One item not mentioned is the music content used to compare audio. Even for low sample rates, MP3's are probably fine for some of today's hard rock bands that run their amps into full clipping and the singer is screaming into the mic. It?s quite a bit different than a recording of a live orchestra or acoustic guitar solo with mic?s spaced appropriately. What is used for these comparisons?
Also consider the recording studios today are using several tracks, some for each instrument. Only portions of the song may be recorded in one session. Track-overs are added later. The studio then reconstitutes the tracks onto an album. There's a bit of art here too. Sound effects, echo, mixing, pitch changes, and so on. Is the instrument to be on the left or right channel? Not at all like a live recording. (Many of today?s' studios are digitally recording the audio anyway, so where?s the analog?).
However I do believe that vinyl had a certain distortion that folks liked and were used to hearing. Even the clicks and pops add to the ambience. There are similar arguments for tube amps vs. solid state. What is ?warmness??
Yet today we accept using tiny wall speakers and big subwoofer, tricking our minds into thinking we are hearing everything as recorded. The playback system and speakers (headphones) are a big part of the equation. Even in a car the road noise can be several dB above the music. Pressure changes are considerable stronger than the bass (unless you have a 1KW sub using a 10,000 Farad capacitor in your bouncing SUV).
In most cases, the sound today is good or even excellent. Then someone comes along and puts a bug in your ear about the unperceivable differences (where's the scientific data?).
So, I found that if I put a magnet around my gold-plated oxygen-free optical fiber, I get much less distortion in the digital stream. The photons stay aligned and centered. They don't wear out the fiber walls causing stragglers slowed down by the worn wall friction. In addition they travel further due to MPG improvements magnets provide.
Some myths just never die. Your earlier article prompted me to re-enter this debate as well. That "howstuffworks" article reminds me of an identical "debate" to debunk these myths that the late Bill Travis and I conducted in Components in Electronics, and that was way back in 1991!
I have written several blog posts on the subject. You can find the most recent artcile, which contains several related links, at http://the-world-is-analog.blogspot.com/2009/02/laser-turntables-for-your-vinyl-lps.html