Why some people think vinyl sounds better than MP3

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131 Responses to “Why some people think vinyl sounds better than MP3”

  1. jandrese says:

    Maybe…but this article smells of audiophile to me.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about music, it’s that audiophiles are off in their own little universe where anything can be true and it’s impossible to determine how important anything is. 

    Is the soundwave potentially made sad by villainous oxygen particles in the lining of the cable?  Huge problem, but luckily there is someone willing to sell you a solution.  It’s the only way to make the sound ‘pop’ and ‘have spirit’ or something. 

    • ryuthrowsstuff says:

      I was going to say the same. Last I checked it was fairly well established that people like vinyl better because it sounds worse.  The slight hiss of the needle scratching along, the pops and artifacts that show up as the recording degrades or that are inherent to the format. Its all very pleasant. 

    • Mark Dow says:

      Right, ‘more physical’ and ‘body’ are just audiophile weasel words.

    • wysinwyg says:

       My understanding is that since digital recordings have a frequency range with a hard maximum defined by the bitrate, vinyl provides a wash of high-frequency sounds that aren’t provided by digital formats.  My understanding is also that these high-frequency sounds result more from thermal noise from the processes of recording and tiny errors from the process of pressing the record than from anything to do with the music itself.  (Anyone who knows better please correct me.)

      I certainly like the presence of vinyl records more than the sterility of digital recordings but I still acknowledge that what I’m listening to are essentially errors in the process of sound reproduction rather than some purer form of the sound itself.  I like to poke a bit of fun at audiophiles for spending thousands of dollars to listen to very precisely and accurately reproduced 30-year old vintage static.

      • My understanding is that since digital recordings have a frequency range with a hard maximum defined by the bitrate, vinyl provides a wash of high-frequency sounds that aren’t provided by digital formats.  

        My understanding is that the dynamic range and sampling rate of CDs exceed the capabilities of most humans to discern, and that most perceived differences between analog and digital can be traced back to differences in the recording and mastering methods used. I have also heard that, theoretically, a brand new record may have greater frequency response than a CD, but that after so many plays, the high-frequency components are worn down by the needle, meaning that the record will soon sound worse than the CD. That lack of high-frequency is the “warmth” that so many vinyl enthusiasts rave about.

        • benenglish says:

          Granted, CDs can sample sounds higher than humans can hear.  In the real, analogue world, though, those really high sounds interact with lower frequency sounds and change the way they are perceived by human ears.

          For the first 10 years of CDs, they had horrific technical problems (from jitter to mastering to…well…the list was damn near endless) that made them unlistenable to anyone who has ever enjoyed real music made by non-electronic instruments in real performance halls.  Even if you weren’t half-way trained in the way real instruments sound, back then anybody with functioning ears and an open mind could clearly hear that CDs absolutely sucked when compared to vinyl (assuming good quality setups for both formats).

          In recent years, CDs have basically caught up and if I were forced to get all my music from CDs or computer-based sources from now on I certainly wouldn’t complain.

          But I have about 30K LPs and I figure I’ll hang onto them for a while.  They still sound just fine.

          • nemomen says:

            “For the first 10 years of CDs, they had horrific technical problems (from jitter to mastering to…well…the list was damn near endless) that made them unlistenable to anyone who has ever enjoyed real music made by non-electronic instruments in real performance halls.”
            I have listened to a lot of live music in a lot of live acoustic genres – symphonic, string quartets, harpsichord, organ works, choral works, various jazz ensembles, bluegrass, etc. and never had any issues with CDs.  I liked their fidelity better than my vinyl records which had quality that degraded over time, and was happy to sell off my vinyl.  CDs were perfectly listenable to this person who enjoyed real music made by non-electronic instruments in real performance halls.

  2. Pickleschlitz says:

    The major difference between vinyl and digital is mastering. Digital as a format has better frequency response, distortion, and dynamic range, and it is a much more forgiving and flexible medium than analogue. Unfortunately this encourages a “we’ll fix it later” attitude that leads to poor sound.

    In the analogue era, engineers had to deal with generation loss and a myriad of other problems. They dealt with this by attending to quality control at each and every stage of production. Studio monitors were calibrated to perfectly flat response to ensure consistency. With home studios and digital technology, only the very best do this any more. Many mix using crappy bookshelf speakers because “that’s what the kids will be listening to it on”.

    When engineers pour the same care into producing digital recordings that they used to back in the analogue era, the results can be fantastic… even better than the best analogue recording. The proof of digital’s superiority to vinyl is simple to determine for yourself. Just take a great sounding record and capture it to your computer using a decent sound card. Balance the line levels and compare your capture to the original. I guarantee you that you won’t be able to tell the difference.

    • Jeremy Pickett says:

      I was going to say something along the same lines.  I recently bought a decent turntable, and the biggest difference (besides the ritual of playing an LP, which I love) is absolutely the mastering. 

      Here is something that I noticed that has become a bit of a trend–bands releasing on iTunes/Amazon, and pressing records.  No CDs.  Which I personally applaud–it gives digital devices the best possible copy, and record-heads like me a little something to obsess about :D

    • Gyrofrog says:

      Re: Dynamic range, it is wider than with analog, but it has a hard ceiling at the top.*  (Or “had,” at least – I must confess it was 21 years ago when I formally learned this – think DAT era).  With analog, when the meter goes into the red it’s OK (to an extent) as the (analog) magnetic tape can handle it. But with digital, any red is simply distorted and not in a good Jimi Hendrix way.  Others here mentioned the Loudness Wars; I recall that when the signal got pushed over that 0dB(?) threshold then the result is a truncated waveform (if you plot it out graphically – mesas instead of mountain peaks) and it sounds like shit with crap on top.  But they don’t HAVE to do it that way.

      * The real benefit is at the lowest levels: it isn’t infinite, but maybe only limited by microphone sensitivity. With analog (maybe it was vinyl in particular) the medium itself covers up anything and everything that’s quiet, below some threshold.

      • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

        dB just means “logarithmically compared to”, so you cannot use it by itself.

        When “dB” is used colloquially, it is to measure sound pressure relative to .0002 microbar, or 20 micropascals. 
        Then you have the analog measurement of signal amplitude, typically dBm – relative to one milliwatt.Then you have the digital measurement of dBFS, which is relative to full scale, the maximum amplitude a system can capture without aliasing.

        A digital system will distort the audio, usually unpleasantly, at 0dBFS. 

        However, with analog, the limited dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio forms a strong impetus to record as close as possible to the maximum signal amplitude, even if that may mean occasional distortion around transients.

        With digital, professional digital audio equipment which records 24-bit or even 32-bit samples mean that you can literally dial it back a little – so both in recording and mastering it, you can still retain very good audio quality without having to go near levels that cause distortion.

  3. Jorpho says:

    I thought it was widely acknowledged at this point that the rise of digital media just happens to correlate with the rise of “compression”, i.e. recordings in which the dynamic range has been squashed to the point where what was once a subtle sound comes across as just as loud as everything else.  See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LoudnessWar and more particularly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ .

    • Sam Ley says:

      That has a LOT to do with it. When good quality compressor/limiters came into play, and music started to be expected to play on many different types of devices, it became fashionable (and easy) to just compress the hell out of everything instead of actually mixing it carefully. It can be a real godsend in live music situations where you have a very suboptimal room to work with (bar), but is over-applied in recorded music.

    • Thorzdad says:

       Compression, yes. But, also, digital is primarily about ease of manipulation, storage, transport, reproduction, etc. other than the elimination of surface noise unique to analog media, digital specifications really have little to do with the actual depth or quality of the sound. It’s more of a “if we get all the numbers right, the results should sound acceptable” format. It’s a triumph of convenience and numbers, rather than an actual improvement over its sonic predecessor.

