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Vinyl v Digital: The Thirty-Five Year Con


Hailey
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I have not listened to a vinyl record since I was told that CDs promised "perfect sound forever."

 

Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, I more or less stopped listening to recorded music.

 

Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

Only a week or so ago, after much research and effort and expense, did I finally cobble together a digital system that approaches the swing, the punch, the effortless musicality I heard on his modest pile of gear playing circa 1960s LPs.

 

What a con Redbook has been.

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I have not listened to a vinyl record since I was told that CDs promised "perfect sound forever."

 

Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, I more or less stopped listening to recorded music.

 

Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

Only a week or so ago, after much research and effort and expense, did I finally cobble together a digital system that approaches the swing, the punch, the effortless musicality I heard on his modest pile of gear playing circa 1960s LPs.

 

What a con Redbook has been.

 

This is what's known as "throwing the baby out with the bath water". The problem is not digital (red book or better), it's the mastering and production that's the problem. As a sometimes recording engineer, I record in digital exclusively, and I can tell you that no analog recording, either new or 50 years old, can come anywhere near the quality of competent digital recoding. However that doesn't mean that the CD made from that digital master will sound anything like that master. I agree that most CDs sound terrible. Why this is so is not clear. It may be indifference on the part of the producers and engineers, or perhaps we have several generations of young people who grew up listening to terrible sounding MP3s. But I must say that while many vinyl records sound far superior to their digital remastering (the Classic Recods release of Stravinsky's The Firebird comes to mind. The vinyl sounds magnificent, the CD sounds terrible by comparison. Here's the interesting thing - they were both mastered by the same person - the original producer, Wilma Cozert Fine!). But, on the other hand, I have a JVC XRCD (red book) of Prokofiev's Lt. Kiji, on RCA Victor, recorded in the late 1950's. I also have the same recording on both original release vinyl, and RCA/BMG SACD. Neither the vinyl nor the SACD can hold a candle to the red book JVC XRCD release of the same recording. It sounds spectacularly good! So don't judge all CDs by the fact that many are indifferently recorded, mastered or manufactured.

George

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I have not listened to a vinyl record since I was told that CDs promised "perfect sound forever."

 

Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, I more or less stopped listening to recorded music.

 

Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

Only a week or so ago, after much research and effort and expense, did I finally cobble together a digital system that approaches the swing, the punch, the effortless musicality I heard on his modest pile of gear playing circa 1960s LPs.

 

What a con Redbook has been.

 

In some ways, I agree. And I think what the previous commenter is very true. On the other hand, in many ways digital audio has been a blessing, especially for classical music lovers. In minutes can download the complete chamber recordings of Eduard Franck, in lovely sound, at a very reasonable price--something that never would have been possible in the LP era, with the cost of pressings, covers, distribution and what all. Who's Eduard Franck? Well, that's sort of the point. :-) And many of the small labels (like Cedille) make very adventurous and beautiful recordings available at the touch of a button. For collectors, the wealth of carefully remastered historical recordings also is a boon. I have a modest digital setup and it's not bad-sounding at all--quite good, in fact. I think a lot of people spend time with expensive tweaks, whereas I've always found that fundamentally musical equipment sounds pretty good on its own. Anyway, I've had very little desire to return to the LP era.

 

That said, I remember getting an emotional thrill from analogue that I don't always get from digital, so you may have a point. Perhaps we're settling for less, I don't know. I do know that for many of us with large collections crossing many genres, it would be impossible to go back.

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Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, I more or less stopped listening to recorded music.

 

Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

Only a week or so ago, after much research and effort and expense, did I finally cobble together a digital system that approaches the swing, the punch, the effortless musicality I heard on his modest pile of gear playing circa 1960s LPs.

 

For me it has been just 12 years or so. Me too I am in a never- ending process to "cobble together" a digital system and still my memory tells me that it would not take much in analog to overtake those efforts quite easily in terms of - well, just what you say - musicality, flow, directness, aliveness - which for me is more important than dynamic range, frequency response etc.

 

Without being a specialist in acoustics or electronics, I still tend to assume that it has to do with things like micro or nano-timing that are not yet truly understood in music listening and reproduction.

 

Guess I will end up with a turntable side to side with the digital convenience machines. Each ones it's place.

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Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

What a con Redbook has been.

 

I understand where you are coming from. I've run vinyl alongside digital for 20 years now. From my listening, at no point in that time have I felt that digital has surpassed vinyl for SQ. However, if I had given up on vinyl years ago, I imagine I would be happy enough with my digital system. It's only when I revisit vinyl after a digital interlude that the former's SQ superiority become immediately apparent, so I'm not surprised by your experience.

