Vinyl Sound Quality Is A Myth!

Old 2 Comments on Vinyl Sound Quality Is A Myth! 28

Vinyl records have been brought back from the dead lately. Quite a few people prefer to listen to their music from vinyl records and some record companies are printing their music on LPs since there is a market.

Of course there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone has the right to enjoy music however he/she likes. Some people claim they like the “warmth” sound from vinyl records have, others like the ritual of taking care of the LPs and putting them on the turntable, etc. But, there is a part of vinyl lovers that claim that vinyl has better sound quality compared to CDs.  That might have been true years ago, when digitization techniques was not as well developed as today, but not anymore.

To begin with, we will have to understand how an analog sound signal can end up on a digital disk. Digitization includes 3 steps, sampling (or discretization), quantization and coding/reconstruction.

Sampling is a process of reading a signal and taking samples at regular time intervals. For audio CDs sampling has a frequency, we call this sampling rate, of 44.1kHz.  In many cases we even have oversampling, a process where the sampling uses much higher sampling rate and then compressed down to 44.1kHz for the CD, meaning you have better quality.

Quantization then rounds the samples to a unit of precision. The number of available values is what we know as sampling size. For audio CDs that is 16bits, meaning we have 65536 possible levels.

Coding is the pairing of the values of the samples and the quantization levels.

Reconstruction is the process that recreates the sound. This step uses interpolation to create more intermediate samples, so that the analog signal is recreated with a more accuracy.

An argument that is hold against CDs is that they do not replicate the sound wave down to last detail. However, with modern technology and the Nyquist-Shannon theorem, they can! But even if they don’t, they still are a replica of the original that sounds identical to the human ear. Don’t forget human ear can’t hear everything.

Vinyl records have an analog representation of the sound wave. Therefore, you might say, creates a precise replication of the sound wave. Well, that is not true.  Vinyl pressing is not error free. More than that, engineers remove low and high pitches, for technical reasons. That means that what ends up on the record, is not what was recorded to begin with. Vinyl can in fact not represent the whole sound wave, while at least in theory CDs can! They practically can too, as i explain above. Even after being pressed, the vinyl has it drawbacks when it comes to sound quality. The stylus has difficulty tracking high notes, causing distortion.  Not to mention distortions created by the record moving up and down on the turntable. As a matter of fact, the “warm” sound that some people like in vinyl records is actually low frequency sound that is not played accurately.

But even if we move away from the technical nature of each format, and lets say one of them can hold a wider spectrum of frequencies than 20kHz, lets even imagine some people could hear more that 20Hz-20kHz.  The recording methods would still restrict us. And even if we look past that, most music consumed today is recorded with microphones that doesn’t have a range wider than 20kHz. And even if we look past that, most, if not all, consumer playback systems (yes, even those for vinyl records) are filtering the sound, cutting of low and high frequencies. And speakers also have a specific range.

It is fact that CDs create a more identical counterpart than LPs. Preferring LPs is not bad at all, but that doesn’t have to mean the sound quality is better. Enjoy whatever music you like from whatever format you prefer. Preference doesn’t have to do with quality, and quality doesn’t guarantee a better experience!

Author

Anastasios Barianos

Anastasios Barianos is a student in the field of IT, has an interest in a wide spectrum of IT, Computer Science and technology in general, but also in arts and other activities.

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2 Comments

  1. Andy June 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    The problem is not so much vinyl vs CD, the problem in my mind is the re-mastering of older music for CD. The person doing the re-master often times has not a clue what they are doing and as the result the CD the does not nearly represent the original release. The happens so much more than anyone realizes. I’ll concede the point especially for newer music that CD or more likely digital downloads will be superior quality.

    • Anastasios Barianos June 18, 2014 at 12:09 am

      Are you talking about professional remastering? In that case, the person doing it knows what he is doing! Sometimes there are changes between the original release and the remastered, but that is on purpose! And don’t forget, the vinyl record that came out years ago was not an accurate replica of the masters the studio is now reusing to make the CDs. Editing had been put in place and the vinyl could not hold the information as good as a CD can. Also, a vinyl record is vulnerable, so for records that are a couple decades long you won’t be listening to the exact same sound wave you were when the record was brand new, so how would you actually compare a sound that has been changed over time with a new copy of what it first was?

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