Why I Sold A Significant Classic Rock Vinyl Collection In 2008 and Never Looked Back
There are Baby Boomer writers over at Stereophile and TAS pulling out their Jerry Del Colliano voodoo dolls as I type in preparation for this article being published. You see, the audiophile community doesn’t like change. In fact, they despise it with every fiber of their beings. In the eyes of the elders who still control the hobby to this day, poorly performing “vintage” tube amps are somehow better than the most state of the art Class-D amps. Digital room correction (or even equalization, despite EQ being used on every track of every recording audiophiles listen to, as well as on the “house speakers,” in the mastering lab, and beyond) is looked upon as evil, because it uses actual science to measure the physical acoustics of a room, and provides digital solutions that can provide wholesale upgrades. These fly in the face of the “preamp of the week club” or blindly changing out expensive, inaccurate, EQed cables in search of one’s own personal audio utopia. But no one retro move in the audiophile hobby has been more hurtful to the business and broken in logic than the so-called comeback of vinyl.
Let’s get the record straight up front. Vinyl was a wonderful audio delivery system for decades upon decades. Rock and roll wouldn’t have rocked without vinyl, plain and simple. Jazz wouldn’t have been groovy without vinyl. Vinyl has its place in history, but retro-focused audiophiles refuse to leave vinyl where it belongs: as a part of history. Many of us fondly remember buying physical media at the record store with the best of memories (for me, it was compact discs, mainly because of my Gen X demographic, as the CD came out when I was nine years old). To be clear, there are many advantages to vinyl. Vinyl is wonderfully tactile. Vinyl is large, with gorgeous art, inserts, liner notes and other goodies that digital media doesn’t really have. In the modern, often overly-digital world, vinyl provides a slow, analog pleasure that goes quite well with some Coltrane and a few fingers of nicely aged Macallan. The music is presented in a way on vinyl the way that the artists, producers and engineers intended, too. Electric Ladyland or The Wall sound pretty stupid on “random” from your music server, as they are concept albums that are designed to, thankfully, be played from the start to the finish. I guess you can skip around on a record by moving the stylus, just as you can listen to Dark Side of The Moon on, say, Tidal from start to finish as a high-resolution digital experience. But that’s where I am going to stop defending vinyl.
What audiophiles don’t understand about vinyl is that it is a truly flawed
format, if you are looking past the historical significance and hipster kitsch.
Just as there are Trumpies who think Democrats eat babies (QAnon), or refuse to
accept the fact that anthropological climate change is factual, there are many audiophiles who
truly believe that vinyl is the state of the art of audio. And they are the
people, like the aforementioned folks in politics, who are literally destroying
the audiophile hobby. Here are the facts (and never let them get in the way of
this hobby): vinyl has very limited dynamic range by today’s standards. My
friend and former writer at my old audiophile site, Garry, has been recording
and mastering engineer for 45 years. He has made countless high-performance
records mastered for vinyl. He was also a top executive on the SACD project for
Sony, as well as a former president of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), so
he has some strong audio street cred. He points out two key facts that many
audiophiles refuse to accept: 1) vinyl has a limit of about 65 dB dynamic range
total, when most recordings have much more headroom than that, and 2) the
“warmth” that you hear is in fact second-degree harmonic distortion from the
stylus actually vibrating in the physical groove of the vinyl record. I would
add to his argument that the physical nature of a vinyl record makes it such
that even uber-careful audiophiles begin wearing out their collections on spin
one of a virginal piece of vinyl. I might additionally question why one would
invest thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in ultra-quiet,
super-performing components, when they are being fed with a distorted source.
In this era, for $20 per month (about the cost of one compact disc), an
audiophile can have CD to HD quality access to damn near every recording ever
made, without the distortion, with nearly double the dynamic range, with
all of the cover art, all of the meta data, and control using anything ranging
from a smart phone to a tablet to the touch on the front of a simple audiophile
media server component.
