Think beer snobs are obnoxious?

Nothing on earth is more obnoxious than an audiophile snob. Check out this jabroni:


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Tom Port is a 68-year-old man who spends his days in an office park outside Los Angeles where he takes it upon himself to determine which records are the best-sounding in the world. This is a task for which he considers himself uniquely qualified. Port is a true audio iconoclast. He delights in telling you that the slab of vinyl you’re listening to isn’t worthy of his ears and the only thing more pathetic is the audio setup you’re using to listen to it.

Port developed his self-proclaimed skills over decades of scouring used LP bins, gathering up multiple copies of the same album and comparing them side by side — listening sessions he calls “shootouts.” That’s what I’m here today to observe. It’s just one stop on my year-long search for the perfect sound, an attempt to take a lifelong passion for music and find out if I’ve really been hearing it.

“The number of copies of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ I’ve played or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ are well over 100, maybe close to 200, to find the ones that are really good,” Port says. “I want the best, and that’s exactly what should be driving you. You get this very special record. You may have only five of them in your whole collection. But those five are like a drug. They’re just so beyond anything you’ve ever heard, and you just can’t believe it.”

Port believes that records are like snowflakes — no two are the same. So many things can impact the pressing, including room temperature, the split second the stampers are pressed onto the hot, vinyl biscuit, and unknown factors no human can understand. You can’t find the best-sounding record by reading the marketing sticker proclaiming the latest advances in audio technology. The only way is to use your ears. So Port and his staff at Better Records sit for hours in a windowless room, unplug the small refrigerator in the back so as not to get any electrical interference, and simply listen.
Speaker wires hang from the ceiling like renegade strands of linguine so as not to cross and cause feedback. Port sits in a chair on one side of the room, its position marked under each leg with blue electrical tape. Sunshine English, a staffer, sits at a VPI turntable outfitted with a Dynavector cartridge. On the menu today, at my request, is jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s 1959 album “Quiet Kenny.” It’s an elegant album that has become a collector’s item. Original copies in top condition regularly sell for more than $1,500. I don’t have one of those, but I’ve brought three copies with me, all of which claim to be on the cutting edge of new audio technology.

The first is from the Electric Recording Co., based in London, which produces roughly a dozen albums each year on vintage equipment painstakingly restored by owner Pete Hutchison. ERC makes just 300 copies of each reissue and charges $376 per album. The stock sells out immediately. Then the records pop up on eBay for as much as $2,000.

English has agreed not to reveal which copy is being played so the shootout can be truly blind. She lowers the needle onto the ERC edition of “Quiet Kenny.” Port groans loudly. “Listen to that bass,” he says. “Blah, blah, blah, blah. Who wants to play a record that sounds like this?”

Next up is a copy pressed by Analogue Productions, the Kansas-based label founded by Chad Kassem. Port says that Kassem “has never made a single good sounding record” since AP’s founding in 1991. (Kassem calls Port a “f---ing loser.”) This blind listen gets better marks, which surprises Port when he’s told it’s an Analogue.

“That’s the best-sounding Analogue Productions record I’ve ever heard,” Port says. “Because it’s not terrible.”

The third is a test pressing from Tom “Grover” Biery, a former Warner Bros. veteran who is starting a label called Public Domain Recordings. Biery believes records are too expensive and wants to offer a solid-sounding, cheaper alternative to the costly reissues coming out today. Port calls it serviceable but flat. He grumbles that it’s a mono, not a stereo recording.

“It sounds tonally correct,” he says. “But the problem with mono is everybody is in line between me and Sunshine, and they’re all standing one behind the other. Can you really separate out all those musicians when they’re all right in the middle? It’s very difficult. I don’t like it.”

None of these would make the hot stamper cut. (Port defines a hot stamper as a pressing that sounds better than other copies of the same album.) We talk more about ERC and how coveted Hutchison’s records are in the market. He agrees to try song two on the ERC vinyl, but things don’t get better. I suggest that maybe English adjust the arm on the turntable. The vertical tracking angle, or VTA, as he calls it. “Nothing can fix this record,” he shouts back. “It’s junk. And that guy should be ashamed of himself.”

There is something almost charming in Port’s brash refusal to praise anything pressed in the modern era or to consider a digital source. (He won’t even listen to music in his car; the system just can’t compare to that in his shootout room, he says.)

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And Port’s take, as rigid as it is, makes a certain amount of sense when you consider the scandal that emerged during the reporting for this story.
Mike Esposito, a Phoenix record store owner and YouTuber, claimed that Mobile Fidelity (MoFi), a reissue record label beloved by analog-only purists, had been misleading its customers and using digital files in the production chain.

The revelation sparked outrage among the label’s devotees and plunged audiophiles into something of an existential crisis. Two customers filed a lawsuit against the Sebastopol, Calif., company after an article was published by The Washington Post.