 

However, I think you are being a little hard on CD. These days, with current kit, CD actually sounds rather good to me, even those from 20-30 years ago. I also agree with George that some JVC XRCD discs are about as good digital replay as I have heard. I don't know if there is anything in this, but I tend to rate most highly CDs that are transfers of classic analogue recordings, Decca SXL etc. Now the novelty has worn off, it's actually hi res/DSD that I'm least impressed with. In most cases, for a favourite given piece of music, it's generally a RBCD issue that tops my digital listening, in preference to hi res.

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This is what's known as "throwing the baby out with the bath water". The problem is not digital (red book or better), it's the mastering and production that's the problem. As a sometimes recording engineer, I record in digital exclusively, and I can tell you that no analog recording, either new or 50 years old, can come anywhere near the quality of competent digital recoding. However that doesn't mean that the CD made from that digital master will sound anything like that master. I agree that most CDs sound terrible. Why this is so is not clear. It may be indifference on the part of the producers and engineers, or perhaps we have several generations of young people who grew up listening to terrible sounding MP3s. But I must say that while many vinyl records sound far superior to their digital remastering (the Classic Recods release of Stravinsky's The Firebird comes to mind. The vinyl sounds magnificent, the CD sounds terrible by comparison. Here's the interesting thing - they were both mastered by the same person - the original producer, Wilma Cozert Fine!). But, on the other hand, I have a JVC XRCD (red book) of Prokofiev's Lt. Kiji, on RCA Victor, recorded in the late 1950's. I also have the same recording on both original release vinyl, and RCA/BMG SACD. Neither the vinyl nor the SACD can hold a candle to the red book JVC XRCD release of the same recording. It sounds spectacularly good! So don't judge all CDs by the fact that many are indifferently recorded, mastered or manufactured.

 

Well, yes, point well taken. But those who say that Redbook is "good enough" and that high res is some kind of gimmick are...well, just wrong.

 

One of the LPs we listened to had never before been played. Interestingly, it was a Telarc pressing of a Telarc/Soundstream Redbook recording of Beethoven's G Major piano concerto (Rudolph Serkin, Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra). It was clear from the liner notes that great care had gone into the production of this recording: It went on at length about the equipment used, assurances that this, that, and the other thing (it listed those things) were not in the signal path, so there was no dynamic compression, etc. Then went on to extol the superiority of digital recording over analogue.

 

In other words, a pristine copy of a hard core audiophile effort, circa 1981.

 

And how did it sound?

 

Like a Redbook CD.

 

The life that I heard in those other recordings was just gone. Sure, it was well produced. The balance was great. The soundstage was there. The performance was marvelous...but the recording itself was dead. I just didn't care.

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I understand where you are coming from. I've run vinyl alongside digital for 20 years now. At no time have I ever heard digital has surpassed vinyl for SQ. However, if I had given up on vinyl years ago, I imagine I would be happy with my digital system. It's only when I revisit vinyl after a digital interlude that the former's superiority become immediately apparent, so I'm not surprised by your experience.

 

However, I think you are being a little hard on CD. These days, with current kit, CD actually sounds rather good to me, even those from 20-30 years ago. I also agree with George that some JVC XRCD discs are about as good digital replay as I have heard. I don't know if there is anything I this, but I tend to rate most highly CDs that are transfers of classic analogue recordings. Now the novelty has worn off, it's actually hi res/DSD that I'm least impressed with.

 

The Redbook CD format is convenient, for sure. But I feel like it's also been a conspiracy of mediocrity.

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In some ways, I agree. And I think what the previous commenter is very true. On the other hand, in many ways digital audio has been a blessing, especially for classical music lovers. In minutes can download the complete chamber recordings of Eduard Franck, in lovely sound, at a very reasonable price--something that never would have been possible in the LP era, with the cost of pressings, covers, distribution and what all. Who's Eduard Franck? Well, that's sort of the point. :-) And many of the small labels (like Cedille) make very adventurous and beautiful recordings available at the touch of a button. For collectors, the wealth of carefully remastered historical recordings also is a boon. I have a modest digital setup and it's not bad-sounding at all--quite good, in fact. I think a lot of people spend time with expensive tweaks, whereas I've always found that fundamentally musical equipment sounds pretty good on its own. Anyway, I've had very little desire to return to the LP era.

