Know Audio: Get Into The Groove

The legendary Technics SL1200 direct-drive turntable, as used by countless DJs. Dydric [CC BY-SA 2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.
The legendary Technics SL1200 direct-drive turntable, as used by countless DJs. Photo by Dydric CC-BY-SA 2.5
For me, the vinyl record player is the spiritual home of my audio listening experience, probably because I’m of the last generation to grow up when vinyl was king. The 12″ album, with its full-size sleeve and copious sleeve notes, used to be an integral part of musical enjoyment that hasn’t been adequately replicated in the age of streaming.

And like anyone who became an adult while CD players were still expensive luxury items, I started my journey into Hi-Fi with a turntable set-up that sounded pretty good. Since a new generation have in recent years rediscovered vinyl, it’s once again something that should be part of any review of audio technology.

I would have started this piece with a full run-down of the constituent parts of a good turntable, but since that’s a piece that I wrote back in 2017, it’s time to investigate some of the audiophile claims about vinyl recordings. It’s fair to say that this is an area where a lot of complete rubbish is spouted by people who should know better, and that’s something I find immensely entertaining to poke fun at. Buckle up.

Can You Say It’s Better Than A CD?

My attention was caught last year by [Terence Eden], who performed a tear-down of a very cheap USB turntable. He made no bones about it being a pretty basic device, and from where I’m sitting, I’m sure that its flexible plastic construction, low quality bearing, motor, and tonearm, and ceramic cartridge will not deliver the best reproduction. One sentence of his did however catch my eye.

“Anyone who says vinyl is better than a CD is a muppet”

It refers to a long-held discussion in audiophile circles as to whether a vinyl player can deliver higher quality than a CD player, or a digital recording of any kind.

There are a variety of digital audio formats at different sample rates with lossy compression, lossless compression, or no compression at all, but the most common is still likely to be the CD-derived standard of a 16-bit 44.1 kHz stereo uncompressed PCM data stream. We’ve all heard music derived from these streams, and it sounds pretty good. It does however have a hard limit as all digitised data does, of its maximum frequency being half that of its sample rate. This is referred to as the Nyquist rate after the engineer who characterised it, and thus for a CD data stream the maximum frequency is 22.05 kHz. If you read the first part of this series you’ll know that the upper frequency limit of human hearing varies by person but is likely to be 16 kHz or below among people old enough to have spare cash to spend on hi-fi. Thus even with the low-pass filter fitted to the DAC there is still enough range in a CD stream to comfortably go beyond that of most people.

Perhaps If You Have The Ears Of A Ten-Year-Old

This is the tympanic membrane of my left ear.
This is the tympanic membrane of my left ear. Can it really sense the presence or absence of ultrasonic frequencies it can’t hear directly?

That’s not quite where the story ends however, because a seasoned audiophile will tell you that while you can’t hear those frequencies above 22 kHz directly you can hear the difference the impart in their contribution to lower frequencies, presumably as mixing products. In other words, so the story goes, you can’t hear them, but you can hear when they’re not there. The trouble with this particular rabbit hole is of course that it become subjective, and thus susceptible to audiophile hyperbole.

Having done extensive listening tests in the past, I know that I can discriminate between a 96 kHz, 24-bit audio sample and a merely CD-quality one with an appropriate DAC and headphones, but here at Hackaday we need numbers. And sadly the likes of Brüel & Kjær don’t sell calibrated reference 10-year-old children to perform audio analysis through ears undimmed by age, so we’re in the realm of speculation rather than fact. We know that frequencies above our hearing range can be reproduced, but the jury’s out on whether they make any difference.

My trusty junk-shop record player
My trusty junk-shop record player

Vinyl doesn’t have a sampling rate. It’s entirely analogue, so what you see if you take a microscope to the disc is a waveform, and in theory it’s the same waveform that emerged from the singer or the guitarist in the studio. There are descriptions that assign an upper sample rate limit to the number of vinyl molecules passing the record player needle at 33 RPM, but that’s probably descending yet again into audiophile madness.

