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The formidable Lisitsa, faster with a soundbite than Obama at an oil slick, declares: "Digital did to music what Photoshop did to photography." She has a point, but you see where this is leading: to a perception that new technology is the enemy of musical truth.

The danger here is that the classical community, itself a tiny fragment of the global music market, will split into camps of mutual incomprehension. The hungriest consumers for classical music are now in East Asia, chiefly Korea and China, where most purchases are by download. While a growing minority of Westerners wistfully embrace the dead LP, Asian ears are being iTuned to an opacity of sound that music professionals consider meagre, offensive and unacceptable. 

At this point, the vinyl revival ceases to be a trivial matter. It amounts to a Tower of Babel moment when one half of the world can no longer understand the other and music cannot bridge the gap. It is all very well for aesthetes with high-end music systems to welcome the return of flat-pack LPs, but their satisfaction distracts from the chief priority. 

The winner of the 2012 orchestral Grammy was a download-only Los Angeles concert of Brahms's Fourth. It sounded terrible. Unless Apple and its rivals can be pressured to produce a credible sonic image of rich orchestral sound, our ears will be progressively impoverished and the next generation will be raised in ignorance of what real music might be. At that point, even a rational column like this might revert to 33 revolutions per minute.

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Tom Gillett
May 2nd, 2012
1:05 PM
Old Believers? Burn them at the stake! Vaporize them, vituperatively, in viscous vats of vintage vinyl. Heh-heh. Je ris mon mauvais rire. Only kidding. Kudos, Norman.

Anonymous
May 1st, 2012
6:05 PM
For some reason what I really want to say doesn't end up on this site. Probably too strong. So I'll try this: the Jarvi Beethoven symphony box to which I think you erroneously referred as a "vinyl only" project (it originated on SACD) came about at the behest of members of the Bremen Chamber Orchestra's string section. They prefer vinyl. I know many well known musicians (and conductors) as well as award winning recording engineers who surely know what their masters sound like, who prefer vinyl to CD and think LPs properly produced are more accurate to the source. So really, what you've written is a bitter, condescending load of nonsense.

Michael Fremer
May 1st, 2012
6:05 PM
What a lame, condescending story—but amusing for its arrogance. I'll tell you what's "new": fast food. Burgers and fries. Fantastic! I'll tell you what's old: gourmet dining. So are people stupid enough to think that old gourmet dining beats burgers and fries? Some "nostalgia freaks" probably. Folks who think "new equals better" are as ridiculous as people who think "old equals better." Seriously though, you have made factual errors here. The Jarvi Beethoven symphony box to which I think you were referring, is not "vinyl only." It was issued first on SACD and then AT THE BEHEST OF MEMBERS OF THE STRING SECTION, an analog mix was prepared for the LP set. So look, if you are so incredibly ARROGANT as to suggest that the members of the orchestra are "flat earthers" who don't know what their music is supposed to sound like, well then knock yourself out! But you're making a pompous ass of yourself. I've met a number of well known, highly accomplished classical musicians (and a few big name conductors) who are "vinyl people." They LIKE the sound. They prefer it. They think if done correctly it sounds more like live music. They are not so foolish as to think any recording sounds like live music, but they're convinced vinyl properly produced and reproduced comes closer to "live". And that also goes for many well known recording engineers who are vinyl fanatics and just are repelled by the sound of CDs as am I—and they surely know what their masters sound like. I heard my first CD at an AES in Los Angeles, prepared, based on what I'd read, to LOVE IT. But it sounded horrible. Flat, glazed, harmonically starved, edgy, bright and a-musical. It's gotten better (despite claims of perfection for it then and now), but high resolution digital sounds much better (and the same "perfection" toadies now claim high resolution is a "scam". What a joke. However, I also know many others who do prefer CDs because of their pitch perfection. Fine. At Avery Fisher Hall two years ago I was introduced by a friend to Max Wilcox, Arthur Rubinstein's old producer at RCA. Rather than simply introducing me by name, my friend said "Max, I want you to meet a vinyl guy." Well!!!!!!! You'd think he'd introduced me as Pol Pot. Wilcox went on an anti-vinyl tirade aimed at me personally that by comparison makes your offensive scolding sound meek and mild-mannered. I just stood there and listened bemused and when Max had finished I told him what I'm about to tell you: I find it curious that most vinyl fans I know really don't care that you and others like you love your CDs and the sound that we think is sterile, flat, dimensionless and a-musical. That's what makes the world go 'round. Whatever you like! Knock yourself out. "Live and let live." But you guys get angry, go on tirades and angry scolds, publish condescending, arrogant insulting posts like the one above, or react as Wilcox did, rather than saying "whatever you like," or "whatever sounds good to you," or "whatever lets you enjoy recorded music," etc. For some reason you get REALLY UPSET that not everyone loves CD as much as you do, while LP folks really couldn't care less about your choice. And this tells me something: it tells me you're not really enjoying yourself listening to those polycarbonate biscuits as much as you claim you are, because if you really were, you wouldn't write the kind of bile filled excrement you've produced above.

Sam Tellig
May 1st, 2012
3:05 PM
Great article, Norman. The LP is a deeply flawed medium. The records turn too slowly at 33 1/3 rpm for one thing (45rpm vinyl sounds far better). Then there is inner groove distortion, record wear, and the fuss of turning over the damned record. Clicks, pops, surface noise, warps, thumps. For jazz, I don't mind and keep my old vinyl. As for downloads, you can choose between crappy low-rez MP3 and "high resolution" downloads restricted by digital rights management. (You don't physically own anything!) Ugh. The schism between the Old Believers and fans of CD has already occurred. I do love Internet radio, though, because it's fast, fun and free. Perfect Sound Forever! That's the slogan Sony used in 1984 to introduce the CD in North America.

