What if these music services go out of business? A fair enough question, I suppose, but can anyone think of a breeze, let alone a wind, that’s blowing in that direction? I shouldn’t like what I’ve written here to suggest that you shouldn’t buy hard media or downloads. If I hear a new recording that I really fall in love with, I will often buy the highest-res download if it’s available and/or the CD, especially if it’s something new and unavailable except by purchase or if the notes will be informative or if its shelf life might be limited; a select few older recordings that I especially love (e.g., the Bernstein Vienna opus 131, the Webster/Edison Ben & Sweets) I imagine I’d buy in any improved format that comes along. Then, too, presentation and packaging, including extras, can be awfully tempting: Sony’s set of George Szell’s complete recordings for Epic and Columbia (beautifully remastered with a hardcover book of recording information and original jackets and notes reproduced); Capitol’s Frank Sinatra Concepts (likewise beautifully remastered with Wilt Friedwald’s magisterial notes in hardback); and the sumptuous Decca set of Solti’s Ring cycle (once more beautifully remastered with Blu-ray audio, BBC’s documentary The Golden Ring, and Ring Resounding, the producer John Culshaw’s fabulous history of recording the whole cycle). But far more often when temptation rears its seductive head and I survey my shelves overflowing with CDs and LPs, I find myself remembering Thoreau’s warning that possessions are “more easily acquired than got rid of.” These days you’re lucky to get a pittance selling a CD and sometimes it’s difficult to give them away (nor does old vinyl net you all that much either).
The only remaining issue I’d like to address is what for want of a better word might be called the root experience of digital versus vinyl. This has been articulated by several vinyl/analog enthusiasts, the gist of it being that playing a record somehow involves a more elevated, compelling, even spiritual listening experience because the work of choosing and playing an LP requires a commitment missing with CD or other digital sources, where the convenience and ready availability lessens, perhaps even trivializes the musical experience. This is a difficult argument to engage because it’s not an argument, merely an assertion and an assertion of so personal a nature that the only real counter would be the assertion of a different personal experience. I long ago made my peace in the analog/digital war, mostly because digital has improved so vastly since its introduction. There is no question in my mind that digital is equal to but different from vinyl, which as we all know has a number of euphonic distortions that are very pleasing and that many of us have lived with, and loved, for so long they’ve been elevated into Truth with a capital “T” (not to mention a whole number of other distortions and distractions that are anything but—pitch stability anybody or truly silent backgrounds?). But trying to argue a True Believer out of his belief would be like...well, like trying to argue me into liking beets—save your breath, it’s not going to happen.
So here’s my counter experience: I do not find and have never found the mere act of selecting an LP, placing it on the platter, and cueing it up elevates me to some sort of rarefied transcendental state whereby my attention is more concentrated and intensified than when I place a CD in the drawer or stream a music file. Beethoven gets my full attention regardless of medium or format. Anything else, to quote my colleague Neil Gader, who addressed some of these issues in his review of dCS’s Bartok streaming DAC (TAS 300), is to idealize or even fetishize the experience of vinyl. In my opinion audiophiles who think like this are not appreciating music, they’re appreciating their own appreciation of a medium to which they are wedded, which is as good an illustration of snobbery as I can imagine, and pretty fatuous snobbery at that, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the enjoyment of music. Indeed, when I hear them going on as they often do about the glories of vinyl I wonder what goes through their minds if or when they descend to the slums of digital and listen, say, to an absolutely splendid new recording, available in digital only, released last year by DG, of two magnificent but relatively unknown symphonies by the neglected Viennese master Mieczysław Weinberg, powerfully conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, a rising star, in excellent sound. Are they sitting there thinking, “How much better this would be if only it were in analog on vinyl”? Really? If so, then surely they’re pursuing high-end audio for all the wrong reasons.
One thing my year with NAD’s M50.2 and Aurender’s A10 has taught me is that if they and similar components constituted the only way I could listen to music henceforth, I wouldn’t feel in the least deprived except for not having music that at present is available only on vinyl or hasn’t been transferred to digital. As Robert Harley observed in his editorial “Hi-Res Democratization” (TAS 297), “audio’s overarching goal [is] connecting artists with listeners . . . ultimately music trumps formats.”
Specs & Pricing
NAD Masters M50.2 Digital Music Player
Sample rate: 32kHz to 192kHz, 16/24 bit
Formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG Vorbis, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, MQA, HRA
Storage: 4TB in mirrored RAID
Inputs: USB 2.0 device (Type B) storage (Digital Music Vault); front and rear USB 2.0 Type A for playback via USB stick, hard drive; IR input; 12V trigger in
Outputs: AES/EBU 110 Ohms; TosLink optical; coaxial 75 ohms; HDMI 1.4 (audio only); digital AES/EBU; IR out;12V trigger out
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11n/g 2.4G; Ethernet 10/100/1000Mbs; Bluetooth AptX ; RS232
Dimensions: 17-1/8" x 5¼" x 15"
Weight: 17.9 lbs.
Aurender A10 Caching Music Server
Formats: DSD (DSF, DFF), WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, M4A, APE, and others
Bit and sample rates: SPDIFop to 24-bit, 192kHz (PCM); 1-bit, 2.8MHz (DSD64); USB, 32-bit/384kHz, 1-bit, 2.8MHz (DSD64); 1-bit, 5.6MHz (DSD128)
Inputs: SPDIF optical up to 24-bit/192kHz (optical input will be routed to analog-out only)
Outputs: USB Audio Class 2.0; unbalanced (RCA) 2Vrms; balanced (XLR) 4Vrms; Gigabit Ethernet, USB Port x2
Dimensions: 16.93" x 2.2" x 13.9"
Weight: 22.5 lbs.
633 Granite Court
L1W 3K1 Canada
Aurender America Inc
63 Brixton, Irvine CA 92620