My foray into vinyl back in the day was long after the format’s commercial death in the late 2000s. For the cover art, I bought a first pressing of the U.K. edition of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland from a local collector, who would become my music editor for the now defunct AVRev.com. He is the music editor at the local Santa Monica newspaper today. I had the vintage yet banned album cover photographed by a local artist, who also had a very high-resolution, large-format printer, who enlarged the very controversial image to close to double its size, and then had it framed. The legend of the U.K. album cover, as I have heard it told, is that Jimi went over to England before his third double album was to come out, and they arranged for a photoshoot at the record label. Jimi (always the ladies’ man) or others in his entourage convinced the women in the office to be part of the project. That is part of the project without clothes, thus the controversy back in the increasingly liberated late 1960s. Today, Jimi Hendrix would have been arrested, tried and jailed in the Gloria Allred court of #MeToo, but those were different times. I paid $600 for the album, but never played it. It became more of an art project.
The curator of the collection and I became friends over the years. At one point, as I was moving into a newly renovated and enlarged home at the top of the Mandeville Canyon section of the Brentwood neighborhood (Yes, O.J.’s former Rockingham house was at the bottom of the hill, one block to the east on Sunset Boulevard). I was doing a full, state-of-the-art audiophile-grade screening room, complete with modern Wilson Audio speakers, Mark Levinson monoblock amps, a fancy REQUEST (please tell me you don’t remember these) music server, a brand-new technology called Blu-ray, a Faroudja-Meridian D-ILA video projector and video processor, and more. I contracted with acoustician Bob Hodas for acoustical design, fabric wall work, RPG room treatment installation, and bespoke room tuning of the main speakers, the surround speakers, the giant Revel subwoofer, and more. It was a cool room, and bleeding edge for the day, complete with a PS3, Xbox gaming console, and about the lamest, most clunky Crestron two-hands-needed remote in the history of the world.
My friend Charles came to me with a proposition around the time that I was finishing that system. He, his lovely wife, and his brilliant young daughter all lived in about 900 square feet of space, about 15 minutes from my old house. His wife was encouraging him to see if there was a way to make some more room in their pretty tight confines by getting rid of some or all of his physical media. At the time, he was ripping full-resolution AIFF copies of his compact discs, and using them as collateral to trade them in for others that he wanted to add to his collection. Back then, amazingly, record stores would do such transactions. He was making some progress, but some discs went out, while others would almost always return.
One memorable day
in this era, Charles came to me with an offer that I couldn’t refuse… He
offered me, at a very fair price, the chance to buy his personally curated
collection of first-pressing, classic rock vinyl records. There were about
1,200 of them total, and they included everything from The Beatles, Led
Zeppelin, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, to The Rolling Stones, and in the
neighborhood of 50-plus Jimi Hendrix records, including many rarities, bootlegs
and other goodies. I didn’t have to think twice, as I was pretty flush at the
time, with AVRev.com having a record year in 2007. Things were pretty good in
my world then.
Over a matter of a few days, I took delivery of said collection at my former Beverly Hills office. Charles drove them over in his Prius, and presented box after box of vinyl that needed to somehow make it back to my home in Brentwood. I quickly learned about the physical clunkiness of vinyl. I loaded box after box of classic vinyl into my Porsche 911 Turbo, and started amassing it at home. Wow, it was a lot, even for my then-2,500-square-foot home. By the time I got it all home, the collection was overwhelming. Where was I going to put all of this vinyl, as I had over 600 DVD discs, 1,200 compact discs, hundreds of HD discs (SACD, DVD-Audio, DTS and more), as well as a growing number of Blu-rays, HD-DVDs and even some video game titles? Hell, at this point I likely even had a D-VHS player and some movies on that ill-fated format. Where was the vinyl going to physically go?
