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One Person's Journey: The Listening Experience

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This will be the last of my four posts describing my entry into the computer audio world. Thanks for reading.


I listen to music differently now. The ease of finding music has led me to listen to music that I had not heard in years. I typically listen in one of three modes: intentional listening to whole albums or works or large chunks thereof; listening to a series of related pieces; or shuffle, usually when I’m tired and don’t want to think too hard about what I want to hear. Shuffle in particular introduces me to long-forgotten music that I would never have bothered to track down had I stuck with my silver disks. I also like to build playlists, especially if friends will be listening. Bottom line: I listen to more music and more widely varied music than before.


My plan is to give away the majority of my silver disks to music-loving friends. In return, they will make their digital collections available for ripping. My music collection will expand; their music collection will expand. We’ll have expended nothing except the time that is necessary to build good relationships.


I’m not too concerned about liner notes, album art and such. If I’m interested in learning more about a particular artist, recording, or song, the internet is a few clicks away. I’ve scanned in liner notes for a substantial portion of my library and that is also available in a few clicks. I also have a small library of books that covers lots of ground in classical and jazz.


Another benefit to computer audio: hi-rez music. At this point, hi-rez music comprises one to two percent of my library, although it receives a disproportionate amount of my listening attention.


There are some downsides to the hi-rez experience. First and foremost is the paltry availability of hi-rez music. Although it seems there are more sites popping up every month and there is some interesting new music in hi-rez formats, I just want the industry to hurry up and convert more of their old libraries to hi-rez. Maybe when they finally choose to release the Beatles archives in all their 24/192 glory, some people will see that money can be made in this area. When, for example, are we going to see Joni Mitchell’s catalogue available in hi-rez?


Another downside is that the 20 or so SACDs I had accumulated are now only available to me in their Redbook layer. I have been able to extract hi-rez files from 3 or 4 DVD-Audio disks using the DVDAExplorer and they sound mighty fine (I recommend Beck’s Sea Change in particular).


In the meantime, the sonic quality on certain hi-rez files is phenomenal. Try some of the High Definition Tape Transfer files; in particular, listen to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in a performance by the Ars Nova chamber group. Although this is a 1950s recording, it has been lovingly converted to 24/192 and you would not believe its presence and immediacy. I’m not sure I have another recording that is so “in the room” present. This really bodes well for the future of restoring and converting old analogue tapes to hi-rez digital formats.


Fun audiophile-type comparisons can be done with hi-rez files. For example, I have three copies—a vinyl record, a Redbook CD, and a 24/96 High Definition Tape Transfer—of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony performed by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. The HDTT version absolutely shames the others; it is just so much more alive. Musical intention is so much easier to divine.


Music that I previously thought a paragon of state-of-the-art recording has also been found wanting when compared to hi-rez versions of the same recording. Good examples are found in the Reference Recordings library. When comparing versions of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, my friend commented that the Redbook CD sounded crude or rough when compared to the 24/176.4 version (downsampled by iTunes to 24/88.2 through the Ayre QB-9).


It is also fun to compare vinyl to digital. I have to say that it is tough to beat really well-recorded music, on an excellent vinyl pressing, on a carefully set up turntable. The stars don’t align like this very often, however (although certainly often enough to make it worthwhile, in my opinion). It still kind of shocks me how much variability there is from recording to recording, from vinyl pressing to vinyl pressing. I recently bought a vinyl double-album copy of Radiohead’s Ok Computer on Capitol. So disappointing. When I listen to the Redbook version through my computer audio set-up, it’s like somebody pressure-washed the vinyl, exposing a completely different and pristine version of the same music. On the other hand, I recently bought a used, slightly beat-up version of Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth for about $7, a jazz classic from 1961. It absolutely stomps the CD.


I guess this is all just part of the fun of the hobby. Happy listening.



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