“Every part of the audio chain – from the stylus to the phono preamplifier to the final speakers/headphones can be selected to your liking, so the audio is just the way you want it.”
Before the world of portable music players, compact discs and cassette tapes, there was vinyl. But despite the wave of digital audio, this age-old format is coming back strong, rather than dying out.
With both analog and digital audio, the recording process involves a microphone turning air pressure differences (sound) into an electrical analog signal that is then recorded. The vital difference though, is in the representation of sound in the medium.
With vinyl, sound is imprinted by cutting a groove into tracks on a record as it rotates; an analog process which is repeated for every copy of the recording made. This means that the signal from a good vinyl recording can, in theory, perfectly match the recorded source wave.
With digital, the same sound is converted into a series of ones and zeros, resulting in a stepped representation. Obviously this means that some information from the source wave is lost, but today’s high resolution audio formats minimize this by using extremely high bit rates (at least 24bit /96kHz) making the gap between steps so small it’s indistinguishable.
Technical details aside though, this difference in representation methods is why fans of vinyl claim that it gives a much warmer sound. And the proof of this is in the numbers. According to The Guardian, sales of vinyl records hit a 25-year high in the UK in 2016, with more than 3.2m LPs sold. And that’s not even including sales of used records!
In America, regular retail chains like Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and even Whole Foods now stock vinyl records for sale. And you’ll find many recent releases are now available in vinyl; some with download codes so you get the digital version too, giving you the best of both worlds.
There are multiple reasons for this, and as with all things audio, it’s not all empirical. Being a physical medium, vinyl records are subject to scratches and warping – defects that will appear upon playback. To some, these hisses and pops add to the experience, and the imperfection is part of a charm that you will never get from digital.
Listening to vinyl is also as much a physical process as it is aural. You have to first take the record out of its sleeve, physically place the record on the player, and set the stylus on the right track to get it playing. Shifting tracks isn’t as simple as just pressing a button, so you’re more likely to listen to the entire album the way the artist intended you to.
A listening session is a much more involved process, as it’s not as simple as just hitting play. Every part of the audio chain – from the stylus to the phono preamplifier to the final speakers/headphones can be selected to your liking, so the audio is just the way you want it.
You’re also not going to be walking around distracted when listening to a record. So listening to an album is truly that – a listening session that has you immersed in sound. In today’s hectic world of multi-tasking, that’s a welcome reprieve that should ensure vinyl continues to stick around.
3 turntables for every budget
Audio TecHnicA AT-LP60
The AT-LP60 from Audio Technica is built into an anti-resonance die-cast platter and comes with a switchable phono pre-amp that allows you to connect it to a computer, home stereo, or powered speakers. It comes with a copy of Audacity and a USB cable so you can record the vinyls you play straight to your computer.
Like the AT-LP60, the Sony PS-HX500 also features an integrated phono preamp. What makes it unique is that it has an integrated analog-to-digital processor, so you don’t have to rely on the audio card in your computer. Record tracks on the vinyl straight to DSD format! This connects to your computer via USB or to an amplifier via line output, giving you the best of both worlds.
Rega Planar 1
Finally, there’s the Rega Planar 1, a user-friendly turntable that is stylishly designed. It features a Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge that is known for tracking records well and producing sound with good detail. If you already have a set of speakers hooked up to an amplifier, all you’ll need is a preamp, some records, and you’ll be good to go.
Text: Marcus Wong / Picture: Sony