Emotional listening

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Just as I was heading out the door this morning to catch a plane to O’Hare, then on to Axpona for the Legend’s forum and then….my phone beeps and flight’s cancelled. Storm of the century and yet…there’s not much snow outside. Sigh, my apologies. Blame United Airlines.

Some write they feel vinyl in their souls, but digital in their head–implying the one’s visceral, the other more cerebral. I am not sure I am affected in the same way, but I do perceive a major difference between the two formats.

Vinyl seems to separate noise and distortion from the music, as if each were apart from the other. Digital seems the opposite. Noise and the tiny bits of harshness typically seem meshed into the fabric of the music, one affecting the other, seemingly linked together.

The first time I experienced the separation afforded vinyl was at the home of Harry Pearson, the late founder of the Absolute Sound Magazine. From the moment the needle dropped onto the record I was made aware that surface noise seemed almost on a separate channel – as if another pair of speakers were reproducing it. Of course, there was only the one pair of speakers–the Infinity IRSIII. Still, on disc after disc (this was before the advent of CD), ticks, pops, surface noise were distinct and separate from the music. One did not seem to influence the other. Some writers have suggested the noise might be out of phase with the music, but I struggle with that concept.

As digital continues its progress it is this separation that I am after – and have been heartened as we make progress towards its acquisition. I remember the first time I got to audition Ted Smith’s seminal masterpiece, DirectStream DAC. I was immediately struck with how the surface noise of a digitally recorded vinyl had that same level of separation I had heard only with vinyl scraped by a needle. That was my first clue that DSD might be the key to getting us closer to vinyl’s magical separation.

More tomorrow. More snow’s falling and I am going for the shovel.