Do Vinyl Records Sound Better than CDs? (Spoiler: Nope)

I’ve been discussing a number of audiophile myths here on Kirkville, and today I’d like to address another one: the myth that vinyl sounds better than CDs (or downloads). Vinyl sales are booming, reaching the highest levels in more than ten years. To be fair, this isn’t difficult; as long as sales continue to increase, they’ll be higher than any time since the Great Vinyl Decline of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

People abandoned vinyl for several reasons: CDs were more convenient, less fragile, and sounded better[1]. Turntables were annoying and fragile, and you had to manually change sides of records; with CDs, you can play an entire album without flipping discs.

I grew up with vinyl, and, while I miss the bigger artwork, and the added room for liner notes, that’s all I miss. I don’t miss the clicks and pops of vinyl, or the way that, if you bumped into the turntable, or whatever shelf it was on, you could scratch a record, damaging it permanently. With older, scratched records, sometimes the only way to listen to them was to place a penny on the cartridge to add weight to it. Also, the quality of the plastic used for vinyl records was often poor, meaning that records wore out quickly. Oh, and you had to deal with dust, records that warped if exposed to heat or were stored flat, static electricity that could perturb things, the spindle hole that might be off-center, and wow and flutter that added noise to playback.

But the biggest problem with vinyl is simply that records wear out. Audiophiles tout the higher frequency response of vinyl over CDs, saying that vinyl can play back those frequencies that we can’t hear.[2] First, this is only true with a pristine record, a perfect stylus, and a high-end stereo system; in most cases, vinyl’s frequency range is lower than that of CDs. Bear in mind that needles used to play records are made of diamonds, a very hard substance, and each play of a record wears it out a bit. This wear results in lower frequency response and lower overall fidelity. Stereo separation is poor on vinyl; there is spillover from one channel to the other, which is an inherent weakness of the playback process. And, because of RIAA equalization[3], the sound on a recording is manipulated, both for pressing, to reduce low frequencies, and for playback, to attempt to restore them.

But there’s another problem with vinyl that most people don’t consider. The first grooves on an LP offer 510 mm of vinyl per second, but as you get to the end of a side, there’s only around 200 mm per second; less than half the resolution. This is similar to the difference in tape speeds dropping from, say, 15 ips (inches per second) to 7.5 ips. Anyone who has worked with tapes knows that this speed difference results in much lower fidelity. Back in the LP days, musicians would argue about who got their songs on the beginnings of sides, and the music you listen to on an LP gets lower in quality as you get closer to the center.

Most people, when discussing vinyl, talk about an “analog sound,” saying that vinyl sounds “warmer” or “richer” than digital. It does; because there is less frequency response (poorer reproduction of high frequencies), and more distortion. Just as tube amps may sound “better” because of the distortion they introduce into playback, the same is true for vinyl. That “warmth” you hear is simply the poor quality of the playback; the distortion caused by the analog chain, and its lack of detail.

“But the other part of it is that the experience of listening to an LP involves a lot more than remastering and sound sources. There’s the act of putting a record on, there is the comforting surface noise, there is the fact that LPs are beautiful objects and CDs have always looked like plastic office supplies. So enjoying what an LP has to offer is in no way contingent on convincing yourself that they necessarily sound better than CDs.”[4]

There’s a fetishism around vinyl, it’s about the process of listening. If you take more time to prepare for something, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy it more. If this is what you want, then by all means, go for it; but the sound of vinyl is actually inferior to that of CDs or digital audio.

So this is yet another myth that’s used to market products to people who don’t know better. You may like the idea of vinyl, but my guess is that, if you grew up with vinyl, you are probably aware of its limitations, and don’t want to go back into the past. I find it interesting that many audiophiles prefer a format that provides audio in a lower quality, and with more distortion.

Let me close with a few tidbits from turntable reviews in hi-fi magazines.

Each instrument and voice sat unambiguously in the soundstage with a largeness and roundness at its edges—the opposite of an analytic and etched sound.

Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine sounded brilliant on the Clearaudio Ovation, which lent just enough warmth and body to the sound to humanize this music while not obscuring its drive and pulse, its stops and starts.

the music was a steady stream of sound that quickly became a river, then just a few drops

produced a big, slightly warm orchestral sound. String tone was rich, with a pleasing golden glow. The piano’s lower register was cleanly rendered and remained well defined against the hall’s reverberant field. The upper keyboard sounded supple, with a rich, woody, yet sparkling bite. Image stability and solidity were never in question, and the system’s dynamic punch announced a turntable that seemed in complete control.

And, I’ll finish with another gem from What Hi-Fi?:

Play an album such as Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Point 5 delivers an energetic sound that combines fluidity, stability and authority brilliantly.

Where most rivals render a sharply etched sound packed with detail, the Point 5 has a more rounded presentation where the leading and trailing edges of notes aren’t overly emphasised, but the bits in between are defined richly.

The result is an immensely likeable presentation that’s big and muscular without suffering from a lack of agility or finesse.

  1. Yes, many early CDs sounded bad, because mastering engineers initially used masters created for LPs, and it took a while for them to, well, master the process for the digital medium.  ↩

  2. See Music, not Sound: Why High-Resolution Music Is a Marketing Ploy.  ↩

  3.  ↩

  4. Pitchfork: Does Vinyl Really Sound Better?  ↩

184 thoughts on “Do Vinyl Records Sound Better than CDs? (Spoiler: Nope)

  1. I have to disagree with above article. One thing is true though: vinyls will wear out over time, however it is best to rip your audio into a wav file for repetitive plays.
    I don’t think you can have high resolution audio with CD, but I always rip my vinyls in Hi -res and believe me, hi-res is not a myth if you have a pair of hi-res headphones.

