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Here's the link to Jonathan Weiss' (from Oswalds Mill Audio) latest blog "Second time around," on what is an attempt into the ultimate one-on-one between analog and digital:

 

Oswalds Mill Audio - Blog | OMA

 

(excerpt)

As soon as the needle hit the lead in groove of the lacquer, you knew (the industry guest told me the exact same thing later). It was all over. The master file sounded incredible, the lacquer sounded like music. It was that simple. One was superior (and only by a tiny bit) in detail, the other was organic and just flowed out from the speakers. If you were listening for detail, (and detail only, like many audiophiles) the master, digital file was better. If you listened to the music, you went for the lacquer.

 

So, here’s the conundrum- how can a record sound better than the original source? Simple question, yet with all the research and basic science behind both digital and analog formats, there is no easy answer. The analog recording must have LESS information on it than the digital original, unless you believe (I don’t) that the physical process of cutting the grooves adds pleasing overtones or harmonics. The only other explanation is the actual means of playback- a needle tracing a groove is ANALOG- it is the thing itself, to get Kantian, not a transliteration. Digital, however hi-res, is always an APPROXIMATION of sound, a sampling of reality every so many tens or hundreds of thousands of times a second.

 

If you’re smart, you’d be wondering “How can there be a difference when the record had to be created from a digital file in the first place?” Indeed there was a DAC (digital to analog converter) between the digital recorder and the recording lathe’s amplifier, just as there was that same DAC between the La Segunda file and the OMA amplifier when we played the cuts on the OMA system.

 

So the key must lie not in the source material, but in the playback medium, i.e. a digital player vs. a turntable.

 

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1. Call me old fashioned, but for "an attempt into the ultimate one-on-one between analog and digital" I would hope for a little more than a one off demo.

 

2. Call me old fashioned (etc), but wasn't Mr Weiss (no relation, in fact the other Mr Weiss comes in for a bit of stick later in the blog) a tad reticent about the dac used, not to mention the rest of the computer playback side of the chain. Particularly compared with the loving detail with which he describes the TT. Oh wait, his company sells TTs amps and speakers, no dacses allowed as far as I can see.

 

3. Nice warm vinyl sound with euphonic harmonics, anyone?... Sorry no that's not allowed because Mr Weiss doesn't believe in them: "unless you believe (I don’t) that the physical process of cutting the grooves adds pleasing overtones or harmonics"

 

Maybe OMA stuff sounds lovely. I really don't know. The modern retro look is nice. Other than that... Meh.

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Well, to me this says analog discs are not accurate.

 

If the musicality wasn't there in the digital source put on a vinyl disc the difference in sound was created by the analog system. Therefore it isn't superior in resolution or fidelity. It may be preferable to fidelity by many or even most people. I would call it a pleasing euphonic coloration. And no harm or shame in that.

 

It isn't at all unexplainable. We could get into details, but many if not all the reasons this is the case are known.

 

Another similar experience I had involved triode tube amps vs SS. I fed the output of a triode amp into a quality SS amp. The sound that came out of it was that of a triode tube. So the SS amp was capable of that superior musicality. But the triode was creating it with a mixture of pleasing colorations.

 

The other thing for LP has been done too. You can digitally record an LP and with near perfection duplicate the sound. So digital is capable, but LP creates that sound. To me it seems pretty obvious in these contexts, but I know from past experience many will argue otherwise.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I think the answer to the question "[H]ow can a record sound better than the original source?" is that it's not better - it's different and, to many, more pleasing. Those who prefer it may consider it better, but it all depends on what the listener values.

 

Psychoacoustics affect this greatly, just as a wine that was fabulous when enjoyed with a special person in a special setting can disappoint the second time around in your kitchen with leftover pot roast. Here's a nice 2006 paper on the psychoacoustic basis of sound quality that seems to me to be a good guide for this discussion.

