Analog vs. digital music: What's better, and who cares?

The Audiophiliac says forget the tech and enjoy music wherever you can.

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Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I love LPs, and prefer their sound over all low- or high-resolution digital formats. That's me, but you might have absolutely no use for LPs, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, or any analog audio format.

I'm a sound-first guy, and I don't mind getting up every 20 minutes or so to change the record. I'm there, totally involved in the tunes, and as the LP side nears the end I'm thinking about what I'm going to play next. It's a big part of the fun -- thinking about the order of tunes -- and how they relate to each other. I have seven thousand LPs and CDs, and while that sounds like a lot that's the sum total of what I've bought over many decades. While I'd like to say the thought process of picking tunes has little to do with whether the music is analog or digital, I tend to stick with one or the other format for hours at a time, and rarely switch rapidly between formats. Most of my music on LP tends to be older than the CDs, so that plays a role in what I choose.

Then again, you might just want to have music "on" all the time and let the streamer pick your tunes, and as long as they're not awful you're happy. Not me; I'm way smarter than any subscription service, and I love coming up with segues between records. I'm busy thinking about the music, who's playing guitar, or how I love the reverberation on the drums, I never noticed that banjo fill before, who produced this, and what studio was it recorded in?

Sound quality is definitely part of the equation, I prefer LPs, mostly because it's easier to stay focused on listening with analog; with digital my mind's more likely to wander. I might even start to read or otherwise multitask. Which leads to my iPod Classic, it's loaded with around 6,400 Apple Lossless files. As much as I love LPs they're next to impossible to play in cars, or on New York City subways and buses. So I listen to and enjoy tons of music on my iPod. I don't hate digital, it just serves different purposes in my life than analog does. Music away from home is different, it's noisier out there and there are more distractions. Music can't be the prime focus, it's the soundtrack to whatever else is going on.

So where you listen plays a role, and convenience and cost are major factors. Sound quality, as long as it's good enough, is rarely a deal-breaker for most people. I have no doubt high-resolution digital is more accurate than LPs, but analog enhanced sound just makes music a little sweeter to my ears. Feel free to disagree in the comments section. Whatever works for you is the right way to go, it's not that complicated.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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