How Good Can Digital Get?

I've read these threads on the EMM, Exemplar, DV-50, etc. with interest. Last year the "best" digital was the AA Cap II or Wadia/GNSC or MF Trivista or SCD-1 Modified Kern, or whatever. Now we've got a whole new crop of contenders.
You don't see debates like this in any other forum -- standard setting speakers or amps or turntables do not pop up every few months.

This suggests to me that (a) digital audio, like computer processors, is a rapidly moving techonology in which it's possible to make significant advancements quickly and successively; and (b) digital audio still leaves a lot to be desired (when compared to analogue).

What I wonder is will digital ever (really) get as good (or even better) than vinyl? My last comparison was my Audio Aero Cap 2 against a VPI Scout and the turntable truly did "trounce" the cd player. It was a difference in kind, not degree. Given that redbook CD is just a sample of the analogue wave form I have trouble understanding how it can ever sound as fluid, natural, and, well, musical as a properly matched and calibrated table, arm and cartridge.

That said, I have not heard the EMM or Exemplar gear. Am I missing something?
The other day I was listening to some speakers at my favorite audio shop. This was through 50K worth of electronics, including the 20K Linn CD 12. Although I was supposed to be paying attention to speakers, the only thing that kept running through my mind was "This sounds good, but I can't wait to get home and listen to some vinyl." When the source was changed from the CD 12 to an LP 12 turntable (w/ Lingo power supply and Ekos tonearm), I wanted to stay were I was for the rest of the afternoon. I know this is hardly a technically sophisticated statement in response to your question, but music is about emotional and intellectual involvement, and hi-fi is only relevant in so far as it advances the quality of that involvement. So far, nothing does this as well as vinyl.

I am not a snob on the subject, and really enjoy my CD player. Digital is certainly easier and more robust to work with, and I am delighted with the way digital continues to improve. But I do not think it is a realistic possibility that redbook will ever equal quality analog. SACD is better, but still not really that close if you are looking for the most you can get out of your hi-fi.

If the market place were more sensitive to sonic quality, some day some digital format would very possibly even surpass vinyl – certainly we have learned in the last 20 plus years not to under-estimate what can be accomplished with this technology. But in the MP3 satisfied marketplace we live in, I don't see this happening any time soon. Those of us who care deeply about high quality music reproduction are too few in number to drive the market in the necessary ways.
I always find these digital v analog threads interesting if for no other reason is that I can never figure out what purpose they serve. The catalog for both mediums are hardly duplicative and if you care about music that has been recorded in the last 20+ years you can hardly ignore digital.
To proclaim analog supreme you must ignor all of its many and substantial warts. Yes I know, you can learn how to listen thru tics & pops, groove rush, inner groove distortion, improperly selected VTA etc, but so can a digitalphile learn to listen thru or accomodate their favorite meduims deficits as well.

If you have a great table/arm/cartridge combo and if you pay VERY close attention to set up, and if your LP's were recorded properly, pressed w/o defects, and cared for properly, yes they can sound better than digital and quite often do. But who really cares - you must make the best out of the systems available for the format the music come on. And yes, digital playback is improving, but then again so are the LP systems.

IMHO you do the best you can to make your sofware sound the best on the hardware you have or can afford and if you have a choice choose the format which shines the light on the music best on those occasions when that choice is available to you.

Sorry for the rant....
Not a rant at all Newbee, and I think we need to change your moniker to "He who speaks wisely". Well saind.
"what if this is as good as it gets"
Newbee -- right on.
Newbee, you've got to change your moniker! A most insightful post, indeed!

Yes, vinyl has a magical quality that redbook CD's cannot match. As you pointed out, analog does have many warts. Most nights, I just want to plop down, and listen for 40 to 70 minutes of uninterrupted music. Preparing vinyl "for a spin" can seem like some type of "mating ritual". There are also some concept albums (Pink Floyd and Roger Waters come to mind) that flow better as a complete work, avoiding the lengthy side A to B vinyl flip-over. Furthermore, buying used CD's is a snap...just look at the disc's surface. Used vinyl that looks good may actually be ruined and unlistenable.

I will say that bowed violins and violas never sound quite right on my CD player (Accuphase DP-75V). But then again, I've heard strings sound scratchy on vinyl as well.

