Why Buy Digitally Recorded Albums On Vinyl?

AP070125052012.jpgIf you’ve picked up an arts section lately, you’ve probably seen a story with one (or both) of the following theses: “Vinyl is making a comeback.” “If you want great sound, you buy vinyl.” The hype is even starting to annoy some label folk, as it calls into question why non-audiophiles would bother buying tangible music at all. Sure, analog grooves of a vinyl record hold more information than any digital sample rate. But if an album was recorded digitally–a situation that’s becoming more and more common–are you getting more information by buying it on vinyl?

Time‘s January article on the vinyl upswing offered that “LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information.” But what if that “sonic information” wasn’t there in the first place? Isn’t everyone using ProTools now? It would seem that this call for great sound and the rise of digital recording would be at odds.

Is vinyl mastering so superior to the “noise reduction” CDs are legendary for that even digital music sounds better on LP? Or is the hype just, well, hype? Do people just think they’re getting better sound on new records because they assume they’re getting a pure analog experience? Does the appeal of the gatefold overcome the fact that once a sound is digitized, there’s no turning backl? The vinyl I buy tends to be used and $1.99, so I can’t speak from authority about the sound quality of new vinyl. But maybe you can.

Why do people buy records? [Matablog]
Vinyl Gets Its Groove Back [Time]

  • PengIn

    I’ve probably attended too many live shows sans earplugs, but I don’t really notice a difference between CDs and vinyl. I also tend to convert my vinyl to .mp3 almost immediately as carrying around a turntable is cumbersome at best. Still, I really like buying albums in actual album form, especially if said album has particularly awesome artwork. Mastodon’s Leviathan is a good example.

  • mackro

    The big difference between vinyl and CD comes down to, as you noted, how the source is made, then more importantly: sequencing/song assignments, how the mastering process is done, who does the mastering, who manufactures the media, how the sleeves are made, who makes the sleeves, shipping, and much more.

    There’s a lot that goes into both.

    The intrinsic pros and cons of vinyl vs. CD are so overstated and overrated. CDs, being digital, have a finite sound quality resolution. Vinyl is theoretically infinite. However, most vinyl’s frequency range doesn’t extend beyond 10khz, whereas CDs go up to 22.05khz. In briefer terms, vinyl has a somewhat smaller but more rich sound spectrum, whereas CDs have a slightly sparser but wider sound spectrum. However, the low and high ends on both are pretty much the same spectrum the human ear can detect or more.

    Over time, the medium has mattered less for a bigger problem that’s affected both vinyl and CDs… brickwall normalization/compression, something that cheapens both the vinyl and CD experience.

    * there are excellent vinyl mastering jobs
    * there are shitty vinyl mastering jobs
    * there are excellent CD mastering jobs
    * there are shitty CD mastering jobs
    * Many people love vinyl just because it’s like rad.
    * Many people don’t care about vinyl
    * Many people like both
    * Many people are like “i can hold music? lol”

    * Science doesn’t mean shit. Many people will acquire and defend the format they like.

    Combine any of the above statements in any combo you want, and voila, the perpetual vinyl vs. CD vs. Mp3s Until Yer Grave.

  • Chris N.

    Stuff sounds better on vinyl for the same reason stuff sounds better on the radio: because a teensy bit of distortion makes everything sound warmer. That’s my theory, and I can’t be dissuaded.

  • fogsnob

    i don’t think that audio quality is the only reason that people buy vinyl.

    i think it’s many other qualities about the package – the size of the art, how it looks on a shelf with other pieces and the process of actually buying it. you really need to go to a store and hold it, inspect it and get that nod of approval from the clerk at Other Music.

    i love playing records when i am at home alone but i’d be lying if i said that i don’t get some kind of joy when playing records when i have guests over.

    like any consumer good, it’s as much about the social nature of it and “showing it off” that is the pull of vinyl.

  • spankyjoe

    I started buying vinyl when I got fed up with the over-compression and other nastiness brought on by the Loudness Wars. While songs might be recorded and mastered digitally, if they’re going to press a functioning piece of vinyl, there’s a physical limit to how much they can compress it. Now, I’m sure I’m oversimplifying this, but the depth of a vinyl groove determines the amplitude of the signal output – the shallower the groove, the more the needle presses, the louder the output. Cut the groove too shallow via compression or master the record too loud, and the needle will actually skip out of the groove. There’s a story floating around about the first masters of Led Zeppelin II skipping on Ahmet Ertegun’s daughter’s record player, resulting in a hissy fit that led to the re-mastering of the record prior to pressing. Digital formats don’t have this physical limitation, so there’s nothing stopping mastering engineers from having everything peak at near 0 dB, which results in ugly, ugly clipping. Wikipedia has a good round-up of the Loudness War here.

