Many audiophiles say one of the electronic industry’s most glaring unfilled promises is that of digital audio superiority.
Back in the early 1980s when the CD was first introduced, it was promoted as a format that would provide listeners with a less noisy, more dynamic and more inclusive sound experience.
Nearly 30 years later, many old-school audiophiles, and some Generation X and Y consumers, are turning to technologies that were abandoned by the masses, hoping to restore the visceral impact that’s allegedly eluded engineers designing digital components.
Why the Interest After So Long?
Annual year-end sales figures from the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) show vinyl sales have increased after a dip the past two years. Billy Wright, president and CEO of Cary Audio, says the increase is likely a combination of factors.
“It is quite obvious how much people enjoy music by the sheer dollars and time spent on electronics, as well as music,” says Wright, whose company manufactures tube and solid state electronics. “Unfortunately, the majority of the music listened to is in a highly compressed format. However, I do think that with the migration of the purchasing dollars moving from disc-based systems to computers and hard drive, server-based systems, consumers are starting to become aware of and more knowledgeable about higher quality [music].”
Wright says the audiophile build-up of “tubes are what high-end sound is all about” and “nothing sounds better than vinyl” are other factors contributing to the analog phenomenon. He says mass-market retailers are starting to sell entry-level analog equipment and LPs.
“Another reason may be the ‘cool factor,’” Wright says. “Whether it is the glow of tubes or the ritual of changing of a record, it transforms the listening of music into a hobby instead of a pastime. It transports us to a different place. With our hectic schedules, this represents an oasis for us.”
Can Analog and Digital Coexist?
For years, audiophiles said home theater and two-channel audio couldn’t coexist within the same system. Michael Fremer, vinyl expert and editor of Music Angle, refutes the idea that home theater and two-channel audio need to be separated. He says if installers take a few precautions, a turntable can be inserted into a home theater system without any degradation of quality.
“A turntable can definitely be integrated into a home theater,” asserts Fremer. “I would recommend showing the customer how to bypass a home theater’s digital processing [or setting up their receiver] so they can access the [electronics’] analog bypass. When setting up the system, the placement of the turntable is critical, don’t put it on a receiver.
“Also be aware of placement for footfall feedback [when someone walks and creates vibrations that could affect the turntable]. It should be on a rack shelf or somewhere sturdy. Even if you do that, it still may bounce, but there’s a cheap solution, if you ground the rack to the wall to the wall use a turnbuckle and use a wedge it’s a cheap way of eliminating vibration.”
Wright says many companies design products to allow users to enjoy two-channel and multichannel audio listening, adding that tube amps can sound great in a home theater and that vinyl playback in a home theater is as easy as adding a phono stage (preamplifier).
Turntable Setup 101
“There are many inexpensive turntables such as the Pro-ject Debut III and Rega P1,” Fremer says. “There are also some consumers who want to transfer their vinyl to their iPods and there are phono preamps that have built-in USB, so they should ask their client about that whether they want to transfer their vinyl to a digital format. However, they shouldn’t put their clients into one of those plastic turntables.”
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Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.