What is undoubtedly true though is that a vinyl record doesn’t have the 22.05 kHz Nyquist limit of the CD, and so can record and reproduce frequencies much higher than that. Records are recorded and mastered using a filter that reduces the bass frequencies to stop the needle jumping out of the groove, and the turntable preamplifier will have a so-called “RIAA” filter to boost that lost bass, but in theory that’s it. You might consider it settled then, that vinyl can reproduce higher frequencies than CD, and is automatically better, but unsurprisingly there is a further snag. Even if those frequencies are present in the vinyl recording, their presence in the sound you hear depends on the ability of your record player to pick them up.

Does The Vinyl Version Even Have Those Higher Frequencies In The First Place?

Your copy of Sergeant Pepper Will amost certainly be a CD-quality remaster rather than direct from Abbey Road's tape recorders. Josephenus P. Riley, CC BY 2.0.
Your copy of Sergeant Pepper will almost certainly be a CD-quality remaster rather than direct from Abbey Road’s tape recorders. Josephenus P. Riley, CC BY 2.0.

In theory, vinyl is capable of returning higher frequencies than CD, assuming that you as the listener have a decent enough record player. But we’ve also established that unless you are a child you probably won’t be able to hear the difference much if at all.

The last nail in the vinyl coffin, however, is that while a vinyl record may have the capability to hold more information than a CD, the reality is that these days it’s generated from the same master as its digital rivals, so it has probably been cut from the same 44.1 kHz, 16 bit data stream anyway. Maybe vintage recordings can escape this, but then you need to think about the frequency response of whatever magnetic tape was in the studio back when it was recorded. It might be that the reason that you can’t hear the difference between your vinyl and your CDs is that there isn’t a difference to hear in the first place.

What is certainly true is that a good quality cartridge, turntable, and amp will deliver a superlative listening experience that is the equal of an uncompressed digital stream. And that a lousy turntable will sound atrocious. So enjoy your vinyl if you still use it, after all there’s a pleasure to be had in the feel and look of a 12″ album and its cover. But perhaps don’t make any claims about it that can’t be substantiated without a calibrated reference 10-year-old child.

I suspect now after writing this, that one of my friends is going to call me a muppet.

Next in the series, we’ll take a look at magnetic tape recording. A tape deck will probably not hold the same pride of place in a Hi-Fi stack in 2021 as it might once have done, but even if you’ve never had the joy of creating your own mixtape there are still a surprising amount of technological tricks waiting in magnetic audio recording to be discovered.

62 thoughts on “Know Audio: Get Into The Groove

  1. There is more to audio reproduction quality than frequency range. You also need to consider signal to noise ratio and susceptability to damage (like finger prints, other dirt and scratches). In these aspects, the CDDA format wins hands down from the very best analog tapes or vinil records.

      1. The earliest CD players though were very expensive and well built devices. One of my friends had one of the first CD players sold in the UK (a hand-me-down from his rich dad), and it would play scratched CDs that would skip on newer, but cheaper, players.

  2. People who like to listen to music on audio systems often like to listen to live music, too. If they like popular/rock music, the damage to their hearing from loud concerts is likely to render the subtleties of bit rates and frequency response meaningless. As we age we lose hearing acuity, too.

    You can argue about absolute sound quality potential of either CD or vinyl, but you can’t argue the fact that playing vinyl damages the disc each and every time you play it, and it never sounds as “good” (in the engineering meaning of the word) as the first time you played it. Then there’s the fact that the velocity of the vinyl under the stylus changes as the disc plays- it’s a lot faster near the edges of the disc than close to the center. And then there’s those lovely clicks and pops from dust or other debris that lands on the record, or from damage to the surface from dropping the stylus a little too roughly. Some people actually like that noise, I guess.

    But who plays CDs anymore, besides a few geeks? People stream compressed audio from spotify or tidal or pandora. Anyone who has/had a collection of CDs ripped them to flac or mp3 years ago.