    • Audio CDs *are* high resolution WAV files, and at 44.1 KHz they are reproducing frequencies outside of the range of human hearing (and everything in between). You may be thinking of MP3’s, which do throw out a lot of information. But CDs are lossless quality, and are immune from signal degradation through constant use. The reason 44.1 KHz is important is because the Nyquist-Shannon Sampling theorem dictates the sampling rate must be twice the maximum frequency. Humans can’t hear above 20 KHz, so CD quality is MORE than ample. This is not only scientifically proven fact, but backed up by double-blind testing. The reason high-resolution audio sounds so good in high end headphones is because you have high end headphones.

  2. Those who experience music’s magic don’t need to express it in terms like ‘lively’ ‘airy’ ‘vibrant’ because music itself is a feeling expressed, like a living poem.
    Audiophiles think they can improve their incapable sense to feel by spending ridiculous amounts of money on playback systems only to think about the shortcomings of it.
    But in fact the shortcoming lies in their inability to feel and the sad part is you can’t buy that and no one can give it to you.

  3. This comment made me write down above’s thought:

    The saddest part is that the best bands of this generation have been simply brick walled to death – Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Spoon, the Black Keys. Albums by these acts are slightly better on vinyl, although still not great by any means.

    To me some of these bands sound great even on fm radio driving in a car. It’s you who’s brick walled but not death enough to write such nonsense ;) You are the act not the people expressing themselves through their music.

    • As a sound engineer working in FM and AM radio, I can tell you that radio stations are terribly guilty of “brick walling” the audio. Legally, they’re allowed to peak at 105% of their licensed wattage, so everything gets super compressed so that even the quietest sounds have the same amplitude as the loudest sounds, and then it hovers at about 104%. All this to compete and get maximum range and loudness.

  4. Hi Sam

    I’m no sound engineer but I do have a technical background. There is no correlation between the rate of compression of the transmitted sound and the output wattage of a radio station. Increasing the output wattage increases the reach of the station, it does nothing to the transmitted signal.
    The most compressed (and loudest) are the ads between the music. Radio is often used in places with background noise, like cars, hence the compression.

    “even the quietest sounds have the same amplitude as the loudest sounds” ???????

    You are no sound engineer are you?
    However, I do suspect you have a some fine stereo equipment at home. Go tweak your cables buddy pay no mind to the music. Eddie Vedder puts it like ”this is not for you”

    • While I appreciate your talent for a condescending response, I think your assumption that I’m not a sound engineer is likely due to my over-simplification. Instead of saying “…quietest sounds have the same amplitude…” I maybe should have specified that the main output from the board is fed through a compressor with a double-digit to one compression ratio, a very low dB threshold, with a hard knee with a super-fast attack time, thus producing an almost solid waveform, leaving little to no difference between the *recorded* quietest sounds and the *recorded* loudest sounds, before being sent to the transmitter. The loudness on the broadcast source absolutely affects the effective range of a station, because if two stations overlap on the same frequency with the same wattage at the same distance from the towers, the one with the stronger audio signal will win out on a receiver. This is partially why many AM stations are only licensed to broadcast a set amount of hours. I wish I could get paid to “tweak my cables,” but it seems the market can’t sustain that, so—with all due respect to you and Eddie Veder—I’ll keep on working hard as a sound engineer, since that is my field of expertise, and keep on cranking up the volume on the stations I work for, in spite of it destroying the nuanced sound that “audiophiles” are looking for. Kirk is spot on in his article; any quality difference in vinyl over CD is imagined.

      • Educate yourself.

        Hmmmmm, an article attacking vinyl as a medium from someone pushing streaming and digital downloads as the way forward. Well, stone me, he doesn’t come down in favour of vinyl! Phew, that’s a shock! Unfortunately it’s also why I can’t take it seriously, even beyond the sad attempts to demean hifi reviewers, which was pretty shabby by the way…

        Couple of problems with the argument…

        First, CD is capable of far more musical information being stored on it. Yes, in terms of Dynamic range. In terms of bit depth comparison, there is actually only 4 in it, which ain’t much, as Monty argues when he lays into Hires audio. But that’s another story. There is though, no doubt that Digital media can store more information that Vinyl. However, and here’s the rub, as an Audio engineer pointed out, the difference between the two is not only exaggerated, it’s based on 40 year old data. You see dear hearts, when people like our friend here compare the cutting ability of Vinyl compared with the storage ability of CD, it is not 2015’s cutting heads they are talking, but 1968’s.

        As the same engineer said, and he is pro digital by the way, the original wax was indeed tailored to fit the RIAA curve according to the reproductive ability of the day. Which, in 1969, was nearly all mono, stereo was a new fangled idea, and the equipment was usually a dansette.These had very limited frequency response, and as such vinyl was ‘limited’ or ‘tailored’ to their ability.

        The same engineer finished by saying, ‘although I’m a CD fan, it irritates me no end the rubbish people talk about the limitations of vinyl. It is an exceptional replay system, with wide dynamic range, good frequency response and a such you can’t go wrong. Well, aside from the cleaning, handling and storing issues which led to me getting rid of mine’.

        There is another problem with the argument.

