The joys and advantages of listening to music from multiple formats.
many decades I was on a quest to find a single format that could offer
all the music I love with realistic sound that was thrilling, enjoyable
and an intense pleasure to listen to. During the 1970’s that one format
was pre-recorded 7½ IPS Reel to Reel and in the early 1980’s it was
in 1983 I was one of the gullible masses that fell for Sony’s ads with
a picture of a beautiful concert hall and in large print proclaiming
"Perfect Sound Forever". I impatiently waited for months until the
first CD player; the Sony CDP-101 was available, dreaming about
obtaining concert hall realism in my home, I was so thrilled! When I
got it I bought the first Telarc, M&K Real Time and Sony/Japan CDs
released. At first I really liked the Telarc and M&K Real Time CDs
even though there was coldness to the sound, the lack of noise was
impressive. However after a couple of months I started getting dreadful
headaches and really started noticing the shrillness to the sound
texture. After six months I quit listening to music altogether and
traded the Sony CDP-101 in for a Denon receiver to pick up the FM
simulcasts of MTV and HBO, this was before Stereo TV.
was almost two years later until I got back into recorded music, I
bought a turntable for the first time in decades. I didn’t go back to
audiophile cassettes or reel to reel as both were dying. The only
remaining reel to reel producer Barclay-Crocker had announced that they
were going out of business listing competition from CD as the main
reason. Analog tape was the refuge for those of us who disliked surface
noise, pops and ticks etc. Now CD came along and offered another option
to avoid these LP maladies. This also killed the audiophile cassette
market, although the commercial major label cassette market continued
forward to 2007. I have been in and out of many formats and only last
year realized that NO format offered everything I wanted and each
format has it’s pros and cons so I decided I wanted it all. Instead of
format dedication it is format promiscuity I seek. There are things I
love and dislike about every format, and music that sounds the best in
each format as well. Basically I have found analog recordings to sound
the best played on analog formats, and many digital recordings are
only available on digital formats.
Analog Vinyl LPs
done correctly nothing short of a real time duplicated Reel to Reel
tape can sound as exciting, realistic and beautiful as a well made an
analog LP! But less than 1% of LPs take full advantage of the format.
Prior to the advent of CD the vast majority of LPs, mostly from
commercial major labels were compromised to make pressing easier and
lower the rate of returns from the average consumer who had cheap low
quality turntables and cartridges unable to handle heavy modulated
grooves. The deep bass was rolled-off and the remaining summed to mono
to increase playing time. The highs were rolled-off to decrease noise
and distortion extravagated by the poorly made styli used by most
listeners of that time. Plus the dynamic range was compressed to make
LPs sound louder and to make the added noise of recycled vinyl less
least compromised of the commercial LPs were make by companies such as
Decca/London, Harmonia Mundi, Lyrita and a handful of others. Next came
Direct to Disc in which we really began to hear what the LP format was
capable of, the Direct Discs from Sheffield Lab and Crystal Clear to
this day remain some of the best LPs ever made. Then came Telarc
Soundstream 50kHz Digital LPs, with the infamous "bass drum" heard
around the world. Telarc showed that deep, deep bass was possible on LP
by accurately spacing the grooves and limited playing time to less than
23 minutes per side. To this day these remain some of the best digital
has offered and many are available on SACD as well, the only real
objection is the highs which are less transparent because of the use of
a digital recorder. Next Reference Recordings showed us how deep bass
could go in a pure analog LP in their famous "Pomp and Pipes" recording
among many others. So nowadays deep bass is more common on audiophile
I love about LPs is the cream of the crop, the 1% of the wonderful
sounding ones. Most of my LPs are of the audiophile variety but I do
have a few commercial ones I have retained from my thrift store visits.
Many of my LPs are not available in any other format.
Analog 7½ IPS Pre-recorded Reel to Reel
to Reel at its best offers the finest and most thrilling sound from my
stereo system, with deep, deep bass and usually extended high
frequencies with superb soundstaging. My best sounding Reel to Reels
are the ones duplicated in real time on mastering tape such as those
from Sound Ideas. Also reels from the 1950’s – 1960’s from such labels
as Bel Canto, RCA Living Stereo, Mercury Living Presence, London/Decca,
Audio Fidelity and others, the earliest of these are also duplicated in
Real Time. There is a lot of great period popular music that
never made it to stereo LP or any other format. That is because tape
had stereo before LP and thus was released as a mono LP and when stereo
made it to LP the titles were out of print making the Reel to Reel the
only stereo version.