    • Damian Barajas says:

      You bastard! Now I’ll be sucked in by TVtropes for hours!

  4. Adam Byers says:

    “with digital audio the resolution is more limited…”

    This is simply not true. The typical resolution on o CD is 16-bit, with a sample rate of 44,100Hz. Vinyl can’t even come close to this resolution (typical is 10-12 bits). And that’s just from a standard CD formatting. 

    One may *prefer* the sound if vinyl but in fact digital is superior format.

    • Travis Howard says:

      Yeah, I have a DVD-A of Koyaanisqatsi that’s 24-bit PCM with a sample rate of 96,000Hz and a sound card with a headphone amp built in that will actually output 24-bit, 96kHz audio. It sounds pretty great, I have no idea why people want to keep vinyl alive.

      • chaopoiesis says:

        The friction of the moving needle against firm yet pliant vinyl releases a heady aroma of subliminal toxins, which are perceived (through processes of synaesthesia) as “warm” and “physical”.

  5. eldritch says:

    While I personally find audiophiles insufferable, I honestly feel that sound quality is of variable importance depending chiefly on individual taste or sensitivity. It’s like how some people can taste the difference between a caffienated cola and a non-caffienated one. Some people literally cannot hear a difference between certain sound formats, or at the very least they don’t perceive or notice a difference.

    And that doesn’t even begin to get into the logistical side of vinyl – if I want to listen to a certain song while I browse the web, the last thing I wanna do is go set up a record player, manually pick a record, and manually set the needle to the appropriate track position. I mean, if for some reason I really care about sound quality for a particular song or something, maybe I’ll listen to an FLAC file type and be glad I invested in a half-decent pair of speakers or headphones. But it’s a question of relative costs and gains. For me, personally, I’d much rather have manageable file sizes, universal playback compatibility, and good (if not excellent) sound quality. It makes me more likely to listen to music at any given moment if the music is more convenient, and I’d rather listen to a dozen good quality songs than to only hear half a dozen excellent quality songs.

    But for someone with the money and time and effort to spend on a record player, or on a large in-home sound system with every conceivable bell and whistle, and whose chief enjoyment of music is sitting doing nothing else, letting nothing else distract them in the slightest, focusing entirely on the music so that they don’t mentally miss out on the superb quality they worked so hard to get… well sure, go right ahead and do it! Why not? If the benefits outweigh the detriments for you, go for it!

  6. otterhead says:

    My thinking is this, as goofy as it sounds: albums that were recorded, produced, and engineered to be listened to on vinyl sound good on vinyl. Their remastered digital versions sound better, because they aren’t being played back from a scratchy old LP, but there’s a certain joy about listening to something like CSNY or old Stones records on vinyl; I’m listening to them the way they were originally meant to be heard.

  7. Sam Ley says:

    The article is a bit “audiophile-y”, which I can identify pretty clearly because I’ve been somewhat a member of that group for a long time, for better or for worse, while also having a short career in front of house and monitor mixdown engineering.

    It is tempting to look at specs and then say that the one with better specs sounds better. Much like the “is Apple’s Retina display REALLY higher resolution than the eyeball?” discussion, basic facts about the differences between digital resolution and analog “resolution” are often ignored. You can’t directly compare bit depth and equivalent analog resolution because of the things that happen during the conversion phase, and more importantly, how your brain processes that type of information.

    It is also tempting to think that accuracy = higher quality sound. I can tell you quite confidently that accuracy is NOT what people want when listening to audio recordings – they want “more real than real” – just like super-accurate photographs tend to look flat, most people prefer the colors to be more or less saturated in order to convey a certain mood, or match the more vivid experience of remembering an experience, rather than actually physically reenacting it.

    To that end, analog sources have a real edge, because they tend to produce more distortion, but that distortion tends to be even-order, rather than odd-order. Even order distortion is common in acoustic situations, room reflections, reverb, old guitar amps, etc., are all sources of even-order distortions. A good record player through a solid tube amp will be less accurate than a CD player with a good solid-state amp. But you might like the sound of the record player more – the “warmth” people hear is actually distortion, but pleasing distortion. Nothing wrong with that – this is music, not a laboratory.

    I have a good quality turntable with a nice Grado stylus, and good external phono preamp. I’ve also got a media computer with digital-optical connections, iPods, etc. I like all of them, and they all have their strengths.

    • dioptase says:

       I was going to write something similar.  Everything I’ve researched says that it is they type of distortion that people are hearing, not the quality, that influences their opinion.

      Vinyl and vacuum tubes create those even order harmonic distortions you mention.  The human brain picks those up as pleasing.  The term for it is “consonance.” 

      Digital theoretically doesn’t add distortion you can hear, but solid state (i.e. transistor) amplifiers do.  The human brain picks that up as annoying.  The term for that is a familiar one: “dissonance.”

      So it’s quite possible for a CD and a tube amp to end up sounding nicer than vinyl and a MOSFET amp.  Equal distortion, but different feel.

      • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

        Except you can measure harmonic distortion – which people do – and it’s usually way, way below the levels even a trained listener can distinguish in a scientific study.

    • nox says:

      We could do a simple test of this.

      Just as we can demonstrate image compression artifacting by recompressing images we could do the same with audio.

      Set up a room, play a live to Vinyl and Digital, then play it back and rerecord it to vinyl and digital over and over. It’ll make the distortions more obvious and we’ll see which one diverges faster.

  8. Travis Howard says:

    “Digital sound [...] is produced by changing the physical properties of the original sound into a sequence of numbers.” This could very well read and mean exactly the same thing with the words “analog” and “sequence of grooves.” The phrase has no value as a scientific argument about the quality of either medium.

    Care to post any more gibberish today?

    • nixiebunny says:

      Now, now… digital recordings are made by sampling, whereas analog recordings are continuous. When playing back a digital recording, the digital to analog conversion process has to produce a continuous signal from those samples. What should the intermediate values be? They will never quite match the original recording’s intermediate values. Analog recording and playback does not have this problem.

      • Boundegar says:

        But it is mathematically provable that you can engineer the sampling process to introduce an arbitrarily small amount of distortion – that is, close enough to zero that it is physically impossible to detect the difference.

        I know it might be spiritually possible.  But not physically.

      • heng says:

         Are you suggesting that a vinyl record has infinite bandwidth? If it doesn’t, how does the record player know what to fill in above the upper frequency limit of the record?

        • Donald Petersen says:

          Yeah, there certainly is an upper limit to the resolution of the bumps within each groove.  No matter how clean and virginal the pressing, the finest vinyl Miles Davis record isn’t actually vibrating the air in your ear canal by passing it directly from his lungs, over his tongue, between his lips, through his horn, then across the bed and straight into your ear.  It’s wiggling a tiny metal stylus.  One doesn’t have to pull out the electron microscope to know there will be inconsistencies, errors, and eventual degradation.  The whole analog-record technology is founded upon applied friction, after all.

        • If a vinyl record has infinite bandwidth, then I look forward to storing all information, ever, on it. And since it has infinite bandwidth, I can even store infinite copies of all information, ever, so no need for backups.

          This is going to be awesome.

          • Diogenes says:

             Sure, until you throw a party and someone sets their beer down on your only copy of all the information, ever, and scratches it. 

      • Roger Braun says:

        This is not true. While it seems intuitively to be like this, you can actually capture the complete signal if you know a bit about the frequencies involved, which we do in case of audio material. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyquist%E2%80%93Shannon_sampling_theorem

        • Diogenes says:

           Right.  But audiophiles don’t like to learn about the physics of digital signal processing.  They’re too busy with the warmth.

      • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

        “What should the intermediate values be? They will never quite match the original recording’s intermediate values.”
        Hokum. The intermediate values are irrelevant since the sample rate is twice the bandwidth and therefore inherently the “intermediate values” will not be a part of the output signal.

  9. jimkirk says:

    Um, I don’t think vinyl has been around “for over a century”, and if the “warmth” is due to “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.”, well, that’s simply distortion, generally not a good thing.  Give me less distortion, please.

    Yeah, digital CAN sound bad, but there’s quite a range between 8 bit 8kSamples per second and 24 bit 192 kSamples per second.  There is one advantage to vinyl (and tape) in that the dynamic range can be greater than the signal to noise range (you can pick out extremely small signals within the noise floor, while for digital, once you get down to the least significant bit, that’s it, but with 24 bits, a 144 dB range shouldn’t be a problem).  And of course, MP3 is a lossy medium and can degrade the sound at low bit rates.  You might compare it to an 8-track recording of a vinyl album.

    Most of their other arguments (“pitching” music, playing it faster or slower, quality of the audio engineering and such) have little to do with whether the final product is vinyl or digital.

    • Sam Ley says:

      You might be surprised about your “less distortion” request – most people actually rate music sources with some even order distortion as much better sounding. It isn’t laboratory instrument, it is a music source. “Better sound” may or may not mean less distortion, depending on the source of the distortion and its characteristics.

    • Sam Ley says:

      And records have been in use since the late 1800s. 78rpm shellac discs were common around 1900. You are right about the specific use of “vinyl” as the record medium, however – it was released around 1930 by RCA Victor.

    • wysinwyg says:

      Give me less distortion, please.

      Dibs on jimkirk’s share.

  10. Jupiter BFPOE says:

    What they prefer is distortion that is added through the mastering/encoding/decoding process.  Have you ever looked at the RIAA equalization curves?  Sound for LP’s is greatly processed to get the sound wave into a format that the mechanical recording representation can be etched onto the vinyl.  The reverse processing is applied in your amplifier.  This adds DISTORTION (i.e. what you get out is not the same as what you put in) which people have gotten used to and the actual clarity of digital which does not have this distortion sounds unpleasant to them.  Many engineers will record drums onto analog tape, which has even more processing on recording that is “reversed” on playback because they feel that the distortion makes for a better sounding recording.  That’s fine if you are making that artistic decision, but realize that if you’re going for a true representation of sound, LP’s and analog tape is not the way to go.

    Jorpho,  the severe compression of modern music is a marketing decision, not a technological decision.  It is there to fool us into thinking something sounds better it strokes our lizard brains effectively.  However, I doubt you will find many who say it makes the recordings actually sound better to our conscious brains.

    Adam, I think I’d go further than saying it’s not true, it’s a complete bullshit lie that people tell themselves to justify their held beliefs.

    • wysinwyg says:

       If they believe it then by definition it is not a lie.

    • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

      It does not add distortion since the player applies the inverse equalization curve that the lathe applies. It is simply an emphasis added and removed because the mechanical nature of the medium means that noise and dynamic range are not uniform across frequencies

  11. Kenmrph says:

    The idea that vinyl is somehow “truer” than digital is a lovely poetic notion but doesn’t have any basis in reality.  All forms of audio reproduction are artificial representations of sound, and none of them are perfect.

    I have no problem with people preferring the sound vinyl, it’s just the facile arguments for their superiority that give me a headache.

    That said, the article does have some interesting things about the cultural / technological / economic factors that contribute to the quality of a recording.

    In any case I’m *sure* we’ll get to the bottom of this discussion soon ;)

  12. jmzero says:

    Pretty much hokum.  There are albums that are better on vinyl than CD, but – as above – it’s because they’ve been mastered differently.  For example, one of my brother’s Louis Armstrong record sounds much better than any CD version I’ve heard.  When you digitize that album with fairly pedestrian equipment it still sounds better than the commercial CD.  The CD tech isn’t the problem; whoever made the CD just didn’t do a good job, and that’s pretty common and I think that’s where most of these misconceptions start. 

    Digital files, made well, have tremendous advantages over vinyl in sound quality; I don’t think there’s any mystery science going on here – people just aren’t very good judges sometimes, and get misled by assuming a particular CD and record of the same original recording can be used as a fair measure of those technologies (when really what’s being compared is a whole chain of varying things).

    • The CD tech isn’t the problem; whoever made the CD just didn’t do a good job, and that’s pretty common and I think that’s where most of these misconceptions start.

      +10000. Especially at the dawn of the CD era, digital mastering techniques were simply atrocious. This led many people who grew up in that era to believe that CDs, themselves, were atrocious. It’s just not true. I guarantee you that 99% of people would not be able to tell the difference between a record being played back and a CD-quality recording of that same record in a blind test.

      • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

        The problem with your argument there is that at the dawn of the CD era (let’s say 1982), digital mastering had been on the market for more than five years, with a quality that blew everything analog out of the water.

        The early CDs were usually mastered by the same digital equipment on which the vinyls were mastered, simply because DASH and Soundstream was inherently better than their analog competitors.

        Just like with vinyl and CD, come to think of it, except the sound engineers who understand audio recording made the decision about which is better, rather than audiophiles who think “warm” or “full” are useful terms to describe audio.

  13. Scott Rubin says:

    I came in to make a post about how this article was audiophile nonsense. Glad to see everyone else took care of it for me. Good job guys, and thanks.

  14. GregS says:

    I’m not an audiophile and I never put much stock in the claims of vinyl’s superiority over digital sound, until I heard it for myself. I had been listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” a lot on CD when my brother gave me his old (30+ year old) LP of that album. I put the record on my turntable and was very surprised at how much richer the music sounded, even with the crackles and pops coming from the old record. 

    I’m not actually fussy about audio quality (add me to the list of those who actually likes how music sounds on AM radio) but I now do believe that vinyl does sound richer than CD. Of course, the quality of the turntable and stylus and the record itself are critical. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the sound quality of that Pink Floyd album if it weren’t for the fact that I had just replaced my old turntable with a modern 21st century one that sounds much better. 

    • Milothedj says:

      Those Dark Side of the Moon CDs have been remastered and remixed so many times over the years that it’s difficult to say which one sounds more like the original vinyl release. Each additional release is like another interpretation of the album by the engineers.

      Also, just the physicality of a record playing in front of you lends itself to more romantic notions of music listening. The more effort you have to expend to listen to a song, the more attention you tend to pay.

    • Diogenes says:

       Of course this might also have been a result of the joint you found in the fold of the cover.

    • Diogenes says:

       Of course this might also have been a result of the joint you found in the fold of the cover.

  15. chicken says:

    I wonder how many commenters here have ever heard a really great turntable setup?  There is very little surface noise.

    Here’s a huge question: how can any digital format made from an analog master tape from 1957 [or 1965, or 1972....] sound good?  What if the MASTER has degraded?  Then vinyl, which is very stable, is the next best thing.

    • Sam Ley says:

      Good point, most people have never actually heard a good turntable setup. That is a disadvantage of turntables – they are subject to a lot more variables required to get good sound. But when they are dialed in nicely (and I’m not talking about magic cables or anything, just quality components) they really do sound great.

    • Diogenes says:

       “There is very little surface noise.”

      Of course digital has no surface noise.  But anyway…

    • Diogenes says:

       “There is very little surface noise.”