 

I often find myself thinking how great something sounds, only to realize that I'm listening to it on a clock radio or similarly undistinguished device. This is listening to the music rather than the sound, and we all do it to some degree. I suspect that the higher level of even order harmonics in analog reproduction of vinyl may have something to do with the phenomenon described in the OP, but who knows what evil lurks in the chips of DACs?

 

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I agree with you here, the analog playback is creating the sound that people love, and the proof is that you can digitally capture the sound of a LP. Not even difficult to do.

 

It's the old saw between audiophiles - to some a system sounds better the more accurately it reproduces the input signal. And of course, to some degree or another this is always true. But the other half says the analog system (turntable, tape, whatever...) reproduces the music better. And of course, that is also true, to some degree or another. A lot depends upon whether you are listening to the music or to the sound of the system. Both are quite valid activities I suppose... :)

 

Me? I have embarked on digitizing all analog media, and capturing the sound just as it was on the record. It works for me, and I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

 

-Paul

 

 

Well, to me this says analog discs are not accurate.

 

If the musicality wasn't there in the digital source put on a vinyl disc the difference in sound was created by the analog system. Therefore it isn't superior in resolution or fidelity. It may be preferable to fidelity by many or even most people. I would call it a pleasing euphonic coloration. And no harm or shame in that.

 

It isn't at all unexplainable. We could get into details, but many if not all the reasons this is the case are known.

 

Another similar experience I had involved triode tube amps vs SS. I fed the output of a triode amp into a quality SS amp. The sound that came out of it was that of a triode tube. So the SS amp was capable of that superior musicality. But the triode was creating it with a mixture of pleasing colorations.

 

The other thing for LP has been done too. You can digitally record an LP and with near perfection duplicate the sound. So digital is capable, but LP creates that sound. To me it seems pretty obvious in these contexts, but I know from past experience many will argue otherwise.

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Well, to me this says analog discs are not accurate.

 

You are correct. Analog is not as accurate as digital, and vinyl is such voodoo that it's a wonder one can get any semblance of high-fidelity out of it at all. The fact that you can get great sound from analog and vinyl just has to be a triumph of technique over technology! It's like the Porsche automobile. From a standpoint of handling, the 911 is just wrong. Cantilevering the engine out behind the rear axel is an invitation to an accident. The car will try to swap ends on you every time the back-end steps-out a bit. It's the pendulum effect. Has to happen. But Porsche has been doing the 911 for almost 50 years, now. They have engineered all that oversteer out of the car. Likewise, even though phonograph record technology is severely limited, techniques were devised by very talented mastering engineers which made it work in spite of itself. The result is that in spite of the odds against it, vinyl LPs can sound spectacularly good as can CDs and SACDs made from 60-year-old stereo tapes that were originally sold as LPs. In fact I have original 1950's era LPs of some of these performances that sound much better than later CD, SACD, and even high-res downloads of remasters from these same performances.

 

If the musicality wasn't there in the digital source put on a vinyl disc the difference in sound was created by the analog system. Therefore it isn't superior in resolution or fidelity. It may be preferable to fidelity by many or even most people. I would call it a pleasing euphonic coloration. And no harm or shame in that.

 

Sure. but as the "subjectivists" here keep saying, isn't that what it's all about? Music that sounds good? I'm no snob when it comes to the "fi" of some of the music I like. I've jazz performances that I love that stem from the 1930's and I view 50's-era LPs as just another source of music. When I record, of course, I record to DSD and I convert that to LPCM of various types for distribution and archiving (for my own use, I generally convert the DSD file to 24/192 for playback on my own system, and Red Book to distribute to clients. My "Safeties" are the original DSD files burned to DVD - I can't play them, but in case of a computer disaster, I can always restore them back to the computer from the DVDs), but I also have shelves full of 10.5" reels of tape masters recorded half-track, 15ips. Sure, digital is better, but the best analog/vinyl ain't too shabby!

