaps brag about.


What’s old is new again. Vintage furniture commands a premium on eBay. Even the filters on Instagram hark back to the Polaroids of the 70s. You only have to take one look at the burgeoning vintage gear scene to know that audiophiles are nostalgic creatures.

I’m slowly amassing a collection of vinyl that reflects my very favourite albums (of all time), particularly those released pre-2000 and it’s the human interaction that keeps me coming back to my local store in Sydney’s inner west. The suburb of Glebe is cornered by two of the cities largest Universities. Along the main drag, coffee shops and restaurants dominate. It gets busy there but never too busy.


The Record Crate is both vinyl emporium and bar. You can take your sweet time: pull up a chair, have a coffee or a beer. “It’s a little bit more rock n roll”, says proprietor Neville Sergent. Dropping in after a morning of iTunes listening, I know exactly what he means. It’s altogether more personable.

Sergent has been selling records in one location or another for thirty-two years now. He is keen to emphasise that The Record Crate isn’t a small bar – it’s a record store with a small bar ethos.


The house beer comes all the way from one of Portland’s smaller breweries. This is unusual for Sydney. Bridgeport’s IPA or Double Red will run you AU$9/bottle. Beyond the seating area and into the belly of the vinyl, a Technics SL1200 MKII plays workhorse on the counter. Sergent confesses to not being a hifi guy. He’s a music fan who started this latest venture with his own record collection. I pick up a couple of mid-eighties releases from The Waterboys for $20 a pop, a copy of Lou Reed’s classic New York for the same.  Yes, I own all of these on CD and, yes, they’ve been ripped to iTunes.

The more the digital world advances the more people yearn for the simplicity of an analogue yesteryear. Is this why the sheer physicality of records is touted as the fundamental reason behind the resurgence of vinyl? I suspect it is only part of a more complex picture: if sleeve artwork were all that mattered, most folk would buy an entry-level turntable and phono stage and never upgrade. But they do. In spades. However, this isn’t commentary on vinyl’s sonic merits. These are thoughts on how digital audio is eroding the sociability of buying music.


There is a lack of human interaction as a digital audio consumer. I add to cart, I pay, I download, I play. The process of getting the music from there to here is fully automated; no other human is involved. Buying a record or CD involves – at the very least – interaction with postal workers. Go to a record store and buying music becomes a social experience once again.

Further information:  Bliss | The Record Crate on Facebook

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. The “simplicity of an analogue yesteryear”… Yeah, i dunno about that one…

    45, 33, 78, LP, EP, Mono, 180g, 200g. There’s almost more gobbledygook with vinyl than there are digital formats. Tracking force, MC vs. MM, cartridge, tonearm, plinth, belt drive vs. direct drive, azimuthal what??

    They are real and tangible and can sound fantastic. I love the hypnotic mechanical nature of them… and I hope to have a nice one…one day.

    But harking back to the simple halcyon days of vinyl… Let’s not forget all of those pops and clicks, and wow and flutter.

    Vandersteen had some $100k vinyl rig in his room at THE Show… Vinyl people are just as – if not more – than the rest of us! And it is expensive, damn expensive.

    It certainly has it’s place, but right now my DSD64 of R.L. Burnside’s First Recordings is sounding pretty damn good without a needle drop, and looks great with the cover art full-screen.

    Remember 8-tracks, cassette tapes, Dolby B, C, S, DBX, Walkmans, AM, FM, SW, and rabbit ears antennas?

    Thanks, but I really appreciate digital thank you very much.

    And finding CDs to rip is dirt cheap right now. Thanks guys!!!

  2. I have an LP collection built up since the late 60’s, but don’t have the same approach at all. I went all digital a number of years ago – any LP not available in digital format I ldigitized . Properly done hires rips of LPs are indistinguishable from the original vinyl on playback; I never use my turntable for listening anymore, and I don’t miss it.

    Today I buy hires when it’s available, and CD when it isn’t. Properly recorded CDs today don’t sound “harsh and digital” like CDs once did, and a lot of hires sounds even better.

    The only thing I miss about LPs are the covers, holding them and reading them did add to the experience when playing a record. Nothing to date has replaced those 12 inch covers.

  3. So, it’s the sad, lonely, insecure people who are drawn to records, you imply? People who need reassurance and guidance that the record they are about to buy is a goodie. And need someone to reminisce with other than their (absent?) friends.

