Re: Vinyl quality vs. digital sound

Subject: Re: Vinyl quality vs. digital sound
From: Richard Wentk (
Date: Fri Oct 22 2004 - 07:43:34 EDT

At 01:44 22/10/2004 +0430, you wrote:

>Jay wrote:
>>Correct me if I am wrong but doesn't the vinyl records produce better
>>sound quality then electric tapes and CD (when I say quality I mean
>>frequency range).
>The idea that vinyl has unlimited frequency range is a myth; a groove
>needs to be physically cut on the record, and in practice, physics imposes
>pretty serious limitations. I can't verify the numbers, but, from e.g.
>electronic musician (
>" Engineers concur, however, that the practical upper limits of a vinyl
>record are in the range of 16 to 18 kHz for albums destined for
>audiophile-quality systems and 8 to 16 kHz for the average reproduction
>system. The upper limit depends on the physical position of the music on
>the record itself as well."

Not to mention limited bass response. Try switching a strong 40Hz
fundamental between channels on vinyl and see what happens. It's not
unheard of when mastering for vinyl to sum bass frequencies to mono, to
prevent the stylus leaping out of the groove.

Not many people realise that vinyl goes through an extreme equalisation
known as RIAA compensation. If you plug the output from a cartridge
straight into a preamp you get a kind of tinny rattle with hardly any bass.
All vinyl hardware includes an RIAA preamp to pull the bass back into line.
But the bass is *so* close to the noise floor on most real hardware what
you get is a kind of rumbly mush with occasional pitched transients.

For many people, that *is* the vinyl sound. It's not an unattractive
effect, but it's nowhere close to accurate reproduction of the studio master.

>There are different qualities of vinyl and different kinds of digital.
>Even CD-standard improves on vinyl in dynamic range and transparency (less
>noise, no crackle and pop), among other things. I suppose you could argue
>that the characteristics of vinyl can mask the poor quality of bad audio,
>but that seems a bit specious.

No, I think it's a fair point. My (simple) subjective experience is that I
can enjoy music more when some of the detail is missing. Through some
magical process my brain fills in what it wants hear. I remember listening
to a number of former old cassette favourites on CD for the first time and
thinking I didn't like the clean version nearly as much.

It's also amazing what you can get used to. When I try to listen to vinyl
now, all I hear are the crackles and pops. Before CD I more or less
successfully managed to filter them out.

>CD is still limited, but standards are opening up to higher resolution.

16/44.1 was always a compromise, and was understood as a compromise right
from the earliest days of Red Book. There are fundamental technical issues
to do with aliasing and reconstruction filter design which make it hard and
expensive to do 16/44.1 well. On cheap equipment this leads to that
horrible crunchy 'digital' sound we all know and loathe, and which vinyl
conspicuously lacks. But even on good equipment low level detail still gets
mangled because any 16 bit system doesn't have the resolution to reproduce
it properly. So ambience especially sounds rougher than it should.

24/96 is a huge improvement, although there's really no such thing as a
true 24bit system, even at the high end. There isn't a circuit on earth
that's genuinely capable of 144dB of dynamic range and noise performance,
although I suppose you could go all L33T modder and try to build something
cooled with liquid nitrogen to lower the noise floor. On most hardware
there are typically there are 20/22 useful bits, which is still a huge
improvement on 16.

>But standards mean nothing if the original recording isn't well-made, and
>there's a lot of bad mixing and mastering going on these days, which may
>be fueling the 'analog is better than digital' debate.

There's a horrible tendency now to push everything into a kind of
overcompressed noise shaped glop. The new Jean Michel Jarre CD (Aero) is a
perfect example. It's fat, it's smooth, it's rounded, but it also sounds
obscenely bloated and unrealistic, and the sound never gets a chance to

There's also an emerging consensus that analogue has its uses as an audio
effect. Albums are regularly mastered to 1/2" or 1" tape to get that fat
rounded sound as a deliberate distortion effect. Some bands even cut loops
and breaks to vinyl for the same reasons.


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