    I have an Edison cylinder record player from 1906 and a Victrola from around 1924 that still work. Great sound, but definitely not CD quality. The few wax cylinder records I have are still playable, but some are starting to moulder. The 78s that play on the Victrola have an interesting sound quality, too. Both machines are entirely acoustic, there’s no electronics to come between the listener and the medium.

    It’s OK to prefer the sound of one medium over another even if one is limited in frequency response and has a poor signal to noise ratio. But don’t kid yourself that old analog mediums are better in engineering terms.

    Now, what about the cables???

    1. The average LP on an average turntable will last about 40-60 plays before the high end is completely worn off.

      They tried to make quadraphonic vinyls by encoding two extra channels above 20 kHz and then pulling them back down like in a heterodyne radio, but the technique failed because the additional channels were quickly degrading to noise.

      1. I haven’t been able to find good quantitative data, but some internet sources lead to the following tentative conclusions.

        1. Degradation is proportional to the 4th power of the force of the stylus on the record. Force is measured in grams (at one gravity) and assumes a typical high quality stylus.

        2. There may be a range in which negligible damage occurs, somewhere below where plastic deformation occurs (maybe 1.5 grams) but above where tracking starts to fail (maybe 0.75 grams).
        Several manufacturers made stylii that worked in that range including Shure and Empire Scientific.

        3. Strict cleanliness is essential to preventing degradation.

        See for summaries of some tests.

      2. I’ve found it difficult to get good quantitative data on groove wear at high frequencies, however your claim looks overly pessimistic. Some internet searching comes to the following tentative conclusions.

        Degradation is proportional to the 4th power of stylus force.

        The primary cause of high frequency degradation on a clean record is not wear, but plastic deformation. For a typical thigh quality stylus, below 1.5 grams prevents plastic degradation. Force above 0.75 grams is needed to keep the stylus in contact with the groove walls.

      3. CD4 encoded two 5 Khz bandwidth rear channels in the 25 to 30 Khz range then used a bandpass filter and frequency shifting to cut them out, bring them down to normal human hearing range and direct them to an amp for the rear channels. Somewhere I have an old electronics magazine with complete DIY instructions on building such a unit. But CD4 records also required a cartridge with a special stylus. Playing a CD4 record with any normal stylus would quickly wreck the rear channel frequencies.

        There was another 4 channel LP system that worked some other way.

  3. “What is certainly true is that a good quality cartridge, turntable, and amp will deliver a superlative listening experience that is the equal of an uncompressed digital stream. ” Nope. First, find me a good uncompressed recording. The recording engineer takes 20 different mics and mixes them all together into some goulash that suits his ears. Compression may or may not already be applied at this point. Certainly mic placement and balance between instruments will have no resemblance to the sound you’d hear at a live performance. Recordings are often done in a studio with its own acoustics. Modern instruments like guitar often have their own arcane effects which define the sound. Then the studio takes the raw recording and mixes again and applies compression and filtering to suit the media and genre. Then you play it back in some undefined listening space or worse yet, using ear buds.

    Recordings are just recordings. Some disgustingly bad. Some tolerable. None are wonderful regardless of how much you spend or what kind of equipment you have.

    1. And yet, your diatribe does not make the original statement less true.

      Also, in my opinion a recording can definitely be wonderful.

      Also, most recordings are not meant to be a 1:1 representation of what one hears directly in front of a band.

  4. >and thus for a CD data stream the maximum frequency is 22.05 kHz.

    There is no perfect brickwall filter to cut everything out beyond 22.05 kHz so the actual lowpass filter has to be set somewhere less to have enough attenuation by the Nyquist frequency to avoid aliasing. Then, anything above approximately 2/3rds of the Nyquist frequency will suffer anyways because a wave slightly below the nyquist frequency will shift in and out of phase with the sampling and the result becomes amplitude-modulated by the difference between the two frequencies. Reconstruction filters try to reverse this on playback, but again, perfect reconstruction only exists mathematically on paper and not even in theory in the case of cheap consumer DACs.

