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RE: Reviewers with LP - how many are there ?

I grew up with vinyl, returned to it in the early 2000s, and listened to vinyl records predominantly (not exclusively) from maybe 2004 until recently. For years, the reviews I wrote for Stereophile used both analog and digital sources. Lately I've been reviewing a lot of DACs, which makes it a bit hard to use records as a source :-) --although I do have some needle drops I listen to regularly in evaluating DACs.

I'll always love records, but things have changed. 1. Digital has improved immensely. To my ear, the best high-res digital recordings share many virtues with analog while eliminating some disadvantages and bringing substantial advantages to the party. 2. Tidal has influenced the way I listen to music more than any other development since I returned to vinyl. My music collection is substantial but not huge; Tidal lets me listen to most things I'm interested in hearing--not all, but most--immediately, on a whim, in very good sound (on recordings that sounded good to begin with). And Tidal, of course, is digital. 3. To me, the vinyl resurgence peaked and started to decline--what, a decade ago? A little less?--when demand was sufficient to keep used record dealers in business but supply was such that you could buy great used records for not a lot of money. I'd go into a record store and buy ten or twelve records, many of which I didn't know, for $5-10 each (more, of course, for really special LPs; significantly less for classical), then explore them with relish over the following few days. Today it's much harder to find unfamiliar LPs I'm interested in at prices I'm willing to take chances on--partly because stores are more picked-over, partly because there's less I don't know, and partly because used records cost more; many interesting used records are a little too pricey to buy on a whim--and I can hear much of that same music on Tidal for no additional cost beyond the monthly fee. (On the other hand, there's a rich abundance of high-quality new reissues, and an increasing tendency toward new vinyl releases--both excellent developments, but neither cheap.) I should add that LPs are the >>only<< physical format I still buy, but I buy far less music than I used to in physical formats.

Several of my favorite audio writers--idols, really, even if some of them are roughly my own age--listen either exclusively or mostly to vinyl. I love their writing, and over the years I've learned much from them. But, with the greatest respect for those esteemed colleagues, I do not find one technology innately, sonically superior to the other; excellent music in excellent sound is available in analog and digital form. That has long been true--there have been excellent-sounding CDs since, what, circa 1990?--but these days there's much excellent-sounding digital. Like I said, things have changed. Why discriminate?

A final point: When it comes to physical formats, I care about authenticity. So, for example, I don't buy many audiophile 45 rpm record sets, even though they sound very good; I want my reissues to resemble the original. (Sometimes, even "better" sound is a disadvantage; I much prefer my SOTS Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced, or any early MCA in good condition, to the audiophile reissue; the reissue just doesn't sound right to my ears.) Similarly, I'm not interested in vinyl reissues of records that were not available on vinyl when they were new (although I do own a few). That rules out vinyl versions of, what, 20 years of music-making? A quarter century? And even today, only a small slice of new music is released on vinyl.

Jim Austin


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