An interesting Digital vs. Analog experience


On Friday I visited my local hi fi store where Garth Leer of Musical Surroundings was showing off the new Clear Audio Master Innovation turntable and Jim White of Aesthetix was on hand with a lot of his gear. The speakers were Focal Stella with dual JL Audio Gothom subs. Obviously, the point of the event was the turntable, but I'll have to admit that when the music was temporarily switched from the turntable to a labtop both my friend and I thought the digital sounded better.

I've heard A/B comparisons in the store before using identical recordings and in that case preferred the vinyl, but this time with the recordings being different I would have left with a very different impression.

I mentioned it to Jim White (I didn't discuss it with Garth Leer since because I didn't want to rain on his parade) and his comment was that the system was tailored for analog so I'd probably really enjoy a system that was intended for digital. I think the computer was using an Aesthetix CD player for the DAC.

It was the first time in a long time that I was blown away with the sound of a system in that room, it made my system sound very humble (as it is in comparison) in a way that I had not heard before. It was the first time that I've heard Aesthetix amplification making the Focal Utopia's shine.

I guess what I'm saying is that both vinyl and digital can be amazing, but the difference in convienience is astounding.

I could see myself owning a pair of Stella speakers, but I don't think I have enough organs to sell to pay the bill. I doubt my wife would be willing to chip in...
mceljo
What was the platform involved in this particular computer audio setup, if you don't mind me asking? Just curious....
Any specific component that you're interested in knowing about? I have no idea what the computer was and didn't really look closely at the individual components. I know the cabling is almost always Nordost (probably Odin) in that room and amplification was Aesthetix, but I don't know any specifics. It was an event at the store so it was more about listening than checking out all the components.
Mceljo,
Your experience is`nt surprising to me. I`ve come to realized for a while now that either format is capable of reproducing superb sound if set up well. I don`t understand the often zealous reaction this topic seems to generate.
Now you've done it Mceljo. You know it is politically incorrect to say that digital can sound better than vinyl. Off to the audiophile reeducation camp for you!
09-25-11: Tomcy6
Now you've done it Mceljo. You know it is politically incorrect to say that digital can sound better than vinyl. Off to the audiophile reeducation camp for you!
..........and they do not take any prisoners there!! ;-)
hope you have your as-strong-as-Captain-America shield ready. They are coming........
Thanks for sharing that with us, Mceljo.

I've always wondered why people get so hell bent on the vinyl vs digital topic. Why settle for one when you can have both. With the money some people have thrown around, I'm sure they could afford top quality examples of both if they weren't too stubborn to give the other a fair shot.

Now I'm in too deep too...
Mceljo, Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Your experience is not surprising to me . I've preferred digital every time I've done a same price comparison . Not saying it's better just saying what I preferred .
To answer Kbarkamian's question , if I liked vinyl I would have a turntable too , just not my cup of tea anymore .
"I've always wondered why people get so hell bent on the vinyl vs digital topic"

"I don`t understand the often zealous reaction this topic seems to generate"

I agree. Some people treat this hobby like it's a religion and we know how religious wars go. It's just music.

There is a "happily" married couple that live in our neighborhhood. He is an Aethiest and she's Jewish. I think that's a little farther apart than digital/analog or: tube/transistor...planar/point source...xxxx/yyyy... whatever.

I think the more secure you are in your own beliefs the easier it is to let others have their own.

I now return you to you regularly scheduled arguments. :-)
I think digital, when done right, is fantastic. When the Beatles remasters came out many knocked the sound compared to classic vinyl. I'm sure there is some merit. But, as an audio fan for over 30 + years, I never thought Beatles recordings were "audiophile" to begin with. Maybe Abbey Road. I always thought the Elvis recordings of early 60's and the Columbia,Capital recordings of the day (and earlier) blew The Beatles sound quality away. Now, the sound the Beatles were able to produce is part of the charm. Beatles albums recorded in the clean sounding walls of Capitols LA studio may not have the same bite as the version we all know. That said, Not all vinyl recordings back in the day were well recorded. I think digital shows the weaknesses much more over vinyl. Just my opinion...I don't pretend to be an audio expert
Yaa! Revolution, I’m in!
It was just a week or so ago that I chimed in on a thread stating that CDs will be around for a long time.