    Hence why, when mastering for a CD, you generally low-pass filter at 15-16 kHz anyways, which is also why MP3 compression does the same thing. Whatever information exists beyond is either not audible, or will turn up as distortion for most listeners.

    1. These days, many sound cards do 192kHz and beyond (I’ve seen some advertised that do 768kHz!).

      So sample at 192kHz with a low-pass filter set so it cuts off everything above 48kHz (not difficult). You now have a recording that has hopefully everything between 0-22.05kHz intact.

      Now assume that everything before and after the recording is all zeros, and use a sinc function in your convolution… there’s your 22.05kHz low-pass “brick wall” filter.

  5. I miss one important factor in considering what is the ‘best’ reproduction.
    Perfection in recording and reproducing does not equal the best sensation of ‘oh, this is great’. Otherwise every music lover would have a pair of calibrated monitor speakers with the flattest response, and acoustic damping foam on the walls.

    One of the factors why people like vinyl more, is the way they’re mastered. On vinyl, compression is completely unavoidable. To make vinyl sound decent, a highly skilled person has to apply it. Hell, if you use it wrong, you will literally blow up (the fuses of) the record cutting head, or have such a fast acceleration of the stylus that the reproducer can’t follow.
    Speaking strictly technically, this is really bad and absolutely not a identical reproduction. But it sounds nice.
    On CD, it seems that the producers choose more often for an ‘one size fits all’ compromise. There are barely any technical limitations.
    There is no reason why digital audio shouldn’t be able to sound as good as vinyl, but quite often, and mostly because of choices made in production, it doesn’t.

  6. There’s alot that’s missing from the article, but I’ll focus on one glaring omission: direct to disc recordings. These were recording captured directly to the master laquers from which a certain number of LP pressings would be made. No master tapes, no remixing, no overdubs. The difficulty of doing a live session for the duration of an LP side made this a relative rarity. It’s almost ironic that this became the ‘holy grail’ of analog LP recording when it was the way things were done before magnetic tape (and multitrack recording) became the standard. (Which was itself superseded by DDD recording for CDs.)

  7. Is digital recording/mixing really done at 44.1kHz? I bought a semi-professional ADC for my son and that runs at 192kHz, I’m sure professional ones do at least that if not higher.

    So if recoding to vinyl from a digital master, you _could_ maintain the high sample rate and feed it into a DAC that drives the cutter.

    Also I regard 44.1kHz CD quality as slightly ‘lossy’ in that the quantisation leaves out a small amount of information, although I agree that there is no lossy data compression after that.

    1. Oh and I remembered from my use of this in digital RF, but oversampling can effectively give you extra ADC “resolution” because you are dithering between the discrete ADC bits. So – there is a point to going up to these seemingly ludicrously high sample rates.

      1. I think you mean “DAC”, but anyhow, when you add extra bits by dithering or any other way, you are making stuff up. It is impossible to wind up with more data than you started with.

    2. ^ this, studio equipment works at higher qualities/resolutions/ranges – from the old reel-to-reel tapes that have vastly higher performance than any of your home HiFi to digital recorders running well above the 44.1kHz of the end product CD.

      Unfortunately there’s so much FUD, half-truths, misunderstandings and BS in the audio world (even from a lot of professionals who should know way better) that it becomes an almost impossible minefield of BS.

      Exhibit A: It’s vanishinly rare to see ANY of these discussions run a simple test of dynamic range or frequency response on a piece of equipment, despite it being incredibly trivial to do and something that’s done in electronics (EG calibrations on test gear) as a matter of routine, and is not just normal but EXPECTED of a piece of equipment.

