Plastic Verses Zeros
20 ears, 350 years listening to Audio on Vinyl v HiDef Digital
I hosted two critical music listening sessions at devAAudio, exposing both NEW people to the HiFi world, and former and future audiophiles, to the modern state of HiDef audio. The people who attended were of different ages, and backgrounds. Some, regardless of age, would self-identify as an audiophile. These people brought in friends, some who where into HiFi (either past, present, or future), but most people were new to modern HiFi.
The group was diverse in ages, and relative HiFi experiences. The 20 ears (10 people) were composed of five people in their 20’s, and 5 people in their 50’s. So, collectively 350 years of ears. At least half in the group are, or were musicians, and some actively performing live music. Two…were drummers (sigh). Some had produced/mix recorded music, mixed lived music, built recording studios, built (or are building) their own audio gear, or spent 3 times their cars WORTH on car speakers. Some are young enough to have come of age where practically the ONLY way they’ve heard music is via “their phone” with ear-buds, and various low-fi, compressed, streaming music. The older ears remember the evolution of reproduced sound from 45’s and LP’s, reel-to-reel, 8-track tape, cassette tape, CD’s…….and (in my opinion) the current DE-evolution of audio now to mp3’s, and various low-fi music subscription services (sigh). One of the young men in the group will become a speaker engineer, and build amazing sounding systems one day. I know this, because that is his career goal, and he has the ears and passion for it. Some of the 20 somethings were ACTIVELY seeking vinyl, and “get it”, and yet hadn’t really heard vinyl on an excellent system. The 50 somethings all HAD a bit of vinyl use in the past. But honestly, were mostly fond of the album covers (and not fond of mechanics/snaps/pops).
I tell you these details to explain this was not an “audiophile only” listening scene. It was for real people, and these were very real people, who simply wanted to hear something good.
This is important. The goal of these listening sessions was not to create a Battle Royale over which is better, plastic verses zeros. There are no losers in true HiDef audio. But it did come up as part of a tour of devAAudio, and our various systems.
We have five primary listening systems in our showroom. All are HiFi and and we feel are best-in-class in various price ranges. Like with other lifelong lifestyle hobbies (Fun Cars, Boats, Harley’s, Fishing, Watches and on-and-on), you can start (and we have on exhibit) systems for around $10,000. We also have state-of-the-art cost no object systems north of $250,000, as that is the level we push ourselves to be able offer a world class experience. For the purpose of this essay, we only need to talk about System #3, as designed to play hi quality HiDef streaming audio, and comparable high quality vinyl playback.
Equipment List Analog Experience
Rega Research P8 turntable with an Apheta 2 Cartridge Rega Research Aria phono stage Electrocompaniet EC 4.8 MK II Preamplifier Vinyl (a.k.a the Plastic) Music List:
*Sir Elton Johns “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” *U2’s “Where the Streets have no name” *Janelle Monet’s “That’s just the way you make me feel” *Eagle’s “Hotel California”
Equipment List DIGITAL/HiDef Streaming Audio Experience
Electrocompaniet ECM 1 MKII Network Music Player, (a.k.a the zeros). Electrocompaniet EC 4.8 MK II Preamplifier
TIDAL HiDef music service, streaming Music List:
*Sir Elton Johns “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” *U2’s “Where the Streets have no name” *Janelle Monae's “That’s just the way you make me feel”
*Eagle’s “Hotel California”
Both the Analog and Digital sources utilized the same Electrocompaniet pre-amp and 2-channel amplifer.
Electrocompaniet AW250 R Stereo Amplifier
Wilson Audio SabrinaX loudspeakers.
In short, everything generally was the same except the source, Plastic V Zeros.
You can see by the songs above, it’s quite a mix. And to REALLY get into the weeds, we had an original 1973 pressing of Elton John’s “yellow brick”, and a NEW pressing of it, along with original digital mastering when remastered for CD, and now an even higher-def MQA remaster. Here’s the deal….ALL are welcome at devAAudio. We want YOUR ears to be the judge, and help you create what sounds best for you, your music tastes, budget, and your environment.
I won’t attempt to go into “audiophile and music critic” mode and dissect and flush out any deep conclusions. Partly, because I’m qualified for neither, but then how would you really know? Again, 10 people and 350 years of music listening, each heard things in different ways. Here are some sentiments heard and expressed about Vinyl V Digital, Plastic V Zeros.
By way of easy math, since there were 10 people, almost perfectly split between 20 something’s, or 50 somethings, here are some generalities heard or expressed.
Approximately 4-6 out of 10 people preferred the vinyl. But it DEPENDED on the song, the STYLE of the song (how hard/soft).
It seemed songs with more acoustic instruments, seemed more “liked” on vinyl, than songs with predominantly synthetic music.
The preferential split Plastic V Zeros between “old guy” ears and “young guy ears” was equally split. Regardless of age of the listener, about as many liked vinyl….when it SEEMED more likable. People heard it, and had a preference. The same split preferred digital, when it SEEMED more likable. As in…
When the amp was ‘turned to 11’, particularly with Janelle Monae’s very Electro sound….when it’s hitting hard, Digital seemed the preference 7 of 10. Here is what may be the key thing. And as heard personally and from others with even more “trained ears” than me, it seems music recorded digitally, and always in that digital domain, seemed to be “liked” better when heard through digital playback. And…you guessed it….
It seems that music that was originally recorded “on tape”, particularly if acoustic instruments and vocal focused, was more universally liked and appreciated more when heard through analogue plastic.
Even the drummers could hear detail in familiar music that brought a new level of enjoyment. I said, EVEN THE DRUMMERS COULD HEAR…(sorry, band joke).
THE BIG PIC. For the people who’ve heard U2 “Where the Streets have No Names” for 34 years (yes….that’s song is 34 years old), they HEARD more detail, dynamics, depth of soundstage, and minute details than had ever been heard prior.
And that leads to my final thoughts. When an artist makes a song, an army of people work to make that recording sound its best. As they mix the music, they listen in a studio environment where they create their art utilizing very fine audio equipment. They want you to experience that as close to their finished product as possible. But, not many of us can create that experience in our home with the gear we currently have. But in the modern world of HiFi, you can geek out on plastic and amaze your ears (and your friends), or digitally stream a library of curated HiDef music for your listening pleasure. Make sure you give your ears a chance to catch back up to HiFi audio, and you will see how this experience can provide you with lifelong joy and discovery, as it has for so many others. Give yourself some ear candy. It’s gluten-free, low calorie, and harmlessly highly addictive!