Science Shows There's Only One Real Way to Listen to Music

Here's a link to a story you probably will enjoy. Note the angry, bitter and occasionally ignorant comments from "those people".

isaacrivera's picture

I grew up on vinyl an a quality sound system, but when I came of age, CDs where the rage. I was in college, I was moving around a lot, had no money or space for a turntable... so I switched to CDs. A year ago or so, feeling I did not listen to music anymore--I played music, I just did not stop to listen to it anymore--I felt compelled to go back to vinyl and the music experiences of my childhood and adolescence. I got a decent rig, and since, I have not only enjoyed playing music on a daily basis, I have enjoyed tons tinkering and tweaking the gear.

All that while, I pretended I did not own about 2000 CDs and, such as the love of vinyl is, I quickly ran out of new music storage space. Damn. So I decided that I needed to get an outboard DAC and server, rip everything, and put the CDs away in storage. I am not going to buy all of that music all over, only a few worthy albums, but I'd like to play it sometimes. So I did, and for the past couple of weeks I have been immersed in the temperamental world of transferring music to a server.

This weekend was cold in NYC and I felt like staying in. Saturday went by and I busied myself in menial things, and halfway through Sunday I realized I had not listened to any music. I just had no desire to do so. Thinking that it was a shame for a second weekend to go by without listening to at least one vinyl record, I forced myself to play one. Herbie Hancock Speak Like a Child. WOW, That was good! I played another one, Miles Davis Seven Steps to Heaven. More please! This went on until I heard my wife complain it was the third time she was calling me to dinner.

I do not dislike listening to CDs or digital files. And my digital setup is worth as much as my analog rig. But it appears that I have to control my digital music doses or I just loose the appetite for music altogether. Funny thing is the same does not happen to me with hi-rez, well-mastered, digi vinyl, though I find it difficult to sit through a whole side of poorly mastered digi vinyl.

davidf42's picture

check out

Jazzfan62's picture

I made myself early enough to the airport to go to a record store 15 minutes from there. There is nothing cooler than thumbing through the albums. I ended up with 7 WTF album purchases. Total guesses based soley on the vibe I got from the front and back of the album cover. I can't tell you how many great albums I bought this way. For me, it's an important part of the audiophile experience. I allocate $100 per paycheck to do exactly this kind of buying. I also buy a bit of new vinyl, but visiting the records stores is treasured time. An example of such a purchase was an album by the Pousette Dart Band. My next visit led to 2 more mint albums from them.

Jazzfan62's picture

Steve Cropper and Johnathan Edwards were also examples.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...who cares what the playback quality is. (If it's your tribe's tunes for drunken dancing, what difference does it make how heavily it's compressed, watered down etc.?) If it's serious music for solitary listening, where the artist is competent, has something important to say and you actually care enough to shut up and try hard to understand it, playback quality does matter, and there's no substitute for vinyl. Why? Because in addition to the reasons Mikey's always talked about, it's not convenient. It forces you to commit to listening and not much else - other than perhaps reading the liner notes or the artist's bio on Wikipedia for some context.

Joe Crowe's picture

I can think of numerous pieces over the years that I couldn't stand till I heard them on a good setup. Sometimes it's not that it's crap but instead that which makes it good has been lost in playback. Much like the way three dots in journalism can completely change the meaning of s statement. I guess what I am trying to say is sometimes bad music is unavoidable but there's no excuse for bad sound.

vinyl listener's picture

... quality reproduction can lessen the pain of crappy music.

Toptip's picture

My father used to say, the BAD scientist claps his hands and a flea jumps. Then, as an experiment, he cuts the flea's legs off and it no longer does. So he writes down, "A flea with no legs cannot hear."

The linked article reminded me of that a bit. Compressed music may not sound audiophile but the reason why Spotify subscribers skip songs, probably, may be more because they CAN and that they have access to an unheard of large selection!

Also many articles like this seem to confuse DIGITAL and DYNAMIC compression. If anything digital recording, with its much wider dynamic range should lessen the reasons to compress dynamically. The argument that this is done to cover up the effects of digital compression sounds unconvincing. More likely the reason has to do with the far noisier environments where people today CAN enjoy music and the hackneyed idea that louder sounding songs sell better.

firedog55's picture

The "science" is referring to mp3's and highly volume compressed music. It proves nothing about "digital" per se vs analog.

When I listen to a quality digital setup - playing only in CD quality or hi-res - I find the music quite involving. Lots of foot tapping and smiles on my face from good music, well recorded, well mastered, and properly played back.

But even with my Smartphone, listening to 192k mp3's played with a hi-end set of IEM headphones is lots of fun. Not as good as my big rig, but probably sounds a lot better than what I listened to growing up - crappy cheap system with crap turntable - and I enjoyed that at the time. Today I would find it unlistenable.

As far as streaming and not listening to the songs till the end: I don't think that is a function of sound quality but a result of the whole digital/computer experience. Vast digital libraries give us the ability to switch with no effort and no penalty. We can smaple something and quickly decide we don't like it. So we do. When listening to an LP you have to physically get up and move the tonearm - so you don't (plus there is always the risk you will accidentally damage your vinyl if you do).