  8. My wife and I went to a resale shop to look around. wifee picked out a few things and i had a paper tag in my hand. We got to the registers and the wife put her stuff on the counter and I placed my paper tag on the counter. We paid and I asked the cashier if I could pick up my item tomorrow. The wife looked at me and asked “What in the world did you buy?”. I responded “A stereo”. The next day my 1971 Magnavox astrosonic was happily in the garage where my wife had delegated it to stay. I plugged it turned it on and after just a few minutes the wife poked her head in the garage. She said “That thing sounds great”. The stereo is now in the sunroom of my home and sounds great on radio or vinyl. Boy howdee I love my vinyl. I don’t care about what sounds better. I just love the clicks and pops and all that comes with vinyl!

    1. Back in the late 1970s, my friends started using their Grandma’s tube radio. They were excited how much better it sounded than the transistor table radio they had been using.
      I looked at the labels on the back of each and commented; “It should, it’s using 10 times more electricity.”
      (70 Watts v. 7 Watts – but the old one also had a larger speaker/ wooden cabinet)
      They stopped using Grandma’s radio-they were quite frugal.

  9. My personal preference for listening is to listen to music that was originally recorded via analog methods in analogue (today, that means on an LP, which was how I almost always originally bought my music, which I then recorded onto cassette for use in my car, or while out and about, and reserving the record for “serious” listening at home), and to listen to music recorded digitally via digital methods, whether on CD or Apple iTunes store, or lastly, streaming. Analogue music has a different sound than digitally recorded, and it just sounds better to my ears listened to in the way it was originally intended, modern, digital remastering notwithstanding. I’m not sure where I stand with those. I bought, for instance, Days of Future Passed as a digital remaster, but I still have the cassette copy from my LP, and… I don’t know… certainly digital is easier, but sometimes I just want to sit and listen.

    One downside of the modern streaming method is that I no longer can “predict” the next song on the album, because too much of what I listen to is played out of that context, and even if I do try to listen to an album start to finish, it’s not like with a record or cassette (or even a CD), where you can just listen to an album on repeat (I had a vertical linear-tracking turntable, that played both sides back in the day, and yeah, I still miss it)

    But to return to my initial point, horses for courses, as they say. Analogue for analogue and digital for digital is how I prefer to roll.

  10. Seriously, are we still debating in 2021 whether digital sounds better or not than vinyl?

    A bad DAC can surely sound worse than a decent turntable, but once we get to a higher level, a $100 DAC can easily outperform any $10.000 turntable: higher dynamics, much much much higher signal to noise ratio, etc. The only thing I greatly miss about vinyl records are their covers artwork; everything else I left behind without looking back.

    Just for the record (pun intended), DAC does not necessarily equal to CD: the 44.1KHz s/r limit is easily circumvented by any decent gear, and music can be moved around using different media, or on the same CDs/DVDs as .flac files (lossless, multichannel, up to 24/32 bits, up to 655 KHz s/r).

  11. As far as vinyl being produced from digital or analog sources, my parents own some albums made in the late 80s that, in the album credits, proudly displayed that they were digitally mastered, or marked DDA or ADA (analog recorded, digital master, analog format, respectfully), or some “brand” of digital production in the loop.

    As an aside note, I’ve heard of some kind of RCA computerized record lathe that was used in the 70s, but I can’t find much info on it.

  12. The greatest thing about the LP format for me, was the wide availability of great turntables and decent records at yard sales when i was a teenager. *CHEAP*.

    I loved the stackers, at the end of their run they had gotten those mechanisms refined to elegant and with care and a little adjusting one could stack up several hours of music to play “unattended”.

    Ebay’d my collection of needles in like 2006, iirc. had lucked into someones hoarded repair shop cache, had a few hundred. Have to wonder about the extremities of production those entailed.

  13. In the old days there was quite a range of different qualities available. I still own records where you can notice the start of the tape recorder used to cut the master by a tiny increase in noise level when the tape started. And than there were direct cut records, where the live sound was directly cut onto the master. I own just one of these records (“1812”, with the direct sound of real cannons in the closing sequence of the piece). Ordinary LPs are no match to these…

    1. Define “Ordinary LPs”, I heard some awesome italian blues records that were scribed on thin run of the mill recycled vinyl. With clever mastering you wont hear the higher noise level.