      Of course digital has no surface noise.  But anyway…

  16. howaboutthisdangit says:

    Vinyl may have warmth, but it also has weak high-ends and muddy low-ends, background noise, pops, scratches, and turntable rumble.  At least it did on my less-than-audiophile equipment.

    Each format has strengths and weaknesses, but overall, I prefer digital.

    A far bigger source of sound degradation is low production quality, whether it is cheap vinyl pressed by worn out stampers, carelessly made CDs (on one CD I bought, the metal foil was peppered with hundreds of variously sized “pinholes”  which caused all sorts of gaps on playback; it almost sounded like static), poorly compressed MP3s, and the Loudness Wars (as Jorpho has already pointed out).

  17. $19428857 says:

    I have tons of vinyl and tons of CDs, good but not the best stereo equipment, and lots of good classic speakers (pairs of Klipsch Heresy II, Dahlquist DQ8 & DQ10, Pioneer HPM-100 & CS99a, AR2 & AR4. Yes, I’m divorced) and several pairs of high quality headphones. I also have good ears (most CRTs give off a high pitched tone that most people cannot hear, but at 49 I still can).  I have done A/B vinyl vs CD comparisons. I used with a variety of amplifiers and a variety of the above mentioned speakers. I compared recordings well regarded by the audiophile community (RCA “Shaded Dog” Red Seal Living Stereo vinyl from the 1950s and 60s on a Thorens TD-124 w/ a midgrade Grado cartridge vs Chesky CD reissues of the same performances on an Onkyo Integra SACD player). Surface noise from the vinyl is the only big giveaway to my ears. Hey, most people think they can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi, but experiment after experiment proves that false. YMMV.

    • “Hey, most people think they can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi, but experiment after experiment proves that false.”

      Now, that I have to disagree with! As an old dude it’s a while since I touched fizzy sugar water, but as a kid I drank a lot, and in the 80s I used to take great pleasure in taking the Pepsi challenge, correctly identifying the drinks and then telling them that Coke was better.

      • wysinwyg says:

        I’ve never understood how people could be unable to tell the difference.  Maybe we’ve got tongues like Sabletodo has got ears.

        • Donald Petersen says:

          Yeah, I don’t get that either.  I can’t really tell Cherry Coke from Cherry Pepsi, but when it comes to the straight colas, I can always tell the two apart.  Coke is too harsh for me.  If Pepsi were less sweet, I wouldn’t be able to drink it either.

        • bcsizemo says:

          Their like me and drink Mt. Dew as their primary soda…

    • Sam Ley says:

      The “pepsi challenge” does work, but not even in the way you are thinking, and it does show us something interesting about audio testing, too.

      In the Pepsi Challenge people generally vote the same way, and generally vote for Pepsi. The interesting thing though is that the test is inherently biased to weight Pepsi – one sip at a time people tend to prefer the sweeter beverage (Pepsi is a bit sweeter than Coke). Over an entire can, however, people prefer the less sweet Coke. Blind test where people are given an entire 6-pack of unlabeled beverage to drink at home, they tend to prefer Coke.

      The same is true with audio blind testing, which is easy to screw up. In short-term tests, people tend to prefer the LOUDER of two sources. Long term tests are harder to do, but tend to reduce the impact of loudness on people’s preferences. A/B testing may cause reproducible results, but those results may not be “true” in the sense that they don’t really predict people’s actual preferences over time.

      • $19428857 says:

        I have participated in two different Coke Vs Pepsi experiments, one the the 8th grade in science class, another in a college marketing class. No one was able to reliably tell the difference. The Pepsi Challenge was a straight A or B preference survey, and did not ask whether the participants could identify which brown fizzy liquid they were imbibing. http://www.doublefine.com/news/comments/coke_vs._pepsi_vs._humans_at_double_fine/ And for the record, I generally think I can tell the difference too, but quite often I’m wrong. Taste will vary according to whether the cola is a fountain drink &the state of “tune” the soda machine is in, from a can, plastic bottle, glass bottle, newly opened container, previously opened container, how long it has been on the shelf, storage in light or dark, refrigerated storage or not etc. To say you can taste the difference is almost meaningless. Under ideal conditions with fresh soda stored cold from the same type of container there probably is a perceptible difference, but there is so much variation between serving conditions over time for any given consumer, can you really say anything definitive about taste?

        As for Vinyl vs Cd, it is a strict test to see if people can tell one from another, and secondarily, regardless of source, do they have a preference. I have always run the test with both sources synced and playing through the same amplifier and same speakers, just switching between the inputs. Sound level is the same, musical passages are the same, with clean vinyl in excellent condition. The test subject does not know which source is which. Then they get to run the test on me. Most people, myself included, could only hear a discernible difference during quieter passages when surface noise from the vinyl was noticeable. There is too much woo-woo in high end audio. I remember 20 years ago writers for respected audiophile publication swearing that coloring the edge of a CD with a green Sharpie pen made the discs sound better. Monster cable made a fortune off of suckers who had to have high grade interconnects because they can hear the differnce. There are folks who sell filtered power supplies and $500 power cords that supposedly make an audible difference. Balderdash!

        • rageahol says:

           the cans and bottles have date codes on them. even though i no longer buy fizzy sugar water, when i did i would always go for the latest date code or largest number. old soda, regardless of coke or pepsi, is really nasty.

        • CH says:

          “To say you can taste the difference is almost meaningless.”
          Well… no matter what you say, to me it’s almost incomprehensible to say that one cannot taste the difference. Because they do taste different. Clearly different. I know some people really have no preference, and I guess in that case it might be that they do not care to actually taste the difference… but there is a clear difference… and I do not like whatever it is that makes Pepsi taste Pepsi. It’s ok if it is ice cold, as then the “Pepsi” taste isn’t as strong (hmm, have the taste tests been with ice cold drinks or at room temperature), and the sugar free version is also more palatable to me, but even then I can taste the difference between the sugar free version of Coke and Pepsi… because they taste different.

          In my country the waiters at restaurants tend to bring you whatever Cola drink they have when you order Coke (same for Sprite… they bring whatever Lemon soda they have). After I don’t know how many times that I’ve tasted my cola drink and realized it was Pepsi instead, and yes, got confirmation from the waiter that it indeed was Pepsi, I’ve learned to instead ask what Cola drink they have.

        • CH says:

          “To say you can taste the difference is almost meaningless.”
          Well… no matter what you say, to me it’s almost incomprehensible to say that one cannot taste the difference. Because they do taste different. Clearly different. I know some people really have no preference, and I guess in that case it might be that they do not care to actually taste the difference… but there is a clear difference… and I do not like whatever it is that makes Pepsi taste Pepsi. It’s ok if it is ice cold, as then the “Pepsi” taste isn’t as strong (hmm, have the taste tests been with ice cold drinks or at room temperature), and the sugar free version is also more palatable to me, but even then I can taste the difference between the sugar free version of Coke and Pepsi… because they taste different.

          In my country the waiters at restaurants tend to bring you whatever Cola drink they have when you order Coke (same for Sprite… they bring whatever Lemon soda they have). After I don’t know how many times that I’ve tasted my cola drink and realized it was Pepsi instead, and yes, got confirmation from the waiter that it indeed was Pepsi, I’ve learned to instead ask what Cola drink they have.

        • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

          I grew up allergic to the citric acid in Pepsi which is not present in Coke. I could without difficulty tell the difference on the few occasions I was given Pepsi at a restaurant or something like that, without the staff mentioning it to me.
          I guess I’ve been through a long blind study :)

    • My understanding was that, in a blind test, they could in fact tell them apart, and most drinkers preferred Pepsi because it was a bit sweeter. Hence the Pepsi Challenge.

