Vinyl on the BIG system

Paul McGowan .....

I’ve finally gotten the turntable setup going into the new speaker system and have been, as of late, playing a lot of vinyl through it.  The setup I am using is a Clear Audio Master Solution with their carbon fiber arm and a Denon 103D moving coil cartridge set to 100 Ohms and tracking at 2 grams.

I have a variety of phono preamps to play with but I keep coming back to our new NPC as a good choice.  I like what I am hearing but I can’t, in all honesty, say it’s better than high resolution digital played on the system.  I know, there will be all kinds of teeth gnashing over this and perhaps some of it justified; after all, it isn’t the world’s best turntable/arm/cartridge/preamp setup possible.  But it is more than reasonable, I would assume, and yet ……

When I say it’s not better let me explain in better terms.  There’s a certain romantic quality to the vinyl that I appreciate.  The surface noise, ticks and pops help ground the spacial aspects of the presentation in a very comfortable and pleasing way.  Strings are lush, voices palpable and believable, and many aspects of the medium are wonderful.  And comparing tit for tat vinyl’s better on some discs, worse on others.  Let me give you an example.

My prized and pristine vinyl copy of Casino Royale sounds amazing – there’s no doubt of it.  I also have a high resolution copy of the same I can play to compare and contrast.  There’s simply no comparison as the vinyl version is better – the high resolution copy thinner, less body, threadbare by comparison.  My guess is that whoever mastered the high resolution version din’t have the right set of goals in mind or perhaps had a poor master tape copy.

On the other side I also have a Patricia Barber vinyl pressing of Modern Cool and have acquired a high resolution copy of the same (don’t ask me where).  Now the tables are turned.  The vinyl sounds great, full and round, great presence, but when compared to the high resolution copy played through the PWT and PWD combination there’s just no comparison.  The high resolution version clearly demonstrates the restricted dynamics, frequency response of the vinyl – and now, for the first time, I can clearly hear just how superior the high rez copy is.  No one would miss this hearing it on the big system.  No one.

My favorite track so far is from Reference Recordings HRX series.  The Tempest, track 8, where obviously the waves are getting pretty wild.  Mastered directly off the master digital recording at 176kHz/24 bits and played on the PWT Memory Player, the sound is breathtaking beyond words.  It leaves anything I’ve heard on vinyl in the dirt.  Wall to wall imaging – no, actually the sound field goes beyond the walls of the music room – and the depth goes out into the parking lot.  You’re enveloped in the music in a way that is just uncanny and just when you think it can’t get any louder, the dynamics wash over you and you have to just grin.  Imagine a system without any dynamic restrictions whatsoever, finally showing off what’s truly in the music.

Sorry, I don’t mean to squash any cherished emotional ties to vinyl – and please don’t shoot the messenger I am just reporting what I hear – but there’s no question in my mind that on the right recordings with the right equipment, high resolution digital just stomps anything on vinyl.