Diana Krall is one of my favorite artists, as a singer and as a Jazz pianist. Her 1993 debut album Stepping Out took the musical world by storm and she has been building on it ever since. Apple did a remaster of the album for iTunes. I wanted to also try it in a high-resolution format so I downloaded a 24 bit, 96 Khz version from HD Tracks.
Well, wonder of wonders I stumbled into Barnes and Noble and found a vinyl reissue of Stepping Out on 180 gram vinyl. This was just too good to be true. Now I could listen to the album from three different sources, one vinyl and two digital downloads. I told myself that I would not prejudge the sources, though I could not help thinking that I was going to hear very audible differences between them.
Did I do blind tests? No. You want a blind test, then it would be better to go elsewhere. I get tipsy when I do not see. And I do extensive listening and no quick A/B switching. I need to listen to the music and see how it moves me emotionally.
I knew that, after a certain amount of time, I would know which format I enjoyed the most. The shocking thing is that the three sources sounded so much alike and I enjoyed them equally. At this time I was also auditioning the Audirvana Plus music player so I threw it into the equation which complicated things. The Audirvana made all the digital sources sound great. Apple did a great job of remastering the album for iTune. The Flac file I downloaded had the edge over iTunes, except when I was the Audirvana Plus player. When this player worked its magic there were very little sonic differences.
On to the vinyl. Barnes and Noble does not give away its vinyl. Have you notices? Well, superior sound can be a little pricey. And their pressing are usually quite good. They use files of original mastering where possible. All this is good. OK, so how did the vinyl sound? Very good. It sounded almost identical the the digital sources! I was amazed. They all sounded very analogue to me.
Has vinyl lost its edge? Well, further checking led me to understand that the vinyl record was a digital remastering of the original. That might be the explanation. Digital sounds like digital. It could be that both Apple, HD Tracks, and Barnes and Noble all used the same digital remastering as a source. I really do not know. But
Panicked, I went back to listening to some of my early vinyl records such as Mercury Living Presence. Now that is the sound of analogue. This was in the pre-digital era. Pure analogue still had the edge.
Now if you are using a five-figure or more vinyl record playback system the advantages of vinyl will probably be more apparent. In fact, even over YouTube, one can hear the differences in this type of playback equipment quite readily. Somehow, the quality of the first chain in the reproduction of music comes through, even using compressed sound sources like YouTube.
What to say about all of this? Digital is getting better. And there is more music in those bits than we thought.