Stanley Slome
May 1st, 2012
7:05 AM
For those of us with large record collections of several formats with not enough time in our lifetimes to hear them, the East-West split of the classical community is a moot point.If you talk to teens and those in their early 20s, you will find that quality sound in music is really unimportant. They accept what they hear on the Internet downloads as the norm for what we regard as discordant, incomprehensible,melody-lacking sounds. They listen with low fidelity earphones to highly compressed music. Few of them listen to classical music or even much of jazz for that matter.Many of them turn to vinyl only because they see party disc jockeys doing tricks with pickups being scratched across the records. I doubt whether any of these youngsters even know why some rock performers say CDs "lack warmth." Back in 1989 I interviewed Tom Null of Varese Sarabande Records. His label had produced state-of-the-art vinyl. Now he was a full advocate of CD recording. He discussed what could be done to improve the playback of "problematic" CDs. Warmth. Using about a 2 dB boost at 120 Hz would take care of that problem. Lack of ambience? Try a boost of about 2 dB at around 3 KHz.Shrillness? Try dips of 2-4dB at 1KHz-3 KHz. BTW you can have too great a dynamic range on CDs. Example: the Judd-conducted Mahler 1. Set the volume of first movement so that it is audible and you'll be blasted out of your seat in the Mahler crescendos.Same thing with the Shostakovich 11 first movement. In the 80s transition period from digital LPs and CDs EMI was asked about whether the dynamic range was the same in both formats. EMI's answer was that it maintained a 65 dB range in both. I wonder how many record companies avoid using the full dynamic range of classical CDs.

fred flinstone
April 29th, 2012
6:04 PM
Have you listened to a high end stereo system playing vinyl records or do you just pontificate? Until you do you will never understand how glorious it sounds. As for downloads you need to do a bit of research. Many sites are offering downloads at CD rates and much higher and the numbers continue to grow.

Aeryn Sun
April 29th, 2012
4:04 PM
your article was a good starting point, but left out a number of issues vis-a-vis vinyl vs. cd and downloads. First, not everything that is on vinyl has been issued on cd or as a download, in fact, many albums from the '80s never made it to cd, and some that have, particularly jazz fusion, are OOP and command very high prices. Second, vinyl both second-hand and new, can, and often is, MUCH cheaper than the cd, of course, the download is even more expensive than either format and, as noted in the article, much inferior to either format. Third, in many instances, the conversion of the music files to digital was poorly done, using inferior sources, that I can say that is abundantly clear with regards to all of the newly "remaster" reissues of music on cd where it is stated as coming directly from the master tapes (it should also be noted that the same bugaboo is also true for vinyl, both old and new reissues). While a lot of vinyl was scooped up by old fogies, like myself, it is very clear that the vinyl purchases are now driven by much younger persons, by my estimate, 10-to-1. What is it they see in vinyl? Having a tactile object that can also be a work of art may be one answer. I listen to cds, vinyl, and quite a bit of mp3's which can't be beat for on the go, or at work, listening. In fact, a good bit, if not most of my listening is mp3's in the car, and on the computer at work. One of my experiments is to determine which is better, cd's or vinyl, and while on my admittedly pretty nice hi-if, I cannot really hear much of a difference, I do find that after a couple of cd's, I get bored and listen to a podcast or something. With vinyl, I can listen all day with no fatigue or boredom, why is that? Cheers!

Mike MacAdam
April 29th, 2012
11:04 AM
You mentioned you couldn't tell the difference between the analogue and digital versions of Nigel Kennedy. What digital format did you hear? It would be interesting to compare the MP3 version with the analogue version.

Anonymous
April 29th, 2012
4:04 AM
Analog is much better and it has very little to do with the 1948 Olympics (apart from some European technology). It has everything to do with the insensitive clods who control the dominant industry(s). Most CD's sk ip llllll ikeikeike and s ou ou ou shi. My records will probably outlast humans if they don't burn them all.

ChrisZ
April 28th, 2012
3:04 PM
Anziano: "Music that's meant to sound cold" - really? Then surely that's not music worth preserving in any media! To me, the real reason that so many people still prefer LP (and even 78rpm) recordings of classical music is not necessarily the medium itself, but the superior artistry of those who recorded many decades ago. Karajan certainly formed the twilight end of that era, his hyper-subtility needs perfectly clean sound to come through. But I still go back to Pathé's sonically utterly primitive 1912 recording for Gounod's "Roméo", and the much better but also far-from-modern 1955 Decca LP for Delibes' "Lakmé", simply because there is no other recording that does not suffer from a completely perverse and unsuitable style of singing by the protagonists! No digital or analogue wizardry can make me accept the vulgar wailing, barking and shrieking that passes for classical singing since the 1960s at least. While the standard of orchestral playing rose to uncommon heights, vocalism had already begun to decline one or two generations earlier, from the moment at which popular music was no longer sung by properly educated singers but crooned and yammered into microphones instead, alienating a large part of the listening public - probably irrevocably - from the concept of beautiful, unforced tone the classical masters had in mind when writing their operas and lieder. Loud, sensationally gifted singers like Caruso, Ponselle, Melchior and Martinelli kept "heroic" singing in the public focus for a while though rarely conveying any of the poetry the music was supposed to have (which you still can hear though the din of gramophonic noise when listening to people like Fernando De Lucia, Reynaldo Hahn, or Victor Maurel). Nowadays, anybody able to make loud noises not too far off-pitch is hailed as a "star". Going back to old recording methods will however not magically turn a Netrebko, Dessay, or Nigel Kennedy into Patti and Joseph Joachim!

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