The integral difference between vinyl and CD or MP3 is that a vinyl record is an analogue recording -- that is, the physical recording is made to vary in correspondence to the variations in air pressure of the original sound. Put simply, the groove that is cut into the vinyl by the cutting lathe mirrors the original sound wave.
Digital sound, meanwhile, is produced by changing the physical properties of the original sound into a sequence of numbers, which can then be stored and read back for reproduction. In practical terms, you’re getting a representation of the sound – the CD taking a snapshot of the analogue signal at a specific rate (44,100 times per second, to be exact).
But what of the fabled ‘warmth’ attributed to vinyl? Christoph Grote-Beverborg has processed thousands of records across the electronic spectrum (and far beyond) for labels such as Tresor, Honest Jons and Ostgut Ton:
"In terms of uncompressed digital audio vs vinyl, I can only repeat what has been said before: with digital audio the resolution is more limited than with analogue audio. The same goes for frequency range. But the real thing is what you hear. With vinyl you get a certain kind of saturation and added harmonics that you don’t have with digital. The sound has a body;' it’s just more physical."
I don't care too about sound quality much, myself. David once told me, "I like the sound of AM radio," and I agreed with him.Behind the tech that makes vinyl so special
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects