Saturday, November 7, 2015

Vinyl Records: An Extraordinary Playback Medium?

Whether LPs or 45s, are vinyl records qualify as an “extraordinary” musical playback medium due to their capacity to “alleviate” screw-ups during the recorded music performance’s mastering stage?

By: Ringo Bones 

Strange how those “wonderful” attributes of the analog vinyl records – whether they be 33 1/3 LPs or 45s - that Stereophile magazine columnist Michael Fremer had been describing about throughout the 1990s still holds true today, well into the second decade of the 21st Century. With the Marantz TT-15 turntable back in 2004 and the more recent Onkyo CP-1050 turntable, one would think that both SACD and 24-bit 192-KHz DVD Audio would have consigned vinyl records to the “dustbin of history” during the first decade of the 21st Century, unfortunately it didn’t. But what is it about vinyl records that managed to raise “more mysticism” than even its own 2-channel analog master tape? 

Chesky Records founder David Chesky once remarked that there was something “magical” and inexplicable about the music generated by a stylus coursing through a record groove. Is the magic we love about vinyl records, whether they be 33 and 1/3 RPM LPs or 45 RPM singles, inherent in the analog nature of record playback, or is it something added by that process that allows vinyl records to create a sense of “reality” better than most commercially available prerecorded music mediums and including its 2-channel analog master tape? Or is it a combination of both? 

In my own listening experience, I suspect it is mostly due to how vinyl record playback cartridges – both moving magnet and moving coil – make the vinyl record playback system like they are very transparent sounding analog “dynamic range expanders” due to the way vinyl records tend to sound “more dynamic” in side by side comparison to the first generation open reel copy of the master tape. Given that some of the master tapes of oft-mentioned classic pop rock studio albums recorded during the mid to late 1970s had been recorded with a little too much compression that even though they are multi-track analog studio recordings they sound as if they have that digital sound that Michael Fremer rails against – i.e. everything gets flattened out – including dynamics. Could the stylus and cantilever structure of a typical vinyl record playback cartridge acting as a “corrective dynamic range expander” that makes some over-compressed studio album recordings sound more natural on their vinyl pressing versions in comparison to either open reel tape and CD, SACD or 24-bit 192-KHz DVD Audio copies?