Vinyl is more musical than digital

October 23, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

Fact or fiction?

This fascinating concept has been around since 1982, the year of the Compact Disc’s introduction. And, in 1982, it was true and remained so for nearly two decades before the tides changed course.

To answer the question whether this statement of vinyl’s musicality is fact or fiction, I thought it might be useful to share a relevant portion from my upcoming book, 99% True.

“Today the problems of digital have largely been addressed, but in the early 1980s they were audible in all but a few recordings, those in which artists and mastering engineers had paid extra attention to sound quality. One such recording, Dire Straits’ 1985 Brothers in Arms, was one of the first rock albums released on CD and became the British band’s biggest: it sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, nine million in the US alone. In the UK, it was the biggest-selling album of the 1980s. It was also the first album to sell a million copies on CD. Brothers in Arms was recorded on a new type of machine: a Sony 24-track digital audio recorder. Once recorded, the files were downmixed to two-track stereo, then transferred to CD after running through as many as 20 Neve Modules (a type of analog preamplifier and equalizer) in a row, to reduce what Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler and recording engineer Neil Dorfsman referred to as “digital harshness.” Passing through so many analog “helpers” sweetened digital’s hard sound—each successive Neve reshaped the sound by gently rolling off the ultrasonic frequencies. In the end, Brothers in Arms won three Grammy awards for recording excellence. But the album’s good sound was an anomaly among early digital recordings.

Many of the sonic problems ascribed to the CD were not its fault, but were the products of mastering and recording engineers used to working in analog, many of whom were unfamiliar with digital’s quirks and requirements. For example, overmodulation—driving up a recording’s loudness level into the red zone of a VU meter—is an acceptable practice in analog recording, but in digital recording it results in a nasty sound like the sharp crack of a shattered walnut shell. Afraid to violate such absolute technical limitations but still wanting maximum volume, overcautious mastering engineers used hard audio limiters to compress the sound’s dynamic range: the range of sounds on a recording, from softest to loudest. The result was a homogenization of volume levels—in pop and rock music, a continuous relentless assault at more or less the same volume level throughout a recording, rather than preserving the full range of the loudest to the softest sounds, and the sounds of any and every relative volume level in between. Composers and musicians have used these ranges for millennia to create tension and release, drama and variety.”

So the statement Vinyl is more musical than digital is fiction based on former facts.

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45 comments on “Vinyl is more musical than digital”

  1. What is this post about? Recording, encoding or playback? Or all three? And remind me what “musical” means.
    My records go through A/D conversion, some DSP and then through D/A and still sound like records.
    P.s. this is an issue that was never asked of classical recordings.

    1. p.s.
      Mark Knopfler is a bit exceptional. He is a sound fanatic and always has been. He recorded Dire Strait’s demo album at home with his brother and when produced it was largely unchanged and sold something like 4 million copies. I have the vinyl studio albums remaster box set and it is fabulous. His album Privateering was I think my first 24/192 download and is also superb, Linn used it as a demo album for their “Linn Lounge” roadshows, even though it was not made by their own record label.
      But Paul answers his own question, vinyl is better than digital when the digital is compressed to death for loudness. You can do that with vinyl as well – listen to Royal Blood’s award-winning first album. I have the vinyl only because I like the album cover!

  2. BRAVO….. if for nothing else other than having the courage to expose the truth ! This stance goes against the grain of many, many audiophile/music lovers who *prefer* LP’s. There are a few pieces of music that I also *prefer* to listen to on LP’s, most due to the fondness of the era, and the way I remember the recording, but that does not make them better. More musical ? perhaps, but again, that is largely a matter of opinion. I also own dozens upon dozens of recording that are at least as good, but probably even higher quality than “Brothers in Arms”, and ALL of them are hi-rez digital.

  3. I agree to Paul’s statement…today’s state of the art digital technology has no limitations that would justify to call it „less musical“ (whatever each of us means with that).

    While two characteristics that are understood as „musical“ by many (live like tonal colors and prat) imo are strengths of analog technology, for me the term „musical“ inherits many more different characteristics which are rather defined by the quality of the respective equipment than if it’s digital or analog.

  4. Great topic and insight that helps us understand if willing of the the many elements that affect what is recorded by the how that gets it to be a a master and even then the delivery systems that play it. It’s more than a simple capture of the music as played as well as how it is processed and stored. When I think of the most refined and engineered audio recording studios who were recording live and direct to disc there are many things that contribute to that being a quality recording ending up at that moment it is captured. The lack of additional “processing” is something we get when it’s direct from the artist(s) to what we hear but we must take into account the room acoustics where we are in the room just like a microphone. If we think of vinyl or digital only as a capture storage and playback then I agree with you it’s false however it’s not the capture and playback media that is ultimately the main impediment to whether something is musical or not.