 

It isn't at all unexplainable. We could get into details, but many if not all the reasons this is the case are known.

 

True, but it's also not really that important (at least not to me). Basically, it is what it is. Basically, "Bird" Parker never recorded digitally (and probably never even in stereo) so mono LPs and re-mastered to CD copies of the session tapes are all we have. I can live with that. Going forward, we have great digital masters of performances, but we also have a rich legacy of performances of the past. I'm so thankful for that (especially with regard to classical music and its "golden age". We are lucky that decent audio recording technology came along when it did so that we can actually hear Bruno Walter, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy, Adrian Boult, Herbert Von Karajan, etc. doing their best work, with the best orchestras and soloists EVER!

 

Another similar experience I had involved triode tube amps vs SS. I fed the output of a triode amp into a quality SS amp. The sound that came out of it was that of a triode tube. So the SS amp was capable of that superior musicality. But the triode was creating it with a mixture of pleasing colorations.

 

I guess the important question here, is: did you LIKE the result? The reason why I ask that is because I wouldn't like it. While the fi of my music sources is subordinate to the performances (especially if the fi is beyond the control of technology, as with vintage (pre-digital) recordings), I insist on accurate, color-free reproducing equipment. I don't want euphonic sound unless it's ON the recording.

 

The other thing for LP has been done too. You can digitally record an LP and with near perfection duplicate the sound. So digital is capable, but LP creates that sound. To me it seems pretty obvious in these contexts, but I know from past experience many will argue otherwise.

 

No, you are correct. Digitize an LP and you will preserve that "LP sound" forever. The beauty of that is that you will also "freeze" the physical state of that LP as well.

George

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Me? I have embarked on digitizing all analog media, and capturing the sound just as it was on the record. It works for me, and I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

...as have I, Paul. But I've discovered by doing this (much to my chagrin) that many, if not most, of my vinyl has been played enough to have suffered mechanical degradation and has lost some of its sonic magic over 1000+ plays and decades of use. This is despite use of a well set up and maintained Thorens TD-125 MkII with fixed shell SME 3009 Mk II and AudioQuest cartridge, excellent replacement record sleeves, proper vertical storage and gentle cleaning before each use.

 

I suspect that the incomplete elasticity of the compound results in at least a tiny amount of inelastic deformation of the grooves, and vinyl compounds probably work-harden to some degree. Further, the mechanical properties of the material must change some with time, light exposure, oxidation etc. So I was not surprised to discover that excellent rips of many of my classic jazz records don't sound excellent, although they do sound just like the source records when played side by side with matched levels.

 

I could buy new vinyl and rip it. But I decided to get new CDs or downloads of those I really love instead, because they sound better than well worn vinyl and I'm not schlepping even more records to our retirement apartment. I still enjoy playing (with) my records - but for pure listening, I'm afraid I have to choose new over old except for a very few special and rarely played records like my original Umbrella Rob McConnells, MFSLs etc. And when we fully retire, I'll be fine with thousands of digital albums to listen to and a few hundred records with which to play.

 

David

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I guess the important question here, is: did you LIKE the result? The reason why I ask that is because I wouldn't like it. While the fi of my music sources is subordinate to the performances (especially if the fi is beyond the control of technology, as with vintage (pre-digital) recordings), I insist on accurate, color-free reproducing equipment. I don't want euphonic sound unless it's ON the recording.

 

 

Yes, I did like the result better. Philosophically I prefer an accurate reproduction system. But there are recordings that I liked sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better than the raw recording. At that time with what was available more often than not I liked the pleasing less accurate version better thru a triode amp.

 

In time with the ability to do room correction and fine tune the overall in room FR I preferred more accurate upstream components. I do have some experience of room correction using tubes. I found, for my preferences at least, one can go the more accurate route with more control and not need quite as obvious a coloring component for musical satisfaction. And the resulting musical playback is both more accurate and more enjoyable than other approaches I have taken.