        CD the medium may be very capable, but the issue of the hardware is critical. I’ll quote one of my former employers ‘it always amazes me how something so cheap (a Dual 505-3) can produce such great sound – no CD at the price can do that’. He was also a committed Digital fan, and as such only stocked a few TT’s. Sadly, to get very good CD sound, you have to spend an awful lot of money, something I came to realise after years in the trade.. DAC’s may have come a long way, but are still trying to turn something Digital into something analogue at 16/44, and while they do it very well, a PDM DAC still struggles to engage me when the CD is something classical, jazz or other ‘bright’ sounding music. There are reasons why, (see papers by Bothroyd Stuart on why), but this, I fully admit, is strictly personal opinion, not fact. But it’s based on years of listening to CD’s across a wide spectrum. Which, despite the authors dismissive attitude towards ‘reviewers’ it’s what things sound like that matters.

        Back to the article.

        We have another factual problem here. The author says ‘CD’s were restricted by the original master tape’ and engineers had no idea how to produce a Digital master’, which he claims is why early CD’s didn’t sound great. Actually, no. First, Studio tape is an excellent medium for recording. No engineer has a bad word to say about it’s ability to record music. It’s longevity yes, it’s habit of shedding yes, but not it’s ability to store music at very high quality levels. Digital recording in the early days was hampered, according to top engineers, not by inability, but by the poor ADC’s. There is however another problem. When CD first came out, in the rush to get albums out, and if we’re honest, to make a massive killing, the music business was using any old master, metal parts, even turntables to bang out CD’s. Hence a very large number of early CD’s are very poor indeed. Never mind pre-emphasis, if the source is duff, so is the final disc. As such I never understand why people hunt down early CD’s…

        Sheer stupidity.

        The next issue is of course, as the author mentioned, mastering. For CD, rather sadly, the Golden age of mastering was a very narrow window between 1988 – 94. Why? Because by 1988, decent ADC’s were online and the engineers no longer had to rely on a handful of old Sony’s. Sadly, from the early 90’s onwards, something else started to happen – the loudness wars. As CD’s were recorded louder and louder, more and more distortion was introduced, and more and more limiting used resulting in the dreaded ‘brickwall’ effect. Few genres escaped this, but classical and Jazz listeners can take heart, for a brief period they were getting the benefits of full range recordings no one else was!

        This of course, as the author refuses to acknowledge is a very good reason for vinyls return. Contrary to ‘received wisdom’ you cannot brickwall vinyl. An engineer again; ‘vinyl cannot take the loudness levels of a highly compressed CD master. The stylus will literally pop out of the groove as the modulation is too high’. So, yes, vinyl can be cut from a CD master, but it cannot be cut using one that has been saturated. These days the majority of mainstream recordings are.

        One final point on Masters. Sadly, downloads are a very precarious business. For 16/44 companies have been caught using upsampled MP3, while for hire downloads they have been caught (many times) using upsampled 16/44. I’m sure many people will argue ‘who cares’, but then that’s just plain daft?. If you pay for something you expect it to be what it says on the tin, not something cheaper and not of the standard advertised. The source for many downloads is also very shady. Very few, although Pono are better these days, are happy to give the lineage of the Master used. Why? It takes nothing to tell what the Master is – unless you don’t want to be taken to advertising standards?

        Vinyl is making a come back because, as above, it’s a good quality medium. It has it’s drawbacks, and it requires some maintenance, but then so does anything worth having. It doesn’t, as the author claims ‘easily wear out’. Tests have shown normal LP’s should be able to sustain 1,000’s of plays before wearing out. I doubt any of us will wear down an LP to ‘unplayable’ with modern TT’s and styli, in our lifetime

        Whether you think vinyl is better than CD is up to the listener, not some bloke on the internet who presents a half arsed case, sneers at reviewers and provides no current technical info to back himself up beyond what we already knew about CD. That’s half an argument, and it doesn’t hold up. Sorry.


        • Thank goodness. I appreciate bob’s summary.

          There is another point about cd’s which has to do with dynamic compression (abuse of the format in the mixing stage).

          Here is an excellent article (by an engineer) comparing LP to CD as well as SACD and DVD-A.

          I’m not arguing for one format or the other as I use both from non cheap head ends (3500 for my turntable and 2200 for my CD player/DAC). I have several original releases of the same album on both LP and CD. The CD sounds thinner in every case.

  5. Audio is recorded digitally, so how would there magically be more information when it is reproduced in analogue? If you are into super high quality sound reproduction maybe get a 24 bit version with some stupidly high sample rate, CDs are on their way out now anyway. The point is, vinyl sound IS digital, just a crappier version of it.

    • The audio I like to reproduce at home these days was almost entirely not recorded digitally. That would be pretty much all the music recorded before the mid eighties or so. That is what started me down the path of vinyl, so much great music to discover at garage sales!

      I have recordings from a few hundred bands that have come along since but in my view there aren’t that many that are truly great.

  6. I believe that an mportant reason why some people prefer vinyl is the use of an ‘elliptical filter’ during mastering: the bass is made more mono to prevent the diamond cutter from having to move too far sideways (which is impossible and in any case would make it collide with another groove). The same filter is applied to any sound system which uses only mid-range/high stereo loudspeakers and a single mono subwoofer. This works well because the human brain can only detect sound direction from high frequency elements of sound. It’s just a theory, but what do you think? Subjectively, I have to say that when I listen to an originally produced LP, I sometimes feel a more immediate ‘presence’ than I do when listening to a remastered CD of the same music. In art, we prefer a painting to a phiotograph … perhaps it’s the same with LPs?

    • I don’t think that makes much of a difference. You don’t hear the low frequency waves as being in stereo no matter whether you have a sub-woofer or not. Also, the bass is lowered on LPs, so it doesn’t make the needle jump; it is later restored during playback. (This is the RIAA curve.)