    Also you describe characteristic *collectors* as key vinyl users, who are closely related to hoarders, and that is not really a good thing per se.

    If that is your message, I can appreciate that. However, saying it is similar in any respect to the Japanese tea ceremony is showing very little knowledge of the Japanese or of the tea ceremony. You could hardly argue that digital audio *forces* anyone to rush and shuffle through their music listening, but I suppose you could argue vinyl forces a slower and linear pace on people who are unable to *restrain* themselves from succumbing to some awful urge to rush through their digital music files. Strange people.

    Your article gives the impression that vinyl music is the new wave of popularity, but really we are talking about, what, 1.4 per cent? That is still a *really unpopular* way to enjoy music. Perhaps indulged in by really unusual people, who are different from the 98+% of people who thoroughly enjoy digital music and the way they access it.

    Sorry, but it all seems like post-rationalization to me.

    • I’m not angling for an either/or mutual exclusivity, just that each format has its own unique appeal, but mainly that the perfection of digital music collections don’t necessarily bring any more happiness to the music fan than a box of battered 45s.

  4. Hi John,

    I fully agree with your ‘sentimental’ analysis… Music is emotion and the easier it gets to download all music, the lesser the connection we feel with our listening pearls..

    Abundance does not mean we will become happier, more complete persons. The human mind will always pursue unique experiences in order to fullfill it’s desire to make itself feel comfortable. The ‘touch & feel’ element of Vinyl recordings is able to fullfill this missing link and provides us comfort.

    On top of that, analogue sound reproduction can still sound superior compared to the best DSD, DXD or whatever digitized formats available. Maybe this is due to the fact that our ears and brain are more sensitive than instruments are able to measure.

    I personally love to combine all of these formats. Depending on time & place and appetite.


  5. I’ve been passed it many times (The Record Crate that is) but have yet to venture in. I’m a Newtown/Stanmore native, love music, hi-fi (though I don’t yet own one!) and craft beer so my absence to this point is odd.

    It may be due to my desire to avoid the rampant vinyl+craft beer+facial hair/cardigan/fixie/etc = hipster douche.

    Alas, my fear hipsters shall hold me back no more and I shall sally forth. Although, truth be told, yet another venue selling $9 beers is not what I need.

    • Yeah, it’s a (cough) interim measure whilst I get the Lenco onto a new plinth. I gotta say I rate it higher than Rega’s RP1: metal platter, more solid plinth and (most important of all) stable speed. A friend measure it with the Dr Feickert iPad app – it doesn’t have the big swings of the Rega. 🙂

  6. What a wonderful article, I absolutely love it.
    And, on top of that, I agree 100% on your analysis.

    Maybe this is why yesterday I dropped 650€ (roughly $1000) on a yellow (yikes!) pro-ject debut carbon esprit turntable and an NVA phono stage.

    I’ve been digging digital music since when no one even knew what an MP3 was and I remember ripping to MP3 all my CDs (back in the ’90s the hard disks weren’t so big to accommodate lots of WAV/AIFF files and there were no traces of APE or FLAC).
    It’s been one year that I started feeling that kind of “emptiness” scrolling through my flawlessly tagged iTunes library and yawning in boredom.
    What’s the sense in this? I have more than ten thousand tracks (lots of them in high resolution, either SACD/DVDA rips or HD downloads) ready to be played right at my fingertips.
    “Oh yeah, let’s rock some good ol’ dark side of the moon – yawn”.
    I really felt something missing while listening to one of my all time favorite album for the billionth time. Listening to music was always supposed to be something special, a moment where you just empty your mind and lose contact with the rest of the world so you can plunge into the music and “live” it.
    Instead, now I find myself “listening” to music while browsing the web, chatting with my friends and doing lots of stuff at the same time.

    I feel that there’s a need to rediscover what listening to music actually means and that comprises the famous ritual of setting up your hi-fi, scrolling through your collection, touching it, contemplating the covers and see if that album suits your mood and then just sit down and let the music flow through you.

    Also, human interactions.
    Going physically to the store, looking for that precise record you’ve been looking after for so long, talking about it with the store owner and discovering that there’s a better sounding edition of that album that he has listened recently, asking him if he can order it somehow and then annoying him every day asking if it has arrived… until the day he actually phones you and tells you that it has finally arrived, so you drive recklessly at 130mph to the store to hug the record and smell it (yeah, I love to smell covers and books) and going back home to put that big black disc on your turntable and prepare your soul for your 48 minutes of musical bliss.
    And that record… it’s yours. It’s personal. It is… UNIQUE.
    That, opposed to browsing your musical store online, clicking that download button, importing the files into your media library and start listening.