They will.

They will just get less use by me.

Never thought I'd say that.
i don't belong to the "analog is best" camp. have listened to numerous digital systems that rival or beat the best analog gear i've heard. no biggy as i'm sure there are analog systems out there that rival or beat some great digital set-ups i've heard.

kinda like trying to debate why someone prefers fish over chicken or visa versa. there is nothing to debate so just enjoy your meal(and whatever else you like).
I think at the same price point digital wins. There has been so much trickle down into lower priced units that even cheap digital sounds good these days. For convenience digital is also a no brainer.

However, there is a fast approching point of low return with digital. With analogue you have the potential to exceed digital, but at a higher cost. And also with analogue it seems that the more you go up the chain the better it gets. There almost doesn't seem to be a point price wise where there isn't an incremental improvement (IMO).
"And also with analogue it seems that the more you go up the chain the better it gets. There almost doesn't seem to be a point price wise where there isn't an incremental improvement”

Analog playback involves electromechanical machinery, the quality of which, relies heavily on very precise parts tolerances. As long as a part milled to .001 spec sounds better than .01 and .0001 sounds better than .001, it will always be possible to improve an analog playback system just by spending more on precision parts and fitting, IMO.
Levy03,
Good analogy, but as onemug pointed out you first have to reach a certain level of security with yourself as well as your system. Some never get there unfortunately.
I think that digital, including cd, is just beginning to acheive its potential. I think that we will continue to hear significant improvements in digital sound for some time to come.
After I got my new speakers and Aesthetix Calypso preamp, I am finally starting to love CDs. It has only taken 30 years! LOL

I wouldn’t say it is better or worse than vinyl though. It is just different.

Bob
The Clearaudio Innovation turntables start at $7500 and go up to $15000. It's not clear to me exactly which Clearaudio TT this is, as they have an Innovation line and a Master Reference TT, but I don't see a "Master Innovation" table on their site. So that might have been an even more expensive table. The Master Reference is $28k.

The Aesthethix Rhea starts at $4k and the Signature is $7500.

So before we even get into arm and cartridge, this was a 5 figure system analog system.

Which is why I'm amused by the responses that somewhere out there, over the rainbow, there's an analog system that will best any digital system.
There is nothing wrong with being a high end analog lover. Fantastic sound. But, for myself, digital is it. Basically I'm talking non vinyl/tape. I've heard people say"analog is making a comeback with younger people". Maybe true...but 99% is for the "cool" factor, not sonic reasons. Reading the audio boards for years, many get disappointed with new produced vinyl quality (even the big priced version). I've read posts where people talk about returning vinyl regularly. I cannot say analog has better sound. I have yet to hear a TT set up that beats the best digital. But, I have not heard a TT set up and system over $10,000. The system in question I did hear sounded fabulous. But the CD version of the same material, sounded better.
This discussion is getting out of hand. There are plenty of reasonably-priced analog setups that, if done correctly, can blow away the latest and greatest digital setups costing several times the price. IMHO.
Cfluxa,
There`s nothing out of hand with this thread. Those who have compared both formats and prefer digital are just as valid as your preference for analogue. Your opinion is no better or more informed than theirs,nor is yours any less.There are`nt any absolutes, simply choice. Neither "blows the other away" IMO.
" could see myself owning a pair of Stella speakers, but I don't think I have enough organs to sell to pay the bill. I doubt my wife would be willing to chip in..."

