Some weeks ago I bought a new Ayon CD1sc. I have spend months to figure out, which player I would call one of the best sounding CD-players I ever heard. In the end, the McIntosh MCD-301, Audio Research CD 5 and the Ayon were left. I heard them all again and the Ayon won. By sound and by price, which is easy since it is a European product and there is no import overhead for me.
Now I enjoy a really first class sound through my headphones. Even my Yamaha speakers present a much nicer stage and produce treble sparkle that I never thought they could deliver. Very nice.
But then, since a while, the vinyl LP seems to be back (where has it been all these years). I remember the 80s and the 90s, when I advocated vinyl as nicer sounding and I also like(d) the larger booklets - I have Bernsteins recording of Beethovens 9 Symphonies for example, with a gorguously large book. I also remember people laughing at me and telling me the CDs sounded so much better. Man, were they wrong. And now? All of a sudden vinyl advocates start to tell that vinyl sounds so much better than CD (and I even read a comment about these nice large booklets :o). Well, times have changed. In the 80s the DACs were pure crap and vinyl DID sound much better. But today, DACs have become really good and I am not sure, if vinyl can beat a good cd player any more. Time for a test.
I did not want to buy a new turntable (plus tone arm plus cartridge plus power unit plus phono amp - the audio industry knows how to turn a hype into money). So I took what I had. That is a Grundig Studio 2040 Quadro (Quadro was the surround of the 70s) with a Dual turntable. My brother bought it after he started to earn money (and I think he spent 6 months of earnings on this stereo, pardon: quadro). It's a cool compact machine, a turntable and receiver in one box, great 70s industrial design. Since my brother bought a new cartridge very soon and used the new one all the time, I found the original cartridge and the needle in very good condition.
Photo embedded with friendly permission of http://www.audiocave.eu
The player is in the house of my mother a 1000 km from where I live, so I couldn't make a direct comparison. It must be ok to check, if the turntable sounds good. I adjusted the tone arm and, since the Grundig is good German precision work, everything, including the lights still works fine, even after 40 years! - my brother bought this machine in 1974! I bought some new LPs - Wish you were here (Pink Floyd), Hot August Night (Neil Diamond - used as MFSL recording) and a 1955 Mono recording of Rigoletto, with Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi under Serafin at the Scala in Milano. Bernsteins Rapsody in Blue (Columbia Orchestra 1958) is still in my vinyl collection. I have all these recordings as CD too.
I made sure, the amp and the turntable had the weekend to warm up - I simply switched on the short wave radio and let it play round the clock - super cool what is still available from the ether btw. And finally I put on the records. I literally did not buy any records since 20+ years and I certainly did not use the turntable since 10 years.
First thing to notice: the new Pink Floyd LP (200 gramm pressing from 2011) had no surface noise at all. I never heard this before, total silence before the first sounds of Shine On started, as if the needle did not touch the surface.
Then the magic started ...
That's what you want to hear, right? It didn't. The sound was good. It sounded different than my CDs (I brought my iPod with Sennheiser ie7 to check). There seemed to be more details on the LP. But after a while I realized, that the mix differs from the CD mix. Most likely, the quieter sounds have been enhanced a bit for the vinyl pressing. They seem to be clearer and louder - so the dynamic has been compressed! Not much and it sounded good, probably better than on the CD, but the loudness had been changed compared to the CD.
The old recordings (Neil Diamond and Rigoletto) were closer to the CD sound. Also they sounded good, smooth, full of details, even the soundstage was nice (even though I had to improvise and put the Canton speakers on two tables instead of spiked speaker stands that I have a home). But, since the records were as vintage as the recordings, there was noise to hear. As soon as the needle touched the vinyl, it started. Gentle, but the music was always accompanied by gentle pops now and then.
Add the price of a vinyl washing machine to the list above.
One particular thing has to be added about the piano in Rapsodie in Blue. Listening to the turntable, I had the impression, the piano sounded more real. There was of course the mechanics of the piano that can also be heard on the CD. But I never heard some resonances and overtones on CD, that every real piano has. On my old vinyl recording they were there and that's why I must say, I never heard a piano so lifelike than from my old turntable.
Back at home, I warmed the tubes of my Ayon player and my amp and threw in the same recordings. I tried to find the life like sound of the piano, but I didn't. I am tempted to say that the recordings differ (both are 1958, Bernstein and the Columbia Orchestra, but maybe a different recording session?), but all the rest of Rapsodie in Blue sounded so alike to the LP that I cannot believe that explanation. Maybe its the different loudness. But on CD some of the piano characteristics were gone.
Neil Diamond was different. The Ayon displayed the stage in the Greek Theater in Los Angeles much more naturally. The feeling of space in the beginning, when the audience is still talking, is absolutely gorgeously presented.
Also Rigoletto, in Mono. Smooth and beautifully presented by the Ayon and my earmax headphone amp. I never understood the hype about mono recordings (Beatles, Bob Dylan) until I got the Ayon. They sounded good but a bit dull before on my old Yamaha player. Now they sound great, great, great! Pet Sounds (Beach Boys) - incredible in mono. I am sorry to say, that the vinyl recording did not come close to that.
Some parts of the music did not sound so good from the turntable. There was a certain underlying harshness, hidden but audible. I attribute that to the amp, even after a long warm up. The equipment is still 40 years old! But as a resume, I am astonished how good this old equipment sounded. It was fun to test and I am sure I will switch it on more often now. Maybe even buy more music on vinyl. I am also glad to hear how good the music has sounded that I listened to as a teenager.
But when it comes to a conclusion, my vintage turntable or my new Ayon CD player, the Ayon wins hands down. Even the magic, that is always attributed to vinyl, was not there. The Dual turntable sounded like music, even good music, but in general, apart from a few details, the sound did not have anything that is missing from CDs. On the other hand, I have a new mastering of a Bruckner Symphony that was recorded in 1978 (AAD, Guenther Wand conducts). A sound engineer who uses all tube equipment (except for the digitization stage of course) has remastered this recording a few years ago. That sounds magically good: very smooth, very detailed and warm, flowing. That is the sound I wanted to hear from the LP - but I didn't.
Now, the interesting question is: what if we compare the best CD player with the best vinyl setup? Will the result be the same as with tube and transistor amps? The best of both types sound gorguous - and alike?
Edited by mironathetin - 3/31/13 at 4:14am