    Anyway, my point is that while the music on a modern vinly disc might be horribly, horribly compressed, at least it won’t have the clipping that makes listening to CDs physically painful. PengIn mentioned Leviathan as being an awesome piece of vinyl. Blood Mountain is similarly awesome, not least of which because it doesn’t clip like the CD.

  • Captain Wrong

    @mackro: “However, most vinyl’s frequency range doesn’t extend beyond 10khz”

    I’m not sure where you got that info, but I’m pretty certain that’s not the case. A dramatic drop at 10kHz and above would sound like a worn out cassette. However, I do agree with most of the rest of your points.

    To answer the question at hand, the only thing I can think of is to have a cooler artifact. I think fogsnob nails it. I think it has so much more to do with the record itself and the hipness factor than anything else.

    And let me give you an example on the sound quality thing. I bought the Amy Winehouse album on vinyl as I thought the CD sounded like overloud shit. Well, guess what? So does the LP. Similar damn mastering job as best I can tell.

    Vinyl can sound great, when the care is put into it. As I’ve bitched here before though, it happens so rarely these days. Of course, CDs can also sound great and anyone who doesn’t think so is fooling themselves.

  • Captain Wrong

    And oh mah gawd can we put the old “vinyl sounds warmer than CDs” chestnut out to pasture please. I have plenty of records that sound tinny and nasty while the CD reissues sound lush and “warm.”

  • Anonymous

    I recall an interview with Zappa sometime in the 90′s where the interviewer–apparently a vinyl fetishist–tried to get Zappa to agree that vinyl had a better, “warmer” sound. Zappa was having none of it. He said something to the effect of “what do you mean by warmer? a frequency bulge inserted at [some specific range I cannot for the life of recall]?” That is, such a bulge could be engineered either in the vinyl or digital mastering process, and most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    I like vinyl for a random reason–one side of an LP is a nice slice of music, time-wise. I tend to get bored listening to a whole CD, especially if it runs over 60 minutes. And the one-side play gives a great reason to switch out to something else.

  • okiedoke

    According to Augustus Stanley Owsley (a guy who knows a lot about a lot of stuff and is pretty well known for some other stuff):

    “You have a choice of two traditional stylus shapes to use for recovering the audio information from the grooves. One of these has a conical shape, and is usually called “spherical”. after the shape of the tip. This shape cannot come very close to following the movements of the cutter at any but the lowest frequencies. The other shape is a stylus which has an elliptical cross section, used with the major axis placed across the groove in an attempt to follow the cutter a bit more closely, but still quite inaccurate at the higher frequencies as well. Worse yet, both styli cause serious damage to the surface of the plastic inside the grooves. The friction of the stylus in the groove, exacerbated by the downward pressure required to keep it in the groove melts the plastic and so destroys the information on the sides of the groove. The damage is so severe (I’ve examined a lot of records under the microscope in the days when I produced the Old and In The Way LP) that you can only play the record once with any sort of fidelity with the elliptical point, and no more than 3 times with a spherical/conical.

    “In absolute terms the reproduction of even the best set-up has differences with the original recorded tape as much or more so than digital, only of a different kind, and somewhat “sweeter” in the ear–but inaccurate nonetheless. Perhaps these people would be happier with a cassette made directly from the analog master, if such exists. In that case be sure that the cassette is either metal or genuine CrO2 tape, as the ferric formulations including high bias types won’t hold the highs for more than a few months.”

  • Anonymous

    I think the radio comparison is a good one, some people just like a bit of imperfection to their music, it’s closer to the live experience in my opinion. Plus listening to vinyl is just more of an event, you could compare it to going to the theatre to see a movie versus watching at home. Because:

    1) Like being at the theatre playing a record demands your attention, even if only for the sake of listening for the last song before you flip it you have to pay more attention to it.

    2) You’re not going to play Xbox at the theatre while the movies on or pause it when the phone rings… pick up a magazine when the plot slows down… much the same you’ll probably play MP3s or CDs on shuffle if you’re doing something else but like the theatre the music often becomes the sole source of your attention.