  14. There is a video on youtube called something like ‘the most expensive listening room in the world’. The guy spent half a million on designing his own speakers and the room to go with them and briefly shows the ‘no expenses spared’ DIY turntable. Perhaps that would be a good link, if it wasn’t already here.
    The guy clearly knows what he’s talking about, he’s getting into into instrumentation territory, but I wonder if a turntable with 400kgs can be measurably better than one which 40kg or even 4kg, considering people are playing commercial records, not some one-of-a-kind master record.

    Speaking of records, when I was writing software for decoding the Voyager records, there was a 192kHz (?) digitized version of the interstellar record. It was so bad that I had to compensate for various things in software and even then it did not turn out decent. You can see it in everyone who attempted this feat that the decoded images have shadows and distortions. I doubt the records were digitized on a “Crosley” USB turntable. Hopefully the actual discs are of better quality, otherwise the aliens will waste time laughing their ass off at audiophiles instead of flying here.

  15. I have VERY many, VERY old “78” shellac/wax (no ‘vinyl’) records—all in ‘albums’; the only way people used to keep their 78s—left to me by a true collector; an aficionado. Popular records (‘popular’ from the ’30s, that is) as well as classical.

    I also have only a turntable which, unfortunately, has the cartridge/needle combo for playing “33⅓” LPs (it is a very good. linear-tracking turntable, however).

    Can these old “78”s be damaged by being played with a needle designed for “33⅓” LPs?

    Seems to me that a “78” needle needs to be more ‘coarse’ (larger; not as “fine”) than a “33⅓” needle, and that the finer needle would tend to ‘dig into’, or ‘gouge’ the groove of a “78”.

    1. Well, in opposition, the “tone arm” on my Grandma’s Victrola was very heavy compared to the tone arm on my Pioneer PL-260.
      Although, I recall reading that some people used cactus needles, instead of the nickel plated spikes my Grandma used, because they were easier on the shellac. Cactus needles did wear out sooner though.

      1. Yes that’s a good point, the weight setting on a modern cartridge/tone arm is MUCH lower, as is the moving mass, so the chance of wear will be much reduced.

        To get over the problem of the turntable only spinning at 331/3 (or maybe 45) you can digitise it and then play back through your computer (assuming you cave one), playing back at a speeded-up rate. Probably a program like Audacity, which is free, can perform the speeding up.

    2. The tip radius of an LP record pickup is around 25 μm, compared to a 78 shellac needle radius of 63.5 μm. The damage done by an lp pickup needle, if any, would most likely be from the lp pickup needle bouncing around in the much wider 78 track. . Playing 78´s with a lp pickup has novelty value but doesnt do justice to the recoring. If your record player can do 78 rpm why not get a dedicated 78 pickup ? The sound quality will be orders of magnitudes better than with an LP pickup.

  16. Recording a vinyl record’s output onto a CD with any moderately decent CD burner will give you something which is aurally indistinguishable from the original vinyl’s playback (except that it won’t wear out from repeated playings). A vinyl made from from a CD source, even if you use the very best recording lathe ever made, operated by a very skilled recording engineer, will be easy to tell from the original.

  17. Yet another audio article that leaves out the reason why Redbook CD audio ihas a 44.1Khz sampling rate. That’s what fit perfectly on U-Matic PAL video tape. If they’d used NTSC a slightly higher, but odd, sampling rate could have been used. Since working with 44,100 samples per second was mathematically simpler, that’s what was used.

    Any other reason given for CDs using 44.1Khz is bogus.

    Then there’s the first consumer market CD player from Sony. It used a single channel 16 bit DAC running at 2x speed so it could interleave samples from left and right channels but without having a buffer to delay and align the data there’s a very slight time offset between the channels, which some people claim to be able to hear.

