Audiophiles often spend too much time listening to the nuances of sound through their audio systems, rotating components and cables in and out for comparison purposes. I must confess that I started out that way. But by entering the world of the audiophile I eventually learned to appreciate the music all the more. I always loved music. The audio system was for me an introduction to some of the world’s greatest music. My early Magneplanars seem to beg for such music. And when I heard it come alive in my home it was both an emotional and spiritual event. It not only transported me back to the live event, but it became an event in itself that touched my soul, one that could be repeated whenever I wished. That is the beauty of great audio. It reproduces great music on demand.
Some have not been able to experience this kind of music because of the costs. Audio system prices have skyrocketed. Concert tickets have become too expensive and live performances are not always accessible. The good news is that a simulation of this type of experience has become well within the realm of most people today. It is not out of reach. The experience of great music is here for nearly every listener. That is why I started this blog. I wanted to tell people of the great affordable audio components that are available today, some of them unsung.
What is the foundation of this music experience? We must start with analog. Digital music, even at its best, can only approximate the true analog sound that we hear at a live concert. It may come very close, but it will certainly cannot be better than the wave from it is trying to emulate. The ear loves analog sound. It is a delicate instrument that is not easily fooled. We may still enjoy great performances listening to a digital recording, but, in many cases, something does not quite sound right. That small something distracts us from the musical event. Our mind is working overtime trying to process the sound so that is seems real to us. But while it is doing so our heart just wants to hear the music. We just want to hear the music.
Vinyl records, for me, are the only medium which transports me to the live music event. If it does not do that then, at least, it creates such an event that makes the music all the more real and enjoyable for me. I can get into the music and be lost in it, not worrying about the sound. That is the real audiophiles dream.
But vinyl does have its drawbacks. Records can become noisy, but they can also be cleaned. Even old used records, if they do not have any obvious scratches, can usually be revived. The music on them can often be magically resurrected. All that is required is a thorough washing with a little liquid detergent. Use a record brush like the original Discwasher to scour out the groves. (The newer Discwashers are a ripoff. Pick up an old one on eBay.) Dust off new records before playing. With the turntable spinning clean the record with a Discwasher or similar brush. If the sound is still not pristine, use a small amount of cleaning solution applied to your brush when you do the dusting. Make up your own solution: one part 91% isopropyl alcohol and three parts distilled water.
The turntables, tonearms, and phono cartridges are critical to the overall sound because they are at the front end of the reproduction chain. Whatever distortions they introduce will only be magnified by the other audio components which follow. The stylus is literally the starting point. (We will talk about the turntable and tonearm in the next post.) It is required to trace the record groove accurately without mistracking or unnecessarily wearing the record surface. Keeping it clean and dust free is important. However, one must be very careful in cleaning it because today’s cartridges are very delicate. Use a small soft brush to clean it from the back, using only a forward stroke. Never use a side-to-side motion or a backward motion. Occasionally you may need to apply a cleaning solution. Be very careful what you use because you could dislodge the diamond tip from the mechanism. My advice would be to use only a recommended solution from a reputable source. I like the one sold by Stanton.
One of these days digital may come into its own. But I am not completely satisfied with the sound of it now. I love the sound of records in which absolutely no digital electronics were used in the recording process. “Mercury Living Presence” recordings come to mind. Today you can buy remastered vinyl records but some of them use digital sources and others are are digitally mastered. They are a step above the CD. However, if I am to lose the convenience of the CD then I want true analog.