  7. For years I tried to record my half-speed Masters to .wav files. These albums are from mostly analog master tapes. The best 16 bit sound cards of the 1990s and 2000s couldn’t do it right. I finally got realistic recordings with a 24bit/192khz sound card. In the process, I’ve found the S/N of some JVC Super Vinyl to be on the order of 105db above 1khz. Your ear filters out the noise below 300 or 400 Hz. The real S/N of all three CD players I own is only around 85db in the real world, not the theoretical 96 db the digital music lovers proclaim. This could be poor quality mastering equipment in the studio. The problem is most of the digital music lovers don’t have 18″ sub woofers or a collection of JBL and Klipsch Monitors for speakers in a deadened listening room with a less than 30 dBm noise floor and a system capable 130+ dBm sound levels. Digital media has very defined limits and sound terrible when pushed beyond those limits. Digital clips hard! By contrast, vinyl in the hands of a true craftsman like Stan Ricker, can bend the rules and push the envelop with subtle soft clipping our ears will except. Our ears are designed for an analog world, not a digital one. Oh, and there is content above 20k and below 20Hz that add realism to music, the shock waves on the Telarc 1812 Overture are at 6 or 7 Hz and harmonics of the cymbals on Dark Side of the Moon exceed 25khz. With 18″ woofers you can feel the music and with top draw tweeters the highs are a crisp point on the sound stage. Another observation is that modern music is mixed for iPods for use in a noisy environment and not critical listening; 16 bit/44.1Khz and MP3s are fine for that.

  8. As a degreed EE, a sometimes live recordist, and an ex-Stereophile reviewer, I have to put up with this “LPs sound better” garbage all the time. Well, yes, they “sound better” — if you like the euphonic colorations of phonograph records. But “sounds better” is not the same as “reproduces sound more accurately”. To anyone who’s familiar with live, unamplified sound, a properly engineered digital recording is clearly more like “the real thing”. To slightly paraphrase Peter Walker, it is a significantly closer approach to the original sound.

    As for those who listen to studio recordings of rock music — who cares what you think?

  9. Some people can’t hear the difference between an mp3 and a live band, some, like me and many others can hear the difference between 44,100Hz 16bit and 48,000Hz 24bit. Vinyl, with all the limits inherent to the medium, capture more than 44,100Hz 16bit, CD frequency is good enough for some people not hearing frequencies over 20kHz. We are not all the same, some people are colour blind, some people hear different sounds, higher or lower etc. That is for what concerns sampling frequency, then 24bit give you 22db extra dynamic range, that makes a massive difference between a CD and a high-res audio recording, I work with audio and @ 44,100Hz 16bit, vinyl is way better; at 96kHz 24bit I start to don’t notice any significant difference. I believe my ear, I’ve been earning my bread with it for the last 30 years. I did a test a while ago, just for fun, I recorded at 96kHz 24bit the same music from a brand new vinyl on a good turntable and a CD, no digital conversion, just straight audio recording: I played the two recording with my roland r05 in headphones to 10 friends and 9 of them thought the recording from the vinyl was the best sounding, some comments on the audio from the vinyl were: “richer”, “deeper”, “more colourful” “If I close my eyes I can actually see the musicians playing” etc. One friend didn’t notice any difference. If you are happy with 44,100Hz that is perfectly fine but why patronise people that can hear more? Many people mistake sound cleanness with fidelity, a CD sound cleaner than a vinyl but captures less music details, if we want to go digital 88.200Hz 24bit is the starting point, anything below is not good enough for many people’s hears. This debate is never ending because some people that can’t hear the difference feel compelled to persuade people that can, that there is no difference… It will never end.

    • “Some people can’t hear the difference between an mp3 and a live band”

      Saying that means I really don’t care about the rest of what you wrote. It’s simply fooling to say something like that.

    • And re the dynamic range myth:

      The dynamic range of vinyl, when evaluated as the ratio of a peak sinusoidal amplitude to the peak noise density at that sine wave frequency, is somewhere around 80 dB. Under theoretically ideal conditions, this could perhaps improve to 120 dB. The dynamic range of CDs, when evaluated on a frequency-dependent basis and performed with proper dithering and oversampling, is somewhere around 150 dB. Under no legitimate circumstances will the dynamic range of vinyl ever exceed the dynamic range of CD, under any frequency, given the wide performance gap and the physical limitations of vinyl playback. More discussion at Hydrogenaudio.

    • >”Some people can’t hear the difference between an mp3 and a live band, some, like me and many others can hear the difference between 44,100Hz 16bit and 48,000Hz 24bit”


      I challenge you $10,000 in a blind hearing booth test.

    • Wow, that’s pretty hostile. Also, dead people can’t heard the difference.

      Who did I censor? Clearly not you… The only comments I delete are the vulgar ones. I’m happy to engage with anyone who is willing to discuss in a civil manner.

      • Kirk, I do apologise if I came across hostile, I didn’t mean to but my previous were I used my primary email address got ignored and deleted by wordpress while this one with an alternative email address went trough, I infer it wasn’t censorship then, sorry.

        All I wanted was just to have a constructive exchange of ideas about audio quality, I don’t think is fair to dismiss my observations on the basis that I used an hyperbole in my opening to point out differences in people’s perceptions.
        To reiterate, when I listen to a good vinyl, beside the typical media noise I can hear some fine details and nuances in the music material that I cannot hear in a CD with the same music content, particularly, i.e. the top end of cymbals in Jazz recordings are much crispier and defined in vinyl than CD and I’m not alone in this opinion, I don’t think I’m insane or some sort of nostalgia is obnubilating my ears and brain. Then I like how CDs sound clean and are easier to use than vinyl but if we talk about exact reproduction of the original sound I believe both media are not perfect for different reasons. I think digital recording over 88.200hz 24bit is the way to go, I have no doubts that that quality is way superior to vinyl and CD. In my opinion vinyl can have a place beside CDs in one’s collection or the choice of one kind over the other is a matter of personal taste, at the same time I bow to the superiority of high resolution digital audio. There are many aspect in sound transmission and reproduction that are still currently being investigated by science; my contention is that maybe we cannot rule out that, in establish the technical aspect of the red book CD something has been left out… that’s all.

