One of the most fun jobs I ever had was working at Speakerlab in it's glory days. This was the late 70's, which coincided with some of the best music ever recorded.
Since I am pretty restricted in what I do because of the cancer tumor in my spine, I finally got out my old stereo equipment, and unboxed the 600 or so Vinyl LP albums. I have been lugging these around since college. Most are in the garage, but I bring in favorites.
I dug through all the albums, and could not find "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, one of my favorites. I went online intending to buy a used record, and I found a new "audiophile" pressing that was released Feb 2010. It turns out that a lot of new releases are released on vinyl at the same time as a CD. In fact, Vinyl sales are increasing about 30% a year, while CD's are decreasing almost as much. (Amazon sold out, but it is still available here)
I can't say how much listening to a LP rocks over CD's or downloads. The mere act of putting a record on the turntable and "listening to music" is entirely different than listening to a crappy itunes download.
People don't "listen" to music much anymore. They put it on as background, or listen to headphones while jogging, etc., but when was the last time you got together with friends and put a piece of music on and just listened to it like you would watch a movie?
Itunes downloads are the sonic equivalent to a transistor AM radio, while the LP retains all the warmth and image of the original recording. (Imaging is when you play the music, and the speakers disappear. If you close your eyes, you can picture the sound-scape of the musicians.
CD's are quieter, but not as pleasant to listen to. I also have a flac digital version of "Kind of Blue", and can hear big differences. Not in the high end as you would expect, but in the bass. The CD/FLAC versions are much tighter. So much so that it sounds artificial. Remember, Miles recordings were all on analog tape. I wouldn't listen to the digital, except that it has an alternate take of "Flamenco Sketches", which I really like.
My minimalistic HiFi.
8 watt per channel tube amplifier kit power amp kit that I build to relieve boredom. It's driven by a phono pre-amp which is needed to raise the output of a phono cartridge high enough to drive an amp. Unfortunately, most stereo receivers don't have a phono input anymore, so you need to use a stand alone phono preamp with most newer stereo's. I am not using a preamp (where tone controls, balance etc would be) since the phono preamp's output is high enough to drive the tube power amp to full output.
I built a Hafler DH-220 power amp somewhere around 1980.
I still use it a lot. It sounded great then, and still does. These can be found for about $200 on ebay. A year ago, they were around $400-$500. Next to the amp is the 6" powered subwoofer I use to pick up the stuff the Rodgers can't reproduce. (50Hz and below)
Thorens TD145 MkII turntable, and Rodgers LS3/5A speakers.
Like most vintage HiFi, this stuff is worth more now than when new. The turntables sell for $300-$400 on ebay when you can find one, and the Speakers go from $1600 to $2000. Just knowing what the Rodgers speakers are gets you into a "secret handshake club". The current Thorens TD350, which is essentially the same is almost $4000! Wow!
Rodgers LS3/5A speaker.
Thorens TD145 Mk II
My favorite phono cartridge. Goldring G900SE.
I have a half dozen cartridges, and always go back to this one. Like all vintage stuff, they sell for a lot more than new. Typically, these go for about $350. I tried to get a new stylus (needle) for my Shure V15 type III, and they are $350 for just the needle alone!
Google Ortofon. They sell cartridges from $35 to $6500! (and they are doing well!) I would like to try the 2M Red. It's "only" $100
The last thing that one needs (and this is a "must have"), is a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). Computer sound cards just plain suck. No matter the quality of the digital record, playback using a soundcard will be FM quality at best. I currently use a Nuforce uDAC 48kHz, 16-bit DAC. ($100). A 24bit DAC will cost around $500 ish
Anyone with an ipod should try this experiment. Find a track you are familiar with that you own both as a digital file on your ipod, and as a CD. Plug the ipod into the HiFi (stereo) and listen. Now try the CD. I am assuming you have a reasonably good Stereo system. The differences will be huge.
CD's are 44 kHz/16 bit recordings. The best available digital recordings are 96 kHz/24 bit. Several classical labels are re-releasing recordings in this 24bit FLAC format. This is significantly better than CD quality and was available for a while as DVD-A (audio) disks. Stores did not want to stock them, since audiophiles are a small market. You need the equipment, but the quality is the best.