    I assume Paul that understanding the lifecycle of that capture so it is a accurate as possible to be captured in the best way for musical reproduction is really what you have in mind with your approach to a studio. Capturing digitally live has a completely different set of challenges than would analog because of how it gets combined to the master. What elements might influence the differences between what is actually heard and is recorded is “colored” event from the placement of microphones but what if that is the same for both. What are the constraints and differences in “uncolored” and unprocessed capture. What tricks like in the Dire Staits example are being done to make the capture “sound better”. So what is musical and what is sound better.
    We all have a different ear or preferred voicing profile for what ranges we like to hear amp and speaker choices. But does this discussion really need to consider the accuracy of capture and a lack of additional processing… or are processing tricks necessary for us to “enjoy” trick our ears and heads for that ahhhhh now that’s great music great sound and a well mastered recording.

    In other posts we

  5. What does the word musical mean? This discussion has no merit unless and until that term can be defined and agreed to. I have heard CDs that sound not as good as the same album on vinyl, but the converse is also true. What does that prove? Nothing. A system can be optimized for digital or analog playback and lo and behold it will sound better in general on the format that it was optimized for. What does that prove? Nothing. This conversation is not helpful to anybody.

    1. Speak for yourself, I was not aware of Dire Straits, studio tricks. That alone made this post worthwhile.
      What does musical mean??? Because I can’t speak for others, I have to believe it means different things to different people. I know it when I do, or don’t hear it.
      For a while there was a lo-fi sound some bands tried to achieve. My guess is the first few created it, not on purpose, but due to the use of crappy recording gear with no idea on how to properly use it. Then other bands with access to good equipment and engineers attempted to duplicate it. I found new bands with interesting music releasing music that sounded particularly bad on good systems. Some have a sound in their heads that they want, but I don’t.
      One way to look at musical, whether we are talking about a component, or a recording, it allows us to focus on the song, rather than listening to the various parts, trying to determine what is not right. It pulls you away from the performance, compelling you to question what is not right. Some will question a component or a cable, others the individual parts of the recording.
      Maybe if you look at what isn’t musical, it will make more sense. Of course someone else may have a different set of criteria.
      One thing we have mostly agreed on, is that playback consumer digital players were the weakest link in early digital. CDs that were recorded in digital early on, are not all that bad. It was those early players that was responsible for most of us keeping our records and analog chain. And as digital has improved, so has analog, who among us would have imagined all the new analog components in 2018? Considering that every other aspect of young people’s lives evolve around a phone, one they don’t use much to actually make phone calls, I would never have predicted the popularity of vinyl in the present.

    2. Agreed, unfortunately as much as I respect many of Paul’s ideas and knowledge, I have to politely express that this article is a bit off topic. What is musicality? For me, it can convey a great sense of emotional quality like one experiences in life concert, you know those goose bumps you get etc…and the sense of being there, life-like quality. In that respect. a great vinyl (condition wise) almost always has the best outcome and beats the digital counterpart/medium. But there is a problem trying to compare vinyl vs digital this way. Is the recording analogue to start with or is it digital? The article talks about how recordings affect the outcome, which is the key to how great it will sound either digitally or via vinyl, fine, but that is not really about vinyl vs digital as a medium.
      One way to test is to use the same recording source to compare vinyl vs digital.
      In general what I find:
      analogue recordings – vinyl beats all digital transfers in PCM, no doubt (though a poor analogue recording can sound better after digital remastering in certain enhancement but may not necessarily sound more musical >??) in otherwords, the original LP may still sound more “musical” if not better.
      With DSD remastering from original master tape -wow, they sound really good! Almost as good as vinyl musically and has more clarity.

      Digital recording: vinyl gives more analogue feel than the digital but the difference is not that great, and surely at expense of detail and sound stage/depth. In such cases, one can argue the digital format esp in hi-res, likely sounds better overall and may even be more musical. The vinyl has no digital glare and more comfortable to ears. And if you do DSD, well the musicality is really close to an analogue vinyl sound, provided the DSD recording is great.

      Now to be fair, my digital gear is still likely inferior to my vinyl gig. For vinyl. I have Michell Gyro + SME tone arm = > $4000, + separate phono pre-amp and transformer for MC cartridge (though cartridge is only $400-500 ), but hey my cheap $400 turntable also sounds pretty damp musical too!

