How can we settle for digital?

My friend, a recording engineer, once made a remark when I told him I had spent $3000 on a CD player. He said "How far can you polish a turd?" Those I know in the music business all agree that digital can only go so far. Vinyl is certainly making a comeback, but the advent of new digital formats seems to perpetuate new hope on the part of audiophiles. Do you buy it? Or are you sticking with your records? Or will you stand up for your $3000+ CDP? Is it just polishing a turd?
Your friend's statement is based on the assumption that digital is not improving. It reminds me of a famous person (sorry, I don't remember who) who said that inventors should stop wasting their time trying to invent new things becuse there was nothing more in the world to be invented. That was around 1930! There are many who believe that current state of the art digital is not audibly inferior to analog in any way. The current $3000 CDP may not be that state of the art product though.
I have a Raysonic 168 with cryoed NOS Russian 6922s. I use the variable tube XLR outs to an active XO, biamping Magnean 3.5Rs with Wyred4Sound amplification. I get to hear super expensive analog at a friend's house and will gladly trade his sound for the convenience of CDs when they sound this good.
Speaking for myself on this one...but I dont have 3k + to spend on a cd player * hoping * that it will sound better than vinyl.

So, for me, I will stick with vinyl.
I listen 50/50 to vinyl/CD and in 1997 spent $2500 on a Meridian 508.24 CD player. I still have that player and this was one of the best investments in music playback ever; I am still very satisfied with that purchase as it brings me musical pleasure several times a week (when I can find time to sit down and listen). CD recording and mastering techniques and equipment have also greatly improved and I think we're just beginning to get all the value out of the format, just as it took many years to realize how good vinyl could be. It's not a turd, just as with everything else, development has to take place and the advancements in CD technology over the past ten years have made this a very musical and high quality, convenient format. Now if you want turds, just say MP3!

My $2500.00 CD player sounds way better than my $300.00 CD changer sounds so I'm okay with it. Since I grew tired of surface noise on LP's a long time ago I'm okay with the compromises of digital, too.
If you are interested in having access to the maximum amount of the world's great music, you will have to embrace both redbook CD and LP, as there are so many marvelous recordings that exist exclusively on each format.

I know, speaking about music, rather than sound, is anathema on this site, but that is how I decide on a format.
I don't think everyone in the music business agrees that digital can only go so far. There seem to be plenty of people interested in pushing it further, and it does indeed make important leaps every few years.

I got back into vinyl about a year ago, after a 15 year hiatus. I was really excited about the vinyl that sounds better than CDs (although not all of it does--but what does, is terrific).

But then I traded up to an EMM CDSA-SE, and was startled. Now, more CDs could compete with my vinyl. And a really good SACD can REALLY compete with vinyl.

And today I was listening to one of the relatively new Linn Digital Stream players, the Klimax DS (which I barely understand). I've auditioned it several times before, and I continue to be surprised by how much it can get out of CDs that have been loaded on a music server. It's a lot of money, but it indicates that there is more progress available for digital.
My Playback Designs MPS-5 really does amazing things with my turdiest CDs. I've got $10,000 into digital and about $3000 in my analog TT and now, finally, consider them equally satisfying. Getting digital right ain't cheap, but it's being done. In another year or two we'll probably be able to buy DACs equivalent to Playback Designs, Emm, dCS and others of that ilk for $3000.

Strangely, digital software now costs less than the same analog. Whenever given the choice, I'm buying SACDs first, CDs next and LPs last, based on cost-performance ratio in my system.

