Listening through emotions

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In yesterday's post on how vinyl works several readers commented with surprise that good sound can come from such mechanical means as vinyl. In fact, good sound can come from vinyl. It's musical, it puts a smile on our face, it warms the soul. But, it is compromised. Which is one of the reasons we have the advantages of the technically superior medium of digital audio (not to be confused with the emotionally superior medium of choice). This whole debate of which medium is the best really comes down to one of emotions, not science. Which medium is best is the one that appeals to your enjoyment of music most. I think it's instructive, however, to point out some of the differences between the two storage and playback media. In particular, the compromises made by mastering engineers. In a recent PS Audio forums post by our forum's leader, Elk, we gain a bit of insight into what mastering engineers have to go through to create separate versions of music for each medium.
"The sound of (Joni Mitchell's) Blue is unfortunately not very good. It is an early ‘70s solid-state recording with the glare, etc. this implies. The Steve Hoffman DCC gold disk sounds the best I have heard. It is remarkably warm, full of life. From an interview with Steve Hoffman a number of years ago with The Abso!ute Sound: “I worked on Joni Mitchell’s Blue, for example. The mastertape and the original LP sound nothing alike. You couldn’t cut what’s on the mastertape onto an LP, her voice is too dynamic. Your stylus at home would have jumped right out of the groove in the old days. To avoid that, the cutting engineer had to compress the dynamic range and change the tonality of the song to get the thing on the album. And No. 1 on Side One would have had a different sound from No.6 on Side One because the closer you get to the center of the record, the harder it is to cut. Even from one song to the next is a whole other thing. With CDs you don’t have these problems. With CDs, it really boils down to how I want it to sound. Whatever I have to do to achieve that sound, I’ll do. Sometimes it’s taking a mastertape that’s solid state, and playing it back on a tube tape recorder. On the Joni Mitchell, that early Seventies solid-state sound is slightly brittle. Adding just one layer of vacuum tubes in there makes her sound much more lifelike. But in another instance, the mastertape might be too muddy, and I’d do the opposite.”
We each have our preferences when it comes to the enjoyment of music. That's how it should be. I support vinyl for those who love its lush presentation and the musical enjoyment it brings. Where we sometimes differ is in the reasons one sounds the way it does. As should be plain from this post, we rarely compare apples to apples. The mastering of each medium is tailored to fit its limitations.
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Paul McGowan

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