    I know, that’s what people calls “convenience”, but if you feel a sense of “wrongness” in it, then I think we really have to take some time and meditate on the matter and go back to the roots.

    Anyway, well done John, I really enjoyed the article.

    Keep up the good work!

    P.S.: also, sorry for the very long comment, I just felt like I had to share these thoughts.

  7. There’s digital and digital. I took a decision over twenty years ago to ditch vinyl for the shiny silver alternative. Having done so, I find no conceptual difference between the physical act of sliding a disc into a tray and dropping a needle on to it (many, obviously, will disagree). Computer audio’s something else. Being obliged to spend half my life in front of the foul magic box, I jibe at squandering my leisure hours doing the same. Music is supposed to be an escape, a release, not just another shift in the punishment block.

  8. I started listening to Vinyl about 8 moths ago. I listen exclusively on my home stereo system for 3 months. At first I was not sure about the sound quality as a few records didn’t sound so good. Then I would put on a record that would blow me away at how good it sounded. I bought some 180 gram records that are recorded with the original master analogue tapes and was really wowed. I think my hearing was conditioned to years of digital sourced music most my life that it took me time to adjust to it. Because after 3 months I tried to listen to some CD’s again and I honestly couldn’t bear it. I said to myself wow this sounds like crap. The soul was missing. Sure it was clear sounding but it sounded artificial and sterile in comparison. Even the bass sounds artificial and didn’t go as low. I don’t think I am ever going back to digital except for using it in my car of course.
    I also like the experience of using vinyl. It connects me to the music more. In these days of pushing a button to move to the next track or even to another album in seconds flat peoples attention span has become limited. How many people listen to an entire album anymore these days? I call this the coffee generation all hyped up on caffeine.
    Being to lazy to drag my butt off the couch all the time, putting on a record has forced me to listen to an entire side of an album then getting up only once to flip it. I appreciate the artist more this way. The good and some bad songs but I hear them all. Vinyl connects me to the music in ways digital can not and will never do. I also like physical aspect of vinyl. Holding it, even cleaning it, and looking at the giant artwork on the cover, reading the lyrics.
    I have to give a thumbs up to the Croft Phono integrated amp I bought. A good phono stage is paramount to the enjoyment.
    This brings me to my last point. The amount of fiddling with phono gear is endless. It gives the audiophile so many variations to play with to get the sound to ones liking. Many audiophiles take enjoyment out of the mechanical aspects of this.

  9. the resurgence of vinyl is a hipster wet dream. I too recall fondly the days of traipsing through my favourite record store and trying to ask the snooty nadsats of the time for recommendations only to be haughtily dismissed. Yah the covers were cool, but I never dug the simplicity of snap crackle pop and the endless cleaning, fretting about the condition of the needle and god forbid the simplicity of trying to change a cartridge. and don’t forget the joy of humping a shitload of albums to your next residence in the transient world. and being a lazy bastard, getting up and down to skip tracks on crappy filler pieces of albums is also a trip in nostalgia. me i would never go back – having finally achieved the nirvana of a 1000 hi rez albums on a single 3 terrabyte disk drive along with an excellent dac and tube amp, i don’t buy the whole vinyl dogma of warmth etc. My setup gives me oodles of pleasure without the ugly background noises. if its companionship i crave, christian mingle or e-harmony is only a mouse click away.

    • The ‘tube’ dogma isn’t acoustical psychosis, it’s an actual ‘sound’, it’s real. However that palpable ‘warmness’ is in fact the tube amplifier colouring the sound of the music. When (most) audiophiles claim to be about reproducing the sound of music as realistically as possible I don’t understand how they can then recommend tube gear. I understand the visual appeal, the retro cool, the nostalgia. These are the very reasons I intend on getting a modestly priced turntable/tube amp combo at some point myself but I’m under no illusions as to the realism. If I want 100% realism I guess I can wander up to the Enmore Theatre and hear it in person.
      So Frank, what’s the odds of the 1000 hi rez CD bank you have appearing on line somewhere….!?!?!

