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The Truth About Vinyl Records

lowmagnet

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Don’t forget, the reproduction equipment cant put back what is missing from the disc mastering process. Speaking of which, due to the the amount of missing and compromised information on an LP, it can’t really be considered “HiFi” in the current era. Compared to the excellent capabilities of digital recording, especially in the area of dynamic range, noise, wow & flutter and accuracy, a vinyl LP and it’s playing method is thoroughly primitive.
A wonderful summary. Bravo
 

MattHooper

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"Don’t forget, the reproduction equipment cant put back what is missing from the disc mastering process. Speaking of which, due to the the amount of missing and compromised information on an LP, it can’t really be considered “HiFi” in the current era. Compared to the excellent capabilities of digital recording, especially in the area of dynamic range, noise, wow & flutter and accuracy, a vinyl LP and it’s playing method is thoroughly primitive."
A wonderful summary. Bravo

Yes, though as with anything there are caveats. Apples to Apples? Vinyl is less-fi than digital.

On the other hand, my system is far more revealing, lower distortion and less colored than the vast majority of speaker systems used by consumers. I could play vinyl all day long and I'd likely be hearing more fidelity and insight in to the recordings than many who are listening to digital.

That's why plenty of non-audiophile friends who come over find themselves blown away by the sound quality of my system, even though I'm often playing vinyl.

So, as always....it depends....
 

FrankF

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Rudy Van Gelder told Audio magazine in 1995:

"The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium."
 

Cote Dazur

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blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium.
I can drink to that, there is so much going on than reducing it to digital is great, vinyl sucks, or vice and versa, is naive at best.
The proof is in the pudding, great music can be had from both medium, let’s all enjoy what we enjoy as often as we can.
 

MattHooper

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Rudy Van Gelder told Audio magazine in 1995:

"The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium."

I think it's worth keeping in mind that there is a difference between someone like Gelder whose job it is to work and struggle with mastering all day long, listening for the most minute issues...and the results we as consumers can experience.

As I've mentioned (and others as well): I have vinyl records and CDs made from the same original masters (of course the LP recieved a tweaked master for pressing), and the sonic advantages for the digital version were to my ears very subtle at best. Both sound fabulous, and virtually all the sonic information seems there on the vinyl version. So, did that particular engineer find it frusterating to master for vinyl? Sure. Does his job experience mean that the end result on vinyl is doomed to sound "terribly different or much worse" from the digital version? Not necessarily.

From another highly regarded mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig:


HQ: In addition to mastering The Whole Love, you approved the vinyl test pressings. What do you listen for when approving these?
BL: The first priority is that the vinyl sounded as close as possible to my high resolution mastered files. As I sold my lathe years ago, I worked with Chris Bellman from Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood to be sure he would cut it as I would have cut it and indeed I’m 100% satisfied. The test pressings, being that that are cut from high resolution files, sound a little better to me than the CD does which is how it should be.

Much heralded mastering engineer Bernie Grundman
talked about mastering for vinyl in a youtube interview. He pointed out that when mastering generally, especially for the digital world, they have to consider how it is likely to be listened to, which very often in noisier backgrounds, doing other things while listening etc. So they have to try to master for a similar loudness to everything else likely being played. On the other hand with vinyl, due to the nature of the medium, people tend to listen more intently to vinyl, not as some playlist mixed in with everything else, so "We tend not to do a lot of processing when it comes to vinyl." "We prefer to let the dynamics that were naturally built in to it speak. We want it to be dynamic...and we want to enhance the quality of it too." "...if we can improve the quality, spectrum balance, all these things that help it communicate better." He said you make test cuts and....sometimes...if you don't get exactly what you wanted out of the test cut, you have to do some modifications. Then you choose the right way to solve it and still get most of what you want.

So not all mastering engineers seem to share as dim and hopeless a view of what you can do on vinyl as Van Gelder. And there isn't some across-the-board severe "fidelity reducing" technique that happens with every vinyl album. Depending on the nature of the content, the result can be very close to the original master. Some content is more challenging to press, but a good engineer does his best to maintain high sound quality as much fidelity as possible, so the differences from the original aren't so obvious as they could be.

