Monday, October 15, 2012

Bay Bloor Radio Turntable Day

A couple of weeks ago, I made a road trip down to Bay Bloor Radio in Toronto to check out a special Turntable Day they were having.  This is something that BBR does annually, but the first time I was interested in going,

A gentleman named Kurt from Essential Audio (a wholesale distributor primarly of Pro-Ject turntables and related equipment) was giving the presentation.  There was a small listening room set up with a beautiful Pro-Ject debut carbon turntable, an amplifier (NAD I think) as well as a CD player.

The first demonstration was to show the difference between an LP and a CD.  The choice was Steely Dan's LP "Gaucho", track "Hey, Nineteen".  The CD was a commercial (i.e. not ripped or downloaded but store-purchased) copy of same.  Kurt set up both in sync and we heard the LP first, followed by the CD.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE!!  Honestly, if Kurt had played the CD copy first, I would have been impressed by the sound, no noise, etc.  But when he compared to the LP, the difference was (ahem....excuse the pun)  AUDIBLE.  There was a dynamic range to the LP, it felt more ALIVE, more WARM.  It was unbelievable.

To further make his point, Kurt then played a 1973 reissue LP of Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits and it also sounded great.  Almost no surface noise.  Helps I guess when the LP is cleaned thoroughly then played on a good quality turntable using a felt mat to further reduce static pops and clicks.

So why such a dramatic difference?  Well, my friends, it all has to do with HARMONICS.  for instance, you strike a note on a guitar string and the string vibrates at 12000 hz.  Without delving into the physics, there will be a first (or fundamental) harmonic OVERTONE at 24000 hz, another one at 36000 hz and so on.  The VOLUME of the harmonics are very much less than the original tone. Suffice it to say that a 12000 hz tone does in fact have these harmonics associated with it.

So what?  Well.....back when Sony and Phillips were putting together the RED BOOK standard for Cds, they had many things to consider.  How big should the CD be?  How much information can we fit on there?  How long will a typical CD play?  etc.

They decided that since most folks cannot hear anything outside the 20 - 20000 hz range, we would ignore them and hence the problem.  You are preparing a CD and you've got a 12000 hz tone in there.  What happens to the first (and subsequent) harmonics?  yup...gone.  24000 hz first harmonic is essentially ignored, and guess what happens to that 12000 hz tone that DOES make it onto the CD?   It sounds a little dull, a little flat, a little "less warm".

And in a nutshell, that is why your LP will ALWAYS sound better than a CD.  Next time, I'll talk about how an analog wave gets digitized.  Quite frankly, the technology is amazing.  Don't get me wrong.  I love the portability and convenience of digital music.  But it's always nice to know what your options are, etc.

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