 

That said, I remember getting an emotional thrill from analogue that I don't always get from digital, so you may have a point. Perhaps we're settling for less, I don't know. I do know that for many of us with large collections crossing many genres, it would be impossible to go back.

 

Well yes good high res downloads are amazing and convenient. I'm just marveling at what an effort it's been to get digital to sound as "alive" as good vinyl.

 

I think I'm there now. Really since I went from Benchmark to Exogal, then swapped the Exogal external power supply with Uptone's JS-2, then swapped my Belkin USB for WireWorld.

 

But...just.

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snip...

Without being a specialist in acoustics or electronics, I still tend to assume that it has to do with things like micro or nano-timing that are not yet truly understood in music listening and reproduction.

 

Guess I will end up with a turntable side to side with the digital convenience machines. Each ones it's place.

 

I read this over and over about the timing. Do you realize the speed instability of the best vinyl is a few orders of magnitude worse? Is it possible this micro-mistiming in vinyl is euphonic?

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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Well, yes, point well taken. But those who say that Redbook is "good enough" and that high res is some kind of gimmick are...well, just wrong.

 

One of the LPs we listened to had never before been played. Interestingly, it was a Telarc pressing of a Telarc/Soundstream Redbook recording of Beethoven's G Major piano concerto (Rudolph Serkin, Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra). It was clear from the liner notes that great care had gone into the production of this recording: It went on at length about the equipment used, assurances that this, that, and the other thing (it listed those things) were not in the signal path, so there was no dynamic compression, etc. Then went on to extol the superiority of digital recording over analogue.

 

In other words, a pristine copy of a hard core audiophile effort, circa 1981.

 

And how did it sound?

 

Like a Redbook CD.

 

The life that I heard in those other recordings was just gone. It was well recording. The balance was great. The soundstage was there. The performance was marvelous...and it was dead. I just didn't care.

 

I have a few early Telarcs ... impressive for bass whacks but boring otherwise. A redbook CD is much better if your digital front end is equally as good as your turntable. The problem with digital is that most peoples front end is the equivalent of a Technics turntable... you lose a lot of whats actually recorded.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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What a con Redbook has been.

 

It is quite easy to think from some anecdotal listening to different recorded media formats or systems that you have found the "truth". In fact, playback media vary, systems vary, etc. So, be careful of what grandiose conclusions you might jump to. However, you are, of course, entitled to believe what you wish.

 

I have been around long enough to have been LP-centric, then CD-centric, each medium for many decades. Thousands of them line the walls of my listening room. But, they have all been gathering dust for years. The same goes for all of my closest audiophile friends, all of us with very costly and prestigious systems. None of us play vinyl anymore. Few of us even play CDs anymore, except occasionally. Some of us have sold very costly vinyl front ends and even the entirety of of our LP collections with no desire whatsoever to look back.

 

We are perhaps fortunate in being interested in classical music primarily. For all of us, it has been hi rez SACD, BD and hi rez downloads that have totally supplanted LP and CD in our listening preferences based on sound quality. The recording availability and comparative sound quality in hi rez has simply sold itself to all of us to the exclusion of older media. And, for some of us, the shift has gone further into strong preference for multichannel rather than plain old stereo recordings. I personally listen to little else.

 

None of us are willing to go back to earlier eras and older media. We have heard much better. I do not defend CD. Like the stereo LP before it, it was a compromise of necessity for the feasible technology of the day. Today's hi rez may also be compromised, but it raises the threshold quite dramatically in sonic terms over previous standards, in our collective opinion, especially with multichannel sound.

 

But, enjoy yourself with vinyl, if that is what floats your boat.

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It is quite easy to think from some anecdotal listening to different recorded media formats or systems that you have found the "truth". In fact, playback media vary, systems vary, etc. So, be careful of what grandiose conclusions you might jump to. However, you are, of course, entitled to believe what you wish.

 

I have been around long enough to have been LP-centric, then CD-centric, each medium for many decades. Thousands of them line the walls of my listening room. But, they have all been gathering dust for years. The same goes for all of my closest audiophile friends, all of us with very costly and prestigious systems. None of us play vinyl anymore. Few of us even play CDs anymore, except occasionally. Some of us have sold very costly vinyl front ends and even the entirety of of our LP collections with no desire whatsoever to look back.