So...as always...yeah apples to apples digital is more capable and accurate. But in terms of real world results and all the variables, the difference isn't always necessarily dramatic in favor of digital.
 

JP

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The test pressings, being that that are cut from high resolution files, sound a little better to me than the CD does which is how it should be.

Well and good, but quotes like this don't help your argument as they're clearly nonsense.
 
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MattHooper

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Well and good, but quotes like this don't help you're argument as they're clearly nonsense.

How so? If Ludwig says that the test pressing sounded a little better to him than the CD did...please explain how you'd demonstrate that to be wrong, let alone "nonsense."

I presume you are hanging everything on the very last words "which is how it should be." Even if you want to dispute that part, a highly lauded mastering engineer reporting that vinyl pressings can sound to his ear very competitive with the CDs...as well as everything else I quoted from Bernie Grundman, support my point quite well.

So, pretty teeny nits to pick out it seems, to ignore the broad point.
 

JP

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He infers “high res” is audibly superior to 16/44.1 and then infers the vinyl sounds better than 16/44.1 because its source is high res. You could argue it’s simple preference, but there’d be no need make the comparisons nor the closing declarative.

Bernie‘s quotes don’t really say anything.
 

MattHooper

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He infers “high res” is audibly superior to 16/44.1 and then infers the vinyl sounds better than 16/44.1 because its source is high res. You could argue it’s simple preference, but there’d be no need make the comparisons nor the closing declarative.

You are still taking part of the quote you disagree with to ignore the other half that is the part that supports my argument.

Since, like everyone else here, I start with acknowledging digital's inherent potential for greater fidelity, my point had to do with how...in practice...
does this work out in terms of perceived fidelity to the original master and it's perceived audible superiority in the final products we hear between vinyl and digital.
Therefore the part of the quote I saw as relevant wasn't a controversial technical claim; it was that an extremely experienced engineer found that vinyl pressings can SOUND very close to the master and competitive with the CD version.

So yes, that bolded quote very much does support my point. The end of the sentence is irrelevant to my point.


Bernie‘s quotes don’t really say anything.

Of course it does. He talks about how they often produce, in his estimation, even better aspects of sound quality for the vinyl versions, and explains why.
Which speaks to my point about "it's not always apples to apples" when comparing digital to vinyl.

And he points out you don't always have to struggle to get the vinyl to sound close to the master, and even when you do have to play with it, it's possible to "get most of what you want."

Which supports my point: neither of these well regarded engineers seem to agree that vinyl was essentially hopeless in getting satisfyingly close enough to the master or that it was "never any good."
 

Dimitri

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Much heralded mastering engineer Bernie Grundman talked about mastering for vinyl in a youtube interview. He pointed out that when mastering generally, especially for the digital world, they have to consider how it is likely to be listened to, which very often in noisier backgrounds, doing other things while listening etc. So they have to try to master for a similar loudness to everything else likely being played. On the other hand with vinyl, due to the nature of the medium, people tend to listen more intently to vinyl, not as some playlist mixed in with everything else, so "We tend not to do a lot of processing when it comes to vinyl."

It sounds (!!) like mastering for digital includes lot of subjective considerations :) potentially resulting in an auditory f*$%* show depending on who is doing the mastering.
With digital ther is "integrity" of the original master . You end up with whatever it is someone decided it will sound like.
It seems with vinyl and all it's "shortcomings", the effort is put in reproducing as much of the original as possible within the limitations of the medium, resulting in a more genuine sound.

my $0.02. No refunds :)
 

MaxwellsEq

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I think it's worth keeping in mind that there is a difference between someone like Gelder whose job it is to work and struggle with mastering all day long, listening for the most minute issues...and the results we as consumers can experience.

