Transitioning from Vinyl to CD
2014-10-28 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-19 — Brushed up for better readability
When Collecting Vinyl / LPs Came to a Grinding Halt
When CDs started appearing on the market in the 80’s, for a long time I pushed that topic away from my mind, with arguments such as
- My stereo doesn’t have a CD drive.
- Analog is better than digital.
- Why mess up my LP collection with a different format?
- I don’t have much time to listen to music anyway.
However, that didn’t stop a couple CDs from appearing in our household in the form of gifts — that we initially didn’t have a player for. Well, after a while I did buy myself a micro-stereo for my office — mostly for listening to radio. This of course did feature a CD player as well. At some point I added a discman that I could take along on business trips.
The Temptations of a CD Shop
In the mid-90’s I regularly travelled to the Silicon Valley, as part of my job. I finally could not resist following a colleague’s recommendation to visit Tower Records in Mountain View (a shop that has since gone out of business). So, I started purchasing CDs.
Of course, unlike when I started collecting LPs, I now had a better idea what to look for. But that didn’t necessarily make buying decisions easier! I started off with a set of CDs that my colleague had recommended, Schubert’s piano sonatas played by András Schiff — an interpretation that I still like. In my LP collection I had some of these sonatas played by Alfred Brendel (not my favorite in general), plus a few by Andor Földes. And so, over the following years I gradually started building up a CD collection. As listening to LPs had essentially stopped, I tended towards buying works that I liked and knew from LPs, but intuitively (naturally, maybe) I selected interpretations that I did not have on LP. So, at least initially, my growing CD collection was complementing my “other” collection.
Picking CDs in a shop with a large selection, far from home is not risk-free: of course, I did not carry along a database with the contents of my collections, and with over 2000 LPs and CDs (combined) it was increasingly difficult to remember what I had at home and what not. It happened several times that I purchased a CD, just to find out later that the same CD already existed in my collection (hmmm … with one recording that even happened twice!), and I ended up selling these extra copies via online auctions — for almost nothing, as one might expect!
Of course, I still liked many of my interpretations on LP very much. In the back of my mind I was playing with the thought to digitize these LPs (possibly even all LPs?) in order to transfer them to CD. This would also make it more convenient to listen to the music. My initial thought was to use my existing turntables and stereo preamp, to feed the analog signal into my computer for digitization. It turns out that this wasn’t trivial, with my stereo equipment residing in our living room, but my computer in the office. The office lacks the space for setting up the stereo gear, even though loudspeakers would not be required. I also was concerned about vibrations, noise, etc. in my office.
Arguments Against Digitizing LPs
The alternative would be to buy one of these turntables with built-in digitizer. Here, I was concerned whether the MP3 files produced by such a device would be sufficient in quality (I would have preferred loss-less AIFF or similar formats). Plus, why purchase yet another turntable, given that I already have two good, if not excellent turntables in house, and an even older model downstairs, in the basement?
There were additional concerns: no matter which turntable I might use in the end, digitizing an LP implies playing it at full length, with or without listening to the music while digitizing. Plus, I estimated that even more time would be spent on all the extra tasks around this:
- splitting the recorded data into tracks
- post-processing these tracks in order to eliminate the inevitable crackling noise etc.,
- labeling the tracks
- burning them to CD, finally
- scanning the LP cover, print CD cover sheets and insets, and
- labeling the CD itself.
I estimated that doing all this properly could easily consume half a day per LP, more if the LP would require prior cleaning / washing. This stopped me from further pursuing the digitization project.
Buying Digitized Versions on CD Instead
After a while, I was missing my LP recordings — and I realized that many, if not most (certainly a major part) of these interpretations had become available on CD, often even for a very good price, and so the decision boiled down to: do I want to spend half a day of time and effort on digitizing LPs myself, or should I let experts do that job and rather purchase a CD at Amazon for around CHF 10 – 20? That was an easy decision in the end!
OK, some exotic interpretations have not been re-issued on CD so far. For example, I’m disappointed not to have found a CD with Ulf Hoelscher and Michel Béroff playing the Franck and Strauss violin sonatas.
On the other hand: as much as I still like my LP collection, it does contain recordings of questionable value, even recordings that I would now refuse to re-listen: I can’t imagine having the patience to listen to Karl Richter conducting Handel oratorios (Messiah, Saul) in German … to me, there’s not even a historic reason to re-listen to these interpretations. On the other hand, I have not yet made up my mind whether in the end I’ll digitize select LPs that may be unlikely ever to reappear as CDs.
… And Adding New Recordings, Of Course
So, my current CD buying philosophy is a mix of adding
- new compositions that I didn’t have / was missing in my collections
- additional interpretations of compositions that I already have in my collections
- selected, interesting interpretations & compositions from my LP collection. This can either be relatively recent interpretations, or recordings of historic interest, e.g., with conductors such as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini, etc., recordings with instrumentalists such as Glenn Gould, even recordings by Wanda Landowska (as hard, if not almost painful as the latter may be to listen to!).
I’ll give more insights into my CD repertoire in an upcoming blog entry.