Experts such as Esposito and Michael Fremer, the dean of audiophile writing, had included some of the now-exposed company’s records on their list of the best-sounding analog albums. Could digital technology have advanced enough to fool even the best of ears?
A trio of acclaimed mastering engineers — Bernie Grundman, Kevin Gray and Ryan K. Smith — told me that an all-analog chain always sounds better than an album with a digital step, but that didn’t seem to settle the debate.

It also brought back an exchange I’d had earlier in the summer with Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett. He had spent years working with scientists to create a special record that would capture a recording session in a way a normal LP couldn’t, using materials primarily found in space stations. He recruited Bob Dylan to rerecord his first iconic composition, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Burnett made only one copy of the record. It would be auctioned by Christie’s only weeks after we met in New York for $1.78 million.

After Burnett played me the song, we talked about the process behind the recording. Burnett told me he captured the session on a restored Nagra tape machine as well as a digital recorder. When it came time to put the song on the disc, he chose the digital recording as his source. I asked him whether he worried about the analog crowd. He was unrepentant.
“There was no noise or tape hiss,” he said. “That’s the way we deemed it was best. I don’t have to apologize for it. It’s a great recording.”
Which may lead to the biggest lesson of my quest. Don’t pretend to know everything.
 
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Everybody has that first song they become obsessed with. I was 9 years old when I walked into the Chestnut Hill Mall and bought my first tape, the self-titled debut from the new wave hitmakers, the Cars. I still remember the incredible, distorted crunch of “Good Times Roll” on my rectangular RadioShack tape machine. By 1981, I’d moved on to a Sony Walkman and a couple years later got my first record player. That Panasonic all-in-one could handle LPs, cassettes and tune in to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” By the late ’80s, I had fallen in love with CDs, and a decade later immediately embraced online music. I loved Napster, packed with bootlegs from my favorite artists, and stuffed each successive iPod with as many songs as the hard drive would allow. I never stopped to consider how listening habits changed. I just consumed.

But one day my iPod classic’s battery failed. Instead of trying to resurrect my digital library, I began to move back into records. In 2011, I bought a used Dual 1219 turntable for $150 and restarted the record collection I’d stupidly downsized. I knew very little about which albums to buy and gobbled up $16 reissues from labels like WaxTime and Simply Vinyl. And I never bought old, used records. I believed those hype stickers on the plastic wrap pushing the qualities (180-gram, half-speed remaster!) of the latest pressings. That new record had to be the best ever.

It wasn’t until last year that I began to reassess my own collecting strategy. I also started to notice a shift in the vinyl landscape. So many record reissues were delayed. I asked several artists and publicists why. They told me records weren’t just more popular than at any point in the last few decades, they were selling so well that the biggest entertainment conglomerates — Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. — could not press them fast enough to meet demand.

“My own group can’t even celebrate milestones,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson grumbled when I asked about the anniversary of the Roots’ 1996 record “Illadelph Halflife.” “There are but so many pressing plants in the world, and they’re backed up for, like, months.”

REST OF VERY LONG ARTICLE VIA FREE LINK: https://wapo.st/3Tq8X4T
 

NDallasRuss

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Dec 5, 2002
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Sunshine English, a staffer, sits at a VPI turntable outfitted with a Dynavector cartridge.
I went ahead and skipped to the part of this that interested me.

WHO is Sunshine English?

Well, she may be the love of my life, that's who.

Her FB profile says she's "Former Performer at Venice Beach Freakshow"

And this is her:

61867734_10214469509394616_7052434053487656960_n.jpg


I'm not sure I need to know much else!
 

millah_22

HR Legend
Jun 15, 2004
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My neighbor sets up home audio equipment for a living. Not like the normal home surround sounds, but the $20k+ Italian import systems.

Listening to his takes on audio can be nauseating, but he's not wrong. It's a huge difference.
 
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millah_22

HR Legend
Jun 15, 2004
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I think people who spend $100,000 on fancy sports cars are kind of nuts.

But this? This is genuinely insane:

The basement is cramped, packed with records and Fremer’s equipment, which includes Wilson XVX speakers (retail: $329,000) and the turntable he has decided will be his last, a prototype of Weiss’s K3.
Speakers at that level are wild. They need to be professionally installed, properly angled for echo, and anchored to the ground so they don't move.

 
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Oct 25, 2020
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I went ahead and skipped to the part of this that interested me.

WHO is Sunshine English?

Well, she may be the love of my life, that's who.

Her FB profile says she's "Former Performer at Venice Beach Freakshow"

And this is her:

61867734_10214469509394616_7052434053487656960_n.jpg


I'm not sure I need to know much else!
She wasn’t the bearded lady so I’m scared for you.
 

