For the committed LP fan, especially those dedicated to listening to recordings of early 20th century musicians whose recordings may only be available on vinyl, the shiny silver micro CD system in the corner of most modern living-rooms, perhaps purchased at an out of town supermarket, is an abomination. Suggesting they listen to CDs on an audio system without phono amp or phono preamp, is like asking Raymond Blanc to subsist on a diet of Pot Noodles. In pursuit of the perfect, most authentic sound, these fans will spend much time and money on the perfect phono stage while the rest of the world looks on perplexed at their predilection of a so-called obsolete technology.
Although today only a minority of people under the age of thirty will have bought a 78 or 45 in their time, the ability to record and reproduce sound was so revolutionary that they remained in popular use in one form or another across an entire century from the 1890s right up to the early 1990s. Once cheap CD players became as affordable as turntables, digital music reproduction became king, but the commitment of those dedicated to ‘real’ music recordings is such that the technology behind and the market for turntables, phono stages and cartridges continues to develop at the high end of the audio system market.
Indeed, many purists continue to use vinyl only, arguing that digital music systems – CDs, and MP3 downloads – give a clinical and processed sound that is second best to the records of yesteryear. Others may want to continue listening to their record collection without paying out large amounts of money to purchase duplicates in digital format – and, in any case, many records may simply not be available on CD. The evolution of music playing has also seen an evolution in marketing and corporate strategy, and smaller parties are not economically worth updating. Consequently, vinyl editions of these artists are unique and irreplaceable.
This does not mean that vinyl cannot be combined with state-of-the-art modern sound equipment, though. You can have the best of both worlds, linking your turntable to amplifier and speakers via a phono stage. The work of a phono pre-amp is to amplify the signal from your turntable to make it useful to the main amp; thus a phono amp is an indispensable part of listening to your old LPs on modern equipment, helping to keep the past alive without sanitising it with the vagaries of the new digital systems.
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