  10. Good angle on vinyl. Thanks.

    I read your site when I get a “New” indicator on the Daily Audiophile. Anyway, I’m the opposite of the vinyl surge. I was into vinyl the past 10 years after collecting 1000’s of albums from the internet in the early 2000’s. In 2003 I decided I wanted to go back to vinyl. I bought a decent Technics 1200 and it was Christmas/Hannakuh/Birthday/Ramadan all in one when I went to used records stores. I could almost guarantee I would snag a Robert Ludwig Led Zep II on every visit. Problem was I had 5 already and one was in NM condition. Now, I sold those album for $100-$700. Most of my collection became so valuable: MFSL collection, Test Pressings, my obscure punk records, etc. I sold out. In 2012 I bought a new system and decided I would go strictly digital: SACD, DVD-A, XRCD, H2, AF Gold, Esoteric, etc…and now I have a huge collection of discs and I continue to buy titles, like you, of the out of print discs.

    I gave up on vinyl only because I sold out. Now it’s too damn expensive to get back into it. I would have to spend $5000 to even come close to my digital front end to get back into vinyl. Plus, when I hit used record stores in San Francisco all the people are now in the vinyl section paying $30 for a used copy of a standard Led Zeppelin III with scratches. No thanks…too rich for my blood. I’ll stick with my discs and DAC for my music.

  11. Well, John, this might be the first time ever that I disagree with the notion you are explaining in the article. And only partially…

    I’ll start with things I do agree with. That is, the real reason that people buy vinyl at this point in recording history. IMHO, it is mainly for social and nostalgic connotations.

    As you mentioned, digital music has many more advantages over vinyl. Lower cost, convenience and infinite lasting – are the three main advantages.

    Now, to the point of view that differs from yours. Next reason people buy vinyl (still, IMHO) is perhaps a mixture of ignorance and boastfulness. They’ve heard somewhere that vinyl sounds better and they indiscriminately relay that information to anybody who wants (or doesn’t) to listen to their mantra. Next, people with huge libraries of vinyl from their younger years do not see a compelling reason to re-purchase their treasures in the CD-form, much less to pay again for digital downloads.

    I am 66-years-old and I can swear that the rock’n’roll music worth listening to has disappeared about 30 years ago. And yet, I have no sentiment for an outdated and inferior technology of vinyl recordings. CDs are a huge step forward and upward from vinyl – even if you listen over a modest setup. If you happen to be knowledgeable enough about computer audio and if you have about $3,000 to $5,000 to spare, you can get as much quality and musicality from CDs (and their digital files stored on computers) as any analog system costing upwards of 10x as much.

    At this point, CDs (and SACDs) are the most plentiful source of high quality recordings of significant and exciting music. You can get CDs with classical and traditional music recorded in the first half of 20th century that sound much better than their original releases. And we still are getting more and more of those re-releases. If not for this fact, nobody would be even aware of those gems anymore.

    If someone wants vinyl instead of CDs and digital downloads, I have no problem with that. But for me, CD is still the king.

  12. Very true John… Most of us of a certain age can relate to this “tapestry of life”, if you will. I, to, am a “digiphile” with vinyl DNA. We learned to love with vinyl. Grateful for that. Young love is sweet… But now, with some years we have learned to change. Maybe our values have changed, some…

    As I sit here and respond to this blog, I switch “albums” and drift off in some Harry Chapin that I havent heard in probably 40 years. It wasnt hard to find. There it was on my hard drive, along with the other 1000 or so albums in uncompressed CD quality. Let just say. The choice was “perfect”.

  13. I go past there pretty often, but I’ve never gone inside since I’m currently between turntables and don’t wanna spend $ on records I can’t listen to.

    Looking forward to visiting soon, just for a beer maybe. Always thought it looked like a pretty good shop.

  14. Nice article!
    I agree pretty much with what you are saying but, even though all my music is now served up digitally, I am also “old school” (not to mention just plain old old) in that I always listen to whole albums. In the case of Classical it’s whole compositions. I will admit to occasionally using digital technology to skip something I really don’t like and I do often use “pause” when life (or the wife) beckons.
    What I really don’t agree with is your comment “I have a bunch of mates who buy records on a regular basis but not one of their hi-fi rigs would expose differences between recordings/masters/pressings/formats.”
    My son is a music lover. He doesn’t care about “differences between recordings/masters/pressings” but he does care about format – he likes vinyl. He plays his LPs on an old hollow-plinth mass market turntable through an old mass market receiver and no-name speakers that also serve as end tables. When I walk in the back door of his place, two rooms away from the music source, I can immediately tell if he is playing vinyl or digital, and the vinyl is definitely better.
    I would even go as far as to say that it takes a really good digital playback system to match even a low-end turntable’s ability to convey music. Try it yourself – visit your mates and compare their digital to vinyl. I’m betting the vinyl will give the better overall listening experience. Cheap digital sucks.