I'm not getting involved in the analog vs digital debate, not interested. What did cue my interest is the JM Labs speakers. I've only heard a few models and have always been extremely impressed. I can only imagine how those Stellas make music. I know I'm off topic but really, what impressed you the most about this experience? :)
Ptmconsulting for what it's worth I agree. But we are talking about absolutes not enjoyment but then again we're audiophiles when seemingly the enjoyment is often the chase.
OP: What do you mean the system was tailored for analog ?
Tubegroover - I've had the opportunity to listen to several of the models in the Focal Utopia line. The store has always had the Diablo and Scala models on the floor and has always had either the Grande EM or more recently the Stella EM. I've heard the Diablos and Grande EM with both Krell and Aesthetix amplification. I've only heard the Stella with Aesthetix amplification. I've never heard the Scala's connected in the main system so I can't really say that I've heard them in a comparable way.

With the Krell amplification I really enjoyed the Diablo's paired with a JL Audio subwoofer the most. When the switch from Krell to Aesthetix was made I can't say that I've ever been as impressed with either the Diablo's or Grande EM's, but based on my most recently experience with the Stella's and Aesthetix there much be something else making the difference because it was once again an amazing sound.

I've actually heard several of the Chorus Series speakers connected to the main system when it was Krell based. The list is 706v, 816v and 836v (my speakers). I've also heard the 706v, 806v and 807v connected to the Aesthetix based main system. It's amazing at how good those models can really sound when given every opportunity to succeed.

By the way, I don't think the name JM Labs applies to any of the new speakers, it's simply Focal these days.
Rockitman - I don't know for sure, but that's what Jim White commented. I take it to mean that because analog and digital have very different sounds a system tuned using an analog source would likely be different than one using a digital source. Once the system is built/tuned you can hook up either source and have a great sound. I'm all digital on a completely different, and much lower, scale so I just took his comment at face value.
Phaelon, while what you say is true; the price performance ratio is absurd, especially when analog can cost as much as a Greyhound bus. But what gripes me more than anything is when someone claims a Dual TT is as good as good digital.
By the way, I don't think the name JM Labs applies to any of the new speakers, it's simply Focal these days.
you might already know this but your comment seemed to indicate otherwise hence a bit of history, if I may be permitted - back in the old days (which are not so old) Jacques Mahul (hence the JM) used to have to 2 separate outfits - one called JM Lab (singular) manuf speakers & one called Focal manuf drivers that went mostly into JM Lab speakers.At that time he also used to sell to other manuf & to a DIY market.
At one point he stopped selling his drivers on the open market & decided to internally use all his driver production & got rid of the JM Lab brand name. He consolidated the driver manuf & speaker manuf into one brand name called Focal.

Back in the JM Lab speaker days (which are early 2000 era days) there used to be the JM Lab Electra series - 846, 836 & 826 (smallest) which I heard. Very unimpressive sound. Many of us who heard these speakers unanimously agreed that the company should stick to driver manuf only & that it had gotten quite good at wood finishing but speaker design was not their forte. The last time I heard a Focal speaker was 4 yrs ago (I did like the sound of that one model which used Berrylium tweeters) but I do not know what they sound like today.....
But what gripes me more than anything is when someone claims a Dual TT is as good as good digital.
it sure can be Orpheus10 if you know how to set it up. Of course, not every Dual TT is better than good digital (whatever you definition of "good digital" is). Add to Dual TTs restored Lenco, vintage Thorens & the famous Technics 1200 turntables. You need to know how to set it up....
(if you are going to gripe that vinyl is too high maintenance in general or too high maintenance for you in particular, you won't find me counter-arguing that w/ you!)
"the price performance ratio is absurd, especially when analog can cost as much as a Greyhound bus”

