Saturday, October 3, 2009

MP3s and Vintage Audio Gear - Bridging the Analog-Digital Divide

Several people have written in and asked what I thought about integrating new, portable audio technology and MP3s with vintage audio gear. While I addressed each email individually, I realize there are probably more of you out there that are interested in this as well.

I'll start by disclosing that I'm 100% in favor of blending old and new audio technologies. There are plenty of purists out there that had a hard enough time adapting to compact disk technology, and want nothing to do with a compressed digital format stored on a solid state device. That's fine, I respect that. Not everyone should be forced to keep up with the cutting edge in audio technology. But if you're at all interested in bridging that analog-digital divide, read on.

Hooking an iPod or other mp3 player up to your vintage stereo can be as easy as finding the proper audio adapter (you can find some HERE in my store, or head to Fry's or Best Buy if you can't wait for shipping), and hooking it up to the "Aux In" jacks on the back of your receiver or preamplifier. You can also hook it up to "Tape In," "CD In," "Video In," essentially, any line-level input. You should NOT hook it up to any "Phono Input" as that has different input characteristics and usually is processed through a Phono Amplifier stage inside the component. Set the volume control on your iPod or mp3 player at one-half full volume, and then use your input selector on your receiver or preamplifier to select the appropriate input.

If you haven't tried listening to mp3s on a vintage receiver, you might be pleasantly-surprised. Many people can't tell an mp3 file recorded at 128 kilobits from the same recording on a CD. "Ripping" your tracks to higher bitrates, reveals even greater clarity and transparency. I suggest using 256 KB, although 160 KB is fine as well. Want even higher fidelity? The other option is to listen to uncompressed audio through your iPod, using Apple Lossless format, or through another portable audio device that can handle FLAC format. Listening to uncompressed audio brings a whole new level of enjoyment to your vintage system, and I highly recommend you try it out. Of course uncompressed audio takes up substantially more memory space - up to ten times the amount of an mp3 recorded at 128 KB.

There are plenty of iPod "docking stations" available as well. One I use is the Keyspan TuneView dock, and it comes with a very handy remote with a built-in LCD screen that shows the iPod interface. Note - this is only available for iPods, so if you have another brand of mp3 player, you'll have to shop for a different device. I've had the TuneView for over a year now and love it. The remote is RF, not IR, so I can change music from almost anywhere in my house. Very handy. It's not cheap, but I consider it worth every cent.

I hope this article answered some questions. Perhaps it raised a few more - great! Send all your questions on in, and I'll try to answer them.

I'm far from an expert, but always happy to give advice based on my experiences.

Happy listening and collecting!

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