CD or vinyl for best sound?

July 24, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

14 comments on “CD or vinyl for best sound?”

  1. I agree, Paul. Given a budget of $750, for example, you can get better sound with a CD transport and DAC than with a turntable and preamp. What I’m not so sure of is when you start getting into the stratosphere with the budget. At some point you hit diminishing returns with both formats and then it comes down to what format ultimately sounds better once the equipment “gets out of the way.”

    1. A significant percentage of current vinyl is produced from digital sources; the idea that vinyl=analog=better is simply not universally true.

      1. That's why current LP quality sucks. Audiophiles search out original first analog pressings and pay more for them. Almost all of the music I listen to is recorded in analog. If you take an analog recording and copy it to CD the dynamic range is exactly as it was when recorded on analog unless an expander was used to increase dynamic range in which the recording has been altered.. I prefer listening to the original analog recording reproduced by a good analog playback system. The only hope for digital sounding better then analog is a DSD recording played back on a good digital system. But even with that your favorite classic recordings transferred to DSD will only sound as god as the best analog playback system. For DSD to top analog it will have to be recorded in DSD and I'm basically a listener of rock and classic rock and the good stuff has already been recorded in analog. There are some great bands like the Stones and the Who that are still recording. Can we get them to record in DSD? Maybe then some of us old guys will have more interest in it. For now I'm happy with my records and CD's played on vintage equipment.

  2. I purposely avoid listening to good turntable/vinyl; I'm VERY afraid of what I might hear.

    Music is about more than sound quality. For me, streaming is essential to explore and discover new music. What is more fun than spotting future stars before anyone else (e.g., Crooked Still, Lucius, First Aid Kit, Molly Tuttle.) Spotify's "recommend" algorithms are phenomenal (how did I live without Cowboy Junkies all these years?). My extensive system of categorized Spotify Playlists is such a remarkable tool to have. And fun to build. But, streaming (Spotify Premium or even Tidal Hi-Fi) sacrifices some sound quality. I found Tidal MQA the best quality streaming, but its UI/functionality is so poor as to ruin the music experience. I will give Roon a test drive soon.

    I have my old CD collection that I play frequently -- Super Session, Then Play On, Astral Weeks sound better than they did in 1969. But, for lights-out listening of my favorite music (about three dozen albums), I prefer DSD files or SACD. To my old ears, DSD files sound the best -- especially classical and jazz -- with my DS DAC/Bridge.

    1. Hmm. Cd is a copy of analog. Thats true, but to hear what is recorded/writen on vinyl and cd we use electromagnetic vs laser. Using old technology is excellent source of income for audio companyes who are taking advantage of people who did not heared the sq of the hi end digital system for whatever reason.
      Using Audirvana with hires files or even streaming blue book Tidal is by far superior than 40k turntable.
      Vinyl you can use only once to get best sound from it. Every additional time you use it you are digging deeper into it. Paul's answer was very careful as always

      1. Good point, it's important we find a way to preserve the great analog music out there. If you take care of your records and use a good cartridge the sound can be preserved for a long time but not indefinitely so we really need a good digital format that equals the best analog to preserve it. Hopefully it's DSD.

        Copying a record to a high quality analog tape is a good alternative this way you can listen to the tape until it degrades and then use the record to make another recording on a new tape extending the life of the record.

        1. Or, you can do what Michael Fremer does: he uses his million dollar system to record, in HiRez digital on some presumably expensive gadget, whatever is playing on the turntable. I was always skeptical of this, as a vinyl lover with a good system and mostly pristine LPs, but then I bought this floor model Aurender A10 server and the dealer had loaded onto the built-in hard drive a number of demos that were digitally recorded in exactly this fashion. They are from LPs, as you can hear the occasional pop/tick, but on HiRez through PS Audio’s DAC they sound phenomenal. So, it’s good to know we can preserve, in HiRez, the best LPs out there from any era. My files are in PCM, but I assume one can do the same thing in DSD (or that day is coming).

          1. That is promising; other direct cut the 'old' analog process was mic->tape>mix>master>cutter then press copies and disk>amplifier. If you can hi-res sample from a 'perfect' Vinyl playback system then doing the same from the master tape would eliminate the cutter>playback imperfections.
            The problem with most of the re-releases on whatever format is that they doctor the original masters so you get a 21st century version which is rarely 'better'.

  3. Any format gets back to the mastering and how the recording was produced in the 1st place. Saying vinyl is better than digital format is just not true and I am a vinyl owner as well as digital CD along with downloads to a 528 GB flash drive for portable use from my SACD player with USB and all the rest to my car using exact copy program. The surprising thing for me was how good the MP3 sounded in my car, much better than XM/Sirus and others. In fact, playing the flash drive on my system is very enjoyable. 1,000 songs and a little over 2 GB used.

    The more I age and the more I learn I find more and more today's audio magazines can no longer be believed, they are nothing more than sales arm for manufactures along with using their influence to promote and sway audiophiles and those who follow whatever they say as a fact.
    They know boomers love vinyl and younger ones are for streaming and downloads because they don't sit in front of 2 speakers, they want portable from car to phone to music throughout the house which streaming allows. No matter how much they write CD suck, the more they lie. I have CD's that sound better than my 1st pressing LP's and at times just the opposite.

    Blu-Ray still looks better than any cable system, and better than streaming. So there is still a need for hands-on formats if you care about quality, but audiophiles are 0.5% of the buying public, that is why SACD and MQA audio matter little, they support of this 0.5% is nor enough to make it a mass medium for sales, most just don't care, they listen to music just for the music.

    I have 125 relatives some doctors and lawyers etc. Not one has a system costing more than $500.00, most listen to digital radio, Prime music on Alexa now. I love my system, and I will continue to tinker with it, but the days of chasing my tail are long gone, the absolute sound is the sound you enjoy, and that what a system should be about, making music enjoyable to you.

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