QChawks

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Feb 11, 2013
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I recall getting a really nice home stereo system in my late 20’s, maybe $5k total. And when I would go into those high end audio places those “experts” would tell me all the reason my system wasn’t good and that only a true audiophile would know the difference.

hated those nerds
 

JMNSHO

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Lol. Some snob. Recorded music. Does he also collect high-end plastic flowers?
 

bhawk24bob

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Jul 8, 2001
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You would think that somebody with such an ear for music that has already gone through the mixing and production process would apply his self-professed skills to mix and produce albums so that anything he touches could meet his stamp of greatness.
 

bhawk24bob

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Jul 8, 2001
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Lol. Some snob. Recorded music. Does he also collect high-end plastic flowers?

For the right price he will come to your house and tell you if you've got the hot coax that puts out a premier picture of over the air tv from the old 15' antenna you have in your attic
 

h-hawk

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Stole this from a LP sound thread. Once I found high quality digital I have never been able to go back to records.
And for some reason, streaming via Tidal is even higher quality than CD. Though I have the ability to do so, I have not yet downloaded high quality digital which would probably be comparable to streaming.

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Eric Oehler

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Reasonably Competent Mastering Engineer (2003–present)2y

A couple things.
  1. Vinyl has higher total harmonic distortion, on average, than CD. This distortion can be perceived, if it’s the right kind, as adding richness to a signal. On some systems there can also be a transfer of mechanical noise into playback - in the form of rumble or motor noise. And as records wear down from being physically played over time, high frequency tends to dull first.
  2. Vinyl mastering requires a whole bunch of operations to work around the physical limitations of a needle moving across a platter. The stereo image in the low frequencies is often reduced or made mono - which can help “solidify” a bass tone in a recording (at the expense of some stereo image). Also, elliptical limiting of high frequencies and general de-essing happens to prevent high frequency signals (often things like hi hats and cymbals) from becoming sibilant and noisy during playback. The result there is a more substantial rolloff of high frequencies.
  3. CDs are not encumbered by the same loudness limitations as vinyl, and as such, loudness war-era masters made for CD jack everything up the ear-fatiguing levels. Anything is going to sound harsh and unpleasant, comparatively.
  4. Early CDs were not always mastered or transferred well. The first CDs were often just vinyl masters pressed into CD, and the converters weren’t always the best. So not only did they not take into account the advantages of the format, they were also subject to more high frequency aliasing noise., since the reconstruction filters involved were not as good. But things have come a long way in 40 years, and unfortunately due to those early recordings there’s a lot of misconception about how digital audio both works and sounds when done correctly.
 

Nole Lou

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After a bunch of metal shows in the 80 and listening to cassettes on my walkman as high as the volume would go....I don't think I could hear the difference.

You and the vast majority of people, no doubt. Over and over again there have been "shootouts" that confirm that most listeners, even those serious about music, can't discern the difference in most equipment and processing. I remember when mp3s came out, a subset of audiophiles absolutely shitting themselves that an mp3 with standard compression was completely unlistenable, unrecognizable as music, and made their dog gay.

I so think there are people with a better ear, or eye in the case of TVs, etc. And I do indeed think that to a significant extent, depending on the ear or eye you're starting with, you can train yourself in the differences. But honestly, at some point you are training yourself in the minutiae that isn't really part of the average listening/viewing experience.

The funny thing about these comparisons with normal people and so forth is that like the overall listener impression is 90% activated by the volume or the brightness. Like, you can set up a $20k set of speakers and a $10K receiver next to a Walmart $400 home theater in a box. You can 100% align every single aspect of the setup for perfect comparison, and of course most people would identify the luxury system as sounding better. But if you turn the shit system like two ticks louder than the luxury system, people choose that one.

Same thing with $4000 OLEDs vs $300 Target TVs. In a perfectly controlled environment with all settings professionally calibrated, more people would choose the OLED. But go in and set the brightness up 5% on the beater, and everyone chooses the $300 TV.
 

seminole97

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Jun 14, 2005
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Audiophiles remind me of this Seinfeld open:

Jerry : I'm going to get a physical examination. That urine sample. Giving them that, that's always a pleasure, isn't it? Then there's always the amount question: "I don't know what you need. I gave you whatever I had there. I got more. Whatever you need, I can get it for you. Just let me know what you need. It's no problem, I mean..." But any kind of physical test, I don't know what it is... I always click into this thing where I wanna do really well. If it's gonna be a physical test, I wanna do well. Remember in school, they'd do hearing tests? And you'd really be listening, you know... trying to really... Trying to do well, I wanna do well. I wanted to do unbelievable on that hearing test. I wanted them to come to me after the hearing test and go: "We think you may have something close to super hearing. What you heard was a cotton ball touching a piece of felt. We're sending the results to Washington. We'd like you to meet the president."


And of course this:

 

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