What Was Old Is Now New Again
Audio Den explains the resurgence of vinyl and the growing popularity of hi-res audio playback
"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
I’m not one who normally quotes scripture. However, once in a blue moon my years of Hebrew School education fit right into my thinking about high fidelity. My childhood Rabbi would argue that my Hebrew School education lends itself to every aspect of my thinking - but I digress.
In recent years we have been witness to a palpable swell in the desire for excellence and authenticity throughout all aspects of daily life. As more and more companies flood the market with poisonous fast food, poorly made goods and diminishing levels of service, a growing segment of the population is clamoring for a return to old school values of craftsmanship and quality. This thirst for “real” experiences is evident in the explosion of craft beer houses, “make your own wine" shops, artisan pickle companies, handmade soaps and beauty products, as well as farm to table restaurants and food cooperatives. The same can be said about the way people are listening to music.
Although the vast majority of music is still being consumed as mp3, iTunes downloads and lo-res streaming options, the pendulum has started to swing back in the direction of high quality audio reproduction. Interestingly, this paradigm shift is happening on two fronts that are diametrically opposed to each other and yet inherently intertwined at the same time.
Audio Den has seen a significant increase in the number of people purchasing D/A converters (from manufacturers such as Rotel and Bel Canto) that are capable of decoding 24bit/192kHz (and higher) files - thereby enabling them to enjoy hi-resolution recordings that are becoming more ubiquitous online. Many of these same customers are also investing in turntables (Clear Audio and Pro-Ject tables are very popular) and phono preamplifiers, joining the growing number who are participating in the recent resurgence of vinyl.
These seemingly divergent paths to musical enlightenment have quite a lot in common. Both hi-res digital and vinyl playback require a heightened attention to detail. It takes care, knowledge and understanding to properly acquire a hi-res music file - What resolution should I purchase? Which file format is best suited for my system? Where should I save my music files? Do I have all of the associated meta data? Which application is the right playback engine for me? A misfire in any one of these areas can quickly derail your listening experience.
Equally measured precision must be applied when listening to vinyl. Firstly, the process of purchasing a new turntable, cartridge and phono preamp is an adventure unto itself (one that my crew at Audio Den is more than happy to help you navigate). Beyond those decisions, hunting down the “right” vinyl pressings of your favorite recordings becomes paramount. It takes time and effort to sort through page after page of online catalogs or a myriad of LP bins at your local record shop, like a truffle pig searching for a prized delicacy. Once you’ve acquired your stash of records the real fun begins. Turn on your stereo to get things warmed up, carefully unsheathe the LP and gingerly place it on the platter. Start the motor and carefully move the carbon-fiber anti-static brush across the face of Side 1. Drop the stylus, find your seat and immerse yourself in what we lovingly refer to as “the shortest 22 minutes of your life.”
Although the two scenarios I have briefly described above are inherently different, both experiences demand a enhanced level of punctiliousness from the end-user. No longer is listening to music as simple as dropping a CD into a tray or hitting shuffle on an iPod. Rather, an artisan’s touch is required. I would argue that the intensive nature of the playback process itself elicits a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from the experience. It’s all about elevating the act of listening to a higher level of consciousness. To put it another way, it’s the difference between noshing on a mass produced store-bought dill pickle and savoring a small batch, home-brined, wasabi horseradish pickle. With the latter, all of the love and attention to detail is readily apparent with the very first bite.