Can the magic of vinyl be captured?

September 13, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

11 comments on “Can the magic of vinyl be captured?”

  1. At least vinyl adds inherent wow&flutter plus the inherent colorations of the phono-preamp (analog phono-equalizer). Not to mention the limited bandwidth for the highest frequencies of the inner grooves or caused by a spherical stylus geometry. Could it be that the poor performance of most loudspeaker designs are revealed when they are forced to reproduce the higher dynamic range and bandwidth of digital recordings now “better” revealing the poor step response and timing errors of most loudspeakers? I remember that many loudspeaker manufacturers claimed that loudspeakers had to be redesigned when the CD was launched! 😉 Thus the question is: show todays loudspeakers generally a better step response? I strongly doubt!

  2. On octave’s Otis Taylor SACD, some of the tracks on that were supposedly needle drops from the vinyl.
    I didn’t really care for those which caused me to seek out the DSD originals.

    The DSD originals did not have the the needle drops, so I couldn’t really compare on that basis.
    However comparing the SACD playback and the DSD downloads came pretty close.

    Years back I bought a cool little Parasound phono preamp that happen to have a USB output and I did a needle drop of a Joni Mitchell album called shine , and that came out glorious.

    So many links in this chain that it’s hard to make a real fair comparison.

  3. Paul mentioned when U put digital onto vinyl you squeeze the dynamics but then he said that makes the vinyl sound more lively. I’m mystified. I’d love an explanation since it seems at first the opposite should be true.

    1. It is funny, indeed, but that’s what happens.

      With high dynamic range, it seems like you’d get more bang for the buck but it turns out the opposite is true. That is because the nature of dynamics means the biggest difference between loud and soft. Thus, the softer parts are often buried.

      When you compress a signal you don’t lose the loudest parts you bring up the volume on the softer ones so you hear more of them.

      1. I remember, decades ago, trying to make the same point at an audio show: For many people’s listening situations, the noise floor is high enough that higher dynamic range just means either lost low level signals or high level signals that blow you out of the room. Compression can be a good thing!

  4. I grew up on Vinyl. Love it, but the best? no way. It is like Quad Electrostatic speakers that are limited but what they do well they do very well. I owned a huge collection of Vinyl from the time I was 8 till 40, 1st pressing, the best of the best on a good audio system perhaps 40% of my Vinyl sounded really good, the rest not so due to the production and other issues with the sound, the muddy compression of the ’70s onward. The best Vinyl recording was done by the master production folks from the ’50s to mid-’60s.

    What does Vinyl sound like? well, who set up your arm and cartridge, and how well? how well was it done, this arm or that arm, this cartridge or that cartridge? All will make the same LP sound totally different, oh, what stand are you using, what phono preamp and preamp are you using? So Vinyl is the best medium?

    I never liked CD but then never heard it on a good CD player, in the mid 90’s I did and I never played vinyl again, sold my collection at the right time and its value was never higher, today 1,500 CDs and counting.

    I love vinyl when I owned it, so if you do that is great. Well mastered CDs are superb, they give it to you directly and with superior top to bottom dynamics, which will make it sound different than Vinyl. This is why Quad is so seductive sounding, your hearing limited highs, and lows but everything in between is a standout, their lack of dynamic range makes them enjoyable to listen to for hours, then go to say an open baffle speaker or box speaker and you say at 1st many that they are forward, bright, etc, but then you adjust and you hear what your missing with the Quads, bottomed, extended highs, and live like dynamics which would make any speaker after the Quads sound more upfront and aggressive in only comparison. I look at my days of Vinyl like owning Quad Electrostatic speakers and then say a dynamic box speaker or Open Baffle is more like digital and CDs.

    Early CD was much like early Vinyl from the 1930s, take Vinyl by the 1950s and you had night and day improvement and CD was no different. It is better than streaming also, much like watching a streaming movie in UHD and then putting on the Blu-Ray disc of the same movie, it is not even close. Picture and Sound Wise.

    Streaming music is the way many enjoy music nowadays. So if that is good enough for you then that is all that matters. Loved Vinyl and I Love CD, both can be excellent and both can sound bad, and let’s be honest with the pop music today in any form hip-hop-rap, overly processed corporate-made music, earbuds, and an iPhone are good enough because there is no quality given to the highly processed music, nor to their buyers a need to care about sound quality, compression is good for earbuds and portable devices, it makes MP3 sound better and other lower content. They don’t listen to a good audio system, music is a background to them.

    We Audiophiles/Lovers are not a thought to the major labels, we are not big enough buyers, music is made for the 99% of the public, not us hobbits. Labels like Pauls and others who care about sound quality are rare nowadays, but I am lucky to own about as much music as I would ever need. The one great thing about digital is it preserved aging analog tapes, and brought back titles that had not been released in years due to lack of sales, the new CD format gave them a reason to reissue them and we collectors were better off for it. Think how 70-year-old analog tape would sound by now, or if they could even find the master tape.

    If you want real analog then find the original pressing (1st pressing) not RE pressing where God knows what they used for the source be happy if it was a backup tape.

    1. Awesome post, phillyb. You covered a lot of ground very well. I presume that — everything else being equal — most vinyl probably sounds better than most CDs to most ears, on most systems. But not all. When I started building my dream hifi system about 7 years ago, I decided to forego vinyl and focus on building a good digital system for streaming, CDs and DSD files. I knew if I listened to vinyl, it would divert me into god knows where — spending weekends with record cleaning machines? Sheesh. Pops and clicks? God no. I got hooked on Roon/Qobuz and DSD files and have not looked back. Streaming is sounding better and better. DACs get better every year. (Yes, I am an Ethernet-In and I2S-Out kinda guy.) The music discovery aspect alone makes being all-digital worth it.

      A final point. With all the controversy about tape/digital masters, I wonder why we don’t hear more about this epic/tragic event? — “The Day the Music Burned”

  5. The early vinyl first pressings captured the essence of the original master tapes before those tapes got old and worn. Those early recordings can never again sound as good from the master tapes, moreover analog is the real deal where is digital is not real sound, it’s pseudo sound. Also most of the great digital recordings were captured long after the original master recording sounded it’s best. Quality analog played back on quality analog is and forever will be better than Digital. All recordings today should be and are recorded from analog. Vibrating membrane, vibrating phono cartridge or magnetically captured sound. Starts with the microphone and ends with the speaker which will always be analog. Reality is analog not digital. People know what they hear. And yes transferring it to DSD or any digital format will alter it. But I cannot see a better way to store it for longevity. Perhaps from a master tape to first pressing LP’s on the new recordings with DSD as a decent alternative. But I don’t think recording in DSD and converting it back to an album and then back to DSD will capture the analog magic, because it never had the analog magic to begin with. Must have been all analog to begin with and transferred directly to an LP.

  6. I have a very fine vinyl system and digital system. In comparing the digital version (CD) to the vinyl of the same recording I find more energy from the vinyl – the music seems to jump out rather than just play. I wonder if some of the reason is that the energy originates from the friction at the source of the sound, cartridge in groove, like real music originates from the friction between a force against a resonator: air against vocal cords, or reeds, or through tubes, or hair or fingers or hammers against strings, sticks against anything.

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