    3)Going from digital to analog in the film analogy is to compare digitally recorded music on vinyl to seeing a digitally recorded movie like say Blair Witch Project in the theatre… does the quality get better? No. But the experience changes tremendously and the occasional defect on the film adds (to some like myself) the same charm of the occasional pop or crackle on an LP.

  • FunkyJ

    what if that “sonic information” wasn’t there in the first place? Isn’t everyone using ProTools now?

    Drum and bass and dubstep are nearly entirely digital compositions done in protools and the like, and have been for years, but these sound better when pressed onto vinyl, especially when played on big systems.

  • Chris Molanphy

    @Cam/ron: Analog recordings are generally best heard on vinyl -if the disc, the stylus and the hi-fi are in good shape.

    DING! DING! DING! Thank you. This has been my argument for years.

    Can an LP blow the same CD out of the water? Definitely: if you have a decent turntable (belt speed matters), with a good, clean, decent-quality needle and a reasonably good soundsystem. None of the above components have to be super-fancy or expensive, but you’d be surprised how rare they are the average American household.

    What I hate about vinyl snobbery is it’s spreading this gospel that you, Joe American, are going to get a better audio experience just by buying the LP and playing it on your parents’ old rec-room turntable or the one-piece Emerson plastic job you bought at Sears in 1987. The vinyl snob often fails to mention the key tidbit about how much his gear cost and how lovingly he maintains it. I’m telling you, even if that gear only cost $500 total, that’s more than most people ever spent on their last turntable.

    What made the CD revolutionary in the ’80s is it made achievable high-quality sound available to the masses. I guarantee you a $50 drugstore discman offers better sound to the average joe than the equal-quality turntable they’ve got collecting dust in the basement.

  • spankyjoe

    @Chris Molanphy:

    Re: $50 discmans – Apparently, some folks with a particular version of the old Playstation 1 laying around in their garage might have their hands on a pretty solid CD player.

    • Carl

      Haha. That’s interesting. When I first started buying CDs I only had a
      PlayStation to play them on. I hated it… if only I’d known I was years ahead of the trend.

  • Cam/ron

    I agree that digitally recorded songs are meant to be heard on CD. I’ve heard plenty of digital recordings that lost quite a few details when I listened to them on vinyl. There are also cases where labels were unwise enough to stuff too many tracks on one side, therefore watering down the sound quality. Analog recordings are generally best heard on vinyl -if the disc, the stylus and the hi-fi are in good shape.

  • HomefrontRadio

    Good point, SpankyJoe – the loudness war is out of hand. I’ve noticed excessive compression and clipping leads to albums that are physically wearing and outright annoying to listen to. All the clipping basically creates harmonic frequency responses that fatigue the ear, and the louder you play it, the more of them appear and the worse it gets. You can’t physically listen to loudly mastered cds at an enjoyable enough level to lose yourself in them.

    The reduced dyanmic range of vinyl means it can’t create the frequencies that fatigue the ear, so you can listen to it without growing tired.

    It also leads to lack of instrument definition and separation – bass becomes muddy, pianos lose their high end, drums lose their snap. Vocals tend to drop back into the mix and become ignorable.

    Anyone heard the new R.E.M. album? So loud and flatly compressed it sounds like it’s coming out of a 60′s transistor radio. Even vinyl on a cheap system is preferable to that.

  • chaircrusher

    Unlike most of your commenters I have actually made and sold vinyl records. I’ve been in the room with the late great Ron Archer as he cut my first record.

    First point: to cut vinyl, you need to have a deep understanding of what a vinyl record can successfully reproduce. It is best at reproducing frequencies up to about 1KHZ. After that there’s a comprimise between reproducing high frequencies and introducing distortion.

    So a properly mastered vinyl record tends to have an EQ tilt, where the bass is slightly louder than the treble. Hence warmth.

    Second: It depends a lot on the mastering engineer, but in general they will allow for a broader dynamic range, because low level signals, so long as they’re above the noise floor, are every bit as detailed as loud sounds.

    Digital recordings, on the other hand, use fewer bits for quiet sounds than loud sounds. A signal from a CD that peaks at 0dB full scale uses all 16 bits of resolution. A signal that peaks at -24db full scale is only using 12 bits. Digital signals tend to start sounding grainy at lower levels. The loudness wars start with that pheomenon. Even at the mixing stage, engineers are always trying to record as close to 0dB as possible, and then when it’s mastered it gets squished further.

