CD or vinyl?

Here in the UK, vinyl has become popular again. Sales rose 34% last year and Dj’s wont be seen playing anything else at clubs or parties. As a result an old debate has re-emerged: What’s better, CD or vinyl? I know CD may sound perfect and digital technology is great but it is argued that vinyl is much warmer and captures the moment of the recording complete with nuances and any flaws made by the artist.

Vinyl does have a richer tone but it isn’t as convienient as a cd. But Vinly will last forever. I could be wrong, but i think the Library of Congress keeps all of its audio records on vinyl.

I think the question is more analog vs. digital, but I have noticed a sort of clinical, sterile quality to CD’s. I think it’s more noticeable on older CD’s from the 1980’s.

It seems that tube audio (“valves” in the UK) has its adherents, over transisters (Hollow state rules!) as well. Still, people used to claim that Mr. Edisons’ wax cylinders were indistinguishable from live music, so it’s easy to slip over the line into silliness. But I don’t buy CD’s anymore, I seemed to spend more time listening to the sound itself, than the music.

Careful, double blind A/B comparison between CD’s and Vinyl is supposed to conclusively prove that digital is superior, but I don’t care… I’m convinced vinyl, scratches and clicks, is more “musical;” Oh Well.

How do you come to that conclusion? Vinyl has only been around a relatively few decades, well short of “forever.” Vinyl also loses plasticizers into the atmosphere leaving it hard and brittle. One of the best ways to ruin photographs and slides in just a few years time is to leave them in vinyl pages. Vinyl records are kept in archives because the record itself is an artifact. As for preserving sound forever there are few good options available.

I have to shake my head every time I hear this.

Artists first record onto a master tape, not vinyl. It used to be analog, now its digital, but its tape. Not until the final mix is done was it transfered to vinyl or CD. So any so-called flaws or nuances in the original recording will be better heard in the CD. The flaws that CDs don’t give you are called skips and crackles which were most definitely not in the original master recording, but came from dragging a diamond across a freakin’ piece of plastic!!

I was very into music & stereos when CDs came out and the first time I heard one the experience was, religious. Yes, this is what recorded music is supposed to sound like! The idea that vinyl somehow *‘captures’ * the sound better is simply insane. Vinyl sounds like, a record. CDs sound nearly indistinguishable from real life.

I agree with you on the point about capturing the recording. I included it as it was a point made by Neil Young in support of vinyl, but whether our Mr Young is of sound mind could be a question even Cecil himself could not get to the bottom of…

CDs are much better.

I’ve gotten into this debate with one of my crusty-punk friends who still insists that viyl LPs are better because they are analog.

Dude. The idea that just because it is analog it must be a direct representation is far from correct. The recording, firt off, can only be as good as the recording devices, and is usually as bad as either the speakers used or the ears hearing it.

CDs can capture quite a bit of information…this is like saying that VHS tapes are better than DVDs…sorry, I just don’t see it.

Which is better? Depends on what you mean by better. And for this reason, this is probably a IMHO subject, or maybe a Great Debate, depending on how passionate the audiophiles in here get.

Definition 1: Better = Accurate
Properly recorded CDs are more accurate by far than vinyl. Accurate in this sense means that the signal coming out of your CD player is closer to the signal the recording engineer laid down. What you hear is closer to what the engineer wants you to hear.

CDs win this comparison hands down.

Definition 2: Better = You prefer it
Five decades (more or less) of recording LPs have taught recording engineers an enormous amount about how LPs sound with various types of signals. So even though vinyl has relatively high distortion levels, relatively low signal-to-noise ratios, high amounts of crosstalk (particularly at upper frequencies, IIRC), they can sound amazingly good when well recorded. Also, many people find some of these types of distortion pleasing to the ear.

It has been pretty well determined that “vinyl sound” can be simulated fairly convincingly by adding various amounts of these “euphonic” distortions. Take a nice clean signal, add a little high frequency crosstalk, roll off the high end starting at about 15k, up the 2nd order harmonic distortion, and Presto!, you’ve got the sound of vinyl.

Whether this is better or not is a matter of personal preference. For me, I’ll take the cleanest signal I can get, and then play with it, rather than starting with a slightly distorted signal, and having to live with it no matter what. But if you like this sound (and again I say that it can sound very good indeed) then why spend time trying to reproduce it when you can it the easy way?

