Since vinyl records were replaced by CDs and other digital formats, there has been a debate about which is better, vinyl album or digital.
Most people in the pro music space these days have agreed that digital is not only better, but it’s easier and more efficient to use than its analog format ancestors.
However die hard audiophiles stand by the assertion that analog is “warmer” and conveys more of the music than its digital counterpart.
Having experienced recording with both formats, two inch analog tape and digital audio ProTools, I was mostly on the side of science and reason in thinking that digital is cheapest, best and easiest to work with for the engineers.
But an experience caused me to question all that.
The album was Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It was 2001 and my East Nashville cottage was filled with the sights and smells of new baby – twins in fact.
The urge to nest had hit me strongly and the home was abuzz with fresh air breezing through the open windows, fruit salad and delicate music.
One day, the kids were sleeping soundly in their cribs, a half dozen portobello mushrooms were marinating in the fridge, and I carried a basket of fresh laundry into the living room to fold on the couch.
The moment I stepped into the room tendrilled strands of “Chelsea Morning” mingled with the honey mellow sunlight streaming through my blinds and caused me to float across the floor and sprawl like a purring cat on the couch, reeling with the sensation.
The song became the moment and my involuntary response transcended all reason, all thinking and comprehension of the story or music as something I could play, rewind, skip or control.
It was in the nature of how a sudden whiff of grandma’s perfume can bypass your resolve and rip tears from your eyes quicker than you can exhale the scent.
Joni was in my living room, perfectly attuned to that natural state.
Blissful is all I can say to approach a proper description of the feeling.
Two or three days later, I happened into the living room and heard with my ears the exact same song pumping out of my 5 CD disc changer.
Nice, I thought, enjoying the words and the song.
The difference in my reaction was palpable.
Once again I found myself planted on the futon, but not blissfully transported this time.
I felt astonished, enlightened, and a little bit robbed, to tell the truth.
Where was the body buzz I had felt only days earlier? Was it due to my emotional state at the time? Certainly I had been happy, but not more so than on this day.
What, then, was the difference?
Where was the matching me breath for breath as the “sun poured in like lemon drops and stuck to all my senses?” as Joni puts it.
The answer, I bleakly and for the first time recognized, was that it simply wasn’t there with the digital format.
Whatever sounds slipped through the cracks between the zeros and ones of the digital format shift was enough to cause Joni to disappear from my living room and be forced into a four by two box.
It was inhumane. I knew it and from that moment forward I have perpetuated the problem every time I don’t use analog recording processes to make my original music.
Hideous the difference when you get down to sampling required to get to mp3 or streaming formats.
The math says that if you took the same sample ratio to the lyric as for an mp3, you would only read one out of every 10 words on the page. 10 words for an mp3 and a shocking one out of every thirty words for streaming formats.
Can you imagine trying to make sense of this article if you only read one out of every 30 words? It would be nothing! That devastates the whole meaning!
What harm does this do to your ability to benefit from and to really enjoy music?
We owe it to ourselves to invest in high end analog audio, not for every bit of music we enjoy, but for the really great stuff and certainly for those artists who take the extra effort – past, present and future, to make analog music recordings the old fashioned way.
Here are few of my classic favorite vinyl albums of all time:
Blue Joni Mitchell – all the songs
Thriller Michael Jackson – all the songs
Elvis’ Children’s Album – “Teddy Bear”
Legacy Box Set Garth Brooks
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