Do vinyl records really sound better than compact discs?

I’ve searched both Cecil’s columns and the message boards and didn’t find anything. If this has already been discussed at length somewhere, just direct me to the thread.

Do vinyl records really sound better than compact discs?

Given a top quality vinyl record and a top quality compact disc–both the same title; * Sargent Pepper, * let’s say–both played on top quality equipment, does a vinyl record really give substantially superior sound?

I can see three possible results:

  1. No difference, or a difference so trivial that not even a dedicated audiophile can really hear it, let alone an ordinary listener.

  2. Some detectible difference, but relatively trivial. Both an ordinary listener and a dedicated audiophile could detect it, but only the audiophile would much care about it.

  3. A substantial difference, one that both the ordinary listener and the dedicated audiophile could readily detect and enjoy. The ordinary listener probably wouldn’t care to spend the necessary money to get the difference, but he could definitely appreciate it.

There ya are. Go nuts.

Maybe this one belongs in Great Debates! :smiley:

Oh, yeah, I know it probably won’t be possible to completely avoid using at least some obscure technical terminology, but please try to remember you’ll be addressing folks who don’t share your esoteric knowledge of the subject. Thanks! :slight_smile:

I think the idea is that vinyl records have a “softer” or “warmer” sound to them due to the lower sound quality they can reproduce, which becomes more and more pronounced as the record is worn in, which some people see as being better quality, or closer to what you’d hear live. Also, most music on records comes from an era lacking the technology we have now, so a lot of the sound quality is due to that, not the medium itself. These days, sound editors will take out a lot of the “air” and other distortions/background from recordings, leaving a crisper sound, which again makes the music less soft or warm.

All prerecorded music, whether currently on CD or vinyl, came from a source tape. Because CDs can better replicate that source tape than vinyl can the answer is
NO!
Terms like ‘softer’ or ‘warmer’ are just euphamisms for analog transfer induced artifacts (i.e. distortion). Period. End of discussion. Now let’s all get on with our lives…

Hang on… CDs have a limited range of frequencies that they can reproduce. Vinyl does not have this limitation. Technically, vinyl can produce a wider range of sounds. However, I suspect most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Unless you like pops and hisses, I don’t think you’ll find vinyl better than CD’s. :wink:

As for the limited frequency ranges, I would like to see stats that document that the limitations are within the range of discernable sound. The human ear also has a limited range of audible frequencies.

Erm, ah, I have to respectfully disagree with the above. Most vinyl partisans have admitted since the advent of CDs that CDs generally have greater extension into the bass and treble and superior dynamic range (loud parts are louder), but hold that vinyl provides a subjectively superior sound. Of course there are theoretical maximums linked to the choice of the 44Khz/16 bit sampling rate, but the practical limitations of vinyl fall well within the abilities of plain old CD (leaving aside the question of improved digital formats like SACD and DVD-Audio).

I think the major advantage that vinyl holds is that the recordings produced prior to CD were recorded and mixed with an ear towards final reproduction on vinyl, usually boosting the upper midrange and treble to compensate for the reduced response of the turntable for these frequencies. If the same recording is transferred directly to CD without re-mixing, it will sound tinny and harsh. Audiophiles have attributed this phenomenon to “loss of information between the bits” and have been prejudiced against CDs ever since.

So, for those recordings like Sgt. Pepper, the vinyl will sound better on a cost-no-object system than a CD that has not been remixed and remastered. A current-day, competently produced recording will sound better on CD, no matter what.

In 90% of the stereos in American homes, the CD will always sound better than vinyl.

I’ve noticed that, while listening to oldies stations, I can understand lyrics today that seemed mumbled or garbled back in the 60s. Obviously, both transmitting and receiving technology has improved tremendously since then, but I wouldn’t doubt that it also has something to do with the use of CDs today.

Vinyl is inhernetly flawed compared to CD’s but audiophiles are convinced that the FLAWS in vinyl are what make it sound so good.

Its sort of like how some modern movies deliberately shoot on grainy black and white. Its an inherently flawed medium but can serve a purpose.

It has been my experience that the “superiority” of vinyl is generally argued by aging would-be audiophiles who are in denial about their hearing loss. The most adamant vinyl-is-better proponent I’ve ever met grudgingly bought a CD player for recordings that weren’t available on vinyl…and then promptly bought a “CD demagnetizer” and insisted that it improved sound quality. :rolleyes: So please forgive me if I show little (read “no”) patience with the vinyl set.

Even a well-produced, mint condition record is (at best) no better than a CD with equal production values, and records are much more subject to degradation and damage. CDs are the superior medium.

Vinyl has a different sound than CD, that much is clear. Whether or not you consider the sound better is a matter of taste. One thing I can say from experience is that a top notch vinyl system sounds FANTASTIC. Much, much better than any average system you’ll find in anyone’s home, CD or not. Believe me, the average system doesn’t come close to tapping the limits of vinyl (or CD for that matter) so the argument of which is better is really academic.

The qualities that some people may prefer in vinyl, smoother highs, less brightness, etc. may be a ‘limitation’ of vinyl, but if the listener likes it better, it is the better format.