Some of the remasters, imports, and DCC CD's are sonic light years ahead of the original 1980's pressings!
I think your on a roll Newbee. Not so "new" in your advice. Keep it commin'.
Harry Pearson, former publisher of the absolute sound claims we lost a whole generation of music to digital. Digital suffers from a problem vinyl never did. You can make the best record you like and it will still be compatible. A small company like Sheffield(Doug Sax) revolutionized record production with no compatibility problem. Digital mandated a standard that was inherently inferior. Every major advance requires a new standrd. That means dragging manufacturers, artists and consumers into a new standard. Very expensive.
Actually, I think that the sound of digital gear is getting worse and worse. I think that the top of the line designs from 5 years ago sound better then the best of the best today. I heard some really awesome players from Goldmund and Metronome a few years back that sounded extremely musical and analogue like. The best of todays players are really kind of sterile sounding.
As one who is strictly analog based I can say in no uncertain terms that I have gained a great deal of respect for digital of late. The EMM Labs gear is truely breathtaking. Too bad it's so far out of my reach. In the end though, whichever medium you use, it comes down to what is on the disk and, considering that aspect, digital has come light years in the last decade.
Speed - analogue went through format changes, too. Cylindrical discs, 78, 45, 33, stereo, each requiring new players to hear the improvement, or even to play. In most cases, the new players would accomodate the old formats. The thing that I worry about is when discs are completely obsoleted, perhaps by RAM, or who knows what. While it is relatively easy to find 80 year old players that will still play cylindrical records, I doubt that anyone will be able to restore a CD player 80 years from now. It is possible to replace springs, clean and lubriocate mechanical bearings, even make new needles for old record players, but who is going to supplu the multitude of chips used in current equipmentto restorers in 80 years? And apart from the hardware loss, if all the recordings don't get rematered every time the format changes, they will be lost forever (unless they were pressed on vinyl).
newmanoc -

"Although I was supposed to be paying attention to speakers, the only thing that kept running through my mind was "This sounds good, but I can't wait to get home and listen to some vinyl." When the source was changed from the CD 12 to an LP 12 turntable (w/ Lingo power supply and Ekos tonearm), I wanted to stay were I was for the rest of the afternoon."

can you not see how this could be attributed to psychology? you "know" that vinyl sounds better, and you're listening to speakers with digital. (shock!) they can't possibly sound their best with digital! you listen the whole time thinking that this could be better, so you don't really allow yourself to listen. so when the vinyl comes on, whether or not it does sound better, that little voice nagging at you that it could be better shuts up and then you start paying attention again and truly listening.

i'm not saying definitively that this is what's happening - just offering a possible perspective.

as i've said before - we often let our prejudices get the best of us. there are some prejudices in this industry so deeply ingrained that even if CDs were able to solve world hunger, bring peace to the middle east, give the US a fair and democratic election, change the catbox for me, deliver a mean blowjob, and sound better than vinyl while doing all of that, there would still be people saying "digital will never be as good." why? because that's what they're taught. it's the same thing with solid state vs. tubes. when poorly implemented, both have disadvantages. when well implemented, both can get past those disadvantages - so much so that it's impossible to tell one from another. yet there are still those who swear only one or the other is worthwhile.

oh, and other little things. like the dac 6 - it has to sound like shit because it has op-amps in the output stage, right?


sounds LOUSY, let me tell ya.

people should listen to hifi with their minds OPEN - but i know that this'll never happen which is a damn shame.

it makes me really want to manufacture a music cd with authentic needle-dropping noises, surface crackles and pops and play it to a vinylphile on a high-end cd-player with them blindfolded and hear them marvel over how great it sounds.
Well Said Lazurus28! As much as I like vinyl for its nostalgic value and wonderful sonics, I have totally embraced the digital format and have never looked back since. Vinyl vs Digital, Tubes vs SS, etc- who cares? A well-balanced system, an open mind, and great appreciation for music is what this hobby is all about.

Enough said.

Happy Listening!