Orpheus 10, I think the near death experience that vinyl underwent in the 80s - even if it was only perception - served to bring out a sort of militant defensiveness amongst the analog faithful. I bet that even the most passionate analog devotee must know, deep down inside, that the absurd price performance ratio due to the mechanical nature of the beast, must eventually fall prey to digital with it’s untapped potential unburdened by mechanical limitations. But that’s the future. Right now, I agree with Charles1dad: It’s simply choice.
"the price performance ratio is absurd, especially when analog can cost as much as a Greyhound bus”


and what is the DCS scarletti stack ? $70K ? Wow...amazing how a $20K turntable setup (well sorted) will smoke the DCS.
"the price performance ratio is absurd, especially when analog can cost as much as a Greyhound bus”

and what is the DCS scarletti stack ? $70K ? Wow...amazing how a $20K turntable setup (well sorted) will smoke the DCS.
just to be clear: I do not have an axe to grind. I have both analog & digital & know which one is better for me.
The point of my reply is to further enhance Rockitman's post who has already pointed out that Orpheus10's shallow post (shallow 'cuz he did not do any research to find out prices of hi-end digital gear) is shallower than shallow!
Besides the dCS stack, add the EMM Labs gear, Wadia CD players, Reimyo digital gear, top-of-the-line Lavry digital gear, top-of-line Audio Note UK gear & the blooming list goes on & on......
The price of admission for that quality digital gear (which precisely the gear that has given you the experience & feeling that it rivals &/or bests analog) is no less than a Greyhound bus!

If you want to make a statement like that Greyhound bus one, atleast make it hold some water......
The way I understood the JM Lab / Focal story was that JM Lab was making drivers for other companies under a second name at their request. They didn't want people to stop purchasing their product when they realized that they could purchase a full speaker from the company that was making the drivers. At some point JM Lab / Focal desided to just go with one name and be done with it. I thought they still made drivers for other companies? I'm pretty sure that at one point Focal supplied Wilson with drivers, but I may be all wet on that.
I have not heard anything , digital or analog that will compete with , let alone smoke the DCS stack .
Tmsorosk,
It does`nt matter, the vinyl-digital threads inevitably become the Hatfields vs McCoys, just check the countless previous ones per the archives.
Hatfields vs McCoys-----sounds a lot like Irish Alzheimer's:
They forget everything but the grudge.
Too much baggage from past audio relationships.
One must treat the new with an open eye (ear).
It's a safe bet modern Hatfields are digital aficionados.
Charles , I agree , but after a while you get tired of hearing how much better analog is and are baited to respond . The last time I got into a debate with an analog lover , I checked his link and found he had a very nice analog rig that was well setup and easily worth $20,000 including phono stage cartridge ect , and a 15 year old $700 Rotel CD player . I'm sure we would all agree that analog would be superior under those circumstances . A friend has a very high end system with excellent analog and digital front ends . we both have trouble distinguishing differences , there that close .
To me it doesn't matter what source you prefer , we are all music lovers , just stop telling me that digital sucks .
Tmsorosk, you cannot assume that a person's current system is reflective of their experience in a format. What I mean is that a person who has decided (perhaps via a great deal of listening to expensive digital gear) to make vinyl his main source is likely to invest much more heavily on that side of things. If serious listening is vinyl and digital is for background music then one needn't spend much.

Another thing is that there are some older/cheaper digital sources that are quite musical. Much more money brings more hifi but not always more music. I have a $200 MHDT DAC that is quite good.
Tmsorosk,
I agree with you, to each his own as either format can work very well for me. For some reason though, vinyl advocates are more likely to use the soapbox and preach to digital users more so than the other way around it seems,strange.
I is all the recoding/mastering quality, IMO! There are numerous examples of CDs sounding much better than SACD, as well as music available on vinyl that is quite superior to any digital re-issue, and vice versa. Some fresh examples:

1. Bill Evans "Waltz for Debby" - the 20bit Riverside CD is noticeably superior to any other CD, the regular SACD or HD Tracks download, with only one exception - the Japanese SHM SACD.

2. Stan Getz "Jazz Samba" - the LP sounds artificially "fat" and unnatural, with audible distortions. The 24K Gold CD by DCC is far better in every respect.

