Vinyl or Digital?

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VideoGameCritic
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Vinyl or Digital?

Postby VideoGameCritic » May 23rd, 2020, 5:00 pm

So I just got the Stone Temple Pilots Special Edition Purple album which include 3 CDs and a remastered vinyl version of the album. Just listened to the record. I should mention this record feels a lot heavier than what I'm used to. They must be using different material.

Is it just me, or does vinyl sound better than CDs or digital music? I think the difference is subtle but it's there. I have a friend who says that technically there's no way vinyl can sound better, but I have my doubts. Even my wife who has little interest in music thinks vinyl records sound better.

Thoughts?

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby Retro STrife » May 23rd, 2020, 6:30 pm

I figured vinyl was universally considered better sound quality than CDs and digital. That's why audiophiles gravitate towards vinyl over other options. My father is a big vinyl collector (even still does a radio show playing off vinyl records), so I've picked up my knowledge from him. But my vinyl collection and interest is much smaller, so I don't claim to know much. For me I like vinyl more for the physicality of it over CDs and digital (much the same reason I prefer physical media in games), rather than any sound quality reasons. For most of my music I buy CDs for the convenience, and then upload it in digital form on my phone or computer.

Anyway, my understanding is that vinyl sounds better because it is a pure recording of the sound, whereas CDs and digital are compressed or have some loss in it. The newer records are much heavier than the old ones, and from what I understand, this is a good thing - they are better quality. But be careful -- not all newer vinyl is created equal. Remember the old computing adage "garbage in, garbage out".. the same is true with new records. If the company takes a digital recording and puts it on vinyl, then it is no better than CD or digital. You need that pure analog recording to go on the vinyl in order for it be high quality. I have seen this demonstrated to me on high-end audio equipment with an older 1970s record and a new Adele record, where the Adele record was just a digital recording, and the difference was huge and convinced me of the superior quality of analog vinyl over CDs and digital.

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby TheEagleXIII » May 24th, 2020, 3:12 pm

I haven't had chance to experience for myself, but whenever I've spoken to anyone who seriously knows their stuff when it comes to music, they're unanimous when it comes to vinyl being superior.

They've all always said pretty much exactly the same as STrife - that you lose some of the audio quality when it's compressed into a digital format, no matter how good the final quality is.

I am hoping to get a few albums on vinyl at some point - for some reason I've always wanted an Iron Maiden album in particular on vinyl. I can't imagine what to expect, but I'm guessing it'd be similar to the first time I watched an HDTV... except y'know for my ears :P

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby VideoGameCritic » May 24th, 2020, 3:52 pm

I just performed a conclusive scientific study that should put this debate to bed for good. ;)

So in the special edition box set for STP's Purple it has both the vinyl and CD version of the remaster album. So I put in the CD, set it to Silvergun Superman (my favorite track) and cranked it up. It felt good to play music loud (the wife was out).

Then I immediately put on side 2 of the record which led with the same track. I closed my eyes and tried to tell the difference. I think they sounded a little different, and I preferred the record. Granted this wasn't exactly a blindfolded Pepsi challenge.

I should also qualify by saying the difference was not pronounced. When played at a party or in a car the difference might be imperceptible. But for people who want to sit back and let the music sink in, I think there is a difference in quality.

I have very little vinyl; I prefer CDs because they are more practical. But when I do play them on occasion it always comes as a surprise.

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby VideoGameCritic » May 24th, 2020, 9:02 pm

So I performed the same experiment on the wife just now but didn't tell her what version I was playing first. I played the first two minutes of the song. Then I switched to the other. I made sure the songs were in progress so there was no audio cues.

She chose the first without much hesitation, saying the guitar was clearer!

So I don't think I'm crazy. Or at least I'm not the only one.