My Theta Gen VIII / Sony 707ES clobbers my Dual 616Q / Adcom crosscoil every time.
there was a cd player, vintage 1994, that i auditioned in an all naim system. the naim cd player was the cd x.

i remember being startled at the sound coming out of a pair of naim speakers. what i heard seemed to surpass most vinyl set ups.

the problem with comparing vinyl to digital is that one cannot generalize. some cartridges and recordings are so bad that i would not want to listen to such a set up.

i personally prefer an old koetsu black cartridge to almost anything out there.

the point is that there may be a cd player which is more satisfying than some turn table /arm/ cartridge combinations.
The Linn DS changed the way I think about digital.
Are you asking us if it's foolish to spend $3K on a CDP? Just keep in mind that a price point is where the manufacturer stops adding any more value to something. If you take two identical boxes and fit them each with the same laser/transport, filter and DAC you can get two different sounding CDP's. Just use better transformers, filter caps, wiring/PCB's, output transistors and hardware. That one would cost more and (should) sound better. Will it sound good enough to justify the difference? That's where you come in to the equation.

I think what your friend is trying to convey is that the actual retrieval process hasn't changed over the years and the differences in parts and engineering are the polish. I happen to disagree - for what makes one CDP sound better than another is the same reason why one amp sounds better than another: power supply, voltage/current regulation and linear output devices. They cost big money as you move up the food chain and account for a large percentage of the overall cost. Add to that dampening, shielding and circuitry layout that minimizes signal path distortion and you get the idea.
My point was less about CDP's, which can be quite great, and was more about digital recording itself and the CD format. I own and listen to many CD's because either they do not exist on vinyl or the CD beats the vinyl (which happens time to time). If I want to hear Webern played by the Arditti Quartet I must enlist my trusty Meridian 507 24 bit player. That's not the problem. The problem is the engineering behind the recording. Many digital recordings and transfers made in the 90's are truly terrible, and one would get the impression that until quite recently digital just sucks. Granted, it got better, but I still do not hear it competing with the best analogue out there and I doubt it ever will.
Gs5556 said:

"I think what your friend is trying to convey is that the actual retrieval process hasn't changed over the years..."

Well, the upsampling schemes and clocks in DACs have changed a lot in the last 24-months or so.

We can't! And we won't! Yeah!
I agree with Viridian. Too often on this site, people discuss sound instead of music. As he says, and I would add unfortunately, there are too many great recordings that are only on CD, so I did go ahead and buy a CD player, though I didn't spend $3000, I bought the Rega Apollo for almost a third of that total.

That said, I do agree that digital, though improving as some have noted, will never equal analog in quality. So I continue to buy records at least 90% of the time. Being a professional classical musician, most of my listening is to classical and jazz, and as I have said on a couple of other threads, they simply recorded things better back then in the exclusively analog era. Those recordings are often just as musically satisfying as today's digital releases, and often more so. The technical proficiency of most musicians coming out of conservatories today is much higher even than it was 20-30 years ago, but their musicianship is not correspondingly improved, and conductors are not getting any better either, especially here in the states. But I'm getting way off topic, so I'll shut up now.
I hope digital will make a rebound, only this time by upping the sampling rate to equal what is captured by the master. Perhaps this could be offered via downloads or Blue Ray?

CD's are a very long way from the original studio digital. If we could even get close to what's captured on the original drive, we would be dazzled by the quality and excited at the prospect of purchasing a copy.

Maybe someday? Until then, I'll continue with tried and true LP format.
Or will you stand up for your $3000+ CDP? Is it just polishing a turd?

$3000 just to "polish a turd"?

Anyone considering a $3000 Hi-Fi purchase as "polishing a turd", might also need this.
We must remember that digital is only the storage format. Vinyl has plenty of problems with its storage of information and retrieval. There are plenty of bad sounding records out there....its just that there seems to be more bad sounding cd's. That being said, if digital had the sampling rate high enough, and the bit size adequate to store all there is on a master tape, then there would be no need for vinyl other than nostalgia and having performances that never made it to cd. So where does that leave us today, a few bits short, and a little undersampled. When I want background music, I use cd. When I want to hear into the music and enjoy the performance, vinyl has to spin. My VPI SM makes analog sing like live music with the emotion so often missing from the cd. There are however good cd recordings out there. Just listen to the Mighty Sam McClain on the AQ label recorded in XRCD, engineer Alan Yashida, and this rivals vinyl. And there are many others. I don't think of the recording limitations of cd when I hear this cd. CD just has a very narrow margin of correct and not correct. Whether it is AD or DA problems or just that some engineers are using the wrong mics or have not learned how to optimize cd yet, the mystery remains. I think ultimately, cd is just more convenient to work with and the engineers are more tempted to "fiddle" and "tinker" with the sound rather than just try and reproduce the live event. Bottom line, get a vinyl rig if you don't have one and remember how music is supposed to sound. CD is close, but no cigar...not yet. jallen
I wonder if most of the people who are knocking digital either have not heard a great digital player (especially the ones from the past few years) or just have so much invested in vinyl that they are biased.