 

Now as one who values accuracy, nevertheless when listening to music accuracy alone is not allowed to trump enjoyment. The best is when very well done recordings of well like music can be simply accurately replayed and it all works best that way. Those are a rarity.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Yes, I did like the result better. Philosophically I prefer an accurate reproduction system. But there are recordings that I liked sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better than the raw recording. At that time with what was available more often than not I liked the pleasing less accurate version better thru a triode amp.
Good point. However, if one starts with an accurate playback system (which we need not define now), one can add whatever one desires to make it "sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better." However, with a fundamentally colored system, ones options are much more limited.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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Yes, I did like the result better. Philosophically I prefer an accurate reproduction system. But there are recordings that I liked sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better than the raw recording. At that time with what was available more often than not I liked the pleasing less accurate version better thru a triode amp.

 

In time with the ability to do room correction and fine tune the overall in room FR I preferred more accurate upstream components. I do have some experience of room correction using tubes. I found, for my preferences at least, one can go the more accurate route with more control and not need quite as obvious a coloring component for musical satisfaction. And the resulting musical playback is both more accurate and more enjoyable than other approaches I have taken.

 

Now as one who values accuracy, nevertheless when listening to music accuracy alone is not allowed to trump enjoyment. The best is when very well done recordings of well like music can be simply accurately replayed and it all works best that way. Those are a rarity.

 

 

One of the reasons why I purchased my current amp (HK990 Integrated) was not only it's sound (better than my previous Krell KAV-300i), or it's incredible feature set, but specifically because one of those features was a digital room calibration system which, I must say, has made a significant difference in my listening environment and thus the sound of my system. It has also blended my Aethena subwoofers with my Martin-Logan hybrid electrostatic speakers better than I have ever been able to do it by ear!

George

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Good point. However, if one starts with an accurate playback system (which we need not define now), one can add whatever one desires to make it "sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better." However, with a fundamentally colored system, ones options are much more limited.
Philosophically I prefer an accurate reproduction system.

I agree completely - at least your own intentional compromise is the devil you know. But here's some food for thought:

 

Suppose you prefer the sound of a Steinway to that of a Baldwin, and you hear a recording of a piano concerto that sounds fabulous to you. There are no liner notes and you can't get any information about the performance or the recording.

 

  • Can you know whether it's a great recording of a Steinway or a flawed recording of a Baldwin?
  • If you had sufficient flexibility to do so, would you make recordings of Baldwins sound like Steinways or listen to them as recorded?

Similarly, you very much prefer the sound of a closely miked piano to that of crossed omnis some distance away from it, because you like the piano to sound like it's in your room. You have a recording made on a stage with crossed omnis, but it's pretty dry. With a little tweaking, you can make it sound more like it's in the room and less like it's on a stage. Would you listen to it as recorded or process and equalize it to bring it artificially forward?

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I agree completely - at least your own intentional compromise is the devil you know. But here's some food for thought:

 

Suppose you prefer the sound of a Steinway to that of a Baldwin, and you hear a recording of a piano concerto that sounds fabulous to you. There are no liner notes and you can't get any information about the performance or the recording.

 

  • Can you know whether it's a great recording of a Steinway or a flawed recording of a Baldwin?
  • If you had sufficient flexibility to do so, would you make recordings of Baldwins sound like Steinways or listen to them as recorded?

Similarly, you very much prefer the sound of a closely miked piano to that of crossed omnis some distance away from it, because you like the piano to sound like it's in your room. You have a recording made on a stage with crossed omnis, but it's pretty dry. With a little tweaking, you can make it sound more like it's in the room and less like it's on a stage. Would you listen to it as recorded or process and equalize it to bring it artificially forward?

You raise some interesting concerns but they do not change my basic arguments in preference of accuracy. In theory, I am not opposed to "flavoring to taste" but I prefer to begin with a clean slate.

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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You raise some interesting concerns but they do not change my basic arguments in preference of accuracy.

