Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The case for Vinyl in the Digital Age... or: Why does it sound better?

Here at Vinyl Gourmet we know that nothing sounds as good as Full Analog Vinyl, cut from Analog Master Tapes with 100% analog mastering chain. But we also know there is a place for Vinyl in the Digital Age, regardless of source type vinyl is still the best way to enjoy your music.

This is one of the most common questions about vinyl these days. In this Digital Age we live in, where most music is in fact recorded digitally, why is Vinyl a viable proposition and why should we expect better sound reproduction from vinyl records?

It's a very good question, and even though most people instinctively found the answer just by using their ears and actually listening to records to learn that they do usually sound much better in the real world today, it's very important that audiophiles and consumers in general understand why this happens. 

The answer to this question involves the correct understanding of what makes recorded music sound like it does and how this relates to audio formats as they changed over time. There are multiple factors contributing for great sounding vinyl records today:

01 - High Resolution Sources. Industry Standard today for Studio Digital Audio resolution is at 24bit depth / 96kHz sampling rate or higher. It's not uncommon to find most recording, mixing and mastering studios today working with a baseline of 24bit/192kHz, and most archival transfers done at the big labels from their treasured vaults is actually going up to 32bit depth! Most vinyl records today are mastered from the highest resolution digital sources available, usually 24bit sources that are much higher resolution than the 16bit/44kHz CD has to offer.

02 - Better Mastering. Most quality digitally sourced vinyl made today is mastered specifically for the vinyl format from high resolution sources. This means that the production goals of the vinyl mastering are not the same and can actually be much different from the goals of mastering for iPod, streaming, or for a CD that will get a lot of car play. Usually better dynamics and balanced EQ are top priority for vinyl mastering. Most of the dreadful aberrations common in digital mastering from the last 10 or 15 years, like extreme dynamic compression and limiting (the so called Loudness Wars) and exorbitant EQ choices for over-the-top brightness, are not even reasonable technical options when mastering for vinyl, it would be just silly to do that when cutting the lacquer, some of those moves that make digital mastering often sound so bad would actually be impossible on a cutting lathe, the cutter head would burn out and dozens of acetates would be wasted...

03 - Digital is much more than resolution.
It involves Analog to Digital Conversion (ADC) and/or Digital to Analog Conversion (DAC) processes that are very complex and easy to disturb. True digital quality results from high resolution and from extremely controlled operation environment to prevent data loss or degradation in the time domain, it's about how it is actually processed and relayed through cables and between interfaces, how different algorithms work to correct errors, the actual processing power and speed to ensure only the best possible filtering is applied to shape the conversion effectively. Professional studio digital is a completely different universe when compared to domestic home digital, no matter how much "audiophile" your DAC says it is it will still be put to shame by the controlled studio environment. Most likely the DAC process result used for mastering the digitally sourced vinyl LP will sound much better than the sound you get from the DAC process being made in your home system. Your vinyl playback might just expose that weakness in domestic digital systems...

In short, if you stay away from bad quality vinyl from well known "junk" labels that are just taking advantage of the growing vinyl sales worldwide (you know, the usual junk from labels like DOL or Wax Time, Vinyl Passion, Vinyl Lovers, Doxy, Lilith, Not Now Music, Jazz Wax, in some ways even MOV, and many more), you can be sure that in general vinyl records are actually the best option today to enjoy contemporary music with the highest possible sound quality, even if they are digital recordings, and they also sound better than consumer grade high resolution music files because they are mastered better for vinyl.

Actually, I can't remember a single major release of new music from the last several years that sounds better on any digital format than on the corresponding vinyl release. The ratio of bad mastering for digital formats is much higher than the ratio of bad mastering for vinyl, and in addition to better sound, with vinyl you also get decent large format artwork, a collectible physical object that increases the ownership satisfaction and intensifies the relationship with the album, and a much higher potential to maintain financial value or even increase in value over time.

Of course, all this is is a non-issue for full analog vinyl being cut from 100% analog recordings, and we are fortunate to have many of those at Vinyl Gourmet. But that is something everybody already knows, analog is king!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Amiina Kurr 2007 debut album - Deluxe Double LP 200g Vinyl + Bonus Track

Best known for a decade recording and performing live with Sigur Rós, Amiina was formed in the late 90's as a quartet of girls from Reykjavík College of Music to explore delicate sounds with strings and subtle electronica, setting the tone for very deep and sensorial Icelandic music experience. Amiina's debut album, Kurr flows in a strange, powerful place between sophistication and innocence.

  • Double LP
  • DMM Direct Metal Mastering cut
  • 200 Grams Vinyl
  • Bonus track: "Hilli (At The Top Of The World)", the last recording of Lee Hazlewood

Originally a string quartet formed by four girls (Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Hildur Ársælsdóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir) at the Reykjavík College of Music in the late 1990s, amiina went on to cut its teeth as Sigur Rós' string section for the next decade.

In 1999 the quartet joined Icelandic band Sigur Rós on stage. The collaboration has continued ever since with amiina contributing strings to Sigur Rós’ music on tours and in the recording studio on the albums ( ) , Takk and Með Suð... In 2004 amiina’s first EP AnimaminA was released, followed by the Seoul single (2006), the album Kurr (2007), a Lee Hazlewood collaboration on a 7” vinyl Hilli (at the Top of...) (2008) and the limited release EP Re Minore (2009).

Amiina's debut album, Kurr (2007), was performed on a disparate jumble of instruments – musical saws, kalimbas, music boxes and seemingly anything that could be plucked, bowed or beaten on – resulting in a work that ebbed and flowed “in a strange, powerful place between sophistication and innocence,” according to The Guardian.

Cover by Egill Kalevi Karlsson. Mastered by Graeme Durham (Founding member and mastering engineer at The Exchange, London). Recorded by Eimmur Hákonarson, Kjartan Sveinsson, Mads Christian Brauer. Mixed by Birgir Jón Birgisson.

DMM reissue of Amiina’s Kurr, featuring the bonus track: "Hilli (At The Top Of The World)", the last ever recording of the legendary songwriter and producer Lee Hazlewood. Originally released in June 2007, this is the first ever vinyl issue of the album and comes in Deluxe 200g vinyl.

Track Listing:

01. Sogg
02. Rugla
03. Glmur
04. Seoul
05. Lpna
06. Hilli
07. Sexfaldur
08. Kolapot
09. Saga
10. Lri
11. Blfeldur
12. Boga
13. Hilli (At the Top of the World) featuring Lee Hazlewood

Available on Vinyl Gourmet Store: