Welcome to the Sound Exchange reference guide about vinyl records. On these pages we will explore any and all topics that are relevant to the enjoyment of vinyl records and specifically to the main goal of understanding and enhancing your own Classic Vinyl Listening Experience.
Topics will include the history of vinyl records, record care, record collecting, the equipment necessary for a proper listening experience,as well as what it requires of the listener to fully enjoy the Classic Vinyl Listening Experience.
As I will define it, the Classic Vinyl Listening Experience began with the emergence of the 10” and 12”, 33 1/3 rpm, Long Play, Micro-Groove, Vinyl Record in 1948, and its smaller sibling, the 7” 45 rpm record, at about that same time.
I choose to start here because this is the technology that provided the two most important attributes of the listening experience that we seek: a sufficiently long playing time, and higher quality sound reproduction (High Fidelity).
The modern long play, micro-groove record brought to the market had a tremendous impact on artistic creativity.
Artists were now free to create music that could last 20 minutes or longer, rather than just fill out a three-minute single. And although classical music was never limited by time, virtually all “popular” music had to fit into four minutes or less to be commercially sale-able.
The vinyl record is my preferred media for active listening to recordings made in the 1950s and into the 1980s.
As discussed earlier, analog recordings played back on vinyl records add a certain amount of their own “noise” to the listening experience. Some of this noise is not desirable such as the tics and pops associated with a record that is no longer in mint condition. But it also adds a certain “warmth” and “life” that is missing from CDs.
To help explain my opinions in that regard I have several analogies and examples:
Listening to vinyl as opposed to a CD is like looking at the paint on your car before and after you wax it. Vinyl sounds like a fresh wax job looks. It didn’t change the basic color but it enriches it making it fuller and more vibrant and full of life.
Another way of describing the difference between the sound of vinyl and the sound of CDs is to describe it in terms of visible and non-visible light rays;
Ultraviolet light is not visible to the human eye, but if you place an ultraviolet filter in front of your eyes you can see the difference made by removing ultraviolet light. I think of CDs as possessing a filter that does not allow all of the “colors” of the audio spectrum to be heard. Perhaps that is good, or perhaps it is bad, but it is different, and I prefer the full spectrum of sound that vinyl provides.
Here is one last way of describing the fuller, richer sound that vinyl provides;
The CD specification stops abruptly at 20,000 cycles per second (20 KHz) whereas vinyl can reach all the way up to 45 KHz and beyond. Sounds above 20 KHz are simply not present on a CD which is OK in itself since it is above the hearing range that most humans can hear. But that does not mean that the sounds above 20 KHz do not affect the sounds that are within the audible range. These higher tones can reflect tones back into the audible range. This has the effect of enriching the sound that we can hear.
An imperfect analogy is to take a pure 440 Hz tone and compare it to its equivalent primary pitch on a piano which is referred to as A-440 (A below middle C). A pure tone of 440 Hz is dull and lifeless. The same fundamental tone on a piano causes many other “sympathetic” tones to be heard and for harmonics of the 440 Hz string to be amplified or augmented by other strings on the piano. So these inaudible pure tones above 20 KHz that are present on a vinyl record do have an effect on what you hear when playing back a vinyl record by affecting or generating tones that are audible.
One last augmentation should be mentioned and that is the sound that you hear when playing music back through a tube based preamp and amplifier when compared to transistor based amplifiers. Again, it adds “color” to the sound which you either like or not, but I do.
This brings us to the record player, or should I say “turntable.” There is a difference between the two.
“For the record,” a record player is generally thought of as a turntable with a built-in amplifier and speaker(s). Portable units are typically record players.
A turntable is simply just that: a turning table to place the record on, and a pickup device (cartridge and stylus) that fits into the record groove, reads the information on the record, and generates a very small electrical signal to the preamp. (See forthcoming discussion about preamps.) The signal then travels on to the power amp for further amplification, and ultimately sound reproduction via speakers or headphones.
For our purposes regarding the Classic Vinyl Listening Experience, let’s assume that we are referring to a turntable that is capable of providing high fidelity sound reproduction.
Turntables are considered non-portable devices in that the more expensive and elaborate units require a fair degree of assembly time for setting them up properly and securing them in their place. In a word, turntables are intended to be instruments, but their quality can range from toy-like objects to high precision devices. The resulting sound reproduction ranges from horrible (cheapo-cheapo units) to exquisite (high quality units).