        • WordPress puts first comments by everyone in moderation to prevent spam. For some reason, it keeps putting comments in moderation, even after I’ve approved one from someone. I don’t know why.

          Your hyperbole at the beginning of your comment was, unfortunately, similar to some of the comments people seriously make when discussing such issues.

          As for the actual quality, there is no objective proof that vinyl sounds better; there’s plenty of objective proof that it doesn’t sound better. (Pops, clicks, wear, lower quality toward the end of a side, etc.) It’s clear that liking the vinyl sound is much more subjective than objective.

          Audiophiles need to learn to say that they like something, rather than what they like is better than something else. I know people who live vinyl because of the process of listening, as I mention in the article. There’s nothing wrong with that. Trying to give a scientific reason for this, however, isn’t very useful.

          Interestingly, we’ll be doing an episode of The Next Track podcast (see the link in the sidebar) about vinyl vs. CD in a few weeks, with a guest who’s produced records, worked at Apple’s iTunes Store, etc.

          • “Audiophiles need to learn to say that they like something, rather than what they like is better than something else.” That pretty much sums it up.

            Most people who fawn over the superior sound of LPs have no grasp of sampling and quantization theory. The fact is that a properly sampled and dithered signal is, when reproduced, a theoretically perfect reconstruction. The //only// change is the conversion of quantization errors into noise.

            It’s interesting that a common claim for the superiority of LP comes from people who do not understand the mathematics behind digital processing, and are unable to critique it on any level other that “I don’t like it”.

            LPs are unique among analog recordings because there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do to get them to provide sound that’s better than euphony. Every other form of analog I’ve heard (especially FM — and even the lowly Compact Cassette) can deliver excellent, accurate sound.

            Some years ago I sat down with a pile of audiophile recordings (mostly direct disks) and listened to parts of them with an Ikeda (Fidelity Research) direct-coupled MC pickup in a Well Tempered arm on a Well Tempered turntable feeding a John Curl Vendetta preamp. The sound never achieved what I would consider accuracy (ie, realism). But it was almost always pleasant.

            A common form of LP defense is the claim that the sound of cymbals is better rendered. Here there’s legitimate room for criticism. Digital superiority is based on the assumption that everything is executed correctly. Cymbals generate a splash of broadband noise. Unless the sampling rate is high enough, and the anti-alias filtering done right, you’re likely to have problems.

            By the way, phonograph records have a lot of trouble getting much past 20kHz. JVC had a heck of time getting to 45kHz for its ill-fated CD-4 quad system.

  10. If I might spew a bit further… The one legitimate criticism one can throw at digital recording is the need for anti-aliasing filters in recording, and low-pass filters * in playback. At relatively low sampling rates (and 44.1k is low as such things go), you need very sharp filtering to keep ultrasonic noise from being “mirrored” in the audible spectrum. Both types of filter introduce timing errors (and sometimes ringing), which might be audible. SACD has the advantage here, as its high sampling rate minimizes the amount of filtering needed.

    It must also be emphasized that the people who prefer the LP are overwhelmingly people who don’t listen to acoustic music. They have no reference to judge what is good or bad, because there is no reference (other than the cutting master).

    I have a challenge for vinyl lovers. Linn (of all companies!) makes absolutely superb SACDs. Their St Matthew Passion was recorded in the church where it was originally performed. The sound is quite lifelike, and you need not suspend much disbelief to believe you’re present at that venue.

    Can anyone recommend an LP of comparable “realism”?

    * NOT “reconstruction” filters. Sampling is a form of convolution in which the original signal is never lost.

    • “It must also be emphasized that the people who prefer the LP are overwhelmingly people who don’t listen to acoustic music. ”
      Wrong. I’m a musician, producer, composer and performer, I mix and master my albums and I listen almost exclusively to vinyl or digital music at least at 88200Hz 24bit. The vast majority of my musician colleagues, friends and various members of my audience listen to vinyl or high resolution digital audio, I have very good ears and I find 44100Hz 16bit unable to reproduce all the subtleties and textures of acoustic Jazz or Classical music, particularly in the mid range. There is a lot of frequency masking and other weird artefacts going on in CDs. I can spot immediately audio at CD quality or 96kHz 24bit but people incapable to do it don’t understand that it is possible, like people unable to learn perfect pitch refuse to believe that it can be learned by many people. Unfortunately we don’t have all the same ears and a good percentage of people with less developed hearing spend a lot of time explaining with numbers and formulas how people with more advanced hearing capabilities are suppose to hear music, it is quite entertaining. I think it is more about justifying their limits and persuading themselves than persuading people like me, I can hear perfectly that vinyl is superior than CD, even with all his inherent limits and problems it registers more audio information than a CD, I don’t need science yet to discover many aspect of sound and more generally physics, to disprove something that I am perfectly able to hear, science will discover in the future what exactly vinyl register than 44100Hz 16bit don’t but I don’t really care as it is already clear to me and many others, well before Newton’s findings about the law of universal gravitation people knew very well that things would fall on the ground and possibly crash. Once I had a yellow car body work fixed, the guy at the garage used a slightly different yellow and I immediately spotted and told him, he was in disbelief and insisted he could not see any difference and he sampled the original colour with a colorimeter, in fact half of my friends couldn’t see it either, their reactions where quite hilarious, they were looking at me like if I was mad; the other half agreed that it wasn’t a particularly well done job as the mending was clearly of a slightly different shade of yellow, we are all different, we see, smell, taste, feel and hear differently… Many people are very happy with vinyl, there is a big resurgence, Sony started pressing them again, yesterday I saw brand new vinyl for sale in Tesco! All hipsters or nostalgics? Nah. Many people are able to hear that analogue audio vinyl cut from the original tapes or high resolution digital masters is richer than 44100Hz 16bit CDs, not cleaner but richer; you can’t? I can and I will keep enjoying it, sorry. Also, I agree that high resolution digital audio is better than vinyl, the contention here is low-fi CD vs Vinyl. Also who really care about which media people choose to listen too? Plenty of people perfectly happy with low quality MP3s, that is fine, everything is fine, it is about choices, we don’t have to be all the same, right?

