I recently purchased a vinyl record. In order to hear it, I had to purchase a record player. And a phono preamp to correctly apply the necessary emphasis/de-emphasis curve and boost the signal enough for my computer to capture. For the record (pun intended), the player is a Pro-Ject Debut III with an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge and the preamp is the NAD model PP 2. Basic, entry-level audiophile stuff.
I’ve listened to the album a number of times now on my iPod. In fact, I have not even heard the album via an analog signal path. I listened while digitizing but of course that was via the digital signal path in the Mac. Maybe I will plug my headphone amp directly into the phono preamp and see how that sounds. Or not…
I think I already know what the analog junkies are on about. Even on the ‘Pod the sound is indeed “warmer” than from a digital recording, i.e., CD. (Note that I didn’t say “better”. Read on.) So, apparently the medium itself (undulating grooves), the cartridge and the preamp are determining the “record” sound. So, what is the difference? I think that it actually has something to do with a slight lack of clarity and definition. There are probably a few more harmonics coming into play as well. That would explain the “roundness” that I see mentioned when people schwÃ¤rm von (rave about) records.
But I don’t think that sound is what it really is all about. Playing a record is much different from a CD. It’s hands-on. Arguing that a record sounds better and all that is just an excuse. I think it is the physical act of preparing and playing a record that people don’t want to give up.
a) pop open a plastic container
b) take out CD
c) insert in player (CD disappears)
d) press button
e) hear music
a) take up record jacket in left(right) hand
b) lightly press jacket against your bosom causing it to yield and open slightly
c) carefully insert right(left) hand and gently extract record in sleeve
d) set down jacket and transfer record in sleeve to left(right) hand
e) repeat forgoing procedure (more-or-less) to extract record from sleeve
f) gently cradling the record at center and edge, set down sleeve
g) now using both hands, touching the record only on the edge, center record over spindle and lower onto turntable (record remains visible)
h) press button (casual relationship), toggle a precious metal lever (relationship on firm ground) or rotate a hand-turned, oiled, rare-wood knob (mistress) to begin turntable rotation
i) clean record using a tactile and very personal technique based on your relationship and the needs of your partner, er, record (may involve fluids)
j) position the tonearm over the desired position on your record and gently lower the needle into place
k) revel in the THUMP delivered to your senses as your record receives the needle
l) swoon to the anticipatory hiss as the needle is guided to the beginning of your selection
m) hear music
Optional: Entertain yourself while listening by watching 1. cold blue digits incrementing or 2. the spectral play of light and the tone arm making subtle yet sensual undulations as your record spins.