Many people think that science will eventually be able to explain everything that happens in nature, and that technology will be able to reproduce it. Perhaps that is so, but even then, that day lies far into the future. Probably a more likely scenario is that the further science and technology advance, the deeper the mysteries of the world will grow. Even with topics that we believe science has solved for good, when you take a closer look, you'll find that plenty of problems have slipped through the cracks or been swept under the carpet. Furthermore, these are often the issues that are closest to us and most important in our daily lives. Take hunches or intuitions or premonitions, for example. They may have rational-sounding explanations, but our gut feelings tell us something is not quite right after all. Such examples are not at all uncommon. When you think about it, there are lots of things that modern civilization has forgotten all about. Maybe the time has come to stop for a moment and try to remember. The seeds of forthcoming science and technology are impatiently waiting to be discovered among the things we have left behind.
Did you know that the number of vinyl records pressed have been steadily increasing over the last couple of years? Foreign artists release their latest albums on vinyl as well, and new record player models are launched. The major Japanese record companies have also revived their record pressing facilities. Vinyl records, which people used to think were dead media, seem to be back to stay.
The leaders in this revival is the young generation who grew up with the sound of CDs and use music streaming services on their smartphones. But why do these new fans feel attracted to vinyl records in an age when you can listen to millions of songs anytime, anywhere with just a single click?
Tetsuji Aoyagi is the CEO of the company Digital Stream, which produces the audio brand DS Audio. He is also a member of the CD generation who is fascinated by vinyl records, and remembers the impact when he first heard a record at the home of an audiophile friend.
“Michael Jackson’s Thriller gave me goosebumps.” Aoyagi was captivated by the sound of the record which was like nothing he had ever experienced before, and learnt that his friend’s audio system was equipped with a so-called laser cartridge. This is a device that uses a laser beam instead of a pickup needle to capture the information in the grooves and can reproduce sound with higher fidelity than a regular magnetic MM/MC cartridge. About 40 years ago, several Japanese audio makers sold such laser cartridges, but production was difficult due to the technological limitations of the times, and before long they disappeared from the market to become a legend.
Digital Stream is a development company specializing in optical technology, and Aoyagi embarked on the development of a new laser cartridge based on the company’s expertise. Using the latest optical technology, they succeeded in overcoming the manufacturing challenges, and the reborn laser cartridge for the present age has obtained a high reputation both in Japan and abroad.
“Some audiophiles who remembered the old Japanese laser cartridges became very interested, and a German specialist journal gave it their highest rating ever.”
Given the revival of vinyl records, it feels inevitable that the laser cartridge was also resurrected at the same time after all these years.
“The trend of digitization of music evolved as a result of the pursuit of ease-of-use, one might say, but ease-of-use is surely not the only gauge for music. The popular revival of analog records is the antithesis to digitization. The music fans who choose vinyl records probably have other yardsticks than ease-of-use.”
This is how Aoyagi analyses the record revival movement.
“Nowadays we can listen anytime and anywhere, but in exchange music has been reduced to merely a background sound. With digital music, you can easily skip songs you don’t like, but with an LP, you have to listen to the songs one by one. It might seem inconvenient, but as you seriously listen to a record, you also naturally pick up the ideas that the artists had in mind when they created the album.”
There are now new high resolution standards that surpass the sound quality of CDs, but high-end audiophiles still rate the sound of vinyl records even higher.
“How good the music sounds cannot be inferred from the specifications alone. A flat frequency response supposedly gives a good, clear sound, but some fans think a slightly wavy response curve sounds better.”
When manufacturing products, there are certain values and specifications that must be exceeded to some extent, of course, but beyond that there are no absolutely correct answers, Aoyagi believes.
“From that point, it’s up to the listener’s own taste. In the case of DS Audio, it is I who make the final judgment. If people don’t like that sound, they are free to purchase the products of some other manufacturer is all I can say. You have to make a decision at some point, but it is also interesting, I feel.”
If you ask a hundred listeners what the ideal sound is, you will get a hundred different answers.
“It’s like asking a hundred guys what kind of girls they like. Just a single answer is out of the question.”
Each audio maker is convinced that their company has the right answer, and music fans are free to choose between the products according to their own taste. Maybe this means a richer music culture.
The revival of analog records does not take anything away from the digital market. It is important that both markets expand, Aoyagi says.
“Thanks to digitization, there are definitely more people now who enjoy music every day than back in the golden age of LPs. It’s pointless by now to fight over whether digital or analog is best. I really would like young people who have only heard digital music and have only listened to it through headphones to know the charm of listening to an analog record through a pair of speakers. There are many ways to enjoy music, both streaming and analog. Usually you listen to digital music through your smartphone, but when you want to listen more carefully you choose a vinyl record. That’s how it ought to be.”
In other genres than music, the coexistence of digital and analog is already well-established, Aoyagi points out.
“Even if we communicate with our friends over the Internet and SNS, we sometimes want to meet face to face to talk directly. People buy tickets to go to shows and see artists and hear their voices live. It’s because they want something analog.”
Digital-only connections are easily made, but also easily broken. For analog ties, on the other hand, once a firm relationship has been built up, it is not so easily torn apart again.
“I would like to meet all the customers who have purchased our products, but unfortunately that is not possible. The least I can do is to include a handwritten message card as a sign of gratitude.”
No matter how digitization develops, people themselves remain analog.