      • I don’t like being told I’m cloth-eared (though I might be). And I appreciate your making it clear that you believe Red Book CD — not necessarily all digital — isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

        I’m willing to be convinced that 44.1/16 digital recording introduces artifacts I haven’t been aware of. * So… give us an example we can download. Describe the errors we’re supposed to be hearing.

        Even better… Give an example from a hybrid SACD.

        * It’s rather like the harmonium in the opening of “Salome”.

        • I have several of the same album in vinyl and CD and most of the vinyl version, alongside the well known defects of the medium still renders more fine details than CD, there is more space and depth in the music and the high end, particularly cymbals in Jazz, is way better and more realistic. When I record in studio the standard is recording at 96kHz 24bit, most of the time with Pro Tools, 44.100 Hz 16bit is thin and flat and lacks definitions in the mid and high range, where also all the harmonics of the low notes are audible. What you need to do is to get a couple of Neumann km87, go to a venue and record at 96kHz/24bit and CD quality some acoustic live music with good dynamic and different instruments and listen to the two versions, the difference is very noticeable. When I mix from high res digital and convert to CD quality I can hear a loss of details in the fine textures and in dynamic, I don’t even make my albums in CD anymore, I sell a USB memory with the highest digital resolution I can provide, with CDs I felt I wasn’t selling my music at its best quality. If you do not hear any difference between CD and 96kHz 24bit I have nothing to suggest to you to download. Also it doesn’t mean you are cloth-eared, the details I’m talking about are very fine and probably unnoticeable when we add the sound of a room, ambient noise and other factors. I can hear my dog ultrasound whistle it is very possible that I am the odd one… :-D Anyway, my contention is that somehow vinyl registers more fine details than 44.100Hz 16bit but definitely without the CD’s cleanness, I am perfectly happy with anything from 88.200kHz 24bit upward and in that case I do not miss the vinyl.

          “In 1977, Geoff Emmerick, who with George Martin recorded The Beatles at Abbey Road and later at Air Studios in London, showed me that he could hear a difference between two identical channels on a recently delivered new console. After some hours of listening with him, I agreed that I could hear a subtle difference. When we measured I found that, out of 48 channels, three had been incorrectly terminated and displayed a rise of 3 dB at 54 kHz. The limit of hearing for most humans does not extend beyond 20 kHz and this small resonance, whilst obviously an oversight in the factory, would not normally have been regarded as important.”

          -Rupert Neve, Wimberley, TX September 2001

          • I used to have Pearl (Milab) variable-pattern mics, but no longer do. Nor do I have high-sampling-rate recorders.

            Without an accessible sample, I’m in no position to agree or disagree with you.

            The only obvious difference (for me) in the sound of an SACD layer and the Red Book layer of the same disk is that the SACD is slightly less hard-sounding, and has slightly greater “air”.

            I worked for Neve in Connecticut many years ago. The employees were convinced that the older consoles, with fewer gain stages and far fewer unbiased coupling caps, were more-neutral sounding.

            • “The only obvious difference (for me) in the sound of an SACD layer and the Red Book layer of the same disk is that the SACD is slightly less hard-sounding, and has slightly greater “air”.”
              I couldn’t agree more, for me the less hard-sounding translates in more rich/detailed tone and the air in the sound again translates in more natural sounding, I think we all have a different way to verbalise our aural perception. Personally I can hear a similar difference when comparing vinyl an CD, once I manage to ignore the inherent noise in the vinyl but I’m aware that here we could disagree, still it is my opinion that if only CD and Vinyl are available of a given album and the vinyl has been recorded from r2r tape or high resolution digital audio I would choose vinyl over CD, conversely I would most probably choose SACD over vinyl. I think SACD and generally high resolution audio would find everyone agreeing about its superiority over vinyl but I’m not big fan of the red book CD and I’m not convinced of its sonic superiority over vinyl, CD it is certainly better in other respects like constant speed and very low floor noise but I miss something in the music content that I can hear in the vinyl, and I don’t think it is about the colour of the sound or the fact that I grew up listening to vinyl, otherwise I don’t think I would prefer high resolution digital audio to vinyl.

  11. Take the line out from an amp connected to a record deck, and attach it to a computer or CD recorder, and record it. It will capture the “vinyl” sound perfectly, and be indistinguishable from the record itself on playback.