  15. I’ve kept my first dozen vinyl purchases from the mid 80’s.
    I’ve also got the first CD I purchased, Sade Diamond Life (1984, purchased 85)

    My first download … ? no idea

    My music server is also a multi use PC which almost immediately makes it a no go for many friends.
    Not very interactive.

    At times I’ve passed around the small vinyl collection without even having a turntable.

    Thanks for the tip about Bliss, as it may make importing a large digital library into J River less painful

    Great subject, great read

  16. Digital computer-based audio has one huge benefit, for me at least, not found with other formats: Discovery.

    I dunno about you, but among the mere 1400 albums ripped onto my hard drive, there are many I bought years ago and never really listened to.

    But with the ease of access, browsing with the Remote app on my iPad, I’ve been discovering subjective gold buried in my music library. But when the same albums were just CDs, inertia made me not listen to them — didn’t know the music, so didn’t choose them from my shelves.

    Also, I dunno about you here either, but much of the music I’ve been buying since the beginning of the year, when my computer-based music system went into full swing, are available as CDs only — not as downloads. (Maybe they’re available in vinyl, too, but I haven’t gotten into that…yet.)

    So, I’ve been buying those CDs online, since there are no record stores anywhere near me. And when Mario, my super-friendly United Parcel Service driver or Shirley, my also friendly mailperson, delivers them, well that’s a bit of the human touch.

    So, to summarize, computer-based audio gives a greater degree of discoverability and much music is still only available on CDs, at least here in the States.

  17. I certainly like the piece, but it seems to me you misapply the notion of ‘loneliness’. It is the property of the audiophile hobby, not digital recording/listening.
    What, at bottom, distinguishes audiophile listening from ‘mere’ music-listening is a quest for highly controlled environment. This notion of ‘control’ may nudge the whole thing in the direction of science, this squeezing the last drop of pure enjoyment out of it, but it does not have to. All we have to ask is this: What is it exactly that we are trying to control? Personally, I do not think it is the flow of the electrons.
    Control in question comes to the fore with the practice of ‘patience’ that, as you rightly notice, required when dealing with vinyl. You ‘simply’ have to admit that the moment you put on a recording – in whichever format – you are submitting yourself to whatever it promises to thrust upon you. This is the sense – one sense – of ‘losing yourself’ while listening to music. And this is what music-listening is all about (or ought to be about).
    Now, there are many ways of achieving that, depending, in part, on the kind of music you are listening to. Dancing is one way. Head-banging at a heavy metal show – another. Falling into trance while spinning some electronica – yet another one. Following the subtlest interactions between free-jazz performers is also from this series. None of these is higher or better than the others. At some deeper level, they are all the same. They are expressions of what music is all about – losing control.
    The practice of listening to vinyl brings you closer to this on some crude mechanical level already – there’s no remote control indeed. Digital format, on the other hand, has the in-built propensity to put this experience on its head. It tempts you with the possibility of total, instantaneous control over the entire experience. And if you are tempted, if you succumb to this temptation, it is only natural to eliminate everything that may possibly interfere, starting with the imperfections of the room acoustics and ending with attention-demanding (girl)friends.
    Ultimately, you lose sight of music itself; or at least that in music that attracted you in the first place – its ability to grip you, to make you lose control, lose yourself in pursuit of that unique form of human interaction of which music is made…
    Is this specific to digital? I am not sure. Digital format makes it easier to to succumb to the temptation of control, but in the end it all comes down to yourself, to your self. To your understanding of what music is about.
    And this is where the real problem lies, I believe.
    Most of us have come to digital having started with something else: LPs, tape, live shows. There’s a new generation coming, however. The one which never knew, never considered anything but iPod which gives this generation not only its idea of how music should sound but also its understanding of what music is. And so the trick is to get *them* to places/experiences like The Record Crate. And this is a trick technology itself – digital or analogue, streaming- or buying-centred – cannot pull out.