Defintion 3: Better = Best storage medium
While it’s possible that vinyl might outlast a CD if unplayed, the difference is probably not very important to you. Modern CDs have life expectancies from 50 to 100 years. Given that you can make a PERFECT copy (yes I do mean PERFECT) of a CD (or of any digital data stream), even if the life expectancy is only a couple of decades (and it’s certainly longer than that, I personally have CDs approaching 15 years, and they’re fine) you could easily duplicate them every ten or twenty years, and always have an exact copy of the music you bought all those years ago.

Also, CDs do not suffer from direct wear as they are played, and they are much less likely to be damaged during ordinary handling. You can play a CD 10,000 times, and it will have no more distortion than originally existed. Play a vinyl recording 10,000 times, and even with the best equipment, it will suffer at least minor damage, and with less than first class equipment, will probably have been rendered unplayable around spin number 5000. Where a small scratch can make a vinyl recording unplayable, the same size scratch on the CD will probably be completely unnoticeable, as the error correction can restore the data stream over some fairly large defects.

CDs win this one.

The bottom line is that a well implemented digital storage and playback system will give you the best sound, the longest life, and ease of use.

However, an analog system, such as vinyl, can sound very good, and some people prefer the small amounts of distortion typical to vinyl to having the best possible signal.

The best thing to do is find the one you like to listen to, get as much music as you can, and enjoy it.


This is definitely an IMHO or GD thread, so, here’s my HO:

It depends.

On how the sound was recorded and mastered. The steps in recording can be broken down into three phases: tracking, mixing, and mastering. Some engineers use digital machines for all three steps, but, <gasp> some people still record on analog machines, too. A lot of engineers use both digital and analog machines for various different things. And, <further gasp> not everyone masters on digital machines.

So, if your friend’s band recorded on a hard drive recorder, mixed in Pro Tools, and mastered on whatever digital machine is in vogue right now, then there’s no point in buying her record on vinyl. If a significant portion of the process was done on analog decks, then maybe there’s an advantage to buying the vinyl. Records are usually mastered differently for CD and vinyl pressings. Anytime you make a digital-to-analog conversion, or vice versa, you’re going to lose something. Is it noticeable? Maybe not. Today’s digital recorders are better than ever.

The other thing is, vinyl is cool. There’s more to records than pure sound. I love buying 7"s. And LPs, with their huge cover art? Rad, in my book. Indie labels have been pressing vinyl since it was the only viable option, and not just to be iconoclastic. I’d love to take a Pepsi Taste Test with several different records recorded several different ways, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to get me to like the cellos on the first Rachel’s record better on a little polycarb disc than on 180 gram vinyl.

Plus, you can get all sorts of cheap vinyl at thrift stores, yard sales, and the like. Beware buying new vinyl from major labels, though; sometimes it’s pressed horribly.

I buy CD’s because they don’t take up as much space as records, they are more forgiving if handled roughly or dropped, and they don’t have to be flipped over. I think they sound just fine, even on an inexpensive player. I like being able to instantly access a track by pushing a button instead of lifting and dropping a tonearm. The newest digital formats, SACD (super audio cd) and DVD-audio have gotten the thumbs-up from reviewers (caveat: dvd-audio watermarking). SACD has gotten rave reviews. I have not heard it myself. What this means is that just because present CD’s may not be perfect (and personally I think they sound great) they are getting even better! Even if SACD and DVD-audio are marketing flops, eventually, given time, an improved digital format will eventually replace the current one (and probably will be backwards-compatible). I have nothing against vinyl; anything that gets people interested in quality audio reproduction is a good thing.

Here’s’s take on the question. It’s a bit dated (“DVD audio discs and players are rare right now, but they will become more common…”), but they write on the subject a lot more intelligently that I did.

Hmmm. Let’s leave this thread in the capable hands of Czarcasm and TVeblen. Off to IMHO.

scratch that. I overlooked “audio” in the sentence. The great Marshall Brain is accurate AND up-to-date.

i recall reading once that the “warmer” sound of an LP was in actuality the sound of the needle touching the record. im not an audiophile, i love CDs, but damn i miss my records! one good thing about CDs is that i listen to the whole thing, i cant remember how many of my old records were ones that i only listened to one side, or one disk. a lot, that i can remember.