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby bluenote » May 25th, 2020, 8:46 am

I'm a big music guy and really fascinated with audiophile stuff. I usually frequent audiophile forums (much the same as video games). I went down this rabbit hole 7 or 8 years ago and here is some information that I picked up:

- The debate on what sounds better between cd and records is the biggest and most divisive amongst audiophiles. There will never be an answer. It really comes down to what type of sound YOU prefer. Records, especially those that were recorded on analog equipment (generally every record recorded before 1985 or so) sound very warm and balanced. Soundstage (the separation of instruments, is usually better with records. Cds can sound more in your face

- Mastering is really the most important part of how a record/cd sounds. Mastering on cds post 2000 tend to be compressed and very loud. This means that the instruments that are recorded quieter in a particular song are brought up to sound to be at the same volume as the vocals, drums, etc. This loses the natural dynamics of the song. Vinyl can't be mastered this way, because the needle will jump out of the groove. Some examples of cds that are mastered very loud (compressed) is the Chilli Peppers' Californication and Metallica's Death Magnetic. However, this isn't a natural flaw of cd, it's just that you can master it loudly so many engineers do this. Cds from the mid 80s to late 90s generally sound wonderful!

- Your Stone temple pilots remastered cd may be an example of this. I would guess that the original issue cd would sound nicer than the remastered cd.

- Masterings between cds is very important. For example, the Kiss catalogue on cd sounded thin, and not very good. The remasters from 1997 sound way better! However, the opposite can be true too. Some remasters (Iron Maiden, Queensryche, etc) sound terrible and the originals sound much better.

- I GENERALLY find most digitally recorded albums (1985 onwards) to sound pretty much the same on both cd and vinyl. Lots of exceptions of course, but this is what I find. I don't find a huge difference.

- I got back into vinyl 7 or 8 years ago, but to be honest, the price and the inherent flaws of vinyl (surface noise, scratches, etc) kept me with cds. The price of a new record in Canada is on average $30-$40. Way to much for me.

I have collected cds for 30 years now and for me, they are perfect. I love the "compact" nature of them and the clean sound, (I can buy a used cd and be guaranteed of how it will sound. Vinyl is always a crapshoot). I play cds on a dedicated stereo, 2 channel receiver and dedicated cd player with floorstanding speakers and they sound just wonderful to me. I do stream occassionaly, mostly in the backyard or through my phone on my nightly dog walk, but other than that, it's always cds for me!

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby VideoGameCritic » May 25th, 2020, 9:56 am

Great insight Bluenote.
I agree that CDs are best on balance, but I'm really shocked how CD sales have tanked in recent years.
I'm starting to wonder if they will ever have a vinyl-style "comeback" once they are perceived to be old and vintage.

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby Lucifixion » May 25th, 2020, 10:39 am

VideoGameCritic wrote:I should mention this record feels a lot heavier than what I'm used to. They must be using different material.


Indeed, most modern pressings of vinyl records are now done to the standard of ''180 gram'', whereas pressings done in the past would be considerably lighter. This, I suppose, is to give the record more rigidity in order to prevent warping. While it technically makes sense, I've found that the 180 gram pressings I've purchased have a greater tendency towards flaws. I went through 3 copies of Pantera's Cowboys from Hell album with each and every brand new copy skipping like mad on the first several seconds of both sides of both records. I finally replaced my stylus with a brand new, mid-range one (that costs twice what the turntable did!), and it mostly calmed those spots to just cracks and pops.

My two cents on the quality of vinyl versus cd versus digital is as follows:

Vinyl, if the recording in question was mastered specifically for said format, will always have the greatest dynamic range without question. This is because vinyl is a true analog format. If you're listening to music that was recorded in the early 90's or prior, it likely was intended for vinyl and will sound the best this way. I find little value in buying albums done in the last 20 years, though in most cases there is a marginal difference between the cd master and the vinyl. That said, no vinyl is perfect and every time you play it, you degrade it's quality.

CDs are, to me, the best compromise between convenience and quality. In terms of digital media, you're not getting better. MP3 will always be seriously compressed, meaning you lose frequencies in various ways, and you also lose resolution (depending on the encoder). Just listen to a song on a legitimate cd and then play the same song on Youtube, you'll notice how tinny the upper frequencies will sound first and foremost. WAV files tend to be pretty close to their source material, and FLAC files are supposed to be identical. Much like videogames, I cringe at the thought of paying for diminished or identical quality for downloading something when I could own the physical copy. Never once in my life have I paid for iTunes, or Spotify, or any other ''quantity and convenience over quality'' services, and I never will. That sort of attitude has killed the once burgeoning music scene and left it the shambles it is these days, where image rules over substance and marketability crushes creativity (kind of like videogames, damn I must be getting old)...but that's a rant for another time and venue...