    But there is no reason that CDs can’t sound good — other than the way music is recorded, how it’s mixed, and how it’s mastered. LPs sound good because their dynamic range and frequency characteristics are constrained to fit what’s comfortable for human ears.

    It’s important to keep in mind that the weak link in the system often is at the end user, anyway, who buys crappy stereos with overhyped speakers that only sound good at the big box store. And you don’t even have to spend a lot of money to get decent sound, but most people don’t really care.

  • Anonymous

    Vinyl is great! Cd’s are great and hell even mp3′s are great just because music can be great. On what carrier did you hear your music on when you were 12 and does your fancy equipment you have now help to regain that sentiment? Anyway, just a little correction. The needle doesn’t skip out of a groove because of too loud pressing. It does so due to too much stereo in the bottom end. Don’t recall but thought ir was below 1000hz. Digitalizing my vinyl…. spent SO much time with my fancy riaa amp and soundcard but feel I just can not get the result like… a pulp fusion cd. TIPS? Listen to the music, not your soundsystem or carrier… but if i only…..

  • http://www.lightrainends.com Neil

    As mentioned previously, it’s all about mastering. A mastering engineer putting a digital album onto vinyl will have to make some adjustments — less compression, reduced levels on the bottom (<150hz), etc. I think the simple reason vinyl sounds ‘better’ sometimes is simply that the source material can’t be abused in the same way as is often done for digital formats. A record pressed with strong bass and a dynamic range of 4dB is going to sound like crap and/or bounce the needle, whereas the same, digitally-encoded, will play fine (but still sound like the crap you hear on the radio nowadays).

  • Adasfsa

    Digital mastering is normally done at much higher sample rates than on CDs, 44100hz vs. 96000hz…

  • Angus

    I can say that occasionally you can find new vinyl that was recorded and mastered in all pure-analog, such as Ben Harper's Lifeline. Sometimes, it's the ironic appeal of playing an electronica album on an analog format. To a younger crowd, it may be interesting and comforting to be able to see excatly HOW your music is being extracted. Not to mention, it sets you apart as being unique from your other friends. Vinyl, whether better or not, is about being a part of the process.

    That's my take, at least.

    I own a Pro-Ject Debut III in a glossy Ferrari-red finish. Everything about the tonearm and cartridge/stylus is manually configured. One of the best budget-audiophile 'tables out there. Comes with a pretty decent cartridge, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jack-OLantern/1008761665 Jack O’Lantern

    Since when is a mechanical needle a transparent, pristine device to begin with? That seems to be a foregone assumption among LP devotees, but can ever explain why? A needle & cartridge is a rather crude device from an earlier time. It introduces significant mechanical noise that engineers would rather have eliminated way back when. It got its start before the advent of modern tape recording, and the tradition just stuck.

    I really doubt (in blind A/B tests) that the Nyquist frequency would fail to “fool” most human ears in 16-bit/44.1kHz recordings, and most would have a hard time differentiating between that and 24-bit/96kHz with identical master sources. But add a vinyl LP to the mix and they’ll notice the distortion (I mean “warmth”) fairly easily, even without the pops and clicks.

    I think it’s patently absurd to be buying popping, clicking, rumbling, cumbersome vinyl in the 21st century. If you’re dead set on “warmth” you could invest in a tube amplifier or muddier sounding speakers. I just don’t get it. People are caught up in nostalgia much more than they’ll admit.

    I also see no functional value in putting thousands of dollars into restoring old gas-guzzling cars, except for nostalgia. That’s not a good technological analogy to vinyl vs. digital, but I think many of the same psychological factors are in play. It would just be nice to see people admit it.

  • rocksavant

    I buy vinyl for a few reasons but primarily one; the accessibility issue. There are many albums and recordings still unavailable on CD and if it is it’s usually a very expensive import. CD’s have come a long way and I, just from listening experience, don’t see any reason for buying an album post 2000 unless there’s something special like the tracklisting etc. One reason some of the old albums sound so much better is because of how mediocre some of the 80′s cd remasters were. What is a “remaster “anyway? A professionally skilled technician or band member going back playing w/ history to his personal liking. I mean, can you really tell a difference in the Beggars Banquet or The Doors corrected speed? I can’t and I know those albums forwards and back. However, like I said before, the albums sound better than the 80′s -90′s remasters. Vinyl is definitely here to stay. I find myself buying some of the less rare albums on vinyl just because I have a record player and may not have it on cd. Plus w/ many of the newer albums coming w/ free download it really can’t be beat. It all comes down to what kind of collecter you are. If you just like files, stick w/ cd’s and itunes. I myself enjoy the nostalgia, artwork, vinyl only tracks/albums, and the sound quality of an original, say, Zeppelin l. Then there’s the mono issue. Some albums are considerably different in their original mono form. One of the best examples has got to be the mono Sgt. Pepper. But to anyone reading this, save your money. Mono re-issues are beginning to surface and it won’t be long til’ there all available again. Although the jazz and blues may take a little longer if at all. Ramble ramble…..

