Annoying Things About Record Coverage in the Media

Inspired by this post on NPR’s A Blog Supreme, I’ve decided to come up with the annoying things about record coverage in the media. These things are usually front and center whenever there is an article about the “vinyl revival”.

1. The crackly sound. You can substitute scratchy for this one. This talking point just won’t die. Many people seem to think that records by default are supposed to be dingy, scratchy, dusty and archaic sounding things. Provided that a record is mastered properly, it will sound great. Of course, this assumes that the person playing the record is using a clean, properly aligned cartridge, a decent turntable and stores their records well. Preferably sleeved in an upright position on a sturdy shelf or rack. Unfortunately, with the way I’ve witnessed many people handle records (usually like frisbees, with their fingers all over the LP), it’s understandable why many people think records sound like shit. They handle and store them like shit. Usually stacked on the floor, not in an upright position, but on top of each other. The records will become warped when they are stored in this fashion.

If not stored haphazardly on the floor, then they are stored unsleeved in milk crates. Usually in a dank, humid basement or attic. The records are then played on crappy turntables with cartridges that are old as shit. Naturally, it will sound like shit. Somehow, this sound is purported to be charming. I wish more people realized that what they are hearing isn’t charm, but the sound of defects and flaws. Sorry to piss on the parade. Records aren’t meant to sound like that when everything is done properly. Those memories you had of grandpa’s scratchy records just means grandpa took terrible care of his records. He probably had an old, dirty cartridge to boot. That’s a surefire way to get dirt in the grooves and damage records for good. Once you get dirt in the grooves of a record, it’s a wrap.

Record care is something that is sorely lacking outside of the audiophile community. I’ll never forget when a friend saw my record cleaning machine for the first time. She acted like I just stepped off the Star Trek Enterprise. The next time I go over to someone’s house, I will act surprised when I see clean plates. You mean you can wash plates? I thought you were supposed to keep eating off dirty plates. What kind of sorcery is this?

2. Vinyls. This word really grinds my gears. Why is vinyls becoming an acceptable word? It’s completely unacceptable. Why is there a need to pluralize vinyl? Why don’t people know that the plural for vinyl is vinyl? Avoid it all together and just call them records.

3. DJs. Not DJs as people, but the inclusion of DJs in the narrative. Nothing against them, but it seems like every “vinyl revival” story has some DJ scratching an LP. They have little to do with the resurgence of vinyl today. What do they have to do with consumers of music who buy records solely for listening? Absolutely nothing. Despite this, DJs seem to be the central figure in many of these stories. Most DJs today don’t even spin records, they use Serato, or they plugin their iPods or use laptops. Yes, people with iPods are now “disc jockeys”. Funny.

The few that still spin records certainly don’t buy new records. That would be pointless and cost prohibitive since the art of DJing is essentially damaging a record. Most go crate digging. The sales figures for the “vinyl revival” uses SoundScan data. That data only counts sales for new records. This pretty much excludes DJs. Nevertheless, whenever you see a report about the “vinyl revival” on the news, it will no doubt show some DJ scratching records, as if DJs today are why there is a resurgence of vinyl, or as if most of the people buying new records are DJs.

4. The “warm” sound. The word “warm” means different things to different people. Unfortunately, most of the people saying it couldn’t tell you what they mean when they say it. It would be one thing if an audiophile said LP playback on their system sounded warm after adding a McIntosh tube amplifier. It’s quite another to hear someone describe a present day rap record made with pro tools, being played on a USB turntable connected to a computer describe their system as “warm”. It’s clear that they have no idea what they are talking about. They heard someone say “warm” and they ran with it. Unfortunately, the news media always finds this person to quote anytime they need an article. They’re always around to spread misinformation and overall vagueness.

These are the four biggest offenders in my opinion. Anyway, it’s time for me to hop off the soapbox.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones

Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones

(Source: Flickr / atane)

Hank Mobley - Soul Station

Hank Mobley - Soul Station

Photo via HiFi Hawaii

Photo via HiFi Hawaii

Who remembers Gold CDs? They were fairly popular many years ago among audiophiles. DCC made a lot of gold discs. MoFi made UDCDs. I had a bunch of these, and they are all out of print now. Sold off a lot of them because they were going for crazy money. I still have a few laying around. Audiophiles are nutty people. I’m not excluding myself either.

An Audiophile’s Journey.

Weekend listening.

(Source: Flickr / atane)

Sam Cooke playing last night.

Hifi stuff.

My Dynavector 20X2 cartridge up close.

The stereo system of Hideto Irikawa. See more photos of his home at The Selby.

My friend’s daughter wanted me to play Afro Baby, because in her words “the girl on the cover looks happy.” Well, it’s settled then; Afro Baby it is.

My friend’s daughter wanted me to play Afro Baby, because in her words “the girl on the cover looks happy.” Well, it’s settled then; Afro Baby it is.

An impressive NYC Loft System (At Ears Nova)

Gear list below.

Rockport Technologies Avior Speakers
Viva Audio Little Solista Integrated Amp (Italian Import)
Boulder 865 Integrated Amp
dCS Puccini
Aurender S10
Basis Audio 2100 Signature turntable (with Heed Audio phonostage and power supply)

(Source: Flickr / atane)

I recently got the opportunity to hear the North American premiere of the dCS Vivaldi digital playback system at Ears Nova. It’s a 4 box, no nonsense, no compromise system that leaves no digital stone unturned. It was the heart of the system, and it’s $135,000.

Other notables were the Altair speakers from Rockport Technologies. It weighs around 515lbs each. You can’t really appreciate their size until you see it from the side in person. It costs $97,500 a pair.

Driving the Altair speakers were Centaur 500 Watt monoblock amplifiers from Constellation Audio. They are $48,000 a pair.

There was also a Basis Audio Signature turntable, with a Vector 4 tonearm in the room, but the focus was on the dCS Vivaldi stack, which was very impressive. Once you add in the cost of the preamp, phono-stage, power supplies, cabling, racks and everything else there, you’re inching close to half a million bucks. Obviously, this isn’t the stereo for most people.

The sheer immense cost of a no nonsense system, as jarring as it may seem, wasn’t that big a deal to me. I see and hear uber systems all the time. I won’t opine about the fidelity (Do you really care? To say the market for this is exclusive would be an understatement). That should be something you decide for yourself with your own ears. However, I will say that dCS is the real deal, and they have been at the forefront of digital audio for a long time. The true highlight for me was listening to the engineers themselves. Once you start talking to the dCS engineers, you truly become humbled at the level of expertise they possess. These guys are geniuses of the highest order. Being around people like this highlights how little you know about a lot of things. It’s good to hang around scientists, engineers and anyone else far smarter than you. If you listen to digital audio, innovations people like them have made along the way has trickled down to your device, from DAC technology, to everything else in between, at all price points. From $135k digital playback systems, to your $250 iPod. For that, I am thankful.

(Source: Flickr / atane)

How it’s made: Wilson Benesch Full Circle turntable

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