Sometimes I'm asked why collecting LPs and 78s is so fascinating to me. It's hard to explain to the uninitiated, but among the many compelling reasons are exquisite sound, large extravagant cover art, access to out of print and interesting music, and the magic of memories fused to the eloquent yet obvious mechanical underpinnings of the turntable. Although it's easy to feel isolated in this fervent pursuit, it takes only a cursory web search to realize that many others also appreciate the allure of these discs.
How can LPs exceed the "perfect" sound of CDs? Sometimes they don't! Yet the simple fact is that digital sound is not "perfect" either. As you begin to listen attentively on audio systems of higher resolution than a boombox, computer, or bookshelf stereo, differences between CD and LP, as well as among releases of the same format, become apparent. Well-recorded LPs have a dynamic "musical" quality that most recognize as "warmth" or "largeness" of the musical image. Many CDs sound wonderful as well, especially on recent recordings that employ newer generation digital technology (24/96, SACD, etc.). Yet in head to head comparisons with all but the best CDs, the LP often resolves a little more low amplitude ambient information or "air". It also "blooms" a little bit more in the lower octaves. At the extreme, the worst CDs sound "hard", "strident" or "compressed". This is especially true on re-issues from the 80's , many of which were produced using inferior equalized production copies of the studio masters, but recent "volume wars" in mastering have led to a similar outcome in some newer releases. LPs offer a wonderful compliment or alternative to the digital domain.
There are caveats with LPs as well. You must be willing to invest in a decent quality turntable/cartridge/preamp combo that is capable of retrieving the information encoded in a well pressed LP. Prices start at about $250 and can go to the extremes at over $10,000. Once you're set up heaven awaits! Ultimately, it would be advised to consider using both formats discriminately, based upon the available software you have or choose to buy.
I hope you are curious to know more. In the issues ahead I will discuss some of the other attributes that keep collectors interested in this eclectic yet fun hobby.
This article © 2000 Chris Vollor
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