  18. The only thing that counts is a blind trial. Hardly anyone ever does this properly before making a dopey claim about the virtues of one thing over another. When they do, it invariably turns out that their prejudices are back-to-front. What you *think* you hear is heavily skewed by your expectations, which can be affected by all kinds of cultural associations and visual cues, etc.

    I remember reading reams of similar nonsense when the Beatles catalogue was remastered in 2009. No one old enough to have bought Beatles records on their original release would be able to distinguish the  2009 and 1987 CD releases of the White Album, for example. They can’t hear anything over 12kHz.

    A beautiful example is described in the ‘Secrets of the Stradivarius’ episode of the Skeptoid podcast.

  19. Andy says:

    New music on vinyl or new music on digital won’t be that different. The problem you have is when you try and listen to old music that’s been mastered for CD. It’s usually a rushed, shitty job. You’re better off hunting down an old copy on vinyl.

    Also, some people just have “better” ears than others. In college I had friends who would blast 92k mp3s on their stereo, and I swear I could hear the 1s and 0s of the file coming out, but they didn’t notice the difference at all.

    • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

      Perception there is mostly a matter of practice. Unless you’ve learned to identify the distortions introduced by audio compression you’ll have a harder time identifying it.

  20. Records have clicks, hiss and pops in the real world. They are fragile. They may sound better on a perfect zillion dollar system, but I’ll never hear one. The first time I heard a CD I was stunned by what I didn’t hear: Noise. I feel in love. But the biggest truth for me is that the difference between the best repo and and a crappy AM radio is no where near as much as the difference between having recorded music and not having it. If your car radio/player/stereo has ever broken you know what I’m talking about.

  21. knappa says:

    None of the audiophile articles I’ve ever read mention this as a possible source of the analog/digital difference, but shouldn’t any the playback of any digital device be subject to the Gibbs phenomenon? It seems like that would sound fairly harsh.

    • heng says:

      Uhm, yes, insomuch as your signal is inherently band limited. But that’s handily taken care of by the fact that so is your hearing. Just make sure the upper limit of your signal is above the upper limit of your hearing and you’re happy. That’s why the sample rate of a CD is 44.1KHz, giving a theoretical upper frequency limit of 22KHz (>20KHz hearing). Now it’s actually quite difficult to design an ADC that can produce a clean signal up to the full range. There are various techniques, but cheaper devices obviously take shortcuts (at least, they used to – I’m not sure any more).

  22. technogeekagain says:

    http://boingboing.net/2012/11/09/how-to-tell-the-difference-be.html

    Fuzzy theory is fuzzy. Double-blind tests do not confirm the assertion that people can tell the difference or prefer analog.

  23. Uncle Geo says:

    You do have to wonder a bit about Monster Cable Syndrome but there is something to the notion that vinyl has some advantages. As to resolution there are two things to consider.

    1- The wave form is sampled every so often -on CDs 44Khz -about twice the highest expected hearable frequency of 21Khz. This means that a single high frequency cycle is sampled only a few times compared to low frequencies which are sampled tens of thousands of times. Low frequencies therefore have higher resolution than high frequencies, perhaps contributing to the supposed harshness in digital recordings. Note that pro’s record at 98K presumably to to lessen the effect.

    2. The bit depth determines how closely the sample point conforms to the actual analog waveform. Low bit depth means less resolution at the sample point and high bit depth gets closer to the real waveform. An extreme example would be 1 bit where the wave form at any point in time would be sampled as either no amplitude or full amplitude.

    So I can see why vinyl theoretically could sound better -especially on the high end. What CDs do have over LPs besides no wear is about twice the dynamic range -the difference between the highest volume sound and the softest sound.

    The RIAA EQ curve boosted high frequency volume in mastering to make sure the high frequency grooves wouldn’t wear off the first time you played the LP and the low frequency sounds were cut so the bass notes wouldn’t rip your needle off. But mostly this scheme made it possible to fit 20 some minutes on a side -i.e. Long Play. With this scheme, you still couldn’t get more than 55dB dynamic range. (For fun, plug your turntable into an aux or tape input rather than the phono input and you’ll hear what those groovy grooves really sound like!)

    CDs on the other hand can achieve 110dB dynamic range and don’t develop pops and hiss over time and are time base stable, unlike turntables which are prone to “wow” and “flutter”.

    While the RIAA curve was simple EQ, dbx, for a short time, actually made a limited but fabulous series of LPs (music-wise and sound-wise)  using 2:1 compression (also resulting in smaller grooves) -expanded 1:2 on playback- that preserved all the wonderful accuracy of analog at the high end with same 110+ dB of dynamic range you hear in CDs. I’ve never heard anything better, digital or analogue.

    • Note that pro’s record at 98K presumably to to lessen the effect.

      Pros record at 98k in order to provide additional resolution in the face of multiple effects that would otherwise degrade the final sound. It’s the same reason why you want a higher-resolution photo if you are going to be applying multiple effects. You want your final output master at the target resolution, so if each effect decreases your effective resolution, you have to start at a higher resolution to end up at your target when you’re done.

      If you’re mastering to CD, you always do your final output at 44/16. And, unless you have spectacular hearing, you should not be able to hear the difference between a 98k playback and a 44k down-sampling of the same reference source.

    • DodX says:

      “This means that a single high frequency cycle is sampled only a few times compared to low frequencies which are sampled tens of thousands of times.”

      If you sample a signal at 2x the highest frequency you’re interested in (ie at the Nyquist rate) you get all the information you need to perfectly define it. This is a mathematical fact. “extra resolution” as you say doesn’t make your representation any more accurate. It definitely cannot contribute to digital harshness or whatever…

    • Matt Smif says:

      Also, playing a vinyl record in a room involves the sound of the room. Digital playback is entirely isolated, whereas a record player will always be feeding back, to some degree, to the amp an the speakers and so on. I think this also has some affect on our perception of the quality of a vinyl recording.

    • Matt Smif says:

      Also, playing a vinyl record in a room involves the sound of the room. Digital playback is entirely isolated, whereas a record player will always be feeding back, to some degree, to the amp an the speakers and so on. I think this also has some affect on our perception of the quality of a vinyl recording.

    • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

      The wave form is sampled every so often -on CDs 44Khz -about twice the highest expected hearable frequency of 21Khz. This means that a single high frequency cycle is sampled only a few times compared to low frequencies which are sampled tens of thousands of times. Low frequencies therefore have higher resolution than high frequencies, perhaps contributing to the supposed harshness in digital recordings. Note that pro’s record at 98K presumably to to lessen the effect.

      Signals don’t work that way :) 
      When you’re dealing with signals, you’re speaking in terms of sine waves. So if you sample a high-frequency cycle at twice its frequency, then you can perfectly reconstruct it. That’s just a mathematical fact.
      Some professionals record at 96kHz and even 192kHz, but the main reason for that is that it reduces the need for high-quality low-pass filters to exclude the signal above 20kHz without artefacts, which is damned difficult to get right. 

      2. The bit depth determines how closely the sample point conforms to the actual analog waveform. Low bit depth means less resolution at the sample point and high bit depth gets closer to the real waveform. An extreme example would be 1 bit where the wave form at any point in time would be sampled as either no amplitude or full amplitude.
      So I can see why vinyl theoretically could sound better -especially on the high end. What CDs do have over LPs besides no wear is about twice the dynamic range -the difference between the highest volume sound and the softest sound.

      Much like sample rate is directly linked to the maximum reproducible frequency, sample depth is directly linked to the dynamic range. The dynamic range of 16-bit audio is 96 dB. With 24-bit sampling that number increases to 144dB. The dynamic range of vinyl can not be definitely measured based on its characteristics, but you’re lucky to get 80dB with an extremely good setup.

