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Is vinyl really better?

Vinyl RecordThese days, I’ve been hearing a lot of criticism aimed at the compact disc format. Vinyl is regaining popularity as people are realizing that CD’s just don’t sound the same as vinyl. Now, whether this is just a placebo effect, I’m not sure. Apparently, audiophiles can’t tell the difference between Monster Cable and coat hangers. Should we trust the human ear so much to say that we can really hear the difference between CD and Vinyl? The differences are there, surely. Vinyl carves a smooth, continuous groove around the disc, whereas CD reduces the audio quality to 44,100 slices, each having 65,536 possible levels. I’m willing to bet your average listener couldn’t tell the difference. Another thing about vinyl is that as the record progresses, more and more high frequencies are lost.

“Most people don’t realize that the distance around the inside of a 12-inch record is about half the distance than around the outside,” Golden explains. “As the distance around each revolution decreases, the high frequencies become harder for a playback stylus to read.”
Link to source

On a tangentially related side-note, I found an interesting video of how vinyl records made, check out How Vinyl Records Are Made Part 1 and Part 2. I know the vinyl vs. CD format war will never be resolved, but it’s interesting to consider when deciding between the two methods of physical distribution for your project.

18 Responses to “Is vinyl really better?”

  1. Nathan says:

    I’d suggest that it is the distortion that people actually like about Vinyl. I expect people tend to think it has “warmth”, but this is effect imparted by the medium. I suspect the difference is less apparent to those who have actually worked with digital recording since the late 70s. I expect listening to original tape masters is a different thing entirely to a vinyl print, and CDs mastered from analog tape do sound different.

    It’s all down to taste.

  2. Neb says:

    I agree nathan, it’s definately down to taste. The “warmth” is the distortion. Most people instantly relate the word distortion to horrible sounds of things like when they turn up their sound system too loud. It doesn’t exactly have to be a bad thing, and as vinyl shows people can grow a taste for it. In modern vinyl pressings it is harder to notice, but it’s there. It’s the same as every sound system and setup has a different characteristic, and that’s what it comes down to, the character of the medium and reproduction devices. It’s hard to describe it, but you know when you like a sound, in the same way that you know when you like a taste.

  3. origin says:

    This is always an interesting conversation, but I have a point that is rarely discussed when this topic arises.

    Better or Worse is a bit tough to quantify when you are talking about comparing digital media (CD, mp3, etc) to an analog medium like vinyl records. They are created using two totally different processes. CDs & Mp3s are made by digitally converting the master file to either CDDA or mp3 formats. Putting a stereo audio file onto vinyl is often a process in which the the music is processed through a multitude of analog compressors, EQ, etc to ensure maximum sound quality and level. This processing is a major part of the vinyl sound, so it is important to remember that comparing a recording of a song on vinyl to that same song on a digital medium is not a particularly useful task. In my own experiences with putting original music on vinyl, I find that I prefer the sound of my music on vinyl. That said, I also am a fan of the fat, “Analog” sound, so someone who enjoys a cleaner sound may prefer a digital recording medium.


  4. nathan (no jokes lol) says:

    you have more options with cd’s but i guess its hard to let go of the vinyl that you learned with, plus, you can get more pride out of a nice mix you did with vinyl, as in with cd’s its so much easier that you dont get as much pride out of your work.
    I think every one should learn on vinyl and then add one or two cd decks to theyr set. but I’m 100% against mixing from your pc.

  5. sam says:

    i agree with nathan, the satisfaction you recieve from the actual touch of the vinyl to get it in time is much more rewarding that tapping a button in time to the music. also i find that with more bassline-y stuff nothing beats vinyls as the distortion is what makes the bass…clean it all up on a cdj and it just sounds like the perfect grid and abolishes all the emotion from the tracks.
    pc mixing is not always a bad thing. i saw benga skream and artwork (dubstep artists) play live using cubase on macs and it was just as impressive, if not more so cos they were using the orginal productions. still people who call themselves djs and have never owned are pair of decks should be shot. its not impressive if a trained monkey could do it.

  6. Dr. Vega says:

    I have CDs, I have sound files on my computer and I have vinyl. People seem to be more impressed when I put a record on. I get “oohs and wow’s.” I have a few friends that are way into vinyl, they have tons and they mix and perform. Most of the company I have over are not music junkies, so to them the vinyl sounds smooth, new, crisp.

    I like a vinyl record better then a CD, any day of the week. I just own way more CDs then vinyl.

    I hope to one day break all of my cd’s.

  7. jason says:

    Can’t hi-fi manufacturers add a DSP option that ‘vinylizes’ the ‘clean’ digital sound? The signal could have distortion added to re-create the ‘warmth’. This would keep everyone happy!!

  8. Sally says:


    just wondering if anyone knew if you could still put music onto vinyls, as in own mixes and such…please please get back to me! thanks

  9. Sid says:

    I don’t know if vinyl is any better than CDs, but theory says that it’s more accurate in playing-back what was supposed to be recorded. CDs involve discretization of sound in the process, which costs in accuracy in playback.