  • Yeahdude

    It is difficult to tell whether Styx’s 1973 version of “Lady” is played on vinyl or CD, but it is easy to tell that the 1973 version sounds FAR better (warmer, etc), than their 1995 re-recording. Now this is 1995, and they may have still used tape, I don’t know, but the song has that characteristic 90′s sound, which is basically a late-80′s sound with less reverb. Something about the frequency spectrum of each instrument in most music is different post-1983 from that of the 70s and 60s. Sure, music from the 70′s sounded different from that of the 60s too, but it all shared a characteristic warmth that makes it “classic”-sounding. I have been told that they still used tape i the mid 80s and 90s, so it could be the mix. I havent gotten a straight answer. SUPPOSEDLY CD’s usually have 3 letters, D’s and A’s that tell you if it was analog or digital during recording, mixing and mastering, but I don’t own modern CDs. All mine say AAA. One clue is the sound of modern live drums. It has a terrible modern pop sound (clicky kick drum, midi-like toms, bubble-wrap overproduced elevator-music snare) EVEN WHEN RECORDED ONTO TAPE. The equipment surely plays a role. Live pop music always sounds like the current musical trend. 60′s music sounded like 60′s music in the 60′s and like a 90′s cover in the 90′s, even when performed by the original artists.. No amount of analog can explain this.

  • Dave

    We can argue about technical issues until the end of time, but the issue is solved instantly if you do the following simple experiment: (I’ve done this)

    Go into a good mastering studio, pull the analog master tape OR the digital master, it doesn’t matter, and play it. I’m talking about the two track master, the post-mastering master, not the pre-mastering mix master.

    Then, in the same room, at the same db level and through the same speakers, directly A/B the original master with a CD played on a high quality CD player and a vinyl record played on a high quality turntable. (Obviously, the CD and the vinyl record must be produded from the same master that you are comparing to).

    The CD sounds more like the original master than the vinyl record does. It’s a very noticeable difference.

    The vinyl sounds warm and nice, but it is NOT truly representative of the original master the way the artists and engineers crafted it.

    The CD doesn’t sound absolutely perfect either, especially when compared to an analog master, but even then it is MUCH closer and truer to the original audio source than vinyl.

    So the decision is whether you want to hear it as close as possible to the way the artist created it, or do you want something that may be nice and warm but inaccurate?

    I think either choice is valid, after all it’s all about personal taste. Just don’t try to convince everybody else that vinyl is more accurate. It’s not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/theaftermathofficial bsteinTA

    I’m only a high school senior, so I have grown up with CDs, but recently since I got into buying vinyl, the old 60s and 70s records (the ones cut from the ANALOG mastering tapes) e.g. the Sundazed Bob Dylan reissues, I have noticed the only actual difference in quality:

    We can argue for ages about how much distortion has to do with the “warmth,” and frankly I don’t care what temperature my music is. The only difference is that when I listen to the very same CDs, through the same receiver and speakers as the vinyls, I don’t feel like the band is right there in front of me, whereas when I listen to the vinyls, the drums, vocals, guitars, pianos, and textures just feel as if they’re being played by people instead of Pro Tools. I wish my band could afford to record live on real tape. It’s a beautiful thing that lots of people get too caught up in technicalities to take the time to understand.

  • Pål Erik

    have you ever compared a cd vs vinyl (same record=. well i have done and vinyl is far superior. and anyone saying anything different have never listen to vinyl at all. or finds it too much of a bother to clean and so forth. and with vinyl alot depends apon your turntable, pickup and otherthings. on alot of older records they printed a sign on the cd that read “The music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the sound of the original recording. Because of its high resolution, however, the Compact Disc can reveal limitations of the source tape.”

  • Tony

    The key point to the original question in the article is the fact that although the mucic is recorded digitally now the sample rates are far higher than used on CDs as a well mastered pressing can have much more (smoothness for want of a better word).