The fact is that the very best digital players out there now pretty much equal vinyl and can better it on certain things. An incredible amount of progress has been made within the last five years. On these postings, like everywhere in life, prople make statements that they do not know in fact to be true. Maybe they heard a $3000 digital player and draw their conclusions from that. Well, $3000 bucks won't go very far in buying a TT, cartridge or arm either.

This is by no means the only great player, but how many people knocking digital have heard the EMM Labs CDSA SE? You cannot say that a similarly priced TT performs better any better than this unit. When you factor in the convinence of CDs, frankly i think the EMM Labs wins hands down but either way certainly does not lose on performance.

Analog can sound great. But I cannot tell you how many times I have heard great analog setups and the owner plays some record that has so many scratches and pops in it. For me, this noise destroys the realism. Anyone can have a preference, but you just have to wonder how much of what is said on here is based on informed opinion.
Digital is fine - For background music as I work & do not have to leave my desk to flip, clean & cue every 20 minutes.
I normally listen to digital about 5 hours a day.
When it comes time for serious listening - I sit in the sweet spot & cue up 2 - 3 hours of vinyl.
To my ears - I have not heard any $3K CD player that approaches vinly!
Don't get me wrong as there is truely a place for digital, but comparing digital to vinly is like comparing digital to the compressed noise that comes from a ipod.
I've been a vinly collector & fanatic for 45 years & have almost every album that I could wish for.
Through my ears & my system digital (especially HRCD) can sound 85%-90% as good a vinly, but the last 10%- 15% is worth every penny & effort of listening to a great LP.
Before I had a vinyl set-up I had the EMM Labs DCC2se and CDSDse. It sounded quite good, but when I decided to sell it and go with vinyl I used the money to buy both vinyl playback and CD. I gave up on SACD because the titles were so limited and every time I heard vinyl somewhere, the differences, particularly in timbre, were too much to live without. I did find that a good SACD sounded better than most CDs, but certainly not all of them. Digital sounds good to me, unless I listen to vinyl first. My new CD player was more than $3000, and it only lacks a bit of extra detail in the highs that I found a bit fatiquing from the Meitner gear. There is no question that vinyl takes a lot of work to get it right, but, for me, I now cannot sit still for digital. Are there bad records? Absolutely. Is 180 gram vinyl the answer? Not to my ears -- some are great and some suck (I love Joni Mitchell, but Blue on 180 gram vinyl is definitely a polished turd). Sorry, got way off topic...
I will always now settle for cd because a cd can last past 1000000+ plays (apparently), whereas the forever warping, dusty, snappy, crackly, poppy vinyl can last maybe 450?
I do miss album covers though. I will admit that when I did play albums on my Linn LP12 it did sound more 'natural' than a cd. That was a few years back though.
My local thrift store was selling quite a few classical box sets on vinyl for 3 bucks each. I was surely tempted.
Digital is rapidly improving. We are no where near reaching the limits of sound quality on CD or high-res digital. I think the medium is just starting to hit its stride.

Yes, there are tons of bad sounding CDs out there and the music industry, including musicians, should be ashamed of themselves for putting this crap out. There are plenty of bad sounding LPs out there too, including some of the new $30 - $50 ones.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Nielsen Soundscan only about 1 million new LPs were sold in 2007. So there just aren't a lot of people buying a lot of them.

So take your time, do plenty of research and for $3,000 you can get a really nice sounding cd player that should allow you to really enjoy your music, even if it isn't the best sound possible.
>>whereas the forever warping, dusty, snappy, crackly, poppy vinyl can last maybe 450?<<

That's funny.

