The Mule stands higher on the turntable

I’ve mentioned before that my approach to vinyl is perhaps a bit backwards. I’m in my 60s, so I grew up with vinyl and became a music lover and serious listener with vinyl. But up until a few years ago, my interests were always first in the musical performance and second in the quality of recording. So when CDs came out, I didn’t buy another vinyl record until a few years ago - when my interest in audio itself came up several notches. My most recent purchases - a Pro-Ject Debut Pro TT and Grado Timbre Series Opus3 MI Cartridge - fairly lower-level high-end for vinyl - were an “experiment” - to see if I could find times where the vinyl setup exceeds digital to my ears. It’s happened a few times, but yesterday is the first it happened BIG TIME.

When I was at the AXPONA show a few months ago, I picked up a newly-remastered LP of Tom Waits’ 1999 Mule Variations album. I know this album extremely well, being a big TW fan, I bought the original CD when it came out - I went to this thing called a record store that some of you might remember. The re-mastered is on the heaviest vinyl I’ve felt this side of my 78 rpm collection, and the surface noise is less than normal. But I can’t believe how much richer everything is in all frequency ranges - from tighter and thicker bass to greater clarity in the highs. Waits’ voice - OK, that is a moving target to analyze - but in the song “Take it with Me” where his voice is in a more conventional role - demonstrates a deeper 3-dimensional purity that I’ve never heard before. Is it the remastering? No, I checked it against the re-mastered digital 96/24. I’ve done this comparison with many examples and never has the difference been clearer.

I’m sure there are other factors involved, but I’m really glad I have both formats to play. And maybe this isn’t the best recording to experiment with, but for my ears, the TT version is the one I’ll revisit from now on.


Whether it is a true comparison between formats does not matter. What matters is learning what one enjoys most, whether overall or on a per recording basis.

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I occasionally encounter hard core audiophile ideologues who proclaim the indisputable superiority of one format over another. It isn’t worth arguing IMHO because it isn’t subjectively true. Pontificate all day about the higher noise floor of a vinyl playback system, the wider dynamic range of digital, the convenience of disc (or streaming) playback, blah, blah, blah. Subjectively, vinyl continues to my ears to have the edge in the areas of palpability and 3-dimensional believability. Digital beats my vinyl front end in low noise floor, dynamic range. I happily co-exist with the two formats because I accept they have distinct advantages I value. No need to further justify supporting and enjoying both.


Fantastic! There are all sorts of potential revelations in this hobby. It’s nice that you shared this one.
180gm vinyl is nice because it’s usually flatter, so is nicer to your cartridge suspension.
And there’s a great selection of albums that have been remastered with the audiophile in mind. This is going to be fun!

Have not heard the CD being more than pleased with my double LP version. A Waits fan here as well.

The music I listen to and enjoy is rather obscure and limited in its availability. In many cases the option for competing formats just isn’t offered. Much of my vinyl was acquired pre-digital so there’s that. These days there is no point in my pursuing the next best format if the performance is already in my library. I’ll add, for new releases should there be an option I typically go with vinyl.

I like to buy from Bandcamp when I can. I can get the digital files immediately. I usually buy Vinyl and CD for each title. Both seem nice. The digital files can live on my NAS and on my collection of portable devices. I love all formats equally.

I miss 8 Track. No rewinding needed ever.


I bought the LP directly from Waits’s website. Free media mail shipping, and the confirmation email came with a link for downloading.


I get it. I never became a Tom fan, for me the revelation that vinyl can sometimes be “better” is with pre-tape material transferred to cd and earlier on vinyl. Sometimes the earlier vinyl transfers sound considerably better, with less frequency the cd version can blow a vinyl one away. To me vinyl and cd are apples and oranges–which is probably just the way my system has evolved with permitted budget. I like both apples AND oranges.

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Makes a lot of sense. it’s not the FORMAT itself that is better than another, by the time we get into high-end audio, it’s what the each individual prefers. And let’s not forget that good engineers, producers, etc. ENGINEER a sound for a certain medium - that recording, mixing, mastering to digital is not the same as for vinyl.

The thing I’m realizing is with my level of equipment - what I’m able to spend, the bang for the buck, I’m usually better off with digital than vinyl. My older brother still thinks his vinyl setup was better than any digital he’s ever heard - until he sold it all because it was too much trouble - but sorry, I’m not willing or able to spend 2 years’ salary on a turntable. So for mid-level high-end, digital is going to do more for me more often. Not always - as this topic illustrates - but more often.

But there’s another thing I’m convinced of: I think there’s something about the vinyl sound that resonates more with our psychological/historical experience of sound as never perfect. Humans are imperfect and we like that, so even when we SAY we’re looking for audio “perfection”, this perfection needs to have a bit of imperfection to fully pull our heartstrings. Does anybody who listens to Tom Waits even want perfection? Would we listen to him at all if we did? Is that bit of surface noise and higher noise floor better for the art he creates? The answers are all subjective, of course, but they factor in, whether we recognize it or not.

Golly, I hadn’t even thought about the flatness factor - but I noticed that these records are really flatter than anything I’ve ever seen. And it makes total sense - the amount of work a cartridge has to do dealing with going up and down hills simply HAS to have an impact on overall sound.

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for the smart people around here!

Don’t get me wrong - I spend very little time comparing formats - I’m a music nut, not a scientist. And my collection of vinyl (and shellac) is fairly big, so it’s nice having a good system to better bring out the details in whatever I’m playing.

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Then add the different physics of different source hardware and the final pathway- our psyche

This might be the first time on this forum I’ve ever read someone “missing” 8-track! But you’re right that it was an advantage to not rewind. I hated rewinding CDs - OK, that’s a joke, but gosh that was nice not to have to drop a needle, then drop it again, then drop it again, scratch, skip… My audiophile brother got started on 8-tracks and tweaked his system to get as much out of that medium as possible, but I just preferred vinyl, reel-to-reel, and cassette.

For quite some time I preferred to buy from Bandcamp or Qobuz or HD Tracks, but now that I’m streaming Qobuz, and after talking to the Qobuz guy at the AXPONA show, I’m pretty certain I’m getting the same level of quality through my Ethernet cable as from a digital file (pretty sure someone is going to tell me I’m crazy for thinking that) I still buy if I can’t stream it, or it’s available in a higher resolution than I get on Q, but it’s a lot less often these days.

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No question.

I, too, like both apples and oranges.


For a couple hours this morning I was streaming. It sounded great and I was not aware of anything missing in the sound.
Then I put a record on and it again sounded great. But now there was an overall sense of humanity filling the room.
It’s like the explanation of porn: I can’t explain it but I know it when I see (hear) it…


Indeed, I streamed Curtis Counce’s You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce!. Nice enough, but it left me wanting. Luckily I found my mis-filed Analog Productions LP reissue, as Ron says, a sense of humanity entered the listening space. Now to find the misplaced Monk!


I treasure my LP reissue of You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce!. One of the sexiest album covers ever to boot.

I can try to understand physics of different source hardware, but I was married for 17 years to a PhD in clinical psychology - the psyche? As Freud used to say, “No way, Jose.”

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One of the best sounding Monk CDs I had was him live at the It Club. Lost the CD years ago and the digital remakes suck in my opinion. Maybe I’ll see if I can find vinyl.