HolidayBuyer's Guide

An audiophile's conversion from vinyl to digital, then back again to loving LPs

An old friend of the Audiophiliac long ago abandoned LPs in favor of digital music, but a change of heart is bringing him back to the older format.

Mark is an old friend, and as I recall he was quicker than most of my audiophile pals to embrace CDs in the 1980s. He was playing LPs and CDs until 2001, when he put his turntable away. There it remained for 10 years, and Mark was happy to put all of the problems associated with LPs -- noise, non flat frequency response, speed instability, limited dynamic range and pressing defects -- behind him.

Not only that, Mark also stopped listening to his high-end audio system; an iPod and inexpensive headphones were good enough to enjoy music without thinking about the sound. Better yet, he was no longer distracted by sound quality issues. If a favorite band had a new album out, the sound quality of the music was irrelevant, so he played a lot more music and enjoyed it more.

In 2011, Mark put his high-end system back together, this time in the family room instead of the dedicated listening room in the basement. To his amazement, his Well Tempered turntable that went untouched for 10 years played perfectly!

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Analog or digital music? Which moves you the most?

Photo by Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Something changed, Mark was no longer bothered by vinyl's noise, speed fluctuations and other faults. He is by nature a skeptic, but he's now taken by the "magic" of sound created by a diamond stylus traversing a spinning vinyl groove. He even said, "How is this even possible, it's kind of awesome that it sounds so good!"

When pressed on the reasons for his conversion back to LP, he said that when he listens to an LP he just enjoys it for what it is. He added, "I'm old now and old people like the things they liked in their youth, when they were between 18 and 25, they like again in their 70s." Mark isn't yet 70, and he was half joking, but he still has a large collection of LPs that he didn't sell, throw out or give away. The records were tucked away in the basement, and now every week or two he pulls a dozen out and plays them. He's usually pretty happy with the sound and music.

Mark now believes that the original recordings' sound quality is more important than the format, and the quality of the mastering is more important than the release format. As he plays through his collection of old LPs he feels they were, for the most part, better recorded and mastered than most new albums. He also believes that most newly remastered high-resolution files don't sound as good as the original LPs. He doesn't blame high-res for that, he just thinks that tastes have changed. I agree, newly remastered albums are almost always more compressed and equalized to make them sound more "contemporary" than the older versions. Better sound is, as always, a matter of taste.

Mark noted one key difference between playing LPs and digital recordings: When he plays files he's more likely to skip around from song to song, whereas with LPs he'll at least play the entire side of an album, or both sides. Since using an iTunes music library makes it much easier to find other music, it's also easier to skip around. One cut reminds you of another, and it's so easy to jump from one to the next.

Mark stressed that he isn't down on digital, and he disagrees with my observation that analog music is more engaging than digital, and that's fine. For Mark, if it's a good recording, no matter the format, he doesn't multitask.

Mark isn't my only friend to come back to analog, but I was just more surprised by his return to vinyl after a 10 year all-digital, all-the-time hiatus.

If any of you got back into the "groove" after going all-digital, tell us why in the comments section.

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