Vinyl Valhalla #2 – Sold My Soul to the Digital Devil

15 Jun
Albums like this deserve vinyl

Masterpieces such as this deserve vinyl

After the delays of a new book being released, retiring from the Royal Canadian Air Force after nearly 31 years (has it really been 31 years?), and starting a new job, it’s time to pick up where I left off in this audio retrospective series. It appears that, once again, my WordPress email alerts were turned off, so if I haven’t been around to visit your posts as of late—workload and WordPress as my excuses, of course—, please accept my apology.

The previous instalment in the Vinyl Valhalla series is here, if you’re interested.

After the high school years and military basic training, my next foray into audio came during my first year at university. I had a Regular Officer Training Plan (ROTC in the U.S., I believe) education sponsorship, and so I had a modest salary, for a student. On a military trip to South Carolina aboard one of our old steam driven frigates during 1984 spring break, I spied some electronics and eventually succumbed to the desire to have a stereo again. I hadn’t been able to bring my old clunker with the 8-track with me.

 

The high school stereo.

The high school stereo

Knowing essentially nothing about audio, I went with the well known name of Sony for the electronics and Bose for the speakers. I bought a 55 watt Sony audio-video receiver and a separate Sony CD player, the first time I had ever owned digital music. The speakers were the entry-level Bose 301s, whose smaller stature fit my humble university residence rather nicely. CD’s were convenient, with my limited space, and in my ignorance I thought that I had assembled a respectable basic sound system.

 

So not hi fi

So not hi fi

They looked neat, but weren't high fidelity

They looked neat, but weren’t high fidelity

How little did I know.

Fast forward a decade-plus later, and I was a father of three young children, had my first mortgage, etc. I found I was missing the music, or perhaps something in the music was missing. Still knowing nothing about stereos, I went with a similar brand name / more power is better approach. That is, I was still ignorant. I picked up a used 100w Sony AV received from ebay (later 90’s) and a pair of Paradigm Monitor 9 floor stander speakers. More power had to be better, and bigger speakers had to be better, too.

They looked impressive

They looked impressive

It was better, but it was still lacking. What I didn’t realize was that mass market solid state electronics and digital music (CDs) were literally killing the life in the music, sucking the very soul right out of it.

I remained in my state of ignorance until around the year 2000. It was then that I stumbled across one simple and unassuming audio website, and it forever changed the music in my life, for the better.

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15 Responses to “Vinyl Valhalla #2 – Sold My Soul to the Digital Devil”

  1. bethbyrnes June 15, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    I know very little on this topic, so my comment will be brief (for once!). Men seem to be more demanding in this regard. I have had all the typical products for listening to music, along the way and right now own an iPod Nano. What I love about it is the feeling one always gets with headphones, that I am in the middle of the performance itself with no interference. Also, the fact that I can have thousands of my favorite tunes organized in folders and available with one tiny button. I can hook it up to speakers in the car or elsewhere and thus take it anywhere I go without fear of breaking or erasing or having it stolen.

    People who care about the highest fidelity might be able to tell me what I am missing, but for me, it suffices. I would love to know the difference. As a singer, for me, music is for personal edification or to practice my own instrument (voice). If there is something more, I confess ignorance.

    Love the album cover artwork and of course, Cat Stevens.

    • navigator1965 June 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

      The important thing about any music reproduction is that the listener be happy with what they hear. Digital music a la Apple is certainly convenient in terms of portability and accessibility, which are certainly important factors to many individuals.

      While I’ve never really given them a serious audition, there are headphone fans out there for a reason. I’ll have to give them a go, someday.

      For me, I find that the immediacy of the recorded musical performance is very much a function of the fidelity of the stereo (and quality of the recording). After a certain fidelity point, one begins to form an emotional and cerebral communion with the performer. Hearing some works on a really good stereo can be quite moving – as Beethoven stated, music is more profound than philosophy.

      For a singer like the late Eva Cassidy, it’s worth going to the ends of the Earth to find a stereo worthy of such a voice.

      Thanks for stopping by, Beth.

  2. insanitybytes22 June 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I’m a complete music moron Navigator, in terms of stereos, digital, and even sound differences. I kind of grew up listening to a forbidden radio with a wire and some electrical tape for an antenna. Also, I seem to have a habit of blowing out electronics. As we speak, my fancy car system is on the blink. My bad, I looked at it funny.

    Is it true that vinyl has a better sound and lasts longer? I notice records are coming back into fashion and I imagine I hear a sound difference. I notice CD’s don’t last forever, but records can be antiques and they still sound beautiful.

    • navigator1965 June 15, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      ib22, I don’t know if records actually last longer than CD’s. Vinyl certainly sounds better with a properly set up turntable than will most CD / SACD players, but it is a bit more work to maintain and amplify. For me, it’s worth the effort, even with the space that vinyl takes up.

      We might live to see better digital sound someday, but for now, there is a reason that vinyl has made a comeback. iPads and MP3’s have the portability/download convenience that CD’s lack, and vinyl has the fidelity and awesome sound that CD’s lack. There’s no benefit, really, to sticking with CDs.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. suzjones June 15, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    If you keep writing these things I swear I shall need to go in search of a machine to play vinyl. I have seen so many garage sales of late selling vinyl too.

    • navigator1965 June 15, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      Keep your eyes peeled for a used Lenco L75 or L78 in good working order, Sue. They’re worth their weight in turntable gold.

      • suzjones June 16, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

        I’ll put it on my wishlist 😉

        • navigator1965 June 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

          I believe the “Cobra” tonearm is made Down Under. You should Google it and its accompanying turntable (stick with the Lenco), but be prepared for sticker shock, Sue.

        • suzjones June 18, 2014 at 4:21 am #

          Everything has sticker shock these days lol

  4. LindaGHill June 16, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Ah well, you already know what I think.
    Hey! I found a vinyl copy of a twenty-year-old album from my favourite Japanese band on ebay last week for $25. It’s used but apparently it’s in mint condition. Looking forward to finding out if it’s happy with 33 1/3rpms. Haha. Either way, it’ll likely be one of a kind in BV, if not Ontario.

    • navigator1965 June 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

      Ebay is awesome for those hard-to-find treasures, isn’t it? Good for you, Linda.

  5. Bradley June 16, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Hi Nav, There’s a huge store here in Hollywood that only sells used vinyl and it is always very busy. Seriously, I always wondered why all those people didn’t upgrade their sound system. Now I know the joke was on me.

    • navigator1965 June 16, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Hi Bradley. That store must be a bit of a landmark–sounds exceptionally cool. The joke was on me, too, until I found that website. You wouldn’t believe the extent that some audiophiles will go to squeeze that last ounce of sound out of their stereos.

      Thanks for dropping by–always a pleasure to see you here.

  6. Susan Lattwein June 17, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    The options just get better. My brother showed me how to use the bluetooth in my iPhone to play my music on his stereo, wow. Still have my records though, including Cat Stevens.

    • navigator1965 June 17, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      The best of both worlds! Convenience on the one hand, and soulful fidelity on the other.

      I think I will try to go that route–an Apple playlist lo-fi for entertaining guests, and a vinyl-tube amp system for sheer listening bliss.

      Thanks for stopping by, Susan.

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