I'll argue that any rock album or metal album made pre-1990 is going to be way better on vinyl. Since Queensryche was mentioned, I'll use that as an example. I've been listening to Operation: Mindcrime on cd (remaster from 20 years ago-ish) for a long time, and just a month ago got an original pressing of the vinyl. Let me tell you, there were dozens of moments where I looked at the wife as we had a beer and absorbed the glory of hearing subtleties that simply are buried in the loudness of the cd master. It was as if someone took the blankets off the speakers and we heard this magnificent album for the first time in all it's glory.

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby bluenote » May 25th, 2020, 11:20 am

VideoGameCritic wrote:Great insight Bluenote.
I agree that CDs are best on balance, but I'm really shocked how CD sales have tanked in recent years.
I'm starting to wonder if they will ever have a vinyl-style "comeback" once they are perceived to be old and vintage.


I really believe there will be. The fact that records sound different then cd, plus the tactile way of playing it, was part of the reason for it's resurgence. Some will say that the music on a cd is no different than the file you stream, etc. While this is true, I do believe that some people will eventually get tired of having their music, movies, etc on a screen and will yearn for collecting and playing actual cds. For instance, the cd's heyday was arguably during the grunge era. I can totally see teenagers in the next 15 or 20 years wanting to revisit that era by buying boomboxes and the cds from that era, to better connect with that scene.

Who knows, only time will tell!

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Re: Vinyl or Digital?

Postby bluenote » May 25th, 2020, 11:24 am

Lucifixion wrote:
VideoGameCritic wrote:I should mention this record feels a lot heavier than what I'm used to. They must be using different material.


Indeed, most modern pressings of vinyl records are now done to the standard of ''180 gram'', whereas pressings done in the past would be considerably lighter. This, I suppose, is to give the record more rigidity in order to prevent warping. While it technically makes sense, I've found that the 180 gram pressings I've purchased have a greater tendency towards flaws. I went through 3 copies of Pantera's Cowboys from Hell album with each and every brand new copy skipping like mad on the first several seconds of both sides of both records. I finally replaced my stylus with a brand new, mid-range one (that costs twice what the turntable did!), and it mostly calmed those spots to just cracks and pops.

My two cents on the quality of vinyl versus cd versus digital is as follows:

Vinyl, if the recording in question was mastered specifically for said format, will always have the greatest dynamic range without question. This is because vinyl is a true analog format. If you're listening to music that was recorded in the early 90's or prior, it likely was intended for vinyl and will sound the best this way. I find little value in buying albums done in the last 20 years, though in most cases there is a marginal difference between the cd master and the vinyl. That said, no vinyl is perfect and every time you play it, you degrade it's quality.

CDs are, to me, the best compromise between convenience and quality. In terms of digital media, you're not getting better. MP3 will always be seriously compressed, meaning you lose frequencies in various ways, and you also lose resolution (depending on the encoder). Just listen to a song on a legitimate cd and then play the same song on Youtube, you'll notice how tinny the upper frequencies will sound first and foremost. WAV files tend to be pretty close to their source material, and FLAC files are supposed to be identical. Much like videogames, I cringe at the thought of paying for diminished or identical quality for downloading something when I could own the physical copy. Never once in my life have I paid for iTunes, or Spotify, or any other ''quantity and convenience over quality'' services, and I never will. That sort of attitude has killed the once burgeoning music scene and left it the shambles it is these days, where image rules over substance and marketability crushes creativity (kind of like videogames, damn I must be getting old)...but that's a rant for another time and venue...

I'll argue that any rock album or metal album made pre-1990 is going to be way better on vinyl. Since Queensryche was mentioned, I'll use that as an example. I've been listening to Operation: Mindcrime on cd (remaster from 20 years ago-ish) for a long time, and just a month ago got an original pressing of the vinyl. Let me tell you, there were dozens of moments where I looked at the wife as we had a beer and absorbed the glory of hearing subtleties that simply are buried in the loudness of the cd master. It was as if someone took the blankets off the speakers and we heard this magnificent album for the first time in all it's glory.


Lucifixion, I agree with every point you've made! I do though really love using Spotify to play playlists in the backyard. It's just so much easier for me. But that's as far as I go for streaming!


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