Is Digital Analogous to Analogue?

It seems that, contrary to expectations, the few remaining record stores still selling old-fashioned vinyl LPs and singles are flourishing here in England. At first you might think this is only because old codgers like me just have an old record player, and we spend our days looking for rare copies of original Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath albums. However, according to a recent item in the newspaper, young people are now discovering the joys of thirty-three-and-a-third as well.

Quite what young people are actually looking for wasn't made clear in the report. I doubt that much modern music is released on LP these days, but there are plenty of kids that are into classic rock, and even the older blues music of my teenage years. And there's always the argument that music sounds better in its original analogue form, with a more flowing and a warmer tone than the digital equivalent. Plus, as most people will have discovered, all those promises we were given years ago that CDs are almost indestructible have proved to be somewhat less than wholly fulfilled. I've got plenty that skip or where the music breaks up.

However, the sheer ease of use and availability of digitally stored music, especially in a house full of computers like ours, means that we're never likely to go back to vinyl. In fact, I did make a start digitizing my collection of old LPs at one time. I bought a good quality pre-amp for my old record deck, and installed a selection of software for capturing digital streams. Then some more to break it into separate tracks, level the volume a little, remove the pops and scratches, and de-hiss it.

Of course, every LP took hours to digitize. You forget how easy ripping a CD at 24x speed is; you can't do that with an LP. Instead it's an hour of recording, another hour of splitting the tracks and cleaning it up to get rid of noise, and then twenty minutes typing in the track names and details. Compare that to ripping a CD in three minutes, and having all the details filled in automatically by a remote music search provider.

But after what seemed like a week digitizing some of my rarer albums and singles, I discovered that I can buy most of the less rare ones on CD at silly low prices. I probably paid about two hundred pounds in the equivalent of today's money to buy the Rolling Stones album "12 x 5" when it first came out, but I can buy a brand new remastered copy on CD from Amazon today for five pounds. And King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" for eight pounds. Including post and packing.

Even better, I can play the CDs in my car as well as ripping them to my server for listening in the house or on an MP3 player (hopefully this is legal - if not, I didn't do it. Honest). And, with my deteriorated sense of hearing, I doubt that I could tell the difference between vinyl and digital anyway. In the end I just replaced most of the LPs with new CDs, even getting the bonus of extra tracks on some. Meanwhile the old LPs are carefully stored away in the attic just in case, someday, they regain a value comparable with their original price.

So maybe digital is better overall for your music collection. But what about for broadcast? I've written endlessly about the problems here in the UK with the change from analogue to digital TV (DVB). We never had a problem getting the old five analogue channels, but dragging enough digits to out of the sky assemble a TV picture, even with a huge multi-element high-gain contraption ten feet above the chimney top for the birds to roost on, seems impossible some days. They call the effect of the picture breaking up into large lumps "blocking". I call it "rubbish".

And now they want to turn off the analogue FM signal in 2015 and force us all to use digital radios (DAB). Some chance. I have an eight foot antenna in the attic but all I can get is three digital channels and a dozen more hissy ones that might be playing music – but who could tell? It might as well be an endless tape of the sea and whales singing for all of the sense it makes.

And can you really see this working in a car? It would be back to the days of CB radio where we all had huge whippy aerials stuck on the car roof, and it would probably only pick up a signal when you were at the top of a hill. Thankfully they can't do it until 50% of the population is already on DAB, and that's not going to happen any time soon.

Mind you, I did hear about a guy standing at the side of the road on a sharp corner who suffered severe injuries when a vehicle with a huge whippy aerial went round the corner at high speed. The emergency medic said it was the worst case of van aerial disease he'd ever seen...

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