    • To boil my point down to its simplest form: the loneliness I speak of doesn’t step from solo listening per se, it’s that I don’t have to deal with a single human being when buying a digital download. Not one!

  18. I was one of the first, if not the first, to write “DIGITAL SUCKS,” allegedly coining the phrase about 1981-2. I was clearly the LAST to go digital ca. 2011.

    If any of you reading this converted from vinyl to digital later than 2011, I’d love to hear about it.

    My LP rig consisted of a Triplanar tonearm with various well-known MC cartridges attached to a custom VPI TNT turntable via Harry Weissfeld himself mounted on a very advanced and solid platform, Nordost wires throughout connected to a custom made tube CARY phono preamp hand wired and tested by Dennis Had himself, directly connected to single ended PASS class-A amps and/or Cary SE 805s…and ML electrostatics and GB ribbon speakers. OK, not the best, but close enough to to determine what’s what. Meaning, I don’t tolerate BS lightly, and much of what I read about vinyl and analogue tape is pure and unadulterated heaped higher than Mt. Everest. Other than nostalgia and beautifully crafted turntables and tonearms – the appreciation of mechanical beauty soon-to-become crushed matter on a trash heap – my attitude toward this sector of audiophilia is…

    I see vinyl junkies and the promoters of the “art” as obsessive-repulsive anal retentives. Psychiatrist friends who are also long time audiophiles agree with this assessment – in fact they came up with the definition I parrot here.

    As for vinyl, in Yiddish we say “Mache Leben” – for not an exact translation: “It’s a living.”

    In other words, for those making a living from it, spreading the myths about vinyl and analogue tape and their alleged benefits pays the overhead. Which, btw, is generally not my concern other than to cover my nose tightly when I smell a mountain of BS.

    Technology, in other words, ALWAYS moves forward. Not always better initially, but forward always. And then they get it right. Eventually. Vinyl and tape got it right in 1956 with 35 mm. Digital audio in 2013.

    That is why I had switched to digital rips and that is why my LP collection in pristine condition, substantial enough certainly and containing most of HP’s and Stereophile listed R2D4 (records to die for), is sitting in a dehumidified basement containers ready for the next interested buyer.

    Meanwhile I am enjoying music once again without the distractions of perpetually annoying hash, clicks and pops, grinding noises and haze that many consider a “closer relationship” to the original event. The original event in the real world being the poor quality pressing of tape noise of carelessly made recordings and the veiling to follow on good quality and very expensive vinyl that deteriorates on its first playing.

    It is said one can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear and the Singer Sewing Company’s products and SEARS are not what they once were either.

    Vinyl playback equipment has to be one of the worst investments that can be made. Think of a ROLEX watch. A ten year old Rolex or LEICA in good condition will retain most of its value, and sometimes appreciate in value. Go sell your ten year old vinyl playback equipment and see what happens.

    • This was the wisest comment on vinyl technology I’ve ever read. Exactly my thoughts. Thank you, thank you, thank you, AGB… Thank you!

  19. Thank you for the kind words Rob, but you’re giving me too much credit for seeing the obvious. I am not a genius for saying what so many others actually know – especially in the pro field.

    If the audio magazines were to honestly reveal these truths, they’d crush entirely one area of audiophilia that is selling very expensive underperforming snake oil and their advertising revenue.

    In other words, there’s a Sucker Born Every Minute.

    But swallowers are becoming harder to find.

    In any event, there is no shortage of either suckers or swallowers in the audio game, so the panderers and hawkers of fancy junk-playing antiques still can make a good living until the jig is up.

    There are people who buy and fly bi-planes from WWI and there are the sellers of such stuff. People buy antique sewing machines, antique radios, antique guns, and other truly ancient technologies for many reasons – some are serious collectors, as their interests turned into investments and/or play toys. All of that is OK by me, hobbies are good for the mind and the soul.

    One observation however, is that modern jet pilots will not fly biplanes into air combat; modern soldiers will not arm themselves with muskets and sabers; modern car racers will not go on a track with Model T’s; and modern audiophiles will abandon – other than for nostalgia reasons and boredom (too much time on their hands) ancient audio equipment, even if they think it sounds nicer, more mellow, whatever. The last are not good reasons to think that what they now listen to is “more accurate” or “better” because they say so, assert it over and over, for one reason: it is not so. In other words, everything is so unless it isn’t.

    The ONLY way to judge accuracy – and accuracy IS better – is via the line/mic feed. Forget space, forget tone, forget definition.

    You record musicians at the same time using the same mic, mic preamp and line feed wired to both a R2R tape deck and DSD recorder, then listen through the very same system to the mic feed, R2R tape and DSD to determine which of the last two is closest to the first.

    It’s as simple as that – to let you determine which of the two recording systems provide the closest facsimile to the line feed.

    And when you had conducted such a test, the winner will be clear and it will not likely be the analogue tape. Accordingly, vinyl made from analogue tape cannot be better than the tape itself, unless the final result is mixed down and equalized – but then the same can be said about digital recordings. Provided that the recording is natural, straight through, played back from the original recording device, one can observe which is closer to the original.

    The original being the best.

    And trust me Rob, it doesn’t take a genius to perform this test. It takes honesty from one credible reviewer to do it. Someone will do it eventually and get the credit for it.

    • Assuming identical masters are used for vinyl and digital releases you might well be correct about sound quality…but that wasn’t really the point of my article. In fact, I purposefully side-stepped the sonic argument. People don’t buy vinyl based solely upon sound quality (logic) – there’s an emotional quotient influencing the process.

      • I know, John. Sound quality of vinyl is probably the least important reason that some people still want to buy vinyl. It’s the nostalgia, it’s the lack of technical knowledge, it’s the prospect of replacing their $100,000 equipment with a new one that costs a fraction of that amount and yet it sounds at least as good, it’s their pride, it’s the laziness confronted with the need to learn new rules of digital audio, etc., etc.

        If they just stopped and thought for a minute and managed to keep an open mind, they would realize that their precious vinyl is produced in a process that uses digital technology, anyway – so what’s the point? Do they love the hiss and scratches and pops and constant replacing of their cartridges and constant tweaking? They love their analogue equipment more than they love music, so they will be stuck with vinyl till their death. Let’s not lose our sleep over that.

        I am a photographer (for over 40 years). I see similar situation in that field, as well. Some people just can’t get over the demise of film and they lament the quality of digital images in exactly the same way some audiophiles are acting in the audio field. I let them remain being losers that they are…

        • What’s the point with vinyl? It sometimes gives us access to better, less compressed masters. Not always, but sometimes.

          • I don’t mean to demean LPs for the sake of (you name it.) Good LPs exist and many of us own large collections of enjoyable music – much of these not available in another format. For example, Direct to Disc is so good next to the best analog tape to LP production that to compare the two is downright silly. If D2D is that good, and it certainly is, how good is analog tape? In other words, with analog tape you begin with a sow’s ear trying to make a silk purse from it.

            Anyone arguing this point just hasn’t heard D2D.

            But some will assert that analog tape is great, better than a digital of the same music.

            Actually, it is not very good compared with D2D as I pointed out. What about life after tape? One has to consider the massive EQ the cutting head has to endure for the excursions it has to make and then the massive converse EQ to decode the signal back to “flat.” Analog just has so many hurdles to go through on a SOTA system, that yes, one can get good sound, but at what cost? And regardless the expense, we are still left with the various noises tape and LP will send to our ears along with whatever is left. Some people can tolerate these noises and claim they can ignore them. I can also ignore a pile of BS piled up in my living room, but I’d prefer not to.

            Digital has grown so fast and so has our understanding of, with it, that it is directly comparable sonic wise with the best analog can offer, however there remain known differences that do not need to be overcome because they never will be. Analog has distortions “natural” to its technology I would not want replicated in a DSD recording; and digital has its own issues, lately far easier – needing less brute force efforts – to overcome. And that’s where the advantages lie – efficiency along with reduced cost.

            Digital took a few large steps to get where it is today, analogue took a hundred years of very small, more linear increments and improvements to reach its level of musicality.

            The fact however remains: analog by its very nature of needing to use tape and a complex, rather primitive mastering and pressing process, will inherit for every LP the distortions of every component in the signal chain making and then playing back the recording.

            Conversely digital can actually stay in the numbers game of ones and zeros all the way through from the recording back to conversion to analog just before the speakers – vide NuForce’s DDA-100 and similar new gen products. Such systems eliminate the accumulation of distortions and artifacts, providing for far more potential for transparency-shall we say, an open doorway and access to the original signal.