I have some albums with over 3,000 playings that are just as quiet as your discs.

Your assertion is ridiculous.
For once, I agree with Mr. Feil. ;-)

>>I have some albums with over 3,000 playings that are just as quiet as your discs.
Does this mean you've listened to some albums every other day for the past 17 years? Or twice a week for the past 30 years?
Actually honestless, it's approaching 50 years.

And I believe you can play an album more than once a day.

Now go play in your sandbox.
Now go play in your sandbox.

Tut tut boys....don't argue over your toys. It is getting dark and time to go home. Analog and Digital can both be excellent but on any particular track either one or the other will be preferred - sometimes digital is best - sometimes Analog. Surely that is why people have both? Why bother with digital at all if it so inferior...send me your turd polishing CDP's (those at $3000+) and I'll promise to recycle them ecologically for no charge...
I'd like to address a point made by Bogartgl...namely, the EMM CDSA SE. I had the CDSA non-SE version only briefly, and thought it was good--in fact, better than anything I'd heard in that price range, and better than the Linn CD12 (against which I A-B'ed the EMM). But mostly I still liked my turntable better (where I could compare directly). Then the SE mod came out, and I left my EMM up at the dealer for quite a while for installation, during which time I was doing a lot of business travel, and enjoying my LP12/Koetsu/EAR 834P.

EMM had assured me that the SE upgrade would have only minimal effect on the sound. But I was stunned, and the dealer was stunned, by the difference, as was at least one other audiophile friend who heard the SE version. And in this, I agree with Bogartgl--The EMM CDSA SE really gives vinyl a run for the money...I believe more so than the 2 box EMM unit, frankly. It really is quite something, and I heartily recommend trying to take a listen. Ain't cheap, but it's not the most expensive SACD/CD player either. (And its virtues are clear on SACD or CD.)

And, to echo Fytunes (and my own earlier post, I guess), the Linn Klimax DS really gives the CDSA SE a run for its money...and very probably more so, the more I listen (except on SACD).

Based upon listening to both of these pieces of gear--the EMM CDSA SE and the Linn Klimax DS, I came to revise my view of digital. I think it can give analog a run for its money. I didn't think that 6 months ago. And, even still, I've got to say that, with the right Lp, my Linn LP12/Koetsu Black/EAR 834P (which is a really nice batch of analog gear, but is hardly the end-all, be-all in that department) will reproduce certain recordings in a way that I can't get out of digital. Period. So far.

If you've given up on digital, or are thinking about it, these two pieces of gear will at least surprise you. There may be a few other new-technology units that would do the same (such as the one mentioned by Dcstep), but I haven't heard them. But the point is, for those of us that keep thinking digital is just never going to make it (and I became one of those), there are still surprises in store, it appears. I'm certainly revising my view.
I have not heard the EMM Labs CDSA SE, and I would love to. The only CDP that I have heard that I thought came anywhere close to my TT was the Lector cdp7 mkII. I thought about getting one, as it was certainly better than my Meridian 507, but I'd rather spend the 5 grand on a new phono stage! In the end, I would have better sound, even though all the music I have on CD only would suffer. So what. Being an audiophile is never having to say I made a compromise.

