High End 2017: Turntables, digital, CD and the future of music mediums

The Ortofon A95.

Turntable, turntable, turntable, turntable, turntable, turntable, turntable.




Limited Edition Vivaldi One Reference SACD player.

This would be my count if I had to choose a ratio at the High End Show in Munich this week for analog, and digital sources. There’s no doubt in my mind that the turntable is still the medium of choice for manufacturers to showcase their equipment. The DAC/computer is next, with CD/SACD significantly lagging in numbers behind that, and the sudden resurgence in the last year of reel-to-reel showing as strong as CD/SACD in my estimation.

Triangle Arts analog altars.

What does it mean? Well, to me it shows the resilience of a format (the stereo LP) that is going on 70 years old, and can sound as good today as the day it was pressed. There’s very few formats in any medium that have this innate archival longevity. Reel-to-reel? No. Magnetic-media degradation is well documented. CD/SACD? No. CD, and SACD suffer from rot. In fact according to the United States Library of Congress the phenomenon of CD rot is a real problem. They cannot yet pinpoint a mean time frame for all CD failure due to variance in manufacturing, but they’re worried enough about the impact of the rot that they’re transferring everything from CD to computer servers… which they admit also has an unknown archival quality.

Not a turntable in sight: Finkteam, and Octave.
Coverage of High End in Munich brought to you by VPI Industries.

From a listening standpoint my preferences have swayed back, and forth over the years, with the last year containing the largest swing over to digital due to the resurgence in development of the traditional ladder DAC, which does more for digital (to me) than any other aspect in digital audio playback (other than perhaps jitter elimination?). So with the above ratio in hand based upon my admittedly un-scientific methods, and my little wander through the weeds of archival longevity, does this mean high fidelity is ruled by analog or digital, and do they merely pass the title of reigning champ between each other?

Mixing analog with digital to appeal to both sides of the divide: CH Precision, TechDAS, Vivid Audio.

I think it’s becoming more a story of convenience for many audiophiles to choose computer audio over vinyl as digital makes strides to usurp analog, but perhaps it’s less a story of the ease of use that computer audio in particular offers, and more about an emotional entanglement with vinyl that many music-playback lovers, and manufactures at audio shows like High End are unwilling to sever. Regardless of what it is, there’s no denying that the LP still seems to be the source of choice to reach listeners, and create a connection between the sound, the gear, and that most fickle human condition: Emotion.

The past and present melding together: Tune Audio.

Please check back again as we continue our coverage of High End in Munich.

–Rafe Arnott