Originally Posted by bigshot
I'm a record collector. I'm also a recording supervisor and know a lot about how digital audio works.
I have a certain little habit I picked up along the way... I listen to people who know more about a subject than I do, and I ask questions. Then I go away and test to see if I can verify what they tell me.
I have a very good Thorens turntable and a moving coil Ortofon cartridge. I also have a pristine copy of Sheffield Labs' direct to disk LP "Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues Vol 2". If you know about audiophile records, I'm sure you've heard about it. It's often called the best sounding LP ever made.
I was interested in digitizing my records, but I wanted to make sure the equipment I bought would be transparent. No loss in audio quality. I asked friends and decided on an outboard digitizing box that they recommended. The first thing I did when I got it set up was to digitize a side of the Lincoln Mayorga record. I listened to it and it sounded good, but good wasn't good enough. I wanted perfect. So I hooked up a preamp, put the original LP into one input and the output from my Mac into the aux input, balanced the volume levels and did direct A/B comparisons.
I listened carefully using my best headphones and my speaker rig. I tried my hardest to discern a difference. I couldn't. They both sounded fantastic. They both sounded identical. If my digital copy of the LP can contain all of the sound contained on the best LP ever made, it can contain all of the sound on any LP. Simple logic.
I haven't just done this with LPs. I've compared redbook to SACD and to high bitrate audio coming out of a professional pro tools work station. I've compared iPods to standalone CD players. Every piece of equipment I buy gets a line level matched listening test before I start using it.
There is a point in audio where it becomes transparent. Human hearing has finite thresholds. Maybe bats can hear more, but why do we care about that for our home stereo? LPs sound pretty darn good if the mastering and pressing is good. CDs can sound a bit better than that. But beyond that, it is transparent.
KNOWING from doing the legwork removes all of the doubt about things like, "maybe I'm losing some quality" or "perhaps I need a little more just in case". It frees me to focus on the things that REALLY matter because I'm not wasting my time on things that don't matter any more.
I'll share with you what I've learned...
All high fidelity formats can sound good. Whether they do or not depends primarily on the engineering of the music, not the format itself. If an LP sounds better, it's because the mastering engineer was more careful, not because of some magical property involved with grooves in plastic. In fact, the mechanical aspect of LP records is its main Achilles Heel. The quality of manufacture of the record itself makes a huge difference. Poor quality vinyl, badly engineered cutting, record wear can all take a toll. And the capabilities of vinyl are limited because of its mechanical nature... narrower frequency response, narrower dynamic range, higher distortion. But that doesn't mean it's bad. It just means CDs are a little bit better.
LPs can sound good or bad. CDs can sound good or bad. SACDs can sound good or bad. But if the engineering is identical, digital audio will always sound the best. And adding more numbers to redbook is pointless because it enters the realm where human ears can't hear the difference any more.
But don't take my word for it. DO WHAT I DID. Carefully test for yourself under controlled conditions. I would recommend that everyone do TESTING to determine for themselves where true audio quality lies. Don't take anyone's word. Learn to control the variables in your test and learn for yourself. That's how you become more experienced in the hobby.