So I am getting an Art Audio Vinyl Reference instead of the Lector, and I will bite the bullet on the CD issue, but in the end what I will get will blow away any CDP, IMO. (of course I want both, but I do not have 10 grand to spend)
QUESTION FOR AUDIOFEIL: which new EMM or Esoteric model do you like for 6 grand or under? Despite our differences, you really do come out on the right side of most debates (even though you are a dealer) :)
I have Accuphase amplification and an Arcam CD192 cd player and a vinyl rig too (project deck and an Benz silver cart.) they both sound great, The Arcam is just as good as the record player, if not better.
CD already has come of age, and I'm glad.
If your cd player does not sound great,buy an Arcam!
AFile - I'm glad you've enjoyed listening to the same records every week for 50 years. Most of us like a bit more variety than that, but I suppose if I didn't listen to anything made after 1958, I wouldn't be too interested in digital either.
PS- Mr. Feil - Don't take my previous post too seriously. Just verbal sparring in good fun. Regarding my post questioning the 3000 plays, it was meant to be a challenge to your assertion, but not an attack on your character. To me, 3000 plays seems unusual (does it to you?), so that's why I questioned it. I never said it was impossible, just offered some real possibilities to show the magnitude of plays required to hit 3000. Even at 1.2 plays / week for 50 years (your numbers), that's a lot of listening to the same record. But if you enjoy it, that's cool. Peace.
Twice a week for 50 years would keep any man happy.
Chashmal, I will have to stand up for my $3000+CDP. It usually comes as close to analog, and at times, clearly better than my analog set up. I enjoy both.

Digital is not just polishing a turd. I don't blame you though. I have auditioned many 'Ref' digital set ups ( >> $3000 CDP) and while they are marginally better, it would have you conclude that digital is indeed polishing a turd. But there are some low priced CD players and Ref systems (Zanden, AN and Kondo for example, which may be considered 'low tech' by many by current SOA standard) that does stand head above shoulder from the rest of the pack.
Disclaimer: I have not heard the newer offerings from Playback Design and Lector
Nilthepill: can you be more specific about which 'ref' units you like? Have you heard the Esoteric, EMM, or Wadia? I am curious what your impressions are because I know they have made great strides in the past 2 years.
Audiophile dude, I am only going by what I have read.
Obviously I can't say whether a particular cd will last 1million plays because they to have a difference in material quality (apparently) and also a million x 60minutes means I will be at least 70!
3000 album plays with a metal stylus on plastic without degradation of sound does seem a tad unlikely, but I will take your word for it because I will never play the same album that many times even if I pull out my museum piece LP12, dust it down and start turning that starting
My hi-fi Reviewer acquaintance says the Arcam 192 is a good a cd players at 3x the cost.
Keep up with the 'swifter' every time you play your albums!
Humor chaps, nothing serious.
"....can you be more specific about which 'ref' units you like? Have you heard the Esoteric, EMM, or Wadia? I am curious what your impressions are because I know they have made great strides in the past 2 years."


I love the Zanden 2000 Transport and 5000 sig DAC ( which I also own) combo sound. Simply life like sound- no excuses (like everything else in hi end audio-you could always nit pick though, but won't find too much to complain about) -Complete about turn as compared to 'typ' clean but sterilized hifi like CD sound that you find so often. I also like Audio Note DAC5 sig and the Kondo DAC. To some extent I also like the Metronome Kalista Transport and C2A sign DAC (which I also own and is for sell)

I have auditioned Esoteric one box players and the 03 combo, DCS stack, EMM, Ayre's new ref( model no?), Jadis Ref digital, MBL Ref digital, Wadia's middle line up offerings (not the new ones), Accuphase and found Zanden to be 'diff' but IMHO, ideal and so much like analog sound, at times even better in terms of realism.

Of course I have not auditioned everything out there, but Zanden, TO ME, is simply the best. a well set up Analog rig betters Zanden in many areas but not all. IMHO.
Is your friend named Karl by any chance. If ao, He hates digital! Don't get him started on DVD A!
09-07-08: Honest1 Even at 1.2 plays / week for 50 years (your numbers), that's a lot of listening to the same record. But if you enjoy it, that's cool. Peace.

Don't underestimate how much Bill likes Abba's "dancing queen" :-)

Seriously though, I have a couple of LP's that I use as a reference. I listen to them at least 4 to 5 times a week, and when adjusting cart alignment, VTA, VTF, Azimuth I will normally play the same track 10 to 15 during setup. I have 5 turntables, and I do some adjustment on all my tables at least once a month. Some tracks on some of my LP's exceed 3000 plays ... easy.

I have heard much speculation about record wear. I personally have not noticed it. I have records that I have played thousands of times since the 70's and they still sound fantastic.