With all due respect to Hail Ants, whether or not a format sounds better is based on how it sounds not on a frequency chart or technical specs. If that’s all that matters, buy your next car based purely on the specs, no test drive necessary.

I don’t know about cost-is-no-object systems, but on average systems, CDs kick butt over vinyl. (And I say that as someone who grew up on vinyl, and still has more LPs than he has room for.) Whether I’m listening on speakers or headphones (but especially on headphones), I can hear a lot more detail on the CD than I can on the LP.

Also remember that the CD or vinyl is only as good as the speakers through which you’re hearing it, and the equipment you use. Sure, you could make an LP sound better than a CD by playing it on a $50,000 system and the CD on a car stereo. The CD may be storing 20-20kHz worth of data and the LP infinite bandwidth, but can your speakers reproduce that?

Beyond that, it’s a matter of personal preference.

As someone with hundreds of records, let me chime in.

Some people assert that vinyl has a warmer sound. And they’re right. For the reasons cited here, old technology etc. Also, don’t forget the romanticism of old technology that many older folks have. Old cars, games, rotary phones, jukeboxes etc, etc.

But here is my point: What if u record and press a record with all new technology and press it on high-gram vinyl(the higher, the better; 180 is pretty good). Also, let’s say we put only one or two songs on a side and cut deep, wide grooves. That configuration, IMHO and experience, is better than CD audio. But pretty much only that configuration.

What does it sound like? It will have a sound that is much more raw and gritty than cd. The fact that vinyl has surface-to-surface reproduction automatically means the resultant waveform will be more complex, raw and dirty; thus, more like a real waveform from an actual instrument. Also, the bass on excellent vinyl is better, too. CD audio might have better frequency range, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can reproduce those frequencies with a clear and robust wave. CD bass often sounds flat and obnoxious compared to the vinyl i am used to.

So, consider that if u will. Keep in mind, most of my records are techno/house/dance singles (i have other stuff tho), so i could be biased on that end of the scale.

In my experience, vinyl CAN sound better, if you have a new record and top-of-the-line equipment.

Otherwise, CD’s are better, especially when we consider how easilly vinyl scratches.

I have one word for anybody… anybody who may tell you vinyl sounds better… Nostalgia

Well, maybe a tad novelty, such as Pearl Jams vinyl record.

For the most part vinyl probably represents a less “corporate” music industry to most people. They feel closer to vinyl, and grew up with vinyl… and remember it much more fondly than a “cold pressed corporatized CD”

Well, looks like I’ve been the subject of the most civil and polite pile-on ever!

Actually, I was not saying that vinyl sounds better than CD. My view is that on a professional system vinyl sounds as good as CD, but for 99.9% of us, CD is better. So, there’s no argument, I suppose.

Umm, no. Recording onto tape didn’t start to become common until the 1950s and recording direct to master record still hung around until the 1960s at least. Also, many modern studios are all digital. No analog tape at all. So that kills the beginning of your argument.


I am surprised by the persistent repeating of the myth that since humans can’t hear outside a given range, there is no point in duplicating those frequencies. This was dismissed in the 1950’s! This is why “hi-fi” was introduced. Have people listen to the same music, one “hi-fi” and one with only “hearable” frequencies and they can readily tell the difference. Each frequency interacts with the others to form a complete sound. Chopping off “unhearable” frequencies causes loss of quality.

The frequency limitation of CDs was a compromise so that they could fit albums on a reasonable size disc. With new encoding techniques coming out, expect (the already available) much higher quality digital music to take over in the near future and CDs will be viewed as lo-fi media in 10-20 years.

(I’ve always been puzzled why no one ever came out with analog CDs. Wavy lines instead of bumps. Half the size CDs, better sound, doesn’t wear out as easily as vinyl.)

Vinyl is analogue. So are your ears. This surely should count for something.

However, for it make any real difference you need to be a really fussy listener, with a top of the range record deck, a perfect listening enviroment and a pristine, freshly cut, record. These are very rare circumstances for 99.9% of the music listening public. People must remember how difficult it is to keep a record in its virgin state, and how often you got a badly cut record brand-new.

So a good CD system gets my vote every time. They could be a bit harsh when they first appeared, and that was often the fault of a poorly mastered CD produced by engineers still mixing for vinyl’s needs. But nowadays, only audio snobs who want to seperate themselves from the mass digital plebs would want to bother with vinyl.

That, I think, is really the crux of this in most cases. Some (note: “some”, not “all” or even “most”) “audiophiles” are people who, like the “musical moron twins” in “High Fidelity”, are driven by a need to feel superior to others. In years past, when a good sounding system took tons of money, time, and technical expertise, it was easy to sneer at the musical masses. However, these days when even cheap systems, paired with CDs, are vastly superior to the cheap systems of old (and the equivalent of, or even superior to, middle of the road systems of old), maintaining that separation becomes much harder. Vinyl is the new rallying cry for the snobs and those who disagree automatically disqualify themselves from the musical elite.

This is not to say that there can’t be any debate about the subject, but my comment was about the motivation behind some (again, “some”) of the people who state their preference for vinyl and regard those who don’t with disdain.