Try the Reimyo cdp-777,sounds fantastic.I used to have extensive analogue set up,always needed tweeking.For classical music a good digital recording can be superb.
"people should listen to hifi with their minds OPEN"

You talk the talk but you don't walk the walk !!
gendut3 - how do you figure? i've offered my argument - please indulge me by offering more than an unqualified statement.
gendut3 - having perused your posting history, it's quite apparent that you've mistaken me for a kettle, mr. pot.

yes, i have stated that i prefer high-quality digital and NO - i don't say that vinyl sucks. to my ears, i prefer the quiet background of digital. IMHO, the surface noise of vinyl obscures the details of a recording. this is ME and vinyl (analog) is still my reference. notice i say "digital is as good and in some cases better than vinyl" on my meitner gear. what does this imply? it means that vinyl is still my basis of comparison! vinyl sounds more fluid than bad cd. this, i admit. i like good digital because to ME it has the silence of digital with the fuidity of vinyl. i'd like high-end vinyl JUST AS MUCH if i could get it as quiet as a cd/sacd/dad/dvd-a.

YOU prefer the ease of analog, which i have found now with my cd player. i'm happy. you're happy. let's leave it at that and keep our minds open.

you may disagree with me ALL YOU WANT - but don't accuse me of having a closed-mind when you have no ability to back it up. especially when YOU are guilty of exactly what it was i was pointing out.

i'd invite anyody reading this to look at our respective post histories and judge for themselves who has the more open mind, sir.
Lazurus,"...the surface noise of vinyl obscures the details of a recording..."
I looked at your system post. Do you use a record cleaning machine like vpi? While it will not remove scratches, it virtually elimnates surface noise.
gregadd - back when i had a vinyl setup (it was a Teres 265, an SME V arm and a Van den Hul Colibri Cartridge) i used a nitty gritty (which i still have) and borrowed a vpi for a while.

and they certainly helped, but they didn't eliminate the surface noise, unfortunately.

even pristine pressings were noisy - not distractingly so necessarily, but noisier than cd, anyway. and it obscures fine detail only in the same way that a fan buzzing in the room will, or the hum of an ac vent. it's not huge - just a bit perceptible and distracting.

oddly enough, though - tape hiss doesn't bother me nearly as much.

go figure.

I really find this back and forth with Lazarus28 to be very interesting indeed. It seems he owns the very digital gear I find so damn good. The thing that perplexes and troubles me is he HAD a 265 that seems not to have competed with the EMM Labs gear. HMMMM. I've listened to Rockports, Walkers and VPI TNT's and know that any digital I've heard to date can be bettered by these machines. The system that my friend has the Meitner gear in also has a 265 with battery power supply/Illustrious/901 and it too doesn't seem to compete. Is the Teres table over rated? I'm beginning to think so. Uh Oh! I'm in deep doo doo here at Audiogon for saying that.

Again, I love the Meitner gear and wish I owned it but even if I did I'd still have analog because of the many great performances you can only get on vinyl. For me it's more about the music than the gear but hey, keep in mind that a poor man WOULD make that kind of statement.

Best to all and Merry Christmas.
Lugnut - the teres rocked! it really did. we all just have different things that distract from and/or draw us into a recording.

noise distracts me. i haven't heard a rockport or walker, so i can't say what they're capable of.

and, as far as software goes, it's much easier to find what i like on cd. cheaper, too and in better condition.

and i'd say that were i a classical music junkie, i'd keep the vinyl around, but that's not true, either. SACD has so many classical titles, that i still couldn't justify it.

plus, i should also mention this taboo - i have a high-res mltichannel setup and vinyl don't do surround. (and i ain't buying the 70's equipment for quad, either) cd doesn't, either, but SACD does. and the few times a multichannel recording is done properly - YOWZA!

peter gabriel - up
roxy music - avalon
pink floyd - dark side of the moon
nine inch nails - the downward spiral

these are all, to me, so superior to the 2-channel versions such that i hate listening to them in stereo afterwards.

of course, this isn't to say that they're all good. some music just shouldn't be done multichannel.
nick drake - a treasury
beck - sea change
james taylor - everything

and some music could have been good, but is ruined by a lousy multichannel mix
bowie - all of the MC sacds. i haven't heard "heathen" in multichannel yet, but i do have high-hopes for it. it could be really good - that music lends itself to great MC done right.
t-rex - electric warrior

and merry x-mas back to yaz!
Well, I’m a psychiatrist, so I suppose I should never object to someone introducing the possibility of psychology influencing audio perceptions, which it of course does. But I must say, having some basic understanding of my own inner workings, your explanation of my experience the other day doesn’t resonate at all. The fact is that what I heard initially that day sounded good, but it improved greatly once the change was made to vinyl (on an excellent turntable, tonearm, etc.). It is true I knew that this would happen, but not from some irrational attachment to vinyl, but from repeated past experience. I would be quite frankly surprised if anyone posting here could not have easily heard the improvement in the room that day – it was not subtle.