  24. Dan Hibiki says:

    I’m pretty sure there’s an app for all of that.

  25. Jardine says:

    Ugh. Vinyl lovers have tin ears. True audiophiles know that the best format is the wax cylinder.

  26. FourFeetOfCurl says:

    I have a number of live recordings made directly to 4-track analog tape that were then digitally encoded to computer.  After you spend a lot of time with the digital versions of these recording it’s startling to listen to the original analog recording, as in “whoa, I don’t remember this sounding nearly this good”.  It sounds so much better but in ways that are very difficult to describe.  It just seems like there’s more there.

  27. Gyrofrog says:

    “…the physical recording is made to vary in correspondence to the variations in air pressure of the original sound.”

    I think the only instances where this really and truly occurs are with wax cylinders and old Victrola records, neither of which are vinyl.  Otherwise there are are many variables between the diaphragm (ribbon, condenser etc.) on a microphone and the listener’s eardrum (or jawbone etc.).  Cables, pre-amps, direct boxes, compressors, mixing desks, reverb units, noise reduction, mastering lathes down to headphones or speakers… etc.

  28. DGGZ says:

    I’m a DJ on Sub.FM and ‘we’ have this conversation all of the time. It’s not an argument, because it’s pointless to argue against a vinyl junky :-) My opinion is this: a record player is analog and is very much the audio equivalent of a slide projector. You can ‘zoom in’ with a projector and if your slide is film and was taken with a camera, of an actual object like a vase or something, you can zoom in, infinitely without distortion or pixelation. If your slide was created with a digital slide printer, it’s limited by its (the printer or that of the program used to create the subject) resolution or if you use film to capture a digital image, the resolution is limited to that of the subject. In those cases, if you continue to zoom in you will see pixelation and interpolations. Therefore it seems obvious to me you have to take into consideration the subject that is being reproduced. The first example is like using an analog recorder to capture a live guitar and then playing the result on a record player. There should be no interpolation, no quality loss. The second example is like creating digital music, and playing it back on vinyl… even though they’re shouldn’t be any interpolation beyond the mastering component, if you ‘zoom in’ to the sound it will be ‘pixelated’ at the quality that existed at the time of the recording! If on the other hand, instead of pressing the output onto vinyl you just play the file… the end result will be the same quality/resolution as the copy that you did press. In reality though, the quality distributed to consumers is less than the actual out-put of the source – when it comes to digital, so like others have said, mastering is really key to avoid losses due to compression. So when it comes to digital music on vinyl the question really is what’s more important to you…. the quality loss due to compression or the quality loss due to physical anomalies? (and then take into consideration convenience, cost, and storage)

    • Stickarm says:

      if your slide is film and was taken with a camera, of an actual object like a vase or something, you can zoom in, infinitely without distortion or pixelation

      That “infinitely zoomable slide projector” concept has at least one fatal problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_grain
      Apologies for being pedantic, but you might want to find another analogy for use in future conversations about analog vs digital media.

  29. merachefet says:

    It seems likely that at least some of these modern analog recordings are actually going through a digital conversion and back at some point between the microphone and the record pressing factory without anyone realizing. What we need is an analog certification program, like with organic foods.

  30. Years ago I called bullshit on the advantages of vinyl. then i compared an album on vinyl (speakers) and CD (Sennheiser 555s cans) and realized that yes, vinyl’s got a better sound. It’s mostly the mastering, but the continuous signal is an advantage, especially on albums that normally rip near the max bitrate for WAVs.

  31. paul beard says:

    File under: nostalgia (is there a word for being nostalgic for an era you never experienced?).

    I suspect if the two formats were compared under typical listening conditions (in earbuds on the subway, on a car radio, at a coffee shop), it would be a wash. Curious that no work has been done on reading physical media, like vinyl, with non-destructive playback tools like light beams, as has been demonstrated on historical media that can no longer be handled directly. The idea that the superior format is the one that wears out, that each playback is subtly degraded from the prior one, doesn’t hold up, unless you only plan to listen to it once.

  32. fadetomute says:

    there is the dynamic range – silent to loudest.
    for that, mp3 and vinyl are closer than CD and vinyl.
    the big difference between digital and analog is the sampling rate. digital recording is an approximation of an analog signal. though i guess tape speed during analog recording matters for its “bandwidth”.

    anyway, here’s the mp3 digital format.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Audio_quality

    so basically, mp3 loses.

    the article briefly mentions harmonics, by which i guess they mean overtones. overtones are frequencies above audible range that impact or color the sounds within audible range. a piano voices the way it does in part because of vibrations in it’s strings and soundboard that you can’t hear which interact with the vibrations that you can hear. the article argues that vinyl brings those, where CD’s do not. big maybe there that simply depends on the original recording. maybe the CD represents those nuances just fine.

    an excellent recording with quality equipment is not going to sound the same as a live performance, no matter how much is spent on the equipment playing the recording. this isn’t always bad because the acoustics of the venue might be. if the acoustics are good the best you can get is close, using digital or analog.

    speaking of poor production, the article cited -Behind the tech that makes vinyl so special- really doesn’t say anything.

    • People on this thread keep saying that records are analog, which is true, but that doesn’t mean that they have infinite effective bandwidth or sampling rate. Practically speaking, there is a maximum amount of information that can be encoded on a record.

    • dioptase says:

      Harmonics are frequencies that are a multiple (usually integer) of some excitation frequency.  Sound, electrical, electromagnetic, and other forms of vibration all have them.  They can be in or out of the audible range.  Vibrate something at, say, 1 kHz, and non-linearities can cause modes at 2 kHz, 3 kHz, 4 kHz, etc (theoretically to infinity) to be excited.  You could even start at 1 Hz and end up creating sounds in the audible range.

      Most people think they have to be integer multiples.  But I do research on mechanical structures that vibrate with accelerations over half a million G’s (7*10^6 m/s2 is my record) and see wacky harmonics all the time, including fractional.  When those are in the audible range, it really sucks!

  33. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    I’ve been an audiophile/analog hacker for 30 years and I’ve written three audio projects for Make Magazine.  Well, two and a half until the end of the month.  I was all CD for about 15 years for the convenience.  Just got back into vinyl this year and I couldn’t be happier.  Music sounds marvelous again.  More realistic and lifelike, and less artificial.  I have great sounding CDs, but pretty much all of my records sound better than the CD equivalent.  There may be a variety of reasons for this and I’m aware of several convincing explanations.  Doesn’t really matter to me.  I’m a music lover first and vinyl usually gets me closer to the performance.
    I’ve never bought a MP3 download and probably never will.  Most sound bad to me.  Low bit rate, or compression or low-fi mixing choices or whatever.  They’re all disappointing to different degrees.  I get that it’s more convenient to buy music you can carry around anywhere but I’m not looking for a convenient low quality experience.  I’ll wait until I get home and can fire up the vintage system, drop the stylus on a platter and enjoy it the way I prefer to.

    • Tore Sinding Bekkedal says:

      More realistic and lifelike, and less artificial.

      I’m sorry but if you’re teaching people analog audio engineering you should not be resorting to describing a signal in worthless terms like that.

      Gimme SNR. Gimme dynamic range. Harmonic distortion. Terms that competent audio technicians use, not Monster cable salesmen.