      My digital gear is only computer Macbook Air + euophony or audiovana. I don’t have the state of the art PS audio DACs and SACD players. but I do have esoteric SACD/CD $4500 back in the day. but it is aging. The DSD playback may not be perfect as my DAC which is R2R DAC ($3000) may not be playing DSD that well (it does play DSD natively without conversion to PCM). The PCM playback with R2R (not signa delta) is awesome.
      I have to say the latest modern DSD 256 recordings can be really great, if done properly. Just amazing. Is it more musical than vinyl ? Hard to say. Again hard to compare unless you have a vinyl version of the DSD version, which is not common. Some recording companies uses analogue recording to do both vinyl + DSD at same time (Yuling?) and we can possibly do a more fair comparison with that. One company even burns onto vinyl directly without using tape! And I have that LP somewhere and if they have a DSD recording of that same concert, I can probably do a more fair comparison too.

      1. A bit off topic? This is Paul’s column, it is not a forum, if anything it is closer to a blog. There is no off topic. A while back, Paul posted about buying a new Tesla car. Was that off topic?
        Technically digital surpasses vinyl, but our ears tell us that often vinyl sounds better.
        I don’t think there is one definition to musical. And to me, that’s fine. I don’t care, some opinions I value, some I don’t.
        Here is another thing, if music is the reason you built an expensive high end system, spending time comparing formats, rather than listening to music, is something you do once or twice. Form an opinion, and get back to music.
        If you have been around for a long time, you know that many digital transfers were not done from the master tapes. So they won’t compare.
        If you read every day, this is part of a series, meant to answer basic questions, that in my opinion, those of us that have been music lovers that became audiophiles, already know. If you read the PSA forums, there are people new to the high end, asking these questions. Paul writes for everyone, and chooses the topics.

        1. Crap, I ran out of time. Do you remember the ’70s when they changed the quality of vinyl? You often had to return 3-4 copies to get one that was listenable. King Crimson was a very dynamic band, from whisper quiet to full volume. It was impossible to get a good copy of “Red”. I had one friend who owned two copies, one for side 1, the other for side 2.
          There is some music that is best suited to tape, which is ridiculously high priced, $450 a reel, and you have to buy a rebuilt, restored machine. Those are going for a minimum of $10k, or you can settle for a digital copy.
          There are so many variables, both your vinyl and your digital gear is good stuff, better than most. Not as good as some, but we all have different budgets. So this is one of those discussions that has a technical answer, an answer based on personal experience, and a few who have chosen a medium, and will argue forever that it is the best. And for them it is. It is like the term musical, I don’t think I have ever gotten goose bumps at a show. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t blown away by the performance, but no goose bumps.
          I keep ticket stubs, and one day I will count them, but I am guessing it is over 300 live shows.
          As a final thought, I don’t strive for an absolute sound. Live and music at home, are two different things. I strive to get the best sound off of the recording. Even a live show recorded is a different experience than being there. And I am fine with that.
          Depending on the venue, the music, it is the overall experience that makes a concert special. I have been to concerts where the sound was terrible, but the performance was interesting.

  6. I’m in the vinyl camp, but the used Theta Pro Va DAC I recently picked up is just as good. I run it through my MacBook Pro through Audirvana+ with everything downsampled to 44.1. This has the the dynamic advantage of digital and the appropriate level of detail, the latter being of paramount importance.

    I have had so many DACs, and heard many other’s systems with different DACs in the past. What I think happened is that the clarity of digital has become so advanced that it is unnatural. A recent system I listened to is so pristine that the music seems to float out of a completely black background. To many, this is a realized dream. To me, it’s like watching a 4K LED TV. The clarity and color level is so dynamic and crisp, it’s beginning to look like a Pixar representation of the real thing. This same “over saturation” of pristine quality is what wears me out when listening to many modern DACs. Additionally, it continues to deviate farther from what is natural to the live experience & every day life. The used DAC I recently picked up dials it back to a natural level.

    To me, “musical” means “natural sounding”. It is getting as close to what I would hear if I were there. It is a very different goal than those seeking a completely pristine representation of a recording. I think the digital vs. vinyl camp difference is this difference in system goal vs. a format issue.

    1. Agreed, great point. Some of the hyperrealistic recordings can sound really unnatural e.g the DSD256/DXD. Actually at times 24/96 and DSD64 sound more natural without this hyperealism. If you play PCM, try not to oversample, (not sure if you are already doing NOS ?) and you can also try R2R instead of signa delta and that reduces the hyperrealistc quality and restores musicality.