I’ve been lucky enough to own pretty close to all of the components that I have dreamed of owning in the audiophile world. One exception is a Linn LP-12 turntable. If you consider my age and the rise of the compact disc over that time period, it makes total sense, but with this new, tasty stash of vinyl, I started the process of looking into getting one. Linn was a client (they haven’t been viable as an advertiser since then, sadly) back then, and my rep, Brian, was super cool. Getting a smoking price on a $4,000 turntable wasn’t the issue. Fitting it into my double, eight-foot-tall, pull-out, Middle Atlantic equipment racks was the problem. I thought my Mark Levinson No. 436 mono block amps took up a lot of rack space. Being able to operate a Linn turntable in the confines of a professionally installed equipment rack was close to impossible, and by no means did I want to revert to the old days of a messy audiophile system, with gear strewn everywhere. This was to be a neat, perfectly-tuned example of the best in audio, video, lighting, acoustics, system integration and more. Vinyl was losing a battle that I didn’t didn’t know was going to need to be fought.
I brought the matter up with Brian at Linn to get a second opinion and, as a huge music enthusiast and audio lover, he couldn’t believe the stash that I had secured. It was like stumbling upon a bunch of Warhols that somebody has been sitting on since the 1960s. Shockingly, he admitted to me that he was leaving his marketing position at Linn to open a boutique audiophile retailer called House of Linn that would highlight the whole Linn lifestyle, which of course included vinyl. It always sucked out loud to lose a cool client and advertising advocate as the Linn revenue stream died on that day forever, but after struggling with what to do with this outdated, low-resolution, high-distortion, bulky collection of some of the best, most collectable music in the world, I had an epiphany. I wasn’t meant to own this collection of vinyl – I was just a landing place for it. Brian should have them for The House of Linn. I reached out to Brian to see if he was interested, and he jumped at the chance to buy the entire lot. We arranged for not inconsequential shipping from California to the U.K. of the fragile yet heavy cargo. It arrived weeks later. Brian was a very happy man, as was I, as vinyl just didn’t work with the kooky statement that I was trying to make with my AV system.
The Revealing Science of God?
Today, we live in a world where $15 per month access to high-resolution, often remastered, and seemingly unlimited music is reality, yet the audiophile communities elders are still stuck in the past. Too often, they force the hobby to be a non-scientific search for their own one-person audio God. And that isn’t what the hobby should be about. Science should be embraced to get better audio performance at increasingly better values in form factors that are increasingly relevant to our changing lives. The elders will talk about the rise in sales of vinyl, and how vinyl outsold the compact disc for the first time since the 1980s, but who cares? A Sonos for $400 can do more and better. A streaming media service like Tidal, Amazon Music or Qobuz can blow your mind, expand your musical experiences at close to no money. They are disruptive technologies that are hard to swallow for the elders, but they are here and better than vinyl. It is time to move on, as I did with my collection. None of us will regret it. I know that I haven’t.
Are you still spinning records or have you embraced the high-res digital age? Please share your comments in the related forum thread below.
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Recent Forum Posts:
XDM, post: 1460635, member: 90803
“Just as there are Trumpies who think Democrats eat babies (QAnon), or refuse to accept the fact that anthropological climate change is factual, there are many audiophiles who truly believe that vinyl is the state of the art of audio.”
Are there any Americans that don't try to bring Orange Man Bad into everything?
While I really love your analogy, I disagree with your conclusion. I can't say vinyl is the state of the art in sound, but I can say that vinyl is special and it may be too expensive to hear vinyl's true capabilities. To me, vinyl is very easy on the ears especially in the mid and high frequencies. Its just different sounding from digital but you will need a good phono preamp, and a good turntable and cartridge. I'd call it a luxury. But, if you have hundreds of stored LPs, one would need to get back into analog (vinyl) as it is a different sound from digital and ear candy as well.
Are there any Americans that don't try to bring Orange Man Bad into everything?
panteragstk, post: 1459365, member: 61217
Nope. Anyone that “buys” streaming music is an idiot. There are a lot of instances where people “lost” access to things they “purchased” because of a licence deal expiring.
I'm more talking about always having stuff available. I still buy for the artists I like, and if I hear something I like on streaming, I'm going to want a hi-rez copy of it.
Cool that you clarified as I agree with you.