    When I was was young, I had the KLF’s “the White Room” on cassette tape, recorded directly from my dad’s record deck. It sounded great: miles better than any shop bought tapes — in fact, it sounded exactly like a hissy, and maybe slightly lower definition version of the vinyl. The technology of reproduction isn’t the issue, it’s something around the way the sound changes when played back through the record deck. (I do wonder whether it’s something around amplifying resonant frequencies, perhaps the lack of perfect isolation and dampening in the tone arm / crystal enhancing some elements, almost like a mechanical gain / echo device; artificially enhancing elements (via resonance / positive feedback) while providing greater smoothness (dampening effect of the physical momentum of the stylus))

    The distinctive sound of vinyl, while pleasing, is a defect — it didn’t sound that way when mastered, and the CD / digital version is the one they sound engineer created.

    Records do often “sound better”, but there’s no technical reason why a CD couldn’t sound exactly the same.

    I wonder if there’s a market for “re-recorded” CDs and streaming, that are simply recordings of the signal out when the vinyl pressing is played (aloud, in a nicely resonant room).

    • I disliked LPs long before the CD appeared. This might be due to there not being very high quality LP playback 45 years ago. But I heard commercial open-reel tapes, and they beat the pants off LP.

      The LP has pleasing colorations. And that’s about it.

  12. Anyone who thinks CD sounds better than vinyl day in and day out obviously have incredibly untrained ears.
    CDs/Digital sample the music. The key word here is “sample”, which means some of the original signal (yes even distortion) has been lost.
    I have a Shandling tube cd player that I absolutely love, but I’ll take the sound of my turntables ( I have four) anyday.
    I also use tube gear for my phono, pre-amp and mid/high frequency horns. I use a Mcintosh transistor amp for the bass, because transistors on the bass sound better.
    When you talk about “all out” stereo, price is not the object. I’ve got 40k invested in my analogue system and its sounds better than your $800.00 MP3.

    • “Sound better” does not mean “is more accurate” — which is all that matters.

      About 60 years ago, my father splurged $12 on a half-track open-reel tape of one of Frank Sinatra’s classic albums — “Where are You?”. I remember the sound being almost steely. The CD sounds the same. It was probably dubbed from the LP master.

      Few analog recordings come even remotely close to matching the “realism” of the better digital recordings (all formats). What this proves is debatable — other than that the belief that digital recording are not or cannot be “realistic” is unsupportable.

    • “incredibly untrained ears” sounds like audiophile voodoo to me. The CD records what’s there, the digital sampling is much better than the equivalent transition made by dragging a needle across a piece of plastic. Look at how records are physically made — it’s a marvel of technology that you can have anything even approaching hi fidelity sound after scraping bits of metal away, then molding plastic into the shapes, even before you start worrying about playback.

      The sampling rate and quality of CDs is amazing, and much higher than even the “trained ear” could possibly hear. As I say, try recording the output from your turntable onto CD, and it’ll sound exactly the same when played back — it’ll even capture the distortion added by the vinyl manufacturing / playback processes.

    • Another way of looking at it is this:

      You’ve finished your recording at the studio, and it’s now held on your computer, in ProTools/whatever.

      Your normal process is to copy the recording, currently in digital form, straight to a CD. But someone comes in to your studio and tells you that if you place a lacquer on a spinning bit of plastic, that will cut the sound into it. And then they can coat that in metal. Then peel away the plastic. And then use a hydraulic press to squish the shape of that metal into yet another plastic disk.

      They then tell you that this will produce a more accurate sound. Not just that it’ll add some nice effect, and sound better, but that it’s more accurate than just copying it digitally.

      You’d laugh them right out of your studio.

      Vinyl may sound better to you, but it’s an accidental artifact introduced by the way it’s been physically made. Any “training” is just you listening for the artifact you’re used to hearing.

      I like the bass boost on my headphone amp — it makes the music sound better. An audiophile might not like it, but I wouldn’t tell them it’s because they’ve got untrained ears.

  13. About the time that CDs took off in the 80s there was an anecdote doing the rounds. So the story goes, lovers of classical music were quick to deride the new digital format as it didn’t sound as good as even (analogue) FM radio. Purists were convinced that a classical track listened to on BBC Radio 3 was superior to the same track on CD. That may have been the case given that the available consumer-grade technology was relatively immature. What few realised however was that Aunty Beeb had been using a proprietary digital transmission system based on 13-bit / 32kHz linear PCM to relay programme material to most of its transmitters for quite a while before CD came along (the rollout began in 1973!). So technically FM radio was already substantially inferior to CD before any of the FM artifacts were factored in.

    The history can be found here if anyone’s interested

  14. I’m almost finished with digitizing what remains of my vinyl. I gave away most of the vinyl to a colleague; I should be able to sell the remainder once I’ve completed my task. I feel that ultimately, the reason so many listeners express a preference for vinyl is because they are emotionally invested it that medium and everything that constitutes that investment. That’s fine. “Whatever floats your boat,” as was once often heard about any number of preferences. I’m very happy with my bits, bytes, files, and DACs, though. The threshold I crossed was one-way—no going back. YMMV.

  15. I haven’t read through all comments, yet, so I don’t know if someone already have said this. But a problem of today is that they do not use the CD media as good as it can be. One (awful) thing of the recordings of today, on CD:s, is compressing, compressing, compressing. Compressing is depressing… :D : (
    Of course a CD will sound awful (in many cases) when the music is heavily compressed. In that case I prefer vinyl. However if the DR value is high and the recording overall is good I prefer CD. I have no “scientific” argument for that. But the pure fact that I don’t have to handle the music media and equipment with silk gloves makes CD a good chose…

    Before the CD came I was actually (believe it or not) waiting for something new and better to come. (I didn’t know that CD was coming.) I thought that vinyl was an outdated thing with all the care you have to do with handling the media. It felt like stone age and I thought that it was time for something else. Then CD came and I was really happy for that. (I am grown up with vinyl so I have encounter the difference.) I can not however argue that all CD:s are “better” then vinyl but CD can really be good and I don’t have to hear those clicks that comes with the vinyl. I have no plans to go back to vinyl. Not at all. I find a good CD very good in sound quality and very convenient to handle. In fact I prefer music in digital form now. That is even more convenient.

