Vinyl as a High Resolution Format

<Please note below that words in bold are links to other webpages>

I continue to be perplexed when vinyl is proclaimed to be “high resolution” with the implication that digital, and especially “redbook” digital, is not. For example, the Audiophiliac recently posted this. Now I took a previous shot at this discussion here. And I intend to write a more technical post later sharing some interpolation experiments I have been doing.

For now let me offer a few brief points:

1) Most vinyl today is produced from a digital recording. Arguments that claim vinyl (analog) audio is inherently superior to digital are clearly nonsense for cases where the final product (say a vinyl lp) has a digital audio master tape as its source.

2) Digital audio technology is often not well understood and incorrect arguments are made about its inadequacies. For example, I have read assertions that “vinyl tracks the analog signal exactly, while digital is quantized into steps.” Both analog and digital systems have noise, and digital quantization, handled properly, is another form of noise that is likely to be much lower in level than noise from an analog source. A lot of good information is written up as vinyl myths.

3) I like vinyl, and I have heard vinyl systems that sound really good.  But it is clearly an imperfect medium – the vinyl suffers from wear and tear, it gets dirty, etc.  In terms of dynamic range, I’ve read that vinyl has about 80db, clearly a lot less than 16 bit digital. When making a vinyl master from say a 24 bit digital recording a lot of processing has to take place to limit the highs/lows/softs/louds of the audio signal so that during playback the turntable’s stylus will not jump out of the groove; there are limits on what grooves can be successfully tracked. There is a well known equalization process (which surely must introduce noise and distortion) to reduce the bass and high frequencies for vinyl (see stereophile), and the overall sound is compressed – soft passages are made louder, loud passages made softer (more information).

4) In this blog I have made frequent mention of my high regard for Spendor loudspeakers.  Another very fine speaker company with a BBC pedigree is Harbeth UK, and I would wager a fair number of Harbeth owners are also vinyl owners.  There is a very sophisticated and enlightening discussion thread in the Harbeth User Group forum.

5) It is hard to objectively compare say vinyl and digital because often the recordings are different, or mastered differently, and one can put together a system that better flatters one medium or another.  A digital system is going to be more neutral in frequency response, so a system (cartridge, preamps, etc.) that flatters vinyl by deviating from neutrality in a pleasing way may sound bad with a more neutral system (e.g., digital).  I have digital and vinyl versions of certain recordings and in some cases I like the vinyl version better – not because there is something wrong with digital technology, but because I don’t like what the mastering engineer did to change the recording for digital or I do like what was done for vinyl.

A final comment, for what it’s worth.  About a year ago, I went to a boutique high end dealer, very nice fellow, I wanted to hear a certain brand of loudspeakers.  This shop was clearly “pro vinyl” and the dealer, in a non-pushy way, was trying to sell customers on his customized turntables and related equipment, and made frequent comments about the “organic sound” and “warmth” of vinyl. I brought in and played several of my vinyl records, and they sounded great, it was clear that his turntable/cartridge/phono pre-amp were a cut above my home system (albeit a lot more expensive too!). The dealer also had a vacuum tube DAC, and my compact discs sounded worse through his system than through my home system. If I had measuring equipment we could probably explain what was going on, it seemed to me though that the dealer had put together a system that was optimized for vinyl.

 

iPad (mini) Networked without Wifi!

In the previous post, I described how to use the iPad (or iPad mini) as a networked audio player. A key ingredient was to have a good wifi connection for the iPad. It never occurred to me that you can have a hard-wired (ethernet cable) internet connection for the iPad, but guess what, you can! I came across this article a few hours ago: http://9to5mac.com/2014/01/10/video-connect-your-ipad-to-the-internet-via-ethernet-cable-with-this-easy-hack/.

Now, the 9to5mac article describes connecting your iPad directly (using a powered usb hub and appropriate cables) to a router. I found that I could connect the iPad to a powerline ethernet adaptor (instead of directly to the router).

It looks like this:

Slide4

Notice that there are 3 connections to the powered USB hub: the ethernet connection (via ethernet to USB adapter cable), the connection to the USB DAC (or in my case, DAC bridge), and the connection to the iPad (with USB cable plus USB to lightning adaptor).

Let’s review the components I used and connections:

*** Components ***
iPad (mini) with lightning port
apple lightning to USB adapter cable + USB cable
powered USB hub (I use D-link DUB-H4)
apple USB to ethernet adaptor cable + ethernet cable
Bel Canto mlink plus USB cable (to connect to powered hub) plus coax cable (to connect to DAC)
pair of powerline Ethernet adapters (one connected to router, one connected near iPad)

*** Connections ***
the powered hub is connected to an AC (power) outlet
the iPad connects to the powered hub via lightning to USB adapter plus USB cable
the powerline Ethernet near the router is plugged into an AC outlet, and then connected to the router with an ethernet cable
the powerline Ethernet near the iPad is plugged into an AC outlet, and then connected to the USB powered hub using an ethernet cable plus USB to ethernet adaptor
the Bel Canto mLink connects to the powered hub with a USB cable, and connects to a non-USB DAC with coax cable

The advantage of this approach over the wifi approach (previous post) is there is no need to have an Airport Express (or other wifi router) running bridge mode near the iPad. However, it can be an advantage to have Airport Express as it creates a local wifi that can be used by other devices as well as the iPad.