    The second issue is simply the equipment itself.. All styli and cartridges (And for that matter turntable themselves) add a signature to the sound in the vinyl. Think of the styli as a microphone listening to the groove. Its often this final stage that is responsible for the warm and less fatiguing experience of vinyl. Compare this to the harsh (every detail counts) philosophy of most CD players. My CD player along with most of the equipment is Linn LK series with a Genki as source for the CD side of things. Its interesting to note one of the reason the Genki sounds rather less fatiguing as a source is it seems to be tuned to make the CD sound vinyl like – However even that (and the latest streaming players) still have a “too much detail” quality that simply becomes fatiguing after an hour or so..

  • Mouthman

    I really want to believe that vinyl is far superior in sound quality compared to digital formats. I want this to be the case because I’m a sucker for authenticity and stuff like that…
    The problem is that people talk about this ‘distortion’ which vinyl has. It’s true, it’s beautiful and is recognizably different to digital stuff. The ‘warmth’ too.
    But the problem with saying that this makes it superior to CD, is that you can achieve these same sounds digitally. Artists like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and even Gorillaz achieve incredibly lo-fi and ‘warm’, ‘vintage’, ‘distorted’ sounds using the computer…

    Again, I’m not arguing for either – I just want to find out whether vinyl’s sound experience is better than digital formats.
    To be honest, I would choose a vinyl LP over a CD LP just purely because of the ritual of getting the album art all nice and big on the cover, opening it, placing it on the deck, positioning the needle and hearing it play.

  • Owen

    Well, I agree that CD is quite probably a more accurate representation of the high quality master, but I disagree that its closer to artistic vision of the personnel involved in the recording.

    As a recording engineer I’m happy to stay entirely digital, but if I can send a mix down to tape and master to Vinyl I’m generally happier still, provided the mastering engineer is good and doesn’t take on any bold steps to change the audio drastically. I enjoy going to tape because it can be quite a pleasant and subtle unification of the sound. Putting a mix or master through an overall eq is usually required but generally you want to do be as gentle as possible, a db in the wrong direction can sound quite crude at that stage, however that overall process on the mix as a whole rather than the individual elements can gel things together nicely.

    If you can avoid the eq but gain the required overall ‘gel’ with a process like tape or vinyl then thats great, its normally more pleasing to my ears as long as the tape machine is set up correctly or (in the case of vinyl) the mastering engineer is GOOD. The medium will dictate the character but vinyl is one that many listeners naturally like, and with a good mastering engineer no useful info will be lost in the process.

    Regarding ‘whats the point’ of going vinyl when the recording is digital needs a little extra info. Recordings are generally done at 24 bit, and often with higher sample rates than 44.1k. CD audio is 16 bit, at 44.1k, so the digital audio up until CD stage is normally of a noticeably higher resolution than most consumers ever experience. CD still sounds closer to neutral, perhaps, but a high quality digital mix master is going to loose info whether it goes to CD OR vinyl, its the artists/engineers choice as to what compromises to make in getting the song into a format that can be sold, ie CD, vinyl or both.

    Recording music is an imperfect art from the word go, irreconcilable technical problems occur as soon as you multi mic a drum kit, its a series of compromises that are governed by artistic vision from the artist, producer and engineer, and limited by the gear used to capture the audio. The mics used effect the sound captured HUGELY, in comparison the effect of vinyl on the overall product is a small and musical one, and if its a sound the artist and studio personnel like then they will take steps to making sure it reaches the medium at the end of the project.

  • Andrew

    What I think is so wonderful about vinyl is the rustic feel and sound. I think to myself, “this is what music was back before CDs, and hardly anyone touches CD’s anymore”. When your favorite artist presses a vinyl and you buy it, it almost feels like they pressed it just for you. It doesn’t feel like it was mass-produced. I’m sure some are mass produced, but I’m just talking about pure aesthetics. Perfect sound is quite secondary when most artists will offer the release in Mp3 for you so you don’t need to worry about converting. I also have had the surprise of an autograph. Vinyl, for me, just isn’t about sound, but more about experience.

  • http://www.berlinlist.com Steven Kovar

    Sound quality aside, I like the artwork and ritualistic aspects of putting on vinyl, so am thinking of getting back into it. When you toss on a record, you do it with intention, and for me it represents a pause from my normal life and job in front of the computer.