3. Johnny Hodges "Blues A-Plenty" - the 45rpm single sided vinyl re-issue is far superior to what is available on digital. I can't wait for the Analog Productions SACD to become available hoping it will come close to the vinyl, we'll see.

Of course, we can go on and on, but truth is, one needs SOTA analog and SOTA digital at home in order to enjoy favorite music. Me being mostly Jazz lover, I enjoy both digital and analog immensely, depending on the recording I feel like playing.

So no more format wars! Enjoy the music! :)

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
Alex - not to derail the thread, but have you compared the 20-bit "Waltz for Debby" to the "Complete Village Vanguard 1961" set? Would be very interested to hear your thoughts.
Hello Cfluxa,

For a 1961 recording, the "Complete Village Vanguard 1961" set of 3 CDs sounds extremely nice, IMHO, and better than any "Waltz for Debby" on CD, Hybrid SACD and HD Tracks 96/24, and very similar to the SHM SACD from Japan.

In fact, I am also considering John Coltrane "Complete Village Vanguard 1961" set hoping it will be as good as Bill Evans.

Best wishes,
Alex Peychev
I've often wondered when vinyl is preferred over digital on the same system if the reason is because it was not built for digital. If a person builds and refines a system strictly for digital, then adds a TT of comparable value to their digital player, would there then be such a gap between the two formats in quality of sound? Just a thought from someone who built and refined their system based on digital sourcing, which sounds quite nice and has no desire to go back to vinyl.
.....if the reason is because it was not built for digital. If a person builds and refines a system strictly for digital,.......

Rockadanny, what is the meaning of these statements? How does one build a system with a slant towards digital OR a slant towards vinyl....
as opposed to building a system that is designed to bring out the best of the recorded music no matter which format??
Thanks.
Bombaywalla - Considering that a carefully built system requies "synergy" from the source to the speakers including all associated cables and supports, then it's safe to assume that simply switching sources, which would include going from digital to analog that an equal sound wouldn't necessarily be expected.

I believe that a good system will always sound good, but I'm sure there will be some differences that would put one source above another.
10-06-11: Mceljo
Bombaywalla - Considering that a carefully built system requies "synergy" from the source to the speakers including all associated cables ....

Mceljo, I trust that by "synergy" you mean
* connecting 2 pieces of electronics that you can afford within your budget by the 'best' cable that you can afford that harmonizes with the compromises made within those particular pieces of electronic equipment

right?

I do not believe that synergy has much to do with sound but has a lot to do with matching the impedances between 2 pieces of gear (and good/better/best sound is the end result when the impedances between 2 pieces of gear are correctly matched). I.E. taking care of the electrical interface bwtn 2 pieces of gear.

ANd, this "synergy" thing might be a separate discussion topic....
I guess what I was trying to say is that while a system may not be optimized for digital vs. analog, it's seems fairly clear that things like power cords, interconnects, and speaker cables are very system dependent. Assuming this to be a fact, simply switching sources could case a change in the way the system sounds. If this change were negative when switching from a digital to analog source then some people might place the blame completely on the source media rather than realizing that a similar negative effect could also happen by switching to a different digital source.
Usually a demo rigged to make the analog stand out will use a subpar digital source for comparison, so it is interesting that this did not turn out that way.

You never know what sound any one individual might prefer so it is no lock that analog always sounds better for sure.

I do think good analog generally does have clear advantages mostly in regards to very high frequency resolution over good digital, but practically the difference will only be apparent with very high performing gear playing only the best and most complex large scale recordings, usually of orchestral works involving massed strings, choruses, etc., and also perhaps with solo instruments containing a lot of high frequency energy, like cymbals, etc.

Plus you have to have the ears to hear the difference in the high audible frequencies when it exists and most humans lose that ability gradually over time with age.

Of course there is no one best anything, so digital done well also can have the edge in other areas involving other types of distortions, etc.