I Want To Take You Higher

Sunday's Seminar where David Chesky handled moderation (and jokes). From left to right; Andreas Koch, Larry Ho, Rob Robinson, and David Chesky

There were a number of seminars at The NY Audio & AV Show 2012. I moderated Saturday's version of I Want To Take You Higher – The Present and Future of Digital Music Delivery and Playback which included Rob Robinson (Channel D), Larry Ho (Light Harmonic), David Chesky (HDtracks & Chesky Records), and Andreas Koch (Playback Designs). The seminar was an hour long which isn't really much time for introductions, presentations, Q&A (and jokes).

Mikey Fremer gave his World-Famous Turntable Set-Up Seminar before ours and his ran a bit long because of the long lines of fans waiting to meet Michael afterward (no joke). As it turned out, Michael was still packing up his turntable when I began so I said something like, "Some of you may view this as a symbolic event..." which got some giggles from the crowd. I went on to clarify, "Of course I'm joking as I enjoy listening to records." To which Michael added, "Of course, you like music."

And then one of my favorite moments of the seminar occurred when Rob Robinson of Channel D said that he also listens to vinyl about 90% of the time, and then Larry Ho of Light Harmonic shared that he prefers vinyl when listening by himself and computer-based playback for parties and such. And the reason I enjoyed this so much is that in hi-fi we tend to fall into camps, tubes v solid state, analog v digital, and so on. And in my opinion the idea that one camp is more right than another, which is typically justified by the proponents of one side suggesting they are more knowledgeable, is simply nonsense. Here we have three people (I'm including myself) who are deeply involved in computer audio who also enjoy listening to LPs. At the end of the day, the real winners are the people who enjoy listening to music most and most often.

There were a number of interesting questions from the audience ranging from, "What's the least amount you have to pay to get a good DAC?" to "Is USB really a good method of connectivity for audio?" and "Is a purpose-built server better than a computer?". The thing that I found most interesting was the attitude from some people that seemed to suggest they felt a DAC for computer audio did not play by hi-fi component rules. Rather it behaved more akin to an appliance where someone could objectively say that DAC X was good enough for anyone. As if we can avoid the fact that a DAC is as system and personal-preference dependent as everything else in our hi-fi hobby where there's no such thing as the best this or that when we talk about enjoying listening to music.

Sly Stone and his hi-fi

I picked the 1969 Sly And The Family Stone song, I Want To Take You Higher as the title of our seminar because its a song about music. It's a song about the enjoyment of music plain and simple which is why we travel to hi-fi shows and why we spend so much time, energy and money on this wonderful hobby of ours.

kavon yarrum's picture

Lovely write up.

"And in my opinion the idea that one camp is more right than another, which is typically justified by the proponents of one side suggesting they are more knowledgeable, is simply nonsense."

I could not agree more.

I must point, however, from my own personal experience, the Vinyl camp more often than not comes off as smug, arrogant, dismissive, and holier than thou. (Kinda like the way you portrayed me on my views of rap!)

I have heard from Vinyl fetishists that digital "distorts" the music, that no" true" audiophile would be without a turntable setup, that it the format is the most "transparent" to the source, and all sorts of other dogma. 

When presented with opossing opionions from legitimate authorites on the subject (Bob Ludwig, Peter Mew etc) they get all huffy and respond with a "Yeh, but..."

I personally have no use for Vinyl, but I am sure as heck there are all sorts of formats people enjoy...SACD, CD, DVD-A, FLAC, Vinyl, etc. The more the merrier!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I must point, however, from my own personal experience, the Vinyl camp more often than not comes off as smug, arrogant, dismissive, and holier than thou.

I tend to couple that with this,

I personally have no use for Vinyl...

Our chosen sensibilities often inform our sensitivities ;-)

Mycophile's picture


Thanks for the nice comments about the panel discussion session... it was nice to see such a good turnout of interested folks. I should have qualified my statement a little more, though. Yes, I do listen to vinyl more than 90% of the time... but that means vinyl as an analog source feeding a computer (plus ADC and DAC) which is in the signal path 100 percent of the time, if you catch my drift (cf. Mikey’s comprehensive review of our hybrid vinyl / digital products in Stereophile a couple years back). ;-)

I have a decent collection of music on vinyl, and the digital audio that matches it in sound quality comes from high definition, high sample rate sources. In my mind it is not about analog vs. high resolution digital vs. computer audio but what delivers the best possible and most engaging listening experience, and that turns out to be a combination of those three things.