As I've mentioned (and others as well): I have vinyl records and CDs made from the same original masters (of course the LP recieved a tweaked master for pressing), and the sonic advantages for the digital version were to my ears very subtle at best. Both sound fabulous, and virtually all the sonic information seems there on the vinyl version. So, did that particular engineer find it frusterating to master for vinyl? Sure. Does his job experience mean that the end result on vinyl is doomed to sound "terribly different or much worse" from the digital version? Not necessarily.

From another highly regarded mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig:


HQ: In addition to mastering The Whole Love, you approved the vinyl test pressings. What do you listen for when approving these?
BL: The first priority is that the vinyl sounded as close as possible to my high resolution mastered files. As I sold my lathe years ago, I worked with Chris Bellman from Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood to be sure he would cut it as I would have cut it and indeed I’m 100% satisfied. The test pressings, being that that are cut from high resolution files, sound a little better to me than the CD does which is how it should be.

Much heralded mastering engineer Bernie Grundman
talked about mastering for vinyl in a youtube interview. He pointed out that when mastering generally, especially for the digital world, they have to consider how it is likely to be listened to, which very often in noisier backgrounds, doing other things while listening etc. So they have to try to master for a similar loudness to everything else likely being played. On the other hand with vinyl, due to the nature of the medium, people tend to listen more intently to vinyl, not as some playlist mixed in with everything else, so "We tend not to do a lot of processing when it comes to vinyl." "We prefer to let the dynamics that were naturally built in to it speak. We want it to be dynamic...and we want to enhance the quality of it too." "...if we can improve the quality, spectrum balance, all these things that help it communicate better." He said you make test cuts and....sometimes...if you don't get exactly what you wanted out of the test cut, you have to do some modifications. Then you choose the right way to solve it and still get most of what you want.

So not all mastering engineers seem to share as dim and hopeless a view of what you can do on vinyl as Van Gelder. And there isn't some across-the-board severe "fidelity reducing" technique that happens with every vinyl album. Depending on the nature of the content, the result can be very close to the original master. Some content is more challenging to press, but a good engineer does his best to maintain high sound quality as much fidelity as possible, so the differences from the original aren't so obvious as they could be.

So...as always...yeah apples to apples digital is more capable and accurate. But in terms of real world results and all the variables, the difference isn't always necessarily dramatic in favor of digital.
It's an interesting perspective, that has at least two true facts:
  1. In general (and generalisations are dangerous), people don't listen to LPs whilst jogging, commuting, decorating etc. The fact you have to get up every 20 minutes forces a state of focus. I think it's probably true then that if you average all consumption of a single piece of popular music across the entire population consuming LP, CD and streaming: a) LP listening is on average more focused; b) LP listening is done when not doing other very noisy or distracting things.
  2. An LP mastered from a high resolution file may sound better! There is really one area where red-book is potentially bettered by LP and that's above 20kHz, where LPs can (when perfectly pressed, brand new and on the outermost bit of the groove) have frequencies beyond 22.05kHz and the roll-off is less steep with fewer potential filtering artefacts. So if you are of the camp that the Nyquist 44.1kHz is a flaw in CD, then high resolution audio (where the original recording is from analogue tape or natively recorded at, say 96kHz) whether as a digital file or LP may be better. Obviously, the LP benefit has gone after a few plays (and may be very dependent on resonance which tends to be close to 20kHz), but the FLACs I have of native 96kHz music are still pristine. They also have better timing (no wow and flutter); better noise floors; infrasonic stereo bass; better channel separation; less distortion (especially end of side and outside of the two overhang points).
What this also confirms is - mastering engineers are making decisions for the rest of us. #IRONIC-MODE : that's nice of them!
Steven Wilson ships "unmastered" flat files which are wonderful. Kate Bush released a high resolution version of "50 Words For Snow" on her website which clearly had NOT been near a mastering engineer and is also wonderful.
 