  7. Here we go, digital vs analog , Both have their pro’s and con’s ,if digital is done right it is very hard to beat on the musical side of things and analog can sound as good if they do it right . For me I like both they have their place in the musical world but who can say 20 years from now that one can say I remember that digital file and play it back and remember the moment, but analog I can pull one out and all kinds of emotions Come out . Today digital is the winner on the musical side of things as long as the loudness wars aren’t at play.

    1. “Today digital is the winner on the musical side of things as long as the loudness wars aren’t at play.”

      This I agree with.

      If the music studios would knock off this silly loudness war of theirs we might have a more reasonable basis for comparison. But as it is now, even re-releases of very refined vinyl pressings are being compressed into incomprehensibility by a new wave of over zealous recording engineers who have never known the full dynamics of music. For them, heavily compressed, in your face noise is what music actually sounds like.

      Nothing sounds worse to me than good Jazz or Light Classical music that’s been run through dynamic range compression simply because a recording engineer can’t understand “just turn down the levels a bit”.

  8. I have no doubt that your argument is well thought out.

    Yet, with a pretty good sound system for both digital and vinyl, and a mainly-classical music library of several thousand records and CDs, I find that analog masters of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, sound RADICALLY more realistic on vinyl than on recently remastered digital.

    Not just classical of course. I have 3 vinyl copies of Dave Brubeck Time Out, the most famous track being Take Five. And I have 3 different digital masterings on CD and I’ve compared also to the MFSL CD. Even ignoring the damage over time, the Columbia vinyl from the early 60s is not as good as either the Classic Records 33 or the Analogue Productions 45, but the old Columbia vinyl nevertheless trounces the first two digital remasters and is different but no worse than the most recent digital remastering in the mid-2000s or the MFSL which is the best of the digitals I think. Absolutely no contest between these CDs and the Analog Productions vinyl 45, which just feels like I’m in the recording studio with the quartet and the sound engineer.

    Back to classical, pick up a German or UK EMI vinyl pressing of the Barenboim Mozart Piano Concertos and listen to number 20 or 23 which were the first recorded in the set, and compare to any of the digital remasters (I think there were 3) and, if the CD sounds more like you are there, than the vinyl does, then I would suggest that your vinyl system is very deficient.

    If your experience of classical vinyl pressings is predominantly American, such as Angel, CBS, RCA, etc., you would be wise to reevaluate with REAL pressings out of Japan, Germany, Holland, and the UK. The differences are staggering.

    My CDs of these performances get played if I’m lazy or, more usually, in the car. I couldn’t live without them!

    But I come back to the vinyl if I want to relive the performance. Same is true of many pop and rock recordings in my collection, such as Beatles Abbey Road (UK 1st stamper) vs any digital version, Don Mclean American Pie (Friday Music 180g), Supertramp Crime of the Century (MFSL), I have dozens I could name, many but not all audiophile pressings, invariably more engaging than my CD(s).

    If you can find a copy, I recommend you obtain the MFSL Original Master Recording pressing of Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia playing Stravinsky’s Firebird and Moussorgsky-Ravel Pictures At An Exhibition (no other pressing matches this). Comparing it to the Angel pressing I have, would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic (misquoting A Few Good Men I think). But there is no digital remaster of this master tape, that I have heard, which is even on the same planet as the MFSL version. It does amaze me that this version is so much better than, for instance, the relatively recent Hi-Q analogue remaster.

    I’m not suggesting that digital is flawed. I have a digital recording (SACD) by David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich, of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, which is among the most realistic symphonic recreations I’ve ever encountered. You can close your eyes and virtually see the orchestra, choir and soloists before you. Amazing and wonderful. Having heard exceptional live performances by Ashkenazi conducting the Sydney Symphony and Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic in the last few years, it is all the more breathtaking to hear a recording which does it such phenomenal justice.

    So I leave you to ponder the fact that, in my experience, so many decades after digital, analogue recordings still seem radically more lifelike than their digital remasterings.

  9. Hello everyone around here. Since I was a teenager I thought it was an audiophile, my mother asked me to buy audio equipment for my enjoyment. (Yamaha Electronics and Technics speakers). Throughout this journey through life I have been obsessed with improving more and more the quality of my system, enjoying every moment when modifying or adding a component, cable, acoustic treatment, … and always giving excellent results in the area of resolution, veils or fog that always dissipated.

    But, I lacked the musicality, Digital or Analogue ?, nothing of that, I have found replacing the cables of power. Of course, you have to have a decent system, there is no doubt, but it makes me think that it is the most relevant in the equation.

    Now, I really enjoy every moment listening to music and I forget how obsessed I have been. I think my search has ended, I am no longer an audiophile!!.

    1. Reaching the point where you’re happy with your gear and can relax to enjoy the music without “critical listening” is what being an audiophile is all about, at least in my books.

