Reviewer: Arvind Kohli - TNT USA
Reviewed: May, 2006
By the time I started out in this hobby, the CD format had attained irrevocable commercial success and had displaced vinyl/cassette as the main format. As a result, I never did get around to experiencing vinyl in my personal system. This I am sure is parallel to the experience of most the younger members of this hobby.
The question that keeps popping up in my mind is; should I add vinyl to my audio stable? A litany of pros and cons flood my mind, and then I am inundated with a barrage of opinions and thoughts when I discuss with other hobbyists or read articles on the matter. Over many months I teetered in either direction, and could not make a clear decision either way.
There was only one way to resolve this question. I would need to experience the format for myself for an extended period of time. So I embarked on a voyage to evaluate the vinyl format and present my findings to you.
But, first I needed a set of criteria, by which I would finally determine if vinyl indeed is for me.
There are only four ways I could justify adding the vinyl format to an audio system today, others may have different criteria. I will demonstrate the outcomes of my experiments and my conclusion with respect to these four criteria.
1] If it is cheaper to listen to vinyl than digital formats, assuming I already have a $3,000USD Universal disc player (which is what bean-counters like me call a sunk cost);
My benchmark for cheaply purchased CD/SACDs is about $5.00USD a piece (used or thru bmgmusic.com). So, to be cost effective I should be able to buy records for much less, considering I then have to add the cost of a turntable and ancillary gear. Let us assume a basic used turntable/arm/cartridge/phono amp, sleeves and cleaning supplies; I cannot see this costing less than $500USD. A more realistic tag would be closer to $1000 USD.
Now, I can buy used records for dirt cheap (between $0.50 and $5.00USD). But even in the most optimistic scenario, I would have to get 111 records, in good condition at $0.50 average and a turntable setup for $500 to breakeven with an average $5.00 CD price for those same 111 albums. This outcome is very unlikely.
In a more realistic scenario, where used records average $4.00 and gear costs $1000, my breakeven point just shot up to 1,000 albums. And of course, the sonic quality of this vinyl setup must equal or better that of my CD setup; because I cannot justify adding a lesser sounding format to my audio habit, even if it is cheaper.
So, I will prematurely conclude that I will probably not be able to justify adding the vinyl format to a system that already has a digital source, on a strictly financial basis. I will still keep an open mind to this criteria, in case reality points in a direction different from what I have predicted.
2] If it is cheaper to listen to vinyl than digital formats; now assuming I don’t have a CD player and I have $3,000 to choose between a Universal disc player and a vinyl setup. When it comes to selecting only one format as a source, it is important to understand the issues with the software for each medium.
On average, used vinyl costs a bit less than used digital media. Used vinyl has better availability in larger cities than smaller ones, and is better for collecting older recordings, many of which have not made it to digital (and may never).
On new media, I would have to say that vinyl is much costlier, and has a more restricted selection of newer recordings. Digital media on the other hand is pervasively available, new and used.
I only know of one person, who has only vinyl as a source. In my opinion, you cannot escape owning a digital source today, unless you have absolutely no interest in most new releases. While this criteria is not completely realistic, it will serve as a useful reference point.
3] If it sounds better than digital formats (i.e. CD, SACD, DVD-Audio).
If vinyl sounds better, then game over…vinyl wins. Now it would be up to each of us to decide if the price of adding/replacing a format is worth the improved sound. Frankly, this is the rationale I am most interested in; the first two are academic excercises.
4] If you must own recording not available in a digital medium. This criteria would apply to audiophiles who fit the term literally, they are music lovers and not gearheads. For them the questions has already been answered, it is imperative to own a vinyl setup to be able to listen to all those recordings not available on digital formats.
At the end of my series, I will let you know if I have come across any such recordings, and if this criteria has any merit in my books. Now, on with the show...
© Copyright 2006 Arvind Kohli - www.tnt-audio.com