I know there are many overly zealous vinyl advocates, but I don’t feel comfortable in that camp. As I said, I really enjoy my CD player, and I have no problem with someone preferring digital. In fact, my wife strongly does, though I must say even she thinks good vinyl sounds substantially better. She just isn’t convinced that the difference is worth the effort and inconvenience. I think that is a reasonable position - just not one that I share.
newmanoc - quite a reasonable reply. thanks! i tend to be more or less in the same camp as your wife.

but, iffin yer a psychiatrist, shouldn't you go by newmanDOC?

Peace and happy listening. By the way, your username has an abstract-cool kind of thing going on. Mine is unimaginatively composed of my last name and initials. Now that maybe is something to analyze. :)
As owner of EMM Labs gear, I will say that digital has come a long, long way, and that people who blindly declare it inferior to vinyl are SADLY misguided. To me, digital and analog are two radically different formats with radically different methods of sound reproduction--and they produce radically different results. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. As I said before, digital has come a really long way since the dark days, and now I have a hard time choosing between the best digital and the best analog. They each do different things well--and not so well. For me, in the EMM gear, I finally found a digital component that I didn't have to apologize for in front of my analogue buddies. In fact, it's converted a few of them back to digital. And if you knew these guys like I knew 'em, you'd know that was no mean feat!
In some respects digital will never be as good as analog and in some respects analog will never be as good as digital.
Unless the sample rate approaches infinty analog will always hold more information. For volume resolution
cd's 16bit allows for 65536 discreet steps (24bit about 2.5million) analog allows all the steps in between as well. So in information content digital is seriously flawed. But when it comes to noise levels and channel separation digital will always be better than a mechanical or electrical (ie analog) system.
So if you can hear (not everybody can, just look at all the people who cannot hear the difference between cd and mp3) and don't mind the noise go analog, if you can't or you like the convenience go digital.
I use both but wish digital would go to 24bit 96kHz or better yet 24bit 192kHz so I don't have to keep turning the treble down. Theres nothing worse than the treble that comes out of a (well any) cdp. But having heard a 192kHz system I know it doesn't have to be like this.
But since the general public seems to be happy with mp3's I don't hold much hope for the future and I keep buying cd's if I can't get it on vinyl after all its the music that counts, not the format it appears in. Much rather listen to good music on a bad system than bad music on a good system!
I would hazard a guess that about 50% of the audio world is about enjoying music and sharing the path to that enjoyment with others.

But, humans have an inherrent need to self-actualize. The dark side of this is the need to feel superior to others. Thus, humans have a tendancy to form cliques, clubs, and secret societies -- all for the purpose of feeling, "special."

Sadly, audio enthusiasm is often an outlet for this same sort of impulse.

Thus, the audiophile world can be somewhat like a secret society. Like all such societies, there are rituals, slogans, and beliefs one must profess in order to maintain membership.

Slogans like, "digital can never sound as good as vinyl" and "solid state can never sound as good as tubes" all the way to "my amplifiers sound better on maple platforms than on mahogany" and "silver sounds better than copper."

Part of it is just the old schoolyard taunt brought to a new medium, "my auditory prowess is bigger than yours" or "my ears are better than yours."

There is an audiophile who roams these forums who has a megabuck vinyl rig. He told me on the phone that his Emm Labs equipment sounds better than his vinyl rig and that if he were just getting into audio today, he would bypass vinyl altogether.

But, I see him on these forums and when the discussion turns to vinyl versus digital, he murmers the slogan, saying something like, "Emm Labs gets me about 60% of the way to vinyl and that's a revolution in digital, much better than anything before it."

Excellent way to split the apple and still belong.

It is sad. The guy can't admit in public that he likes his digital gear better. Why? My guess he doesn't want to risk his membership.

Another aspect is that in any hobby, there is a fine line between enjoying the hobby as a diversion and using the hobby as an obsessive/compulsive ritual.

Vinyl, with its attendant fears and rituals, and demands for dust fighting, record cleaning, tone-arm tweaking, and vinyl preserving is tailor made for the obsessive/compulsive.

What's my point? My point is that often this hobby is about enjoying music and sharing the path to that enjoyment with others, but just as often it about something else, having nothing to do with music.
Rsbeck - very well put. you articulated my sentiments better than i could. and a fun little anecdote, btw.