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Digital Tools for Vinyl Addicts

Alon Sagee | Published on 3/29/2014

Warning: Highly Opinionated Rant Ahead

Audiophile Streaming Music. An oxymoron if I ever heard one… at least for now. One day, the internet pipes to our homes will be fat enough to provide something more than low rez background music. That said, is there a good reason to subscribe to one of these $10 a month music streaming services? Yes. Because if you’re a avid record shopper, it can save you money. Really. A lot.

I am a bit of a fixture at my local record store. I like to wander randomly from genre to genre, just following my feet and browsing through bins and piles of albums. I can’t count the number of LPs I’ve purchased over the decades when I “took a shot” on an artist I’ve never heard of, or one I’ve heard of, but never heard… only to break the seal at home and hear marginally satisfying, poorly recorded and severely compressed crap coming out of my speakers. Same holds true for my online purchases of new vinyl, an experience that admittedly is getting better overall.

The analog renaissance has been amazing and yet, also frustrating with all the hype about the mostly unnecessary re-mastering (often ruining) of a great LP by introducing a clandestine digital element into the re-issue chain. It is so obvious to my ears that something sounds not quite right, somewhat hollow, thin, utterly lifeless compared to the original. There are, as always, exceptions, and yes, there are a few really great re-mastering engineers, as well as really careful pressing plants as well as new studios that are getting their old tube analog recording suites operational again. The demand is high for good quality vinyl, and this is just the beginning! So what digital tools could possibly help?

Enter, Spotify (or Pandora, or iTunes, etc.). On my smartphone or iPad, I search Spotify for the exact album I’m holding in my hands, or, worst case, the same artist doing the same song on a different album… and, voilà, I put in my earbuds and I can hear a 320K stream of what I would otherwise purchase blindly. Many times now, for different reasons, I’ve put the album back because even in low-res, I can hear the general quality of the performance, recording, and any re-issue re-ruining used (don’t get me started about the last Beatles effort).

For years it’s been a lot of trial and error in finding those musical gems that can really reach us with their emotional impact. It’s been worth it, but now it’s easier.

On some shopping occasions, those times when I hit the musical jackpot (which is apparent usually in the first minute or two), discovering something new (to me) and well recorded, I get a feeling of anticipation – getting the LP home, running it through a ridiculously expensive and equally amazing ultrasonic record cleaner and sitting down for a listen.

Sometimes, when I’m really taken by the music I’ve found, I punch that artist or conductor or soloist’s name into a very visual (and free) app called Discovr Music (spelled just like that) and in a heartbeat I can see that recording artist’s influences, teachers, or collaborators, opening up a whole new world of fresh music for me. Its algorithms are based on the music genome project and it is fascinating and fun and has already saved me time, money and effort in this exciting time in analog audio’s history.

Any thoughts, challenges, ideas or questions you have – or, if you want to share your own tools, please make a comment to this post.