  34. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Let’s look at the intended market of different reproduction formats.  The majority of vinyl recordings were intended and produced to be listened to in rooms.  A living room or den with furniture-type speakers and other furnishings.  MP3s are often consumed in cars, on headphones or from up-close computer speakers.  Give a producer/engineer these two different goals and they’ll create quite different recordings of the same performance.  They have to because it’s their job to make the best product for the intended purpose.  I’m sure this accounts for a lot of the differences heard between vinyl and MP3s, as extreme cases.  The overall ‘sonic character’ of the format just reflects the typical production decisions made when engineering for it.  I’ve heard excellent high fidelity digital recordings, but many just aren’t.  Not due to the limitations of the medium but the protocols of its typical application.

  35. flaggday says:

    Just seeing this on Boing Boing undermines the scientific literacy that Maggie and others constantly champion.  There’s basic math and science here that has complications and subtleties but should be much easier to wrap your head around than, say, evolution or climate change.  Just the excerpt is full of nonsense that might as well be saying the Earth is a few thousand years old because the Bible said so.

    • Matt Smif says:

      It’s true, but the issue is not that we have listening labs for ears that respond better to a purity of the physics of sound. That idea is fetishizing the idea of ‘how we hear’ scientifically as much as analogue fans champion warmth and distortion. There is no doubt a lot of science involved, but its not just physics. It’s a social science as well. Its cultural, subconscious, historical, nostalgiac – and so many other forces playing against one another. How we hear is not just of our ears, especially when its music that we may ‘love’ or think of as art, etc. Its going through emotional as well as rational filters. Its appealing to our identities and our desires. How does the physics of sound account for our egos and emotions?

  36. bcsizemo says:

    Oh sigh…

    Why vinyl sounds better?  2nd order harmonic distortion.  It’s also the same “warm” sound that people associate with tube/valve amps.

    Digital is cold, precise and assuming you are starting with a digital source (or modern analog one) and not something that’s 30 years old, it will/should sound exactly as the producer wanted it to.

    But that all assumes that the DAC you are using is of good quality, any pre-amp stages are of equally high quality and you are using a very high quality (ideally class A) solid state amp.  And at that point if you are still looking for that warm and fuzzy sound throw in a tube pre-amp stage and have all the harmonic distortion you want.

    You can talk about mastering and the loudness wars, but that simply goes back to mixing.  For things like vinyl and tube amps there are very real things happening to the audio signal, distortions that don’t/shouldn’t happen in a solid state setup.

    I could never imagine wasting the time building a tube amp (maybe a pre-amp stage, but never the actual amp).  When for a similar price I could build a solid state amplifier that has better specifications in every regard and far better linearity with much less THD and noise.

    Don’t get me wrong I love analog, but every aspect of it can be improved with digital techniques.

    • Damian Barajas says:

      But if it were precise, wouldn’t it be warm as well? Assuming that the original sound is warm as well of course.

      This is my biggest problem with these types of explanations, using evocative language to describe precise events that get interpreted as reality by our ears then issuing a statement of preference as if it was not subjective.

      • bcsizemo says:

        But it isn’t precise, that’s what digital is.

        You can pair a digital source (like CD) with a tube amp and still produce that “warm” sound.  You can pair an LP with a solid state amp and produce a “warm” sound.  Both are introducing distortion into the audio chain.  A distortion that doesn’t exist in the original recording, yet it is one that most people find pleasing.

        There is not a lot that can be done where records are concerned, so in some ways that is subjective (as the only other option is a different medium.)  But for something like a tube vs. solid state amp they are essentially the same thing as far as the audio chain is concerned.  The only reason to choose the tube is because of preference, not technical merit.

        Uncompressed digital is technically a superior recording format compared to vinyl (mastering being equal and all), so is a solid state amplifier.  The only reason to use anything else is entirely preference.

  37. oldtaku says:

    The biggest reason vinyl sounds better (it certainly may not be the only one, but it’s the biggest) is that you know it’s vinyl. Audio placebo.

  38. Daemonworks says:

    Simply put: vinyl sounds different than MP3s, and people who grew up with vinyl are used to it’s characterstic elements and MP3s sound a bit odd to them. The folks who grew up with MP3s are far less likely to be impressed with vinyl.

  39. ssam says:

    it should not be too hard to write a digital audio filter that simulates all the non-linearity of a anolog record player. then add in the pops and hiss and noone will be able to tell the difference.

    unless of course the the stuff above 20kHz is accurately recorded on vinyl and is audible to humans. if so try again with a higher sample rate digital format.

  40. Ray Perkins says:

    “added harmonics” i.e., distortion. I remember the old days when engineers tried to reduce distortion, not add it.

  41. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Just adding 2nd harmonic distortion to an MP3 won’t make it sound like a record.  I tried that.  Take a small signal JFET like J113 and bias it at about 2ma.  A 100mv analog signal receives about 5% pure 2nd harmonic due to the FET junction’s nonlinear transfer function at that bias.  Invert the phase and mix it back with the original ‘clean’ signal through a fader.  You can then adjust THD from ‘clean’ to 5% continuously.  The signal with added THD does sound denser and warmer.  Too much THD (over 3%) and it gets muddy and blurry.  It sounds kind of like a poorly biased triode stage, though with less hiss.  But compared to a vinyl source, the low level detail resolution in the THD-added MP3 quickly goes away as the THD rises.  You lose the subtle information in the signal and the original tonal signatures of stringed instruments for example.  Somehow vinyl reproduction has the warmth and density while retaining low level detail recovery.  So by my relatively simple experiment, just adding THD isn’t the whole answer.
    That said, it should be possible to create a more sophisticated transfer function with a fast DSP chip.  Maybe vary the THD with level. I dunno.  That’s a problem for someone else.  I’ve got Chopin on a Philips Dutch pressing to listen to.

  42. Diogenes says:

    The original Mona Lisa is digital; it’s pixel size is molecular.  But if you can’t resolve the individual pixels, it just doesn’t matter.

    If you can’t hear frequencies about the Nyquist frequency for a given digital format, it just doesn’t matter.  There are plenty of online tone generators.  If you can hear sounds above 22kHz, you should stick with vinyl (and hunt insects in flight).

  43. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Before you decide that vinyl system distortions on the order of fractions of a percent determine the differences between reproduction formats you should know that all transducers, and especially speakers and headphones have harmonic distortions of several percent to tens of percent.  The THD in headphones is particularly high, measuring several percent for most models over most of the frequency range and over 10% in the bass.  That dwarfs the nonlinearities introduced by a record and cartridge.  When listening to playback, that level of distortion should swamp any added by a properly made record played back on a decent turntable.  

  44. chris jimson says:

    Here’s something to think about: pretty much all new vinyl pressed in the last 20 years or so has digital technology somewhere in the chain–  recording-mixing-mastering (remember the ADD, AAD or DDD codes on cds?), and in fact almost all mastering is done digitally now– so to press a 100% analogue vinyl recording is pretty rare in the 21st century. If you are buying a new Beatles reissue LP it was remastered in the digital domain before being pressed onto vinyl.

    That said I prefer vinyl, but I have no beef with CDs (mp3′s are another story.)  Some famous audio technicians (Rupert Neve for example) claim they can hear the difference between 44.1khz (common CD) sampling rates and 96khz or higher sampling rates (SACDs for example)–  I can not hear the difference, but I am willing to believe that they can.

    • Diogenes says:

      I would pay $20 to watch Rupert and any other famous audio technicians try to tell a CD from an SACD by ear.  Hell, I’ll even buy a t-shirt.

  45. Damian Barajas says:

    If you were to setup some sort of double blind test for CD vs Vinyl, I don’t see how people could not tell the difference, so its seems that you cannot objectively call one better or worse since there is a characteristic sound to vinyl that will undoubtedly color your perception.

