too much typing—since 2003


raving and drooling

First, a microrant about words (again): Paula, who serves up delightful offerings over at the Intellectual House o' Pancakes, is working her way through the DVDs of 24. (She isn't watching the current season, and hasn't seen the series to this point, so...ssshhhh!) Anyway, she mentioned that she "mourns the loss of Tony Almeida's soul patch" - and I must take this opportunity to grumble about the term "soul patch." It's insufferable in its assumption of a certain dubious hipness, first of all - and in particular, it's intrinsically self-congratulatory (if the speaker is referring to his own facial hair): "yeah, I got soul..." While I'm not sure what else to call it - the French call it a barbiche, but that would be insufferably pretentious; and "little square chin beard" is accurate if infelicitous - that shouldn't be much of a problem, because...they just plain look stupid, okay?

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will rant at greater length about a more serious topic: vinyl fetishists. I'm not talking about clothing; I'm talking about records, and particularly the folks who just love 7" singles. I understand the nostalgia factor, either for us oldsters or for folks who are into a sixties/seventies thing, but as a medium of sonic reproduction, they're just awful. Because the music was unlikely to be available in any other form, I'm subscribed to a tiny little label's series of 7" singles (the label shall remain nameless, as everyone involved has been perfectly nice to me, and none of the problems have been their fault). The series has brought home to me the serious limitations of the medium. Singles are unable to handle saturation of sound, particularly on the high end - and I know it's not my turntable or stylus, because older LPs display fewer of these problems. Several of the singles have been pressed slightly off-center, making the band (or me) seem drunk, and unfortunately I'm blessed with a pretty good ear such that very fine variations in pitch are painfully obvious to me.

To be fair, I think the label is almost more interested in creating collectible objects than in the music - and it's now rumored that the songs are going to see release on a CD. Even the mp3 format would be preferable to 45s: if the mp3s encoded at a high enough bitrate, the limitations in reproducing high-end sounds (like the notorious low-res cymbal sound that you can exactly reproduce by going "ksssshhhhhh") largely disappear, and at least the pitch is constant.

I've never understood the more general argument about vinyl and "warmth": most of the time, the excessive "harshness" these folks attribute to CDs arose from lame mastering decisions on the very earliest CDs, or from the fact that the source tapes emphasized the high end to compensate for the inability of vinyl to fully reproduce it, and when a medium like CDs came out that could reproduce everything on those source tapes, well, yeah, it sounded a little harsh. And even if it's true that analog reproduction catches subtleties that are lost in translation to the digital realm, in practical terms that's true only if you have a super-expensive turntable and stylus and a fussily taken-care-of, specially pressed piece of vinyl, and you listen to everything only once. It's rather elitist, that is: for most people, who can't afford such equipment and who listen to music repeatedly, you get far better results with CD. CD's superiority as a consumer medium is laughably obvious to me, and no amount of nostalgia for larger record sleeves and artwork, etc., compensates for the inferior sound quality LPs offer on all but the most high-end equipment (if there).

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