      I’ve hit that point twice in my life; once in the 1980s with homebrew speakers, amp and preamp and now with the newer miniature class D “Chip Amps” and an HTPC setup. For now I’m very pleased with my system and I can spin up some music or watch a movie without a thought to the gear. That might change in the future but, for now, the goal is reached and it’s all about enjoying myself.

      I don’t think it’s so much that you are no longer an audiophile … it sounds more like you’ve become a successful audiophile, to me.

      1. What I have tried to comment on is that before they put their preferences between vinyl or digital, the chain of equipment, cables, says more than resolutions, recordings, …..

        You should try first to compare between both formats, for example change the power cables of both sources (Tornamesa vs CD player, bluray player, …) if they are different brands / models. I have not done it, I mainly listen to everything in digital, but I think they would be surprised by the changes.

        Mainly I have Bryston equipment (Pre / Power / DAC) and Advent Heritage speakers with internal rewiring with audioquest Tipe IV and sub Velodyne FSR 15.

        1. I’m not going to get into the “cables matter” debate right now but your point about making sure you have a good and reliable system with proper connections is well taken.

          A bit further down the thread SoundMind provides a YouTube link that pretty much sums up the differences from a technical standpoint. Digital is a much more stable and reliable reproduction but, without the cartridge flutter it is going to sound different. This leaves me to wonder if people are hearing “better” or merely reacting to “different”.

  10. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a CD. What struck me immediately was the improved clarity of sound, the same reaction I got when I first heard a transistor amplifier. But like most new things, further experience revealed a problem that took engineers time to sort out. There were few models in the early days and they were expensive. I didn’t start shopping for a CD player until about 1988 and discovered that they made string instruments sound steely. By 1989 with oversampling the problem had been solved and I found a model I liked.

    I don’t look at whether or not the technology is “more musical” or not. I consider its function and how well it performs it, its reliability, and its cost. Vinyl phonograph records and CDs have the same basic function, to store and retrieve electrical signals that are supposed to be analogs of music. Within the limits of human hearing the CD technology is far ahead of analog technologies. What’s more there’s something you can do with a CD you can’t do with a phonograph record, you can make a duplicate yourself easily and cheaply and it will be an excellent copy. They also don’t wear out and aren’t nearly as fragile as phonograph records that are easily damaged and are degraded with each play. They are also portable.

    As for musicality that depends on a lot of factors that are not related to the technology but how it is used. Ironically the technical limitations of vinyl records CDs were designed to overcome may actually contribute to why many people like the sound they create better than the same recording on CDs. Because of the limitations and characteristics of the rest of sound systems the vinyl can actually win. One factor is dynamic compression. How does this make sound more musical? At the end of each musical phrase the compressor increases the gain and amplifies the reverberation disproportionately between phrases. This makes music sound more “airy” as audiophiles describe it. A great deal of skill effort went into mastering vinyl phonograph records that had to take these limitations into account. The industry was dominated by a relative handful of large companies that had well equipped and well trained mastering engineers. Today there are endless companies that produced CDs. To get product onto the market quickly, large companies went into their vaults and retrieved master tapes that were decades old and had deteriorated inevitably with time, and quickly and indifferently dashed off copies without any thought that the final product would be less satisfactory than the original vinyl. It is therefore unfair to blame the technology of cds when the end product is less than satisfactory.

    CDs have problems of their own. Very wide range systems can produce far deeper and louder undistorted bass than vinyl possibly could. This creates a whole new set of problems. A surprising number of CDs even recorded digitally have audible room rumble in them. A low cut filter is essential. In the days of vinyl mastering systems used similar loudspeakers that were checked weekly and their frequency response adjusted with 1/3 octave equalizers. In the United States the standard speaker was the Altec A7. In England it was the Tannoy dual concentric monitor. Today spectral balance is all over the map and no two CDs are the same. Each one has to be equalized for its own spectral characteristics even if they were made by the same recording company. The lack of consistency is far worse with CDs than with vinyl but even vinyl records had their own characteristic sounds from one company to another and within a company’s different products. London Phase 4 sounds nothing like London FFRR and FFSS. RCA Dynagroove doesn’t sound like RCA Red Seal. Columbia 360 sound doesn’t sound like Columbia Masterworks. Another difference is that stereophonic phonograph cartridges have poor channel separation in both the bass and treble. By comparison CDs have excellent channel separation at all frequencies. Vinyl bass is out of necessity monophonic. These characteristics may actually be beneficial. I don’t know that anyone has ever studied them. OTOH, the lack of non musical sounds like pops, clicks, crackles, and other noises associated with vinyl but not characteristic of CDs and the total absence of harmonic distortion at any loudness of CDs really does make CDs a winner.