    The extra cost of a dual channel 16 bit DAC was “solved” by using a 1 bit DAC (I assume dual channel) and running it super fast to stream the 16 bit samples. Could be some literally had a 1 bit DAC with a small buffer to interleave decoding bits from both channels. I found it hilarious that so many players boastfully had “1-BIT DAC” printed on them. To me that was saying “CHEAP OVERCLOCKED CRAP INSIDE”.

  18. I picked up a pair of Skullcandy ear buds that my daughter had on the table. I asked her how she knows which earbud is the right ear and which is the left. They are not marked (that I know of). She had no idea what I was talking about … saying, “what difference does it make”? And everyone here is nit-picking about sample rates?

    1. She is kind of correct. Depends which way you want to face during a performance. Wrong ear just means you are facing away from the performer. Live, the shape of your ear makes a difference since it is built to hear more in the forward direction but since the earbud is delivering the sound directly into the ear canal, it does not matter. It would only make a difference if you were watching video to coordinate the audio and video direction.

      1. And a lot of music is recorded in a studio, so an artificial sense of left and right. I’m sure I’ve noticed “that’s not right”, but simpky because I’m famikiar with the song.

        1. Here’s an example:
          You are watching a couple of people talking on TV, now the person on the left is talking, but you hear their voice coming out of the right speaker, and vice-versa.

  19. seems to me that vinyl resolution would not be limited by the size of the molecule but by the resolution of the stylus cutting the master. The cutting stylus has a size and whatever actuates it has a resolution (how small and fast a signal it can respond to). It also has a mass which limits how fast it can react.

  20. “I suspect now after writing this, that one of my friends is going to call me a muppet.”

    I’m not friend, but if you’d like, I’ll call you a muppet!

    Maybe a future HaD contest could ask us to make muppet avatars of any of the contributing writers…

  21. Bernard Sumner waxed lyrical (pun intended, sorry) about the issues of mastering for a vinyl record when the audio track contained sub sonic bass (see/hear Transmissions podcast, available everywhere:

    A lot of releases didn’t make it to CD, and some CD releases are from poor quality “masters”. For most people mp3 quality audio over crappy headphones is as good as they need, for others it just doesn’t cut it. You pay your money, you take your choice.

    When discussion analogue synths in “I dream of wires” (, John Foxx, mentions that in the 1970s limitations of affordable speaker technology was an issue.

    The tech ingredients YouTube channel has features in the HaD blog more than once regarding DIY speakers, with some very in depth investigations, notably

  22. It has always seemed to me that the high-end audiophile world rests entirely on claims that are easily but rarely tested (hello, blind A-B tests). Love for the music itself gets steamrolled by gear-acquisition fetishes.

    My own take is that if I can’t hear the difference, or my setup (house layout, speaker position, background noise, etc.) doesn’t let me hear the difference, then it’s not worth paying for the difference, no matter what the numbers or reviewers say.

    A whole world opens up when great sounding audio is good enough — a few hundred dollars then becomes enough to get set up with a nice amplifier or receiver, a great set of bookshelf speakers, and some kind of streaming source. The savings can be then be used to pay for other things — like more live music.

  23. There’s a trick to playing vinyl that I once read about in a usenet forum. It came from a technician at a radio station at the point where they replaced their vinyl collections with CDs.

    You play vinyl “wet”. Make a 1 litre solution of 50/50 water and ethanol, then add a few drops of dishwashing detergent to it. Actually the additive was ethylene glycol AKA photo-flo, a wetting agent, but detergent is more readily available.

    Dip a small cloth into the liquid, then wring it out until it’s just dripping. Put the record on the turntable, start it, and gently drag the wet cloth across the surface of the vinyl (or just across the track you want to play), so it leaves a film of liquid. Then lower the arm.

    The liquid shuts up all the pops and crackles, and it cools and reduces friction at the point of contact – the heat from that friction is the source of the wear and tear on vinyl.

    I tried it and it works – pops and crackles almost completely absent.

    You need to make sure the record is dry before putting it away.

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