Classical and Jazz commercial major label’s Reel to Reel versions were
not compressed, or rolled off like the LP versions. So 7½ IPS Reel to
Reel is the best way to get recordings from Decca/London, Deutsche
Grammophon, Philips and Columbia.
most "Rock" Reel to Reels were recorded at 3¾ IPS and sound totally
dreadful to my ears, especially overloaded distorted sound with rolled
off highs. There are a few 7½ IPS "Rock" reels and those sound
excellent. The original price of the 3¾ IPS reels was $1.00 less than
7½ IPS, I guess they figured that those who liked rock wouldn’t be
willing to pay the extra dollar? I prefer rock music on cassettes.
disadvantages of buying used Reel to Reel tapes includes the previous
owners improper storage, playing tapes with magnetized heads, and
laying the tapes on near magnetic fields. Plus some tapes made
during the late 1970’s – 1980’s using backcoated polyester tape can
squeal due to "shredded tape syndrome". I either bid low or look for
money back guarantee. Out of over 150 Reel to Reel purchases I have
returned three and have thrown another six in the trash due to this
My reel to reel collection is a real musical and sonic treasure and it is kinda cool watching the reels spin!
no secret that this is my favorite format. Cassettes may not have the
best sound every time but the shocker is how often the cassette version
will beat the LP, CD, DVD-Audio and even sometimes the SACD version!
And all this from an itty-bitty format that creeps along at 1 7/8 IPS!
reason that faster tape speeds sound better is because there are more
magnetic particles per second of music. Thus cassette makers using
different tape formulas and more densely packing magnetic particles are
able to get resolution surpassing 3¾ IPS Reel to Reel at only 1 7/8 IPS
on a tape that is half as wide. To imagine what a miracle this is 3¾
IPS Reels have four times the tape surface area of a 1 7/8 IPS
best of course are the audiophile cassettes but many commercial major
label recordings also sound great though to a lesser degree.
Cassette is the format where Rock music sounds the absolute best and it
is the format in which I experienced the most goose bumps! I do have a
Nakamichi cassette deck but it is only a 2-head unit, in which I keep
the azimuth aligned. The deep bass, the liquid midrange, and the sonic
realism on most cassettes is amazing, and the high frequency response
is only surpassed by Reel to Reel and the better LPs and SACDs.
cassettes are also the safest format to buy used; I have only bought
one that had damage from a stray magnetic field. Plus no matter what
label the cassette is on it usually sounds good, the only ones I reject
are the ones in which I do not like the music. I play pre-recorded
cassettes more than any other format.
can and more often than not sound totally dreadful. I have finally
gotten CD playback to an acceptable level where the best CDs are
listenable and often enjoyable. But most CDs still suffer from
incorrect timbres of recorded musical instruments coupled with gross
upper midrange shrillness and rolled-off high frequencies making
violins sound edgy and spiky and high percussion instruments sound
from such companies as Telarc and Reference Recordings often sound very
good. Now that I have acceptable CD playback it is nice to have the
earlier Erich Kunzel recordings not available on SACD, also there are
other CDs that I have added that are not available on any other format.
CD is my least favorite format.
love the sound of SACDs especially those PURE DSD one’s from Telarc’s
classical division. This is the most analog sounding of all digital
formats. But there are bad SACDs as well, for example the LSO Live
SACD’s which sound as bad as the worst CDs and are recorded DSD. Some
blame the concert hall and the microphone techniques. Many SACDs from
low-resolution PCM masters also sound poor.
the past I have left SACDs due to reoccurring "TOC" reading problems of
hybrid discs. I am hoping this problem is solved now, I will let you
know so stay tuned. For me SACD will mostly be for the Erich Kunzel and
Paavo Jarvi recordings I can’t get in the analog formats.
have my player set to 2-channel stereo and it picks the 2-channel
program for me and starts playing as soon as I put in the SACD.
can sound excellent as well although it is a pain sometimes to find the
2-channel problem as you usually have to turn on the TV and select it
from the menu.
DVD-Audios are from analog masters which sound better on LP or Reel to
Reel but there are some excellent original 24 Bit 96kHz ones from AIX.
How I find my music
is databases that make collecting multiple formats possible for me.
Since all these formats are different sizes they cannot be stored
together. This is another reason I believe most people try to stick
with one format as they are the same size and they can just arrange
everything alphabetical and can easily find what they want to play.
not so easy with multiple formats as they are all different sizes. So
unless I remember which format a recording is in this can be
frustrating. But not with a good database, I use MS Access Music
Collection 1 modified for the information I want to save on each
recording coupled with a MS Word document of all my Classical works
arranged by composer and the record number they are on. Here is an
example of my first entry:
ADAM, ADOLPHE (1803-1856)
Le Diable A Quatre Ballet
Bonynge, London Symphony Orchestra [4 Track 7½ IPS RTR] London ffrr / Ampex LCL-80171
If I Were King: Overture (1852)
Agoult, New Symphony Orchestra of London [LP] RCA Living Stereo / Classic Records LSC-2134
this I would know that the "Le Diable A Quatre" ballet is under Adam in
my Reel to Reel rack. To find the "If I Were King" I would go to my
Music Collection database and look up LSC-2134.
Raymond Agoult, New Symphony Orchestra of London
RCA Living Stereo / Classic Records LSC-2134
Thus I would know it was under "OVERTURE! OVERTURE!" in my LP rack.
would be lost without a database and likely unable to enjoy music on
multiple formats. Since I have nearly every consumer format except 8
Track I have been able to find 99% of the music I love and because I
also have high resolution digital formats I can discover new music and
of course I am always discovering new to me music on the analog formats.
closing multiple formats open up many vistas previously closed to me by
concentrating on a single format. And in the end it is all about music