  11. I still prefer my vinyl collection to any digital processor out there. The gap has narrowed, for sure, but to me musical refers to a richness, rightness of timbre that analogue has in abundance and digital tries but falls short. I call it “bloom” and that is why analogue still rules! Why is it that analog reproduction of music hasn’t died since “perfect sound forever” was thrown at us in 1983? The resurgence of vinyl is a testament that analog music has more “soul” and that music isn’t a test tone or a sequence of numbers. For me, digital is a huge letdown. My wife and friends play Spotify and Pandora, and that’s fine for them and I totally get the convenience. Even hi-res digital files and MQA leave me wanting more.
    Digital signals have to be reconverted to analog signals before they can be listened to. No wonder analog and digital sound so different from each other. Maybe when mankind evolves into a digital being with digital hearing then it will make sense finally but until then my ears are analog and they prefer the sweet sound of my LP collection played back on the exceptional Lyra Etna phono cartridge. Pure bliss! So just to make sure before posting this I played the hi-res digital file of Dean Martin “Dream with Dean” and followed it up with the 45 rpm 180 record. There is no comparison. On the record his voice is palpable, in the room with me, goosebumps on my arms, and I am emotionally connected to a beautiful full bodied image of Dean crooning just for me in my listening room. That connection is the reason I became an audiophile in 1975. Analog is king. Long live the king!!

  12. Two thoughts about early digital, Paul: a big part of the crappy sound of early digital recordings was crappy equipment, as not enough was known about what mattered in terms of design, and not many options existed for ADCs, DACs, and recording formats and media.

    The other thing was that certain digital devices could in fact be driven “into the red” (over OdB on the digital meters) without distortion, such as the Yamaha O2R – according to famed engineer Frank Fillipetti, who “tried out” the then-new device on a demo session at James Taylor’s barn studio. The recordings from those sessions became the Hourglass album. I asked him how that could be, and he shrugged and said, “You have to use your ears”.

    This has always been an issue since the advent of digital recording – more and more people learned to trust the information on the various sorts of readouts on the hardware and software rather than actually listening to the sound. With analog, you maybe had a VU meter, and maybe an “overload” light. In some cases, with certain devices and with certain types of music, driving it into the red or into overload was a GOOD-sounding thing.

  13. It’s unfair for people to state that vinyl is better when they have 10-20 year old digital equipment. Dac’s continue to improve drastically each a couple of years. When did hires/DSD/ and now MQA come out? Just in the last year or 2. I have a vinyl system that is way over 2x more costly than my ps audio DS with bridge, and most of the MQA music surpasses vinyl. Hires and DSD can be a toss up depending on recording which format is better. I listen to 90% digital these days.

  14. Paul, maybe it was the recording process, but I have an early CD with one track which is very tonally realistic. That is “China Boy” from “Benny Goodman and friends” on London 820 179-2, released in 1984. It is identified as an AAD recording. The interesting thing is that particular track sounds better than others on the disc, something that always puzzled me.

    I might add that I’m not particularly a fan of digital. I have 10 X as many LPs as CDs and still enjoy listening to vinyl.

  15. I can sorta disprove the point regarding Brothers in Arms (BIA). I have the LP (okay sounding) and the original CD (sucks), BUT I also have a 15 ips 2-track tape that is so much better sounding than either that it blows away listeners. One said to me, “I’ve listened to that thing for 25 years and never heard what I’m hearing now.”

    So what IS the provenance of this fabulous analog recording? Beats me. The Eastern European seller said originally it was dubbed from a “safety master” of the master tape used to produce the vinyl pressing in, I think, Russia. Wrong, it is the long (CD version, 55 minutes) of BIA rather than the short (LP version, 47 minutes). So next he said it was the source of the CASSETTE version, which is indeed the 55-minute one..

    All I know is that I can put it up against any version I’ve heard, including SACD, and it’s absolutely no contest. Same goes for the other tapes I’ve bought from this seller, although most are not as dramatically improved from their LP/CD counterparts as BIA.

    I’ve read all about the perturbations and complexities of how the BIA recording came to be, including the very informative Wikopedia entry. Fascinating stuff.

  16. Are we also going to compare and try to condemn the current vinyl because of the earlier lacquered 78’s and cylindrical phases?

    Early digital had problems. Yes.. I was one of the first to complain to a record club that had just switched to recording digitally.
    Digital done well to my ears sounds more like real music. Closer to what real life music sounds like. Vinyl with its ‘rubber wrapped’ cantilever cartridges, has a “looking through rose colored glasses” effect that tends to soften the sound.