Rob Robinson

kavon yarrum's picture

Rob, thank you for that clarification,.

I must admit, I did find your quote in the context of the post extremely odd, especially since your software has become the darling of the computer audiophile press and byall accounts is a great product.

It is nice to know you are not an absolutist!

Just one more clafication...do you listen to vinyl live, or archived?

Mycophile's picture



By my reckoning high resolution digital (192/24 PCM and perhaps DSD) can deliver the full beauty of vinyl. Put another way, high resolution digital can be indistinguishable from analog vinyl playback.

So to answer your question, it’s live the first time, then archived subsequently, saving wear and tear on playback styli, without giving up any sound quality. I have many turntables and cartridges, and hate setting up a new or replacement cartridge, plus I would like to avoid over-use of favorites, such as a treasured Ortofon A90, which now is irreplaceable.

My vinyl playback is not 100% analog... vinyl only feeds the “headwaters” of the system.

If it were possible to purchase master digital copies of music in my vinyl collection, the 90% likely would drop significantly, but so far less than 1% of my vinyl based music is available in a high definition digital format, and it seems unlikely that will ever be 100%. There is incredible music to find at yard sales and thrift stores that one never knew existed, often in mint condition.

I have said it before, vinyl collectors are just stewards; our records will be enjoyed by others long after we are pushin’ up daisies. But high resolution digital audio has opened new options for audiophiles, including vinyl / analog stalwarts (I didn’t even have a decent CD transport until about 1992; though I added computer audio to my home system in 2002, and it was good-bye transport)...


Rob Robinson

kavon yarrum's picture

Great information, thanks for the post.

Good to know not all audiophile are absolutists! 

I also believe the best high resolution formats are fantastic for archive analog sources of any kind. I have archived many analog tapes for posterity and the results have been nothing less than stellar, even under ciritical listening conditions.

My self, I am a music lover, not a format fetishist, which many are. Including some noted high profile audio reviewers. I listen to everything from mp3 discs in my car, to FLAC files on my server, to reel to reel tape. 

I am sure I am not the only one that finds the snotty baby boomer attitude of vinyl being the only "authentic" listening experience.  Uh, even with LPs mastered from digital.

Keep up the good work, and your input is always appreciated!


Michael Lavorgna's picture

I look forward to exploring this combined trio.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...to better match my intended meaning ;-)

kavon yarrum's picture

And Sly was a true bad ass. I recently got the remastered box set which inlcudes all the studio albums.  Awesome.

Boy Howdy's picture

Mike & Rob:

I was at this seminar and, as I said to Rob at the end, I wish that more was said about the role of the player in digital audio.  I think this is especially necessary given the HUGE number of people who use iTunes as their default player.  Sure there are DAC and connection issues but the player's role is very important too, especially for Hi Res.



Michael Lavorgna's picture

And I do as well.

If you recall that rather long question/complaint from Jay Jay French, one issue he did not raise is the fact that iTunes does not support auto sample rate switching. So when Jay Jay finally figured out how to play back those HD tracks he downloaded from HDTracks, he wouldn’t hear them in their native resolution unless he’d gone into Audio MIDI Setup and manually changed the settings.

Obviously this is just one practical advantage of using a media player like Pure Music.

As with most things in hi-fi, everything matters.

Larry Ho's picture

My believe of digital playback: it could "approach" the analog if we do it right. In math, Shanon and Nyquist theory told us it's possible to perfectly re-assmemble the original analog signal by digital samples.

So go back to basics. If we can have the "Bit Perfect" samples + "Zero Jitter" timing. So the key issue is implementation or how we do it. Since, zero jitter is impossible. The hardware manufaturers should make their best effort to minimize it. 

For music lovers, what we can do? Get the best bit perfect samples out of music, the minumun is 100% bit perfect rip from CD. Maybe the best is re-master and digitalize the original master tape.

On music server side, get the frequency setting right is the minimum, avoiding any sound check, EQ, unnecessary up-sampling/down-sampling are also important.

There are so many things need to be well taken care of. Just like Vinyl playback.

Well... it's never easy for anything if we want to do the BEST. Right?