Monday, August 3, 2020

Why Vinyl Sounds Better

When the battle ensues, professed audiophiles understand, or should, why old vinyl sounds so much better than CDs or mp3s. It doesn't have to, by the way, but it does. And that's not opinion, it's a sonic fact. Enter loudness and what is referred to as the "Loudness War."

With the advent of the CD, the loudness war began, essentially maxing out and pushing beyond the medium’s ability through what is called "compression" (codec). I'll skip the mumbo jumbo and simplify it: Let's say you have an oboe soloist in your living room. The sonic experience would fill the room. Now, instead, your oboist is accompanied by an amplified guitar. The guitar would simply drown out the oboe. Compression through digital media pushes the sound of the oboe so that it equals that of the guitar. Now you can hear both equally but lose all nuance.

The LP that comes to mind first is the AM10 In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. The track "I Talk to the Wind" begins so imperceptibly that one almost strains to hear it. The production is done to contrast what's next. The LP is meant to be an experience, one of contrasts and extremes. If you grew up with the CD, you wouldn't know that.

For his remixes of classic progressive LPs, Steven Wilson undid the CD's sordid contribution to the Loudness War and reestablished that tonal distinction. Should one listen to the remix vs. the original vinyl, the difference is slight. There's a tad more brilliance and separation of harmonies, but each of the remixes remains true to the original. It's when the remixes are compared to the over-compressed CD versions of the 90s (or worse, the mp3s) that the real difference is clear. For more detailed looks into the Loudness Wars, check out the web or YouTube. I'd recommend instead that you just dive into the analog experience. If you've never heard classics LPs on anything but a CD or on an mp3, you're in for a fabulous experience.

The hero in all of this, particularly for those who enjoy classic progressive rock like Tull and Yes and Gentle Giant, is Steven Wilson. Known most specifically as the frontman of Porcupine Tree, his solo work is not to be missed. Here, though, his latest release, is something completely different. Call it Steven Wilson EDM – it certainly didn't make the critics happy when it was released in March – but I can't stop listening.

"Where 2017’s To the Bone confronted the emerging global issues of post-truth and fake news, The Future Bites places the listener in a world of 21st-century addictions. It’s a place where ongoing, very public experiments constantly take place into the affects of nascent technology on our lives. From out of control retail therapy, manipulative social media and the loss of individuality, The Future Bites is less a bleak vision of an approaching dystopia, more a curious reading of the here and now."

In total to date, Wilson has remixed 53 classic prog LPs including the most important albums from Yes, Jethro Tull and even Chicago II. 

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