  17. I agree with Bill Stevenson.

    The musical term, coined by some manufacturers at the time that there was no digital sound, has been given with multiple meanings, all of them adaptable to the marketing objectives of such manufacturers.

    I have in my hands the brochure of the AGI 511A preamplifier (considered the answer of SS that surpassed the SP3) where the musical term is used to emphasize the “transparency”, that according to the manufacturer, owns this device. Today, in the middle of the digital era, the same indeterminate term is used.

    The term musical, as used in audio, lacks meaning, because if an instrument is capable of producing music, in itself it is musical, in such a way that musical is inherent to the music itself, and not to any device created by the man to reproduce it.

    Everyone here knows that with the current means of recording and playback, it is not possible to play any unamplified musical event.

     So: What musicality are we talking about?

    Without defining the meaning of musical for use in audio, any application of this term, both for recording and for reproduction, makes no sense.

    The preferences of each listener by this or that means, responds to entirely subjective considerations, such as the appreciation of all art, there are some that advocate the supremacy of open reel on vinyl and others that of the CD on analog, everything depends of personal taste.

    The pleasure of listening to a good production on vinyl is as good and legitimate as when listening to a good CD, in my particular case I enjoy both one and the other, without worrying which is superior, I leave that for the audiophiles. For me the jewels that I have been able to acquire on vinyl, are so linked to personal experiences that are irreplaceable, being the only disadvantage, the dust that traps the vinyls, which can be solved with a cleaning machine.

    I do not think that there will be a recording and reproduction system, which will be similar to the experience of listening to a symphonic orchestra not amplified live, only there is the ability to feel the “musicality”.

    Finally, on SACD discs, there is a propaganda saying that this is the only medium that most closely resembles vinyl sound, meaning that even the manufacturer tacitly recognizes the superiority of this analog medium. But that is only his opinion, as a manufacturer.

  18. Anyone who thinks Vinyl is actually better than digital these days is living with a bias which is not represented by the real world. This has been demonstrated to me by the process of digitizing vinyl playback and comparing the results directly to the vinyl playback (with well done conversions the digital usually cannot be distinguished from the vinyl). Well done digital, at this point, can be transparent. It is fine with me that some folks prefer vinyl listening, it is a fun process, but people need to understand that they generally prefer vinyl sound vs. well done digital because of its faults, not because it is doing anything better.
    Of course, poor recordings exist in all mediums, and that has nothing to do with the format. and most early digital efforts were quite compromised. While I prefer hi res, even really well done Redbook can sound very, very good when the recording is well done, and the playback set up is well done.
    Here is something interesting: The Cowboy Junkies’ album “The Trinity Sessions” was originally recorded by a single stereo microphone, direct to DAT, at 16 bit 44.1 kHz. this album has long been an audiophile favorite (on CD), but was certainly far from perfect. Recently it was re-mastered for a vinyl release, and was additionally offered in DSD. Despite the provenance of the original recording, the remastering sounds 100% better than the original, certainly an art of alchemy was performed by the engineer here. I have only heard the DSD, but I suspect the vinyl LP sounds wonderful as well (and I wonder if the DSD was sourced from an analog mastering process…). But the source is still only two channels of 16/44.1, from back in the day of rather poor performing A/D conversion.

  19. Most vinyl was cut no more than a few weeks from when the master tape was recorded. The CD reissues were recorded a decade later and too many were from copies or even copies of copies of the original master tape. I have acetates that I cut a few hours after the tapes were recorded that sound surprisingly better than a flat digital transfer of the same tape a decade later. In both cases, the tape sounded just like the acetate and a decade later the digital transfer sounded just like the tape did a decade later.

    To me, there is what digital could have been and there is the unbelievable mess we wound up with.

    1. Bob, as there’s not always the chance to talk to a pro:

      How would you evaluate the negative effect by typical vinyl mastering restrictions (e.g. dynamic recordings might have to be compressed or bass has to be put in the middle for tracking reasons at least on less audiophile produced releases) against some advantages vinyl can have?

      What percentage of audiophile or ordinary vinyl masterings is produced with such restrictions? Or does it rather depend on genre (e.g. mainly large scale symphony)?

      1. New recordings are a different story. My vinyl and MfiT masters are 96×24 with brick wall limiting removed and compensation for the limiting reversed. “Restrictions of vinyl” claims tend to be BS. People see a knob on a mastering console and assume it must always be being used.