For me, this hits the nail right on the head. OK, CDs sound purer, but that is only part of the whole thing. There is something completely evocative about the first time you take a new LP out of its sleeve - that little sigh you get as the dust starts to hit the static-y vinyl. (And there, of course, is the start of your problems with vinyl). And of course, the best designed CD cover in the world still looks too small to me. We had an expression when I was growing up - “toy” - used to dismiss something that just wasn’t quite “enough” - and that’s a CD as far as I’m concerned - they’re toy.

This hits the nail on the head for me too, only in completely the opposite way.

Records are a distribution medium for music, and music IS sound, period. And vinyl is, and always has been, an incredibly shitty distribution medium for sound. Yeah, cover art and liner notes are neat, but they’re just packaging. They’re inconsequential compared to the sound.

And Neil Young is a perfect example of my point. There is NOTHING intrinsically better about vinyl that makes music more pleasing. It’s just old nostalgic hippies whining about new-fangled contraptions.

Neil, shut up and sing…

Originally posted by Hail Ants

**Records are a distribution medium for music, and music IS sound, period. And vinyl is, and always has been, an incredibly shitty distribution medium for sound. Yeah, cover art and liner notes are neat, but they’re just packaging. They’re inconsequential compared to the sound.

And Neil Young is a perfect example of my point. There is NOTHING intrinsically better about vinyl that makes music more pleasing. It’s just old nostalgic hippies whining about new-fangled contraptions.

Neil, shut up and sing…**

I bet you’re imagining a bunch of “old nostalgic hippies whining about new-fangled contraptions” as the vinyl proponents in this thread. But wait, computer are pretty new-fangled, and the internet is new-fangleder still. Damn. Oh well.

I’m twenty-three. My closet is devoid of tie-dyes and Guatemalan knit garments. I’ve been known to vote Republican. If I were going to be nostalgic about any format, I’d miss cassettes (fuel of my walkman and Commodore 64). It’s not about the nostalga, it’s about the records.

Maybe you’ve never listened to a good vinyl pressing on a good stereo, or, worse, maybe you’re rebelling against some old nostalgic hippies somewhere; it seems that your claims are just as unfounded as you think love of vinyl is. I’m not holding up as the ultimate technology expert, but they make some good points.

I guess it all comes down to personal preference, but, damn, it seems like you’re just being unnecessarily vitriolic.

They’re not only not an “ultimate technology expert”, their explanation is amazingly bad.

They show the output of a “CD Audio output” as a square wave for crissakes! How stupid do they think people are? They go on to say

They are wrong on both counts.

I have personally looked at audio signals on two channel scopes that can put the two signals on top of each other. We took the signal before sampling, and the signal after the ADC-DAC cycle, and compared them. For standard test tones up to the Nyquist frequency (about 20kHz for digital sampling at standard CD audio rates of about 44kHz) the before and after signals were essentially identical. No stair steps, no square waves. For complex signals, there was more distortion, but well below levels found on vinyl recordings, and still NO square waves.

This idiocy about digital recording “approximating it with a series of steps” is one of the straw man arguments proponents of analog recording (usually vinyl) drag out all the time. It shows an incredible lack of knowledge about the entire digital recording process.

A properly dithered and shaped digital recording will capture MORE detail of the original waveform than a vinyl record is capable of holding, not less. The reason is noise. Any noise added during the recording/playback process represents more or less random deviations from the original waveform superimposed on the signal. This has the effect of making the signal look “wobbly” or ragged when you look at it on a scope. It also gives a practical limit to the number of discrete signal levels possible on the supposedly "continuous” waveform recorded on the record.

Again, comparing the output from a good DAC to the output of a vinyl record, the output of the DAC, after dithering and shaping, will be closer to the nice smooth waveform you started with than the output from the vinyl record.

Marshall Brain apparently has no idea how digital recording and playback works. Maybe he should stick to explaining dishwashers or something.


Has anyone marketed a device or software that will make digital sound like vinyl, i.e. adding compression on the low end and rolling off the high?

I’m going completely from memory, but it seems to me that Carver Corporation marketed a line of CD players that had such a feature. I don’t recall the specifics, but I think the feature was referred to as a “Digital Lens” and that the intent was to simulate the sound of vinyl.

I think they also had a CD player available with an analog (that means tubes) output section. Although generally well reviewed, I don’t think either product did tremendously well in the market.