    If you want to add “analog circuitry warmth” to the sound, you can do so, no matter what the recording medium is, and the listener will be able to tell the difference.

    I think that this whole dispute has to do with people who got used to listening to vinyl of older times and got used to “its warmth”, not because it’s vinyl, but because of the standard hardware and techniques that were used in recordings back then.
    E.g. no matter how good a studio is, there is always a little reverb and a little “studio noise” to the recorded sound. Our ears are so used to it, they pick it up subconscioussly, and they can tell when it’s not there. Likewise, certain amplifiers have a distinct sound, and there are plugins nowadays which try to emulate it.
    What I’m saying is that, if you’re producing exclusively on a computer, these characteristics won’t be there, unless you account for them.

    To conclude, the vinyl can be made to sound like a cd, and the cd can be made to sound like vinyl. Today, it’s merely a matter of artistic taste/creativity.

  10. Kid A says:

    Jason, the reason that digital can’t sound like vinyl is because of sample rates. CD has a standard sample rate of 44.1 kHz, meaning that it can record frequencies up to 22,050 Hz. This seems to work well, since even the best of human ears can hear only up to 20,000 Hz. All of the other frequencies above that are either lost in recording, or if recorded, discarded during mastering.

    Vinyl isn’t the same way. All of those frequencies (pleasant even-order harmonics) are still present on the medium after mastering. Even though we can’t hear them, they interact with the frequencies we can hear, so we sense it as warmer.

    Most major albums today are recorded at higher sample rates than 44.1 so that vinyl can be mastered from it, and then the CD release can be downsampled from the master.

  11. Shadus says:

    A lot of the difference between vinyl and cd format is simply the loudness war. If you get a modernly produced cd and modern vinyl there is only minor “warmth” differences, but compare vinyl mastered prior to the worst effects of the loudness war and the same song remastered today and you’ll notice the quality is absolutely crap on the newer version.

  12. delphic says:

    Aside from the ubiquitous vinyl v. digital debate, one also needs to consider the ego/status/pride that comes with a really kick ass vinyl collection. Digital media allows almost any DJ, producer, or music fan to acquire a vast collection of tracks. As a DJ, I am proud of my various classic white labels and hidden treasures found during epic digging sessions and hold high respect for any fellow DJ with an awe inspiring crate.

    Of course, this is a VERY academic question. If you compare a modern record and CD on a 20,000 watt sound system in a modern club (where most producers want their music heard), any quality questions will be eliminated by reverb, feedback, echo, and any other distortion from room shape, size, etc.

  13. DubStep Records » Blog Archive » EMusicTips » Archive » Is vinyl really better? says:

    […] unknown Check this out!! pc mixing is not always a bad thing. i saw benga skream and artwork (dubstep artists) play live using cubase on macs and it was just as impressive, if not more so cos they were using the orginal productions. still people who call … […]

  14. M Stanec says:

    Hey everbody!

    I didnt go thru all comments, so it might be already here.
    DJing and clubscene begun with vinyl!
    12″es are the roots.
    I agree with cds just for people who are making their music, but are far from their release on asphalt.
    I disagree with computer “djs/players”, as it suck and everybody can do it with temposync (i’m not talking about actual live performance where computere serves as an multiinstrument)

    Regards Mar

  15. Alex says:

    The dynamic range of vinyl is also much lower than the CD’s 16 bit dynamic range. CD dynamic range is 96dB and vinyl about 50dB. There’s obviously a huge difference. In my opinion the CD sound way better than vinyl. Although the low end response is more accurate on vinyl due to the digital sampling process. Other than that, vinyl loses the high fidelity benchmark.
    Regards Alex

  16. Vault FM says:

    does anyone else think these tunes is way too heavy i understand the style but damn

  17. ivan says:

    vinyl is good, you just can’t get any awesome tracks on CDs that vinyls have

  18. neurobits says:

    A monkey can do a djset on cdj or traktor?

    Yeah sure this monkey have a developed musical taste for selecting the tracks, the playlist order, the cue points, the effects (you know, in this era we have loopers, flangers, delays, bitcrushers). If DJing is all about the musical media then no matters what track you put in the turnable, people will like it and start to dance, oh yeah. You are just reducing the art of djing to beatmatching, i’m scared about that idea.

    Dance scene born with vinyl? And because that, it have to keep that way? Evolution does mean anything for you? Just because the 303 was a major component at the beggining, we have to forget about the Virus, Nords, Elektron Machinedrum. Jaja.

    Just think about one of the techno pionners: Richie Hawtin. He used to perform with 3 decks, fx and a 909. But TEN years ago, he and Aquaviva started the Digital DJing era, presenting a prototype Traktor Scratch. At the present, Hawting performs with Traktor plus NI Maschine running as plugin into Ableton Live. So buy a configuration like that for your monkey, or just accept that all your creativity and capabilities are reduced to beatmatching two vinyls, forget about a 909, jaja.

    The Digital DJs list is large now: Cox, Hawting, Liebing, Dubfire, Speedy J, Jay Lumen, Piatto, Popof, Luzenkirchen, UMEK.

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