        1. That’s what I heard of two of three other mastering engineers deep in vinyl business, too.

          It’s the basic argument most mainly digital minded use, that the need to compress and bass adjust ec. would be the big reason why vinyl sounds different (means: not correct but possibly preferable to some) while the leading vinyl mastering engineers say that they rarely if at all make use of either and if they have to, it’s of minor relevance. The latter is also my experience in most cases.

          1. I cut some of the hottest singles in the world at Motown during the ’60s and we didn’t even have a compressor or limiter in the cutting room.

            Young digital types often use more signal processing on every input than we had in an entire control room during the ’60s and ’70s.

            1. It seems the most useful prejudices (former facts or rare exceptions) are here and there preserved by those with a certain bias.

              Paul with this post cared to remove one of those about digital. Thanks for caring for the dark side, too 😉

  20. This video from Harbeth clearly shows just part of the reason digital technology, specifically RBCD is superior to vinyl technology. That does not mean that given the state of the art of the rest of audio systems that vinyl can’t sound better to some people but it should be realized that you can burn a copy of any vinyl phonograph record on to a CD that sounds virtually identical while the opposite is not true.

    1. I understand many arguments pro digital, but this one never had any logic to me. RBCD has this advantage to be able to quite losslessly record better sources from the beginning. But at the same time RBCD itself wasn’t able to deliver any good sound from its own source material (even if one would have played a today’s state of the art disc), so what does it help? It just shows a potential, but no ability.

      It’s as if you would argument that a digital camera is better because you can make a 1:1 replica of an analog photo but not vice versa. Digital is better than analog photography in many ways, but that’s not the reason, as it ignores that the ability to replicate doesn’t include the ability to produce the same.

    2. Thanks for the video link. Very interesting.

      The vertical scale dancing on the scope is the cartridge itself moving unevenly along the surface of the record. The needle has to literally drag the tone arm across the record and that motion is going to be very uneven.

      I’ve often wondered if people initially dislike digital because this constant flutter is absent.

  21. RBCD was never considered perfect by anybody other than Sony salesmen! The SMPTE minimum production standard has always been 48k x 20 bits. Many people always considered the optimal sample rate for audio to be 60kHz. RBCD used off the shelf Sony and Philips technology to press digital recordings in vinyl plants.

  22. On other Web sites these kinds of discussions often result in flame wars but hopefully not here. I’ve got over 3000 phonograph records and over 3000 CDs. Mostly I listen to CDs. I explained my position above. I have no emotional investment in either. As an analog engineer I live in a world that evolved to be digital. I have to admit that digital is inherently superior technology to analog when both are at their best.

    Originally I was very bothered by digital but for an entirely different reason than most people who didn’t like it. It bothered me terribly that human effort can be described by a finite series of numbers. I reconciled this philosophical problem by realizing that no matter how many bits and how high a sampling frequency a digital signal can only approach the real thing asymptotically while analog has its own distortions. Which one is worse? For me it’s analog that’s the loser.

  23. Fact – Vinyl is definitely more musical than digital. In many cases a lot more musical. Fiction – Digital is not as musical as vinyl much as the proponents of digital would wish it to be. Live music is rich, vibrant, present, forceful, musical, and has great impact. Vinyl captures all that the cutting head cuts i.e. most of the original performance. It’s a continuous process. That is why vinyl has all the properties of live music to a very great extent and sounds very musical and real. Digital however loses a lot of very fine information and sounds scrubbed, sanitized and electronic. Vinyl sounds natural. Digital sounds technologically precise and comparatively washed out. As for the sale of millions of digital recordings it in no way proves that digital is as musical as vinyl. All it proves is that the the lovers of Dire Straits bought the music they loved and having heard that it was better sounding than a regular CD more of the fans bought it. After all most of them were the same people who swallowed hook, line and sinker the publicity of perfect sound for ever believing it was manna from heaven. Same thinking would have worked when they heard that a better sounding CD of their favourite was available. By the way, how many CDs are produced the way that one was ? Regards.

  24. It is no good to use words to try to support one side to be better. Why not Paul records some of his digital music and post it on youtube or facebook for us to compare. I have posted some vinyl music recorded with my iPhone on Facebook. Although it cannot exactly duplicate the music but it gives a reasonable basis for comparison by ear.

  25. Paul, when was the last time you listened to a state-of-the-art vinyl playback system? When one listens exclusively or primarily to digital, it is very easy to forget how top quality vinyl playback sounds.

    1. Certainly at every consumer show, the last one being RMAF in October, but probably more to the point it’s likely been a good 6 months since I heard what I would consider an excellent set up home system.

      And yes, it’s quite enjoyable – not real sounding to me – but enjoyable for sure.

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