 

We are perhaps fortunate in being interested in classical music primarily. For all of us, it has been hi rez SACD, BD and hi rez downloads that have totally supplanted LP and CD in our listening preferences based on sound quality. The recording availability and comparative sound quality in hi rez has simply sold itself to all of us to the exclusion of older media. And, for some of us, the shift has gone further into strong preference for multichannel rather than plain old stereo recordings. I personally listen to little else.

 

But, enjoy yourself with vinyl, if that is what floats your boat.

 

 

You've misunderstood me. I'm not going back to vinyl. I'm happy with what I've cobbled together on the digital front. Does it surpass vinyl? Until yesterday I would have assumed the answer to be self-evident. Now I'd say, "probably."

 

But what a journey to get there. And using components that were not available just two or three years ago.

 

I'm just astounded by how good vinyl sounds. And how much more engaging it seems, at least to me, than Redbook.

 

But we've moved on from Redbook now.

That's a good thing.

 

Really that's all I'm saying.

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I read this over and over about the timing. Do you realize the speed instability of the best vinyl is a few orders of magnitude worse? Is it possible this micro-mistiming in vinyl is euphonic?

 

Good question, but I would say no. One of the biggest upgrades you can make to any vinyl setup is a speed control. And there's really no debate on the matter, either. You can always argue that a change in the system is either + or -. I've never heard anyone complain that a speed control is a negative. So that would suggest that better speed control is much better for SQ, and no euphonic benefit. The answer for better sound most likely lies elsewhere.

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I always find it interesting the amount of hyperbole that is used in the argument for viny

 

Please note that I did not say it's been a conspiracy of mediocrity. I said I feel like it's been a conspiracy of mediocrity.

 

There's a difference.

 

And I'm not arguing for vinyl. I'm pissing on Redbook.

 

There's another difference.

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Well, yes, point well taken. But those who say that Redbook is "good enough" and that high res is some kind of gimmick are...well, just wrong.

 

I don't remember anyone saying that redbook was "good enough". The question here was whether or not the best vinyl was superior to the best redbook. My point was that to come to that conclusion after listening to a few LPs the way you did it was to jump to a hasty and erroneous conclusion. Done correctly, redbook can sound incredibly good. That it often doesn't is not the fault of any inherent limitations of the medium, but rather limitations on the source material itself or the indifferent or incompetent processing used in the mastering and production of many CDs

 

One of the LPs we listened to had never before been played. Interestingly, it was a Telarc pressing of a Telarc/Soundstream Redbook recording of Beethoven's G Major piano concerto (Rudolph Serkin, Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra). It was clear from the liner notes that great care had gone into the production of this recording: It went on at length about the equipment used, assurances that this, that, and the other thing (it listed those things) were not in the signal path, so there was no dynamic compression, etc. Then went on to extol the superiority of digital recording over analogue.

 

In other words, a pristine copy of a hard core audiophile effort, circa 1981.

 

And how did it sound?

 

Like a Redbook CD.

 

Well, I was never a fan of Soundstream. It was very early digital using a process that, while the best at the time, was fraught with problems. The recording equipment was full of early operational amplifiers, the analog section was coupled using aluminum and tantalum electrolytic capacitors - which sound awful. About the only thing that early Telarcs had going for them was stupendous bass. I'll never forget that first Telarc/Soundstream LP of Frederick Fennel doing Holst's Two Suites for Military Band. I remember the first time I heard the recording. Soundstream had set up a room in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NY for the Audio Engineering Society convention. They played that Holst piece over and over again, and I went back time and time again for another listen. The bass drum whacks were so spectacular that if you held the resulting LP up, you could see the widened groove width for the drums all the way across the room! CDs didn't tart to really sound decent until the industry stopped using those Sony1600 series ADC/video encoders to capture and transfer 16-bit/44.056 KHz audio.

 

The life that I heard in those other recordings was just gone. Sure, it was well produced. The balance was great. The soundstage was there. The performance was marvelous...but the recording itself was dead. I just didn't care.

 

You just described early rebook to a "T". Nowadays we can do much better, but now there are other problems such as too much audio compression, and slipshod production methods.

George

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For me it has been just 12 years or so. Me too I am in a never- ending process to "cobble together" a digital system and still my memory tells me that it would not take much in analog to overtake those efforts quite easily in terms of - well, just what you say - musicality, flow, directness, aliveness - which for me is more important than dynamic range, frequency response etc.

 

Without being a specialist in acoustics or electronics, I still tend to assume that it has to do with things like micro or nano-timing that are not yet truly understood in music listening and reproduction.

