Analog Corner #2 The Analog Experience

There are times when I'm listening to LPs—like The Modern Jazz Quartet's Blues at Carnegie Hall (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-206), which is on my reference turntable as I write this—that I find myself saying to no one in particular, "No CD can do that!" I put on the CD version to make sure, and I'm correct. The space the MJQ occupies, the air, the absolute liquidity and lucidity of Milt Jackson's vibes on the LP, cannot be duplicated on CD—I don't care what transport/processor or player you use.

We've reached the point where the opposite also holds true: MCA's new gold-CD Steely Dan compilation gave me a much different but equally valid take on "Bodhisattva." But the LP begins to convince me I'm listening to real music—every time.

I played Reference Recordings' Ebony Concerto (RR-55) on LP and HDCD$r-decoded CD for a clarinet-playing cousin of mine who's been teaching the instrument for more than 20 years. She's also a major CD enthusiast who hasn't played a record since the early days of digital. It was no contest to her ears (and to her surprise): the record's rendering of the clarinet was much closer to the sound of the real thing.

I don't care if it's due to head bumps, harmonic distortion, low-frequency resonances, rolloff, L–R additives, sunspots, or herpes—the clarinet sounded more like a clarinet on the LP. Mel Tormé sounds more like Mel Tormé on vinyl. So do Coltrane, Jerry Garcia, and Mickey Katz. Ditto Muddy Waters and Roy Orbison. Okay, so I never saw Mickey Katz or Muddy live. My loss. But I saw the others—including Orbison unmiked from about 20!0. "Live" sounds more "live" on vinyl, and it's not because I "like" distortion, or because of any of the other insulting reasons digital snobs pass under my nose.—Michael Fremer