“At this juncture, a passing space alien would conclude that the concept of stamping a vinyl record and replaying it in the unfiltered atmosphere with a contact tip was going to subject the vulnerable grooves to degradation, and rightly speaking, the discussion should stop here and now. Any replay system, whether mechanical, electronic, optical, chemical or whatever that introduces such variability into the replay process – no two discs are alike – has to be considered a stepping stone towards a system that can mass produce identical media which do not degrade over at least one human lifetime.
Now we can look for ourselves at an oscilloscope connected across the output of a phono preamp with a top quality stylus tracking a record of fixed tones, and the same tones captured off a CD player. What we expect to see is evidence or not that the irregularity of the contact between the stylus tip and the groove wall containing the tones, impacts on the purity of tone and the stability of level off vinyl. We can compare that with the no-contact CD system. This is an extremely important investigation, because maintaining a perfect relationship between the (musical) information so carefully cut into the vinyl disc and the pickups ability to reliably, continuously and accurately recover all that information from the groove, defines the fidelity to the microphones (or not) of a record/reproduce system whether digital or analogue. If, from the first note of the recording to the last, the microphones are generating a continuous signal, we should expect our replay system to deliver that same continuity without flutter in level or tonal purity from the first to last notes.
We all have a romantic attachment to events, and equipment, from the past. Old cars, old motorbikes, old girlfriends, old books, old photographs, old films, old shoes: an endless list. And long should we collectively applaud and respect the efforts of our forefathers who truly believed that they were living at the very pinnacle of technology. A look at the audio ads from the ’50s proves that point. But we do have to draw a line between fulfilling our deep emotional needs – a highly personal and essential activity – and expanding the umbrella of legitimacy beyond ourselves, embroiling others in our personal dream. I hear comments like ‘I told you that vinyl was better – the proof is that vinyl record sales are dramatically increasing’ transforms an entirely personal position into a society-wide justification, which in marketing/revenue terms, is complete rubbish.
I’d wager that there is not one single recording engineer at the peak of his powers in the late 50s who would not have sold his very soul to the devil at that time to get his hands on digital technology. He, and the performers, would have struggled against the chronic limitations of the technology, and we today would have a far richer and more faithful legacy had we jumped directly from 78 shellac to digital. And now those great artistes have departed the stage, and all we have is a shadow of their magnificence.”
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
For educational purposes only. Copyright goes to Harbeth Audio Ltd. UK.