For the past few months I have noticed something: Most of my everyday listening is with a portable rig, either at my desk at work or during the daily commute. When I am at home, while I have my entire 800+ CD-collection ripped to lossless files and a whole dedicated setup for listening to it (dedicated Mac Mini with Audiolab M-DAC etc.) I was actually not using it a lot. It’s not that I don’t like the sound, but it is a bit of a faff having to turn everything on, wait for the computer to start up and then having to either turn on the TV to navigate or get out an iPad/iPod/iPhone to use the remote app etc.
After this (slow) realisation, I started thinking back to when I started playing music on my own. My first “real” system was a simple Harman/Kardon CD-player and integrated amp and I lived happily with that for nearly ten years. There was nothing to wait for, just two on-switches and a play-button and then there was music, and there was a bit more “tactility” to the process overall (if not much). I don’t think I’ll ever really go back to the CDs, but I have actually – slowly but surely – started playing a lot more vinyl at home.
Some would say that I have just succumbed to the first “wave” of accumulated nostalgia when you reach your mid-thirties, but it’s not as if I have a long history of actually using vinyl records. Of course I am old enough to know how they work ( ;) ) and I can remember playing records when I was younger on my parents’ stereo. But when I started buying my own music in the early nineties, CD was already the format of choice (and cassettes were still common as well, mainly for exchanging music with friends). The only friends that bought vinyl were a couple with older siblings that had turntables and even they switched to CDs very quickly. As a result, I’ve never really had that much affection for the vinyl format so I do challenge the notion that this is just misty-eyed nostalgia at work :)
To add to that, the turntable obviously has its share of downsides – I had for instance mostly forgotten just how short the side of a record seems when you are working on something and just playing music in the background. I had also forgotten just how much dust a record is capable of attracting and how annoying scratches can be. My turntable is nothing special (a simple Project Debut Carbon albeit with an upgraded cartridge and an aftermarket plexiglass platter), but even so – it sounds very good and it is definitely more of an “experience” or “occasion” to put on a record, lower the stylus and wait for music to come out of the speakers.
So, there we go – I said it: For me this hobby isn’t really about sound quality (at least not only) but also about the experience. Blasphemy to some audiophiles, but a revelation to others maybe? If nothing else, I guess it provides an explanation (or excuse…) for why I continue to design, build and buy a lot of gear that I may never really get to use :D