So the ease and convenience is at least a partial cause of the lack of patience to listen to something till the end, and not the format itself.

jakobian's picture

Wish I would have been eloquent enough to put in words what you expressed.
Digital music is like a cigarette. You light up and get your fix.
Analog is akin to smoking a pipe. ( yes,I smoke an old Dunhill ) You have to go through the process to enjoy it and you don't dismiss the pipe après .
Music has evolved as the news media has devolved .
We live in a world of "bites" or "bytes" we don't get the whole picture,life and listening have been truncated due to technology .
Going through the " process " forces us to listen. By nature,convenience appears to trump all for the hoi polloi .
I am quite certain that most of us on this site would be considered elitist ,by virtue of what most consider a "quaint" little tradition that costs much more than downloading or whatever media format is at your beckon call.
So be it. As I have said before and will repeat ad nauseum.
" L'artifice est une necessite de l'art "

Martin's picture

The article is very good. And very true.
The comments pretty sad. So much ignorance.

Moodeez1's picture

I can see why there are no women in this hobby.

Pennywhistler's picture


Jim Tavegia's picture

I had just ordered a new Moth/Rega 202 arm to install on my old Dual 502 for the rebuild on my 3rd table. Why did I waste $340 on such a stupid hobby as listening to vinyl? OH, maybe because IT SOUNDS VERY, VERY GOOD!!!!!!!!! Yes, that is why I did that. And, it makes me happy.

tnargs's picture

Maybe a bit dangerous to quote Science, given that the same Science shows that, for example, 320k mp3 is inaudible from a master. Perhaps you meant Selective Science, the friend of all poor thinkers?

I'm a big fan of vinyl, but some of its protagonists are a bit of a worry. heh heh

vqworks's picture

Right off the bat I have to say that I'm a vinyl fan. In fact, I'm a fan of high-end open-reel and cassette, too.

That said, like some other posters mentioned, the article doesn't draw the distinction between uncompressed and compressed digital formats, let alone the distinction between dynamic limiting and data reduction. While it's true that most of the public seems to be streaming audio or listening to compressed audio files (MP3, WMA, FLAC, etc.), part of the audiophile market is listening to CDs, SACDS, DSD, and higher resolution PCM.

I'm not sure the author of the article even knows the difference himself or was aware that there would be any.

Audiophiles know (hopefully) that well-mastered, well-pressed vinyl trumps any dynamically limited and/or data reduced digital file.

But the article would have made a much stronger arguments by specifically comparing the vinyl format against the CD format.

If we need to see a better argument, we're unfortunately not going to see it from this article or most other articles written for the general consumer (including Consumer Reports). You'll likely see the most meaningful comparison written by and for audiophiles like this one that includes words supported by graphical measurements:

Pennywhistler's picture

is not compressed.

vqworks's picture

You're right. FLAC is not compressed. Is a so-called lossless format. Of course, it isn't uncompressed in its encoding; it unpacks data during decoding. The claim is that it's lossless but it would seem safer to have a PCM or DSD file.

bongo-hifi's picture

I love my music replayed on vinyl. I lose interest with music played on CD or "CD quality" streams until it just becomes audible wallpaper and I find myself going off and doing something else. Strangely though I find I can quite happily listen to and immerse myself in music sourced from quality digital files mastered to vinyl. So, I don't know what it is but there must be some other factor other than a simple analogue vs digital comparison?

Ohjoy50's picture

I absolutely prefer analog and analog records overall over digital, but I have also found there to be many bad sounding records and in many cases the digital counterpart sounds better in some cases because it was poorly mastered onto vinyl. Case in point I'm a big Radiohead fan, the records are dreadful. totally unlistenable, where as the digital cd's are much much better and sound pretty darn good in fact. Not perfect for sure, but at least I find them listenable and enjoyable. I have a real issue with records that have been mastered from digital files, to me what's the point ! digital simply has its limitations and in my opinion will never sound as good as "good" analog recorded vinyl. I personally think there is a simple explanation why analog sounds better. Also just as digital is getting better and will continue to do so, so is analog playback, we still have not pulled out all the music analog records are capable of producing.


Ohjoy50's picture

I feel you have to have both formats, both analog and digital playback systems. Granted digital lacks allot of the emotional connection and the musicality of analog, but if its bad analog it can be unlistenable.

I also have to say I have been listening and comparing many of the new remastered analog records from Acoustic Sounds to either other remastered versions or even the originals and am not liking them at all. I am finding they sound thin, lacking tone and harmonic richness. I just spent $300 on some of the remastered records from Acoustic Sounds and am seriously disappointed. People are listening to these records and giving them rave reviews, but either there not able to compare them to other reissues or originals and judging on that bases. And all you see is positive reviews. I was surprised to see one of my negative reviews posted. How long it will stay there is another story lol. Anyway just because its analog, and taken from analog masters does not guarantee a good sounding record. Its all about the mastering engineers, and will focus my record buying and who the mastering engineer was on the project. I am a big fan of Bernie Grundman and Kevin Gray, I think they do fabulous work, have not heard a bad record from either of these engineers. Steve Hoffmans records sound very good too, a little polite in some cases, but very musical. Sorry Steve lol, still a fan though.

nando's picture

It is science trying to explain what we "feel", something not always easy....
For me, analog is just most enjoyable
Why is that?
Maybe the fact that the music comes from a real, physical event;
Or it is maybe the continuousness of the signal
For me is clear that people related much more closely to music in the analog era

From a more physiological point of view, I suspect that good analog, like many other pleasure inducing experiences, just triggers a bigger dopamine (or other pleasure molecules) release in the brain.
I suppose this deserves a web search