            Likely we are looking now at no large gains and steps forthcoming at the digital conversion stage, but rather small, incremental improvements and refinements to an already-existing high level of sound quality. We are looking at digitally removing whatever distortion artifacts remain because of the conversion process.

            Can improvements be had? They always are.

            But don’t expect every DSD recording to sound superior to what can be had with Redbook disc standard and downloads where recordings and the techniques for recording are getting better, and will get even better over time. Perfect Sound not Forever, but Much of the Time.

            Darko and people like he have early seized on the trends that listeners want. We no longer sit in darkened rooms sipping wine while listening to gargantuan speakers. Most of us are sitting in front of computers working, balancing our checkbooks, playing Solitaire, reading the latest news and watching Netflix.

            We listen informally without being tied to the “process” of time-consuming concentration, adjusting analog systems that go out of whack by the next LP, and fiddling with cleaning mechanisms and everything that gets dusty – in fact leaving us more time to actually listen attentively. Multitasking is a way of life that most of us prefer because: YES, WE CAN!

  20. Hmmm – SACD is the best of both worlds. Natural analog type sound, no degradation, hi-res format, and physical … so you still get to collect. And so many of the early releases have sold out and now command crazy prices, it’s huge fun to find them … bit like hunting.

    • SACD is almost inevitably DSD to PCM to DSD at best, or Analog to PCM to DSD at worst. I’m not saying that is bad, but I will say that there is no way it is better than all-PCM. Anyway, we are off-topic.

    • Yes, I agree, Josh. I have already started my hunt for SACDs with the kind of music that interests me. Unfortunately, the choice is far narrower than on regular “Red Book” CDs. Even when I find composers I like (classical), I rarely find particular performances by artists and conductors I love. So, I am forced to base my collection almost solely on CDs (which I rip to a hard drive, of course).

  21. I love ‘New York’ too and it reminds me to get it out again.

    It a good question to ask – discount any SQ debate.

    Why do people choose to Vinyl, CD, Computer Audio or combination of all three? I guess it boils down to what suits each person’s situation, budget and personality.

    I agree Vinyl has some other tangibles outside of the actual sound.

    For me cd’s have some of that over computer audio with its as described ‘lack of social interaction’.

    Those intangibles made me very curious about getting into an entry level vinyl rig (for my favourite cd’s) – however after some inquisitiveness about the ins and outs of vinyl, some listening to a mates Technics 1200, I decided all that cleaning and protecting and expense of vinyl is not for me right now.

    Searching for and slotting in my shiny, cheap disks is where I’m happy. (by the way any one got an original gangajang- gangajang cd that they don’t want the earth for?) oops off topic.

    Anyway stopping somewhere nice to meet up for a cold one/ hot one/ hungry one – has the most undeniable appeal regardless of one’s preferred source.

    Get out there and enjoy!

  22. Interesting piece Mr D.
    May we expect a change in name of your website to AAR or just AR?
    Just kidding.
    Anyway, your point about the concept of digital audio being lonely equates far more to the divide between physical media and downloaded music, so digital music can be as lonely or as social as you please if one chooses to use CDs or SACDs.
    I was born into the CD era and music in our house was on vinyl and CD but my family and later on myself embraced CD despite its early limitations and I know use CD exclusively.
    The thing is that vinyl does not have a monopoly on social interaction when one could just as easily set up a CD store with boutique beers for sale.
    I just find the vinyl lobby a bit precious and patronising. If the idea is really about the music and not the gear then vinyl junkies don’t get the concept because there is an ever changing conga line of carts, phono stages ,tables, arms and the obsession of VTA, tracking weights, cart alignment,isolation devices and pre,pre amps.
    What is exactly wrong with putting a disc into a drawer or slot and adding puck or not then listening to music without extraneous noises?
    Is that social or anti social?

    Anyway, you get the drift and I say that physical media,either CD or vinyl is what gets people out of their agoraphobic tendencies,so perhaps we could celebrate the concept of owning music in a tangible form and not just purchasing a license to listen online.

    Thanks for your always erudite writing

    • Some great points Pete. Thanks. I reckon it’s the romantic association that many have with vinyl that elevates it above the status of the CD…for now. Given enough time a similar nostalgia will affect the hive mind’s view of shiny silver discs.