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Audiophools on the loose again

10 May 2018

Do you remember listening to your first compact audio disk and being appalled by the thinness of the sound, the lack of richness and the clearly audible encoding artifacts?

Nope, neither do I.

I remember thinking "wow, this is amazing".

There was no turntable rumble growling in the background. There were no pops, clicks and scratches, endlessly repeating at 33 and a third times per minute. There was no tape-noise hiss squeezing past the Dolby equalisation and continuously making you wonder if someone had left the gas on. There was no wow, no flutter -- nothing but the sweet sound of the music with fantastic dynamic range.

Yes, the cymbals and high-hat sounded a little "sharper" than I was used to, but I kind of liked that... because these were the days when my ears were younger and didn't have a frequency response something akin to Mount Everest.

But you know... the audiophools still reckon you can't beat vinyl and tape.

Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against masochism and if a bunch of self-deluded people (who probably also believe that the earth is flat and you *can* run your car on water) wish to assault their own ears with 1960s technology then they're welcome to do so.

However, I'm not having a bean of it.

Never the less, sales of good old-fashioned "long playing" vinyl records and the associated players are now at levels which have not been seen since the 1980s and their fans are crowing about the "warmth" and "velvet smoothness" of this rich, deep analog sound.

Perhaps it's the lack of cryogenically-treated speaker cables that have ruined the analog experience for me, or maybe it's the lack of a valve pre-amp. Whatever the reason, I'm still delightfully happy to listen to my collection of crappy old 192K MP3 files on a small media player, smartphone or PC -- rather than lay out a king's ransom for the type of equipment most of us were happy to throw out before the end of last century.

Seriously... even when I had an LP collection, the first thing I did was rip them to cassette tape because we all knew that even before the first playing of virgin vinyl was finished, evil little dust particles would have been trapped in the grooves and already started to crate those nasty pops and clicks. Whack an album onto chrome tape using a decent Dolby-C recorder and at least, on playback, you could pretend you were listening to your favourite tracks on the sea-shore and that the background hiss in quiet parts was just waves crashing on the beach.

By the time I was in my 20s, too much heavy metal and rock music played at obscenely high volume had already destroyed any hope my ears had of hearing above about 12KHz so I wasn't worried by the rather poor frequency response of tape -- so it was a reasonable medium for me.

Now of course, with a library of MP3s I can select tunes at-will, without the need to rewind, without that annoying hiss and without the need to even clean heads at regular intervals. Digital for me, all the way!

But now the audiophools are going even further. As if vinyl wasn't bad enough, they're bringing back the reel to reel tape recorder!

Pass the salt and self-flagellation whips!

Seriously?

Are those who will inevitably lust over these things truly aware of how poorly tape performs when compared to modern alternatives?

And remember, if they're true "analog" fans then they won't have any fancy digital signal processing built into these units -- so their mega-expensive R2R deck will have an outrageously poor noise floor, dynamic range and frequency response.

Ah... but perhaps that's what a "rich, velvety-smooth" sound is all about.

If so, I suggest they just get a cheap MP3 player and whack a 0.47mfd capacitor across the headphone jack. It's a whole lot cheaper than the $10K+ that the audiophool exploiters are charging for these old-fashioned decks.

And... they're only 1/4-inch units, something all those who extol R2R tape as "the ultimate" medium should remember. Those who crow about how "clean" and "rich" the sound of analog tape master recordings are should remember -- that was done on gear that used nothing like the crappy 1/4-inch tape that consumer decks like these rely on.

Ah well... I guess an (audio)phool and their money are soon parted, as they say.

But what about readers? What is your audio equipment of choice?

Are you still using a god-awful Garrard pressed-steel turntable with wobbly rubber idler wheel from the 1970s? Or have you moved into the digital age and now rely mainly on your smartphone and Spotify, perhaps docked into your car stereo or home entertainment system?

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