These are neither concerns nor arguments. I just find the dichotomy between inaccurate reproduction that the listener likes and accurate reproduction that he or she doesn't like to be an interesting point for discussion, as is the question of whether and to whom it matters.

 

I agree with you. I use no processing or "correction" of any kind and leave the tone controls bypassed. But sometimes I'm tempted to juice things a bit, just for fun.

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...... just as a wine that was fabulous when enjoyed with a special person in a special setting can disappoint the second time around....

 

What a wonderful, descriptive analogy.

 

I think for many of us 'vinylphiles' this emotional connection is real & provides us the means to experience the music we love with accentuated passion.

 

My digitized vinyl is in most cases indistinguishable from the analog playback, but I often seem to get more out of the act of dropping the needle.

Bill

 

Practicing Curmudgeon & Audio Snob

 

....just an "ON" switch, Please!

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I agree completely - at least your own intentional compromise is the devil you know. But here's some food for thought:

 

Suppose you prefer the sound of a Steinway to that of a Baldwin, and you hear a recording of a piano concerto that sounds fabulous to you. There are no liner notes and you can't get any information about the performance or the recording.

 

  • Can you know whether it's a great recording of a Steinway or a flawed recording of a Baldwin?
  • If you had sufficient flexibility to do so, would you make recordings of Baldwins sound like Steinways or listen to them as recorded?

Similarly, you very much prefer the sound of a closely miked piano to that of crossed omnis some distance away from it, because you like the piano to sound like it's in your room. You have a recording made on a stage with crossed omnis, but it's pretty dry. With a little tweaking, you can make it sound more like it's in the room and less like it's on a stage. Would you listen to it as recorded or process and equalize it to bring it artificially forward?

 

Too complex to answer with too many assumptions.

 

I will make some adjustments for gross problems. I don't adjust every individual recording to some optimum criteria. I start with an accurate as I can make it system. The room correction I have has room for 9 settings. I have one which best I can determine with some of the finest recordings sounds most accurate. I have a couple of levels with FR tilted slightly upward, and a couple slightly lower. Some very bright or light recordings get a little toning down, and some in the other direction get the opposite tilt. I have one I use for listening at much lower than normal volumes (late at night or background).

 

This minor adjustment is enough for some off recordings I still enjoy to sound a bit more to my liking. It may not fix them, but it moves them to a better direction. They have some imbalance issues or I wouldn't be altering them. I also don't use anything other than the 'best' setting for the great bulk of my listening.

 

I have used software for most extensive reworking for some truly awful things when I still like the music.

 

So at least currently I don't think I can do what your hypothetical questions suggest. A decision I don't need to make yet.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Just so I am clear here...

 

Musical reproduction that is often more musical, is very often less accurate, while musical reproduction that sounds less pleasing, typically is more accurate.

 

Hmm...

 

So, one is more faithful to the performance and the other to the recording?

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Just so I am clear here...

 

Musical reproduction that is often more musical, is very often less accurate, while musical reproduction that sounds less pleasing, typically is more accurate.

 

Hmm...

 

So, one is more faithful to the performance and the other to the recording?

 

Well the issue I do believe is with the recording. Fidelity to the recording is of course much easier to determine. If the recording is good enough one can be more faithful to the performance and the recording. There is then no dichotomy. But until all recordings are near perfect we don't know how that might break down.

 

Some recordings are really hard to understand. Like a CD from a major already platinum selling rock band that they had more than usual input on how it was done. It resulted in a CD, all digital I think, with nothing at all above 4500 hz. Contrasted with a few recordings that are surprisingly nicely recorded with minimal equipment to cassette tape.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Good point. However, if one starts with an accurate playback system (which we need not define now), one can add whatever one desires to make it "sweetened or smoothed or otherwise altered better." However, with a fundamentally colored system, ones options are much more limited.

 

Agreed.......and I'm thinking a DAC with a defeatable tube stage is just what the doctor ordered!