 

Guess I will end up with a turntable side to side with the digital convenience machines. Each ones it's place.

 

My opinion is we go where the music is. That may be Hi-Res audio (if we're lucky - and if vendors like HDtracks checks the quality of the digital copies supplied to them by the record companies), it might be redbook CD, it could be vinyl, it could be mono, it could even be cassette or reel-to-reel tape, or even 78's! If you want that performance or that particular interpretation of a piece, you go to the medium where that artist or performance is located. Not everything has been converted to digital, just as not every pre-LP performance was ever transferred to vinyl in it's heyday. I try to practice medium agnosticism. The best fi is great and all, but to me the music comes first.

George

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Well yes good high res downloads are amazing and convenient. I'm just marveling at what an effort it's been to get digital to sound as "alive" as good vinyl.

 

I think I'm there now. Really since I went from Benchmark to Exogal, then swapped the Exogal external power supply with Uptone's JS-2, then swapped my Belkin USB for WireWorld.

 

But...just.

 

LOL. It took me quite a while to get my computer setup to sound as good as my old CD tube-output player! :-) But I'm pretty happy now. I still have a decent LP setup, but just a while ago my wife put on an old classic rock LP and declared it deficient. I thought, well, here we go again! :-)

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I have not listened to a vinyl record since I was told that CDs promised "perfect sound forever."

 

Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, I more or less stopped listening to recorded music.

 

Last night, I listened to vinyl LPs on a friend's modest headphone setup for the first time in 35 years.

 

To say I was thunderstruck is an understatement.

 

Only a week or so ago, after much research and effort and expense, did I finally cobble together a digital system that approaches the swing, the punch, the effortless musicality I heard on his modest pile of gear playing circa 1960s LPs.

 

What a con Redbook has been.

 

There's nothing really wrong with Redbook.

Ignoring any differences in the masters supplied for the different pressings, LP's have a very special sound of their own.

Notice I didn't say better, I said different. The numbers don't lie and in every measurable sense Redbook is superior. Many distortion products can be pleasing to the ear. Also the LP's masking of the inner detail compared to CD from a equal source, can make the more detailed CD sound harsh.

There are many other issues at play here of which we could write a book but beware, all that is different may not be better, only a bit easier on the ear. Don't get fooled by the hyperbole.

"The gullibility of audiophiles is what astonishes me the most, even after all these years. How is it possible, how did it ever happen, that they trust fairy-tale purveyors and mystic gurus more than reliable sources of scientific information?"

Peter Aczel - The Audio Critic

no-mqa-sm.jpg

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When trying to understand what your hearing when playing an LP read this short tutorial on how to master for LP cutting.

It's a very easy to understand non technical read for a layman.

Over the last few years I've read quite a bit of sidestepping and attempts to swipe some truths under the rug.

Mixing for Vinyl: Don't Fall for These Traps • Resoundsound

"The gullibility of audiophiles is what astonishes me the most, even after all these years. How is it possible, how did it ever happen, that they trust fairy-tale purveyors and mystic gurus more than reliable sources of scientific information?"

Peter Aczel - The Audio Critic

no-mqa-sm.jpg

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I have not listened to a vinyl record since I was told that CDs promised "perfect sound forever."

 

What a con Redbook has been.

 

Yes, it was farcical. I've heard that we could have had 88/24 CDs if the greedy companies had waited just one more year. But "perfect sound" can't wait when there's piles of money to be made.

 

Anyhow, digital has come a L O N G way over the past 35 year. The A to D converters got better. CDPs got better. And now we have really good DACs and hi-res files. About 10 years ago, I thought my digital rig sounded *almost* as good as my vinyl rig. Now, I think my DAC playing 24 bit files sounds *better* than my vinyl rig. It combines the textures and liquidity of vinyl with the black backgrounds of digital. Sweet! I rarely play my vinyl rig anymore.

 

YMMV.

Roon ROCK (Roon 1.7; NUC7i3) > Ayre QB-9 Twenty > Ayre AX-5 Twenty > Thiel CS2.4SE (crossovers rebuilt with Clarity CSA and Multicap RTX caps, Mills MRA-12 resistors; ERSE and Jantzen coils; Cardas binding posts and hookup wire); Cardas and OEM power cables, interconnects, and speaker cables

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"Notice I didn't say better, I said different. The numbers don't lie and in every measurable senseRedbook is superior."

 

What are you measuring that leads you to that conclusion? Also, don't forget the stuff you can't measure.

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