    This doesn’t mean that you cannot prefer one over the other but it seems to me, this renders the matter (Audiophiles, that vocal minority, aside) a taste preference.

    I happen to think that the best resolution is memory myself, I quite enjoy playing back my favorite songs in my mind, completely lossles, free from amp distortion and as jitter free as perception allows while playing drums on the desk till I notice the stares of the people around me… Oh well. :)

    • cdh1971 says:

      “I happen to think that the best resolution is memory myself, I quite enjoy playing back my favorite songs in my mind…”

      Wow, me too! I have done this ever since I can remember, like when I was about 3 years-old. This was pretty reliable, and even though I had a Sony Boodo Khan in high-school (this was circa 1987) and later CD players, I still heavily relied on my mental reply because one could only carry so many cassettes or CDs, and my brain worked well enough. 

      However, over time, especially in the last, like, eight years, this ability has declined. At first the lyrics were fuzzy, even if I could vocally recite them flawlessly. Now, at 41, it still works, but the lyrics are muffled, and the music is less muffled, but the arrangements do not reflect reality (I’m actually quite okay with this.)

      I wonder if my use of portable media players that have such a huge storage capacity have caused this to fade, my age or both. My cognitive abilities are the same. I mentioned this to a doc and he smiled and shrugged, asked me if everything else upstairs was okay (it was) and said my recent MRI and CAT scan was fine (I had recently been beaten about head and shoulders by a dentist frenemy.)

      OP Damian and anyone else reading this – anything thoughts? 

  46. cdh1971 says:

    Vinyl versus cds versus digital? Well, I love vinyl because this was the first medium I listened to, I still have a bunch of vinyl I bought in high-school, most stored in a cool, dry place at my parents’. I bought many more cassette tapes than vinyl – I regret this, but at least I bought my favs in V. 

    Which medium is better? Well, depends on one’s needs and the situation. There are too many CDs I bought in the late 80′s and early 90s that have no scratches, were stored in the same variable conditions as my vinyl, yet, the CDs are toast – as of 2003 when I culled them. I have an Edison phonograph disk from 1912 that played just fine on an acquaintance’s machine. 

    My parents’ 50 plus YO vinyl play just fine, even with scratches. I agree that later CDs have much, much, better longevity, but how much longer remains to be seen. Tape cassettes? Fcuk, I don’t know, but it seems mostly related to amount of use, quality of the tape (and playback machine), handling and storage environment. One friend of mine who was 72 (68?) at the time was rummaging around at his place and found a 30 YO recording made by his then 7 YO son. It still sounded okay. Cheap tape. Cheap player. Bought at Sears. He transferred it to digital, cleaned it up using shareware, sent it to his son. Cheap cassette tape, recorded by a child, 30 years later, it works. Go figure. 

    If I were building a doomsday music archive, I would store versions on the best non-volatile digital medium I could find/afford, and include a vinyl copy, even if the source of the vinyl copy was digital. These I would store in a cool, dry place somewhere deep, not prone to seismic activity and etcetera. Maybe between the two media, many would be preserved indefinitely. Also, vinyl has the advantage of not being encoded, and can be electronically scanned. A shattered record with a lot of scratches can be scanned and reconstructed, much in the same way the more fragmented and brittle ancient writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls are now – or shredded documents are by forensic detectives. Plus, as with the DSS, if a physical shard is missing, the computer can use an algorithm to ‘guesstimate’ the missing information. (I am not a scientist, or expert, this is what I remember reading somewhere.)

    Edison disks were “…molded phenol and formaldehyde mixed with wood-flour and a solvent into a heat-resistant disc.” I’ve thought they were Bakelite, but this is different from my understanding of B-lite.

    Here’s the ref:
    http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bledisondiscphpgraph2.htm

    • Diogenes says:

       Did double albums lose out when pot started coming without seeds?  That was an awfully efficient work surface.

      • cdh1971 says:

        Yes, it was a great work surface. Didn’t much need the surface myself ’cause by the early ’80s when I started, most of the pot in Eugene, OR was already sinsemilia. 

  47. bcsizemo says:

    Something else to point out where people keep mentioning that no one can hear past 20k, while that is technically true it also seems to imply that whatever is amplifying the sound can produce 20k without issue.

    Cheap amplifiers may simply not have enough bandwidth and slew rate to accurately produce sounds above 20k, and while you can not hear that sound, (and technically they shouldn’t be present on a CD) that inability may lead to distortion in a frequency range you can hear.

    -Obviously that doesn’t have a lot to do with LP vs. CD, but it’s something to point out on technical merit.  Especially if you are dealing with electronically created music.

  48. class_enemy says:

    Articles and threads like this sometimes give the impression that there once was an Analog Augustan Age, when all that lovingly crafted, artisanally mastered black plastic was enjoyed in its full warmth and fidelity by tens of millions.

    In reality, most people back in my parents’ day listened to music on a $79.95 fold-down “stereo” from Sears, or a three inch mono car speaker (two speakers if lucky).

    I contend that even after auto mixing and the loudness wars, I’m getting better sound from what I am listening to now (a Decemberists CD ripped to 256 mp3) than my big sister did when listening to “Rubber Soul” after a few passes through her ceramic cartridge “hi-fi”.

  49. Vincent Maldia says:

    let the mythbusters try to test the myth

  50. Cpt_Nemo says:

    Shannon is spinning in his grave at the fountains of bullsh1t being spouted in this comment thread 

  51. franklisa says:

    Every 6 months or so, an article like this appears, and my response is always the same.  Different formats sound DIFFERENT, not necessarily better.

    The thing with favoring vinyl I believe is part of this mini-boom economy in vinyl pressings.  Trust me, in a few years, those audiophile Neil Young pressings that sell for $50 will be in the dollar bin.

    But the debate brings up another point.  Do you really want a better sounding recording?  If your band plays a sort of lo-fi genre, say, Guided By Voices, should you really release on vinyl?  An imperfect sound is a sound of choice these days amongst artists, and if CDs, mp3s and cassettes deliver a less than better sound, than that ought to be the preferred format.  Maybe Venom should have waited for the advent of mp3 before releasing ‘Black Metal’.

    What about artists that purposely adds clicks, pops, noise, and assorted feedbacks to their compositions?  It would seem to me that discordance is as discordance does: don’t release on vinyl if you want to perfect the loop so to speak.

    Lastly, having produced a number of releases, the case more than often is that the vinyl record is mastered from a CD source, so this argument that vinyl better captures the analog really only holds water if you master from tape or some other analog source.

  52. Jeff Hanson says:

    “Kids” these days get most of their music from youtube… they obviously don’t care about sound quality enough to even tell a bad digital rip from a good one, let alone cd vs vinyl.

  53. Josh Smith says:

    Ok, Vinyl VS MP3 will win every time. MP3 is compressed and there certainly is a loss in quality and range there. Vinyl vs WAV is a different story. I guess that is more true these days, where most producers are making their sounds in Ableton or some sort of DAW. If the sounds that are produced are originally created in a digital format (1′s and 0′s) then it doesn’t matter if it is then written to an Analog format.

    However, what is true – is that with Vinyl you do get that certain reverberation that comes from the speakers creating vibrations in the room and those vibrations coming back through the stylus and through the speakers. This is what gives the perceived “warmth” of Vinyl. Compare the two. Still, none of that really matters if you have dodgy amplifiers speakers etc.

    I am now a digital DJ and producer, but there is still a certain quality that comes with Vinyl. Perhaps it’s just the feel of having the records spinning and the rest is beyond human perception, but part of being a DJ is the show.

    My 2 cents.

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