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Oswald Mills is far from mainstream for sure.

 

Take their GM70 integrated amplifier.

 

"OMA's ultimate amplifier is a Single Ended Triode (SET) design producing 15 watts. Weighing 225 pounds and built on three chassis."

 

Or check out these speakers.

 

Oswalds Mill Audio - Imperia | OMA Loudspeakers

 

They also dig Analysis Plus cables? And I was thinking they would be endorsing antique lamp wire housed in vintage cotton.

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Agreed.......and I'm thinking a DAC with a defeatable tube stage is just what the doctor ordered!

 

I do believe Peachtree already makes exactly that.

 

Tube Preamplifier with DAC - novaPre | Peachtree Audio

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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So at least currently I don't think I can do what your hypothetical questions suggest. A decision I don't need to make yet.

Actually, you took it exactly where I hoped it would go, and you did so quite clearly.

 

  • "I will make some adjustments for gross problems. I don't adjust every individual recording to some optimum criteria."
  • "This minor adjustment is enough for some off recordings I still enjoy to sound a bit more to my liking."
  • "I have used software for most extensive reworking for some truly awful things when I still like the music."

I do exactly as you do - I usually leave my system as neutral and accurate as possible, making occasional adjustments when I think they'll increase my listening pleasure. It'll be interesting to see if many others have a different approach, e.g. tweaking every track.

 

Fortunately, I like the sound of most pianos, so I'm happy with anything from Baldwin to Bosendorfer and beyond. :)

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I dated a concert pianist for a year. We went piano shopping a few times, and there was an amazingly large difference in the signatures of each piano- even from the same brand. Interestingly, the older Bosendorfer on consignment never sounded nearly as pure as some "lesser" brands.

Fortunately, I like the sound of most pianos, so I'm happy with anything from Baldwin to Bosendorfer and beyond. :)

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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I agree with you here, the analog playback is creating the sound that people love, and the proof is that you can digitally capture the sound of a LP. Not even difficult to do.

 

I've never heard a digital transcription of a vinyl LP that sounds like the original, no matter what level of equipment or how much expertise is put into it.

 

I am not trying to imply that digital is worse than vinyl or vice versa. What I am saying, however, is that a digital recording of any analogue source still does not sound like the original analogue source in my experience, whether that be a live instrument or a pre-existing analogue recording. It's not even close. As soon as I hear an instrument live, the shortcomings of every reproduction medium - digital, vinyl, whatever, become immediately obvious.

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there was an amazingly large difference in the signatures of each piano- even from the same brand

Yes indeed - there is. I bought my Yamaha grand after playing every example in the place (which was about half a dozen as I recall) of the model I wanted and finding the one that sounded and felt best to me.

 

But a funny thing happened on its way to our house. Our piano was delivered on a Saturday afternoon, and I was thrilled with it (as I am today, 34 years later). The next day we were awakened at about 9 by a phone call from an irate man whose first line to me was "Did you get a new piano yesterday?!?!?" I asked him why he wanted to know, and he spewed a stream of invective about the vendor's having given us "his" piano and him ours. He wanted us to return the one they'd delivered and let him have it. So I asked why, and he answered "Because I want one that's never been played - the one I picked and they sent you was brand new in the crate". And yes, the dealer gave him my name!

 

I explained that I'm a professional musician and a classically trained pianist who does not abuse an instrument, that it was not easy getting a grand piano up our front steps and into the room in which it lived but the movers did so without a scratch, and that the one he got (if, in fact he was correct - and I'm still not convinced, although I really didn't care) was hand-picked by me. He spluttered on about it, so I asked him what kind of music he played - and he replied that he didn't play the piano. He bought it as furniture. I then gleefully pointed out that I'd already played the one they sent us, so it was too late........

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTQP2dUJajn40jWRPVlenJhx0e8CMt1Ywx07kovfpf5QSYhdVxT

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