    Additionally, there are tons of of great experimental records being released in limited editions, and for me it feels like I’m buying a piece of art. Likely, I would also buy it in digital form for on-the-go enjoyment.

  • John

    I have a love/hate relationship with vinyl. I love collecting records and crate digging for used treasures, but I absolutely hate when I get a pristine record, new or used, and it skips as though it were once used as a dog Frisbee. Trash should play and sound like trash. Brand new should play and sound brand new. With vinyl, every purchase is a crap shoot.

    It’s not my turntable. I own more than 500 LPs and all of them play without a single skip (many of them without a single pop). I have a relatively low end Sony turntable with a new needle, and I brush and/or liquid clean all records prior to playing them. I store them in plastic sleeves (inner and outer), never leave them out, and baby them to no end. I actually enjoy the meticulous part of the hobby — when it pays off.

    I’d say 3-4 out of every 10 records I buy, new or used, skip all over the place despite no apparent damage to the vinyl or stylus. But I can turn around, pull one of my other records off the shelf, and no problem. I’ve had this issue with brand new 180g vinyl, vintage vinyl from the ’60s and ’70s, and the thinner, cheaper, crappier records of the mid to late ’80s when vinyl was dying and labels were cutting corners.

    I can find no discernible pattern or signifier. Otherwise this would be easy. I’d just stop buying used records, or stop buying records produced during a certain era or from a certain label. That’s not the case.

    On the other end of it, I have records that do, in fact, look like dog Frisbees, but they play perfectly. Again, no connection to label, weight, era, genre, or whatever. Some records just play. Other records just don’t. It makes me crazy and it costs me an unnecessary amount of money. I’m buying a product, not gambling. This is the sort of thing that makes me shy away from spending more than a few bucks on a piece of vinyl, new or used. Why should I risk $50 on a Neil Young record that might skip right out of the wrapper? Why don’t I just chuck it all and go entirely Cloud-based with my own digital collection? If 3-4 out of every 10 records simply won’t play, I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough to keep me for long.

  • Mitchings

    With CD you get roughly 65,000 levels of volume per sample (16-bit) and 44,100 samples per second; it’s a fixed, limited standard. Your system then takes that and uses the DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) to turn it into a natural waveform for your speakers to pump out.

    However, the DAC in your home system is very unlikely to be better than the high end DACs in the studio; so even if something is recorded digitally why not let them do the Digital to Analogue conversion with their more-than-likely superior DAC in the process of cutting the vinyl. They’re also likely to use a 24-bit master (16.7 million levels) with a slightly higher sample-rate for the cutting of the vinyl.

    If sound quality is your main goal, then vinyl still remains the best distribution platform for most music.

    Well mastered DVD-A and BD-A discs (as well as high-res downloads) @ 24/96 & 24/192 would be more convenient as they can hold more information so to speak, but hardly anyone seems to be using them; and of those that do, many of them have poor masters.

    I still however consume my music digitally for the best convenience by ripping my vinyls at a very high digital resolution and playing them back bit-perfect in foobar > wasapi > hdmi > av receiver > speakers.

  • Kevin

    the truth is that yes, if you record digitally through protools then when you record to vinyl the difference is going to be almost moot. However, audiophiles buy vinyl because its better than the alternatives. Music that you find on the internet (including free music) is very low res. Streaming services such as beatport and youtube can only stream at a rate which the ISP allows. The typical mp3 file that is downloaded is around 5 mb. In order to have full and accurate sound reproduction in digital form, you need to buy a CD or have a lossless file such as a WAV or FLAC file. Lossless files, however are around 20 – 30 mb per song. Therefore, if you want to have something with accurate sound reproduction, you need to spend some money. When you’re at a record store and you’re choosing between CD or Vinyl, Vinyl is going to win out due to nuances in sound quality that vinyl offers, and the packaging.

    Nuances: Even if you record everything digitally and into protools, Vinyl has its own EQ curve. In the same way that analog tape has a rolloff in the EQ curve, so does vinyl. Therefore, anything recorded to vinyl will be affected by the medium. While it can be argued that vinyl is therefore less accurate in sound reproduction than digital, that EQ is what people refer to as “warmth” when talking about vinyl records and is part of the appeal of the medium.

  • James

    There were too many comments to read… Here’s my take.

    When albums are recorded digitally, they are recorded at higher sample and bit rates. Master recordings contain more information than cd’s. A master would be recorded at 48Khz or 192 Khz at 24 bits. A cd is pressed at 44.1Khz and 16 bits. Wave forms being prepared for cd’s are also heavily flattened out (pushed to the max ceiling limit). This reduces dynamic range in the audio.

    They can’t push the waveform like that when pressing onto vinyl, so everything is toned down, more dynamic range is retained, and it comes from a higher quality source than what is on the cd. Still not ‘analogue’ throughout the recording process.. but there is still a difference.

  • sUperSwag

    I believe that the general hangup for vinyl may be due to the clicks and pops of the format. Once you can get passed that, the superiority of the format should become apparent. I have not experienced and muddy sounds coming from vinyl as some people have stated. Those comments must be coming from those who lack decent equipment as my vinyl delivers crystal clear highs in combination with deep low frequencies at both low and high volumes. I have a stack of records, that when compared to their identical digital formats, display much more textured and multi dimensional landscapes. For instance, one can hear an undeniable difference when listening to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on vinyl. There is a clear differentiation of space and clarity that its digital counterpart cannot replicate. When listening to vinyl, one is hearing the closest reproduction of the master recordings, whether they be digital or analog. Vinyl holds the actual sound waves of those recording session masters whereas digital is using binary code to closely replicate those sound waves. And while digital formats do a decent job at offering a similar reproduction of the master recordings while eliminating the clicks and pops that are present in vinyl, they cannot fill the entire spectrum of the wave form. Thus, a considerable amount of ambiance and texture is lost.

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  • Help

    How can consumers find out if a group or label recorded an album in analog or digital formats?

  • Michael

    This subject can develop into a War.
    Viny versus CD.
    What about Valves + vinyl versus Static electronics + CD
    Please comment.

  • Ralf

    looks like nobody cares anymore but if anybody finds this crappy article…

    sometimes vinyl is mastered differently than the CD. that’s what it comes down to. for example, i love the sound of lady gaga from vinyl rip. i don’t listen to lady gaga. this isn’t the case always, and in fact most vinyl produced today is just to justify another price markup, even if it was recorded on analog (lots of re-releases that don’t sound near as good as an old dusty garage sale original—this has to do with pressing variation, and i won’t get into that).

    the record that converted me was them crooked vultures. i’m pretty sure they did record in analog anyway, not sure, but the mastering is wholly different between the vinyl and CD. you can hear more instruments, i’m not kidding. and maybe that’s a case of bad digital mastering, but what doesn’t have bad digital mastering today anyway? not much.

    if you’re really picky you’d be smart to just listen to FLAC and find vinyl rips online

  • Robert

    When properly recorded and mastered, discs are superior – it is a fact. Just ask Bob Katz, who is a highly respected mastering engineer. Now what people prefer to listen to is a completely different animal. Read the interview below – good stuff in there.


    And please do NOT bother getting any vinyl rips. They are a colossal waste of space and do not offer the 24/96 quality that they often claim. Vinyl isn’t measured in bits like digital afaik, but if it were then it would max out at around 13. So it is impossible to get a “13 bit” vinyl up to 24 bits. It’s like taking a 320 kbps mp3 and converting it to FLAC. Sure, it looks nice, but it is still lossy audio and now it takes up more space.

  • Josh

    I do believe all the concepts you have presented to your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for novices. Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  • Gryphon

    I would like to add a comment. About twenty years ago I sat down to discuss sound quality with a very clever man who was both an excellent engineer and gifted musician. I asked him what makes a particular instrument sound the way it does, why is a particular guitar or flute so mellow sounding or so easy on the ear? His answer was interesting and informative.He produced a small pan pipe and a pen knife. He played the pipe and it sounded quite rough and dry. We talked about the wave form it made and how sine wave like it was and pure. He then showed me that by introducing a few delicate cuts to the sounding hole that he could improve the tone . Then he explained that these cuts caused eddy currents that subtly altered the fine detail on the surface of the sine wave. Now these alterations were very tiny.. Their magnitude would be beyond the resolution of the resolution of a CD but they could be caught by a top quality analogue system. So, I believe that it is these factors that play a part in the match between CD and analogue vinyl . Vinyl from digital masters etc loses most of these subtleties ……and along with the loudness wars factors detailed above that makes CD have a different sound. Analogue vinyl when from top quality analogue systems throughout and reproduced through a top quality system can resolved this super fine detail that CD level digital can reproduce ….higher level digital like blu ray audio can but mp 3 etc forget it.