While personal digital audio has become a normality within our daily lives, some audio enthusiasts will remember when analogue vinyls were commonplace. And even in the present, this passion for analogue vinyl audio persists, with many users touting higher subjective quality and musicality beyond the objective measurements of distortion and noise that pioneered the move towards digital audio.
Vinyl audio can be considered somewhat of an art form, and it can be argued that these imperfections are what makes music so intrinsically human. With so much attention targeted at the latest technology, let’s take a step back to enjoy the analogue era where audio was a passion, not a business.
I would like to thank Edifier for providing me with loaner units of their R2000DB and R1280T for this article. This post is not sponsored or promotional and I am not personally affiliated with Edifier.
The vast majority of modern and traditional turntables are equipped with RCA analogue outputs. Some more modern turntables like the mbeat unit I have here also support 3.5mm and Bluetooth output/input, making the whole process a little more streamlined. This plethora of connection options enables easy interfacing with a speaker set. For the sake of demonstration, I will be connecting the speakers through RCA which should be most common.Most speakers will come packaged with an RCA to RCA cable, otherwise these cables are easily found online for just a few dollars. The speakers are easily wired to the turntable by matching the white and red connectors on the cable to the respective ports on the speaker and reciprocating on the turntable itself.The pictured Edifier speakers are active, meaning they don’t require external amplification, only power from AC. As with the majority of active speakers, the right speaker houses the interfaces and controls while the left speaker is the slave speaker.The speakers connect to each other via a basic interconnect cable that relays audio to the left speaker producing a stereo output. Plug in and power on both the speakers and turntable. Gently place your favourite vinyl onto the turntable. Be sure to use the small lever on the stylus to avoid scratching the record.Ensure the speakers are set to the appropriate source, in this case, line-in which is signified by a green status LED. Set the turntable to the appropriate RPM (specified in each record) and adjust volume and bass/treble dials to taste.
Finally, clean up the setup by winding up excess cable and securing with velcro or cable ties. Cables can be futher cleaned up by hiding them within a small cable box such as those offered by Bluelounge and even IKEA if you want something a bit more economical.
Coming back to some objective analysis and it should come as no surprise that there are far more variables to the matter than the simple format. Perhaps most importantly, there’s the actual mastering of the song/album itself, a lot of songs don’t even contain enough information or dynamic range to saturate a 16-bit MP3 yet alone a lossless digital file or vinyl (which contain around 420mb of data each). In addition, buyers have to take into account the device they are listening on; a lot of modern music lovers probably aren’t aware of the wide variance between record players and that a lot of the brands we have come to love and enjoy started life as phono cartridge developers; think Grado, Audio-Technica and Shure. And finally, there’s the actual headphone/earphone/speaker you are using to listen to that music and whether they support RIAA equalisation; otherwise playback will be incredibly tinny since vinyls struggle to reproduce low frequencies. When combined with this processing, vinyls produce that warmer, smoother sound that we have come to associate with analogue otherwise its a strident mess.
While such a sound is objectively inferior, one could argue that musicality is ultimately just as important as technicality. In fact, many digital sources such as those from Shozy actually pursue an analogue sound and have been very well received by users. At the end of the day, music is highly personal and we can be thankful that we have such a plethora of options to suit our individual preferences. Within these options, analogue is far more viable than many may think and such an experience is easy to appreciate.
Objectively, I still find digital audio to be of higher fidelity than analogue vinyls, even when listening from RIAA equipped speakers. That being said, I’m not new to turntables nor vinyls, I have a healthy collection of records myself, and spending an extended amount of time with an analogue setup has made me appreciate my music endlessly more.
Vinyl music provides a taste of the work that went into the production of the music and also intrigues with an immersive experience rather than a quick listen. There’s nothing more satisfying than dropping that needle onto the subtle grooves of the disc, feeling the resistance and action of the dials and levers and reclining into your favourite leather couch as music fills the air; I had a fat grin on my face the entire time.
When listening to vinyl, you experience the music, you don’t analyze it; it’s nice to be able to dedicate time purely to the music rather than having it in the background, an experience that has been lost to the convenience and hyperactivity of digital technology.
But like every experience, these moments are fleeting and with every play, analogue sources degrade in quality. This organic quality of analogue sources can be likened to a household pet as opposed to the stuffed toy of digital audio; one will age, mature and eventually depart while the other remains perfect and pristine. But after all is said and done, I think we all know which provides memories so poignant.