Saturday, June 25, 2011

Analog vs. Digital

The amazing Rega P5.
As of late, I've been putting some heavy thought into the heated debate that analog and digital formats spark. I personally don't believe one is better than another, but I do think they offer unique advantages over while still retaining a certain character that people love them for.

I won't lie: part of analog's appeal is the experience. There's nothing like holding a vinyl sleeve in your hands and analyzing the minute, artistic details seldom seen on a tiny CD booklet. Countless artists never had the opportunity to have their material released on CD, so it's like an extra world out in the vinyl-sphere. This may not be a big deal with metal because, in the grand scheme of things, metal hasn't been around that long, but with jazz, blues, and other genres, an immeasurable amount of music is "lost" because it never benefited from a digital release. On top of that, listening to your favorite records through a tube amp is sublime. In general, I'm sucker for the warmer sound characteristic of analog formats.

Despite that, vinyl is picky and very high maintenance. When compared with a CD or lossless files on a computer, vinyl needs to be looked after with extra care. With a CD, it's as simple as storing it in an acceptable enviroment and keeping the disc free of scratches. Likewise, lossless files are essentially worry free as long as your hard drive doesn't crash. Good thing you have the CD as a precaution.

For vinyl, monitoring the condition of your turntable's needle is key. If it's worn out, records are going to pay the ultimate price in the form of scratches, scuffs, or even worse--wear that may render it unplayable. Vinyl also requires cleaning once in a while with specifically formulated substances with the help of a special brush. You might consider a record cleaning machine, but those things are darn expensive. I mainly stress vinyl care for the obscure recordings that never made it to a digital format and because I want to enjoy my records as long as possible.

While I may not prefer the sound signature that digital formats offer, I appreciate their ease of use. It's much easier to amass a collection of CDs as opposed to vinyl because they're smaller and generally cheaper when purchased new. I'd like to have a larger collection of vinyl than I currently have, but I often find it too expensive. Yes, there is the option of used, but I don't find all used vinyl suitable because the majority of it hasn't been taken care of properly and plays poorly. Because of the ease of use of digital formats, most of my listening time is through a superb CD player/receiver/speaker set up or an excellent computer-based headphone/tube amp/DAC set up. They sound amazing, yet I still prefer analog, and I relish using my turntable set up when I get the chance.

-TMA

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