    About the (digital) quality I am most interested in the DR value. 16 bit or 24 bit is not the most important for me. (I doubt I can hear the difference.) The DR value makes much more difference to me and is what I am looking for.

    I can give you one example of using the CD quality to maximum and shows how good it can be. I have a fantastic recording on CD, that is the best I have ever heard. It is called “Oförfalskat” (Swedish, in English it would be “Unadulterated”).
    It is a recording from 1988 and is a collaboration between Swedish National Radio and Pioneer.
    On that recording they have really, really consider every aspect in the recording, mastering and pressing to get it good. Everything from microphones and where they are put to the cables they have used and everything inbetween. Even the plastic for the CD where considered !
    The sound is absolutely fantastic ! You can even hear the cello player’s breathing on one recording with classical music ! (They have a put together songs from totally different genres on the recording.)
    So, my experience is that they do not at all use the CD media as good as it can be. Not at all, sadly.

  16. The biggest problem with the vinyl fanboy hype is, that, it seems to have an extremely narrow frame-of-reference regarding (particularly) audio history. I mean: (most) people today are inventing all these delusions about it (WHICH NO ONE…40/50 years-ago, in the heyday of records, EVER PRAISED THE FORMAT FOR) because they’re living in an era of; where, the digitalization of media has (unfortunately) made so much of the content contained in it “disposable”.
    To the uninitiated: comparing a record, for example, played back on a component stereo vs. earbuds plugged into a phone….OBVIOUSLY is going to sound 1,000x better to anyone with a pulse (hopefully). It should! However, when the snake oil starts creeping in and terms like: “warmth”/”what the artist intended”/”closer to the master tape”/etc. start being tossed around, it’s amateur BS coming from quarters -most of the time- whom wouldn’t know the difference between Crosley and Thorens (or whose concept of “tape” is limited to cassette). RECORDS WERE NEVER THE “HOLY GRAIL” OF HI-FI: NOT IN 1948…1968…1988. THEY WERE THE CHEAPEST SOFTWARE TO SELL COMMERCIAL MUSIC ON. No less than RCA(!), in 1963(!), understood that surface noise was a major problem in the way of them trying to maintain any “natural” sound quality (then vs. the playback response of their consumer REEL TO REEL TAPE album counterparts). So…RCA addressed this by, essentially, inventing the original loudness war: something called “DYNAGROOVE”. It was a primitive, computerized automatic gain control in the lacquer’s mastering stage which (artificially) boosted ANY SIGNAL below a certain decibel level to the point of equalling whatever the peak limiter was referenced at. Result: completely out-of-proportion soundstaging and, for instance: the drummer’s brushes were now AS LOUD as the guy playing the sax solo(!). No. NOT the way musicians -or the master tape- sound.
    A record could never contain the dynamics of a master tape — the consumer playback medium wouldn’t (flatly) be able to reproduce it without destroying the stylus/groove interface. TAPE IS THE ELECTRICAL SIGNAL OF A RECORDING, A RECORD IS A MECHANICALLY-COMPRESSED COPY OF IT.
    Before the cd era, when the only competitor to vinyl was (well produced) tape: tape was 5x costlier to manufacture. That was why records won out in the market. Tape, though, always had far better bass response and stereo separation than records ever were capable of (stereotape, in fact, was available four years before engineers figured out how to cut stereo records).
    The idea, too, that the vinyl obsessives are constantly wanting REMASTERS of vintage stuff -to me- is almost like an admission; that: they (apparently) don’t think the glut of already 50 years of countless pressings STILL sound “right”(?). Why? The older the master tape gets (presuming it’s not lost…which, insanely, is a not uncommon reality thesedays for even what one would think were all-time-famous artists beyond such carelessness): THE MORE EQ TWEAKING IT NEEDS to make-up for any storage degradation effects on its frequency range (again, another factor further away from “the studio sound”). Also, couple this with cases of resorting to 3rd/4th/5th generation sources (all, ultimately, being backed up anyway in the SAME DIGITAL FILE to issue either format)…the only thing a turntable is going to likely add, is: the environmental distortion they just can’t get rid of without putting a $3000 granite fortress underneath their plinth(!).
    Digital audio tech aspired to be the one medium WHERE THE PLAYBACK DEVICE DID NOT INTRODUCE ITS OWN NOISE FLOOR INTO THE SOURCE SIGNAL. That was -and, maybe, will continue to be- a noble goal. The existence of the cd format, though, has had its beginning and current state dictated by cash-grab corporatism which, always throws quality control standards out the window (in the beginning: cd’s were usually haphazardly culled from the -wrong- RIAA eq’d master of bass cut and treble boost — the reason the ’80s ones sound so tinny and; now, at this point: their sound quality has been relegated to being tailored for car stereo and shelf system listening). Late-1990s/early-2000s discs mastered, for example, by people like Ludwig or Grundman -to my ears- ARE FANTASTIC! Even on a Sony ES player from 1996 (with a decent pair of interconnects; not the red/white insulator, $2.99 WallyWorld junk with bad soldering!), THEY SOUND CLOSER TO A TAPE THAN VINYL COULD EVER GET.

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