Burning Sounds

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It's an interesting perspective, that has at least two true facts:
  1. In general (and generalisations are dangerous), people don't listen to LPs whilst jogging, commuting, decorating etc. The fact you have to get up every 20 minutes forces a state of focus. I think it's probably true then that if you average all consumption of a single piece of popular music across the entire population consuming LP, CD and streaming: a) LP listening is on average more focused; b) LP listening is done when not doing other very noisy or distracting things.
  2. An LP mastered from a high resolution file may sound better! There is really one area where red-book is potentially bettered by LP and that's above 20kHz, where LPs can (when perfectly pressed, brand new and on the outermost bit of the groove) have frequencies beyond 22.05kHz and the roll-off is less steep with fewer potential filtering artefacts. So if you are of the camp that the Nyquist 44.1kHz is a flaw in CD, then high resolution audio (where the original recording is from analogue tape or natively recorded at, say 96kHz) whether as a digital file or LP may be better. Obviously, the LP benefit has gone after a few plays (and may be very dependent on resonance which tends to be close to 20kHz), but the FLACs I have of native 96kHz music are still pristine. They also have better timing (no wow and flutter); better noise floors; infrasonic stereo bass; better channel separation; less distortion (especially end of side and outside of the two overhang points).
What this also confirms is - mastering engineers are making decisions for the rest of us. #IRONIC-MODE : that's nice of them!
Steven Wilson ships "unmastered" flat files which are wonderful. Kate Bush released a high resolution version of "50 Words For Snow" on her website which clearly had NOT been near a mastering engineer and is also wonderful.
Yes, I did think it a bit presumptious of Grundman to think that "people tend to listen more intently to vinyl, not as some playlist mixed in with everything else..." I know he is talking about the general population here, but I do really wonder if this is accurate and how many of the general population do listen to vinyl more intently or even how many of the general population actually listen to vinyl.

As for those of us here on ASR (yes I know, we are just a small fraction of people who listen to music) I would argue that most of us listen as intently to digital as vinyl and I suspect many listen only to digital.

I have more than 40 years worth of vinyl and no matter how you care for it it does wear. All things being equal in terms of recording quality (which it often isn't given Grundman's perception of listening habits) if I want to listen critically I'll take digital anyday. Vinyl can certainly be engaging and fun, though.
 

AdamG

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I have more than 40 years worth of vinyl and no matter how you care for it it does wear.
Personal admission. Once I learnt that ever time you played an album. You degraded the vinyl and the more you played it the faster it became worse/less quality. This then led to a irrational reluctance to play an album for fear of further degrading the quality. I became a collector of albums I would not play. The collection grew but my listing pleasure decreased. Digital CDs and Streaming set me free of this very irrational, but very real fear of use problem. Strange how a passion for music led me down this path of being trapped by my own reluctance to depreciate my albums by playing them. I can’t be the only person who felt this way. I even had some albums that Never got played. In the end I gave them all away and it was a great relief to have been set free of the Vinyl Trap! Funny now….:facepalm: We humans do some pretty irrational stuff.
 

Aerith Gainsborough

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The test pressings, being that that are cut from high resolution files, sound a little better to me than the CD does which is how it should be.
Well and good, but quotes like this don't help you're argument as they're clearly nonsense.
His statement is utter nonsense when viewed from an "objective quality" vantage point.
It's can't be true. It violates the laws of physics/mathematics. You take the original data, have to alter it to account for weaknesses of ancient technology and then have inferior production and playback quality reduce the signal integrity considerably.

However, in a more subjective view, there are things that come to mind:
- Euphonic distortion of the playback gear can be perceived as pleasing by many people
- Re-mastering / editing process (mandatory to account for vinyl weaknesses) netting a result that is more to his liking vs. just dumping the source files onto a CD as they are.
- Crappy filtering when going from Hi-Resolution masters to Redbook (doubtful but possible) introducing artifacts (?)

We all know that a good vinyl master can sound A LOT more pleasant than a crappy CD master. Even if vinyl adds klicks, pops, and all kinds of unwanted distortions.
 

Newman

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Yes, I did think it a bit presumptious of Grundman to think that "people tend to listen more intently to vinyl, not as some playlist mixed in with everything else..." I know he is talking about the general population here, but I do really wonder if this is accurate and how many of the general population do listen to vinyl more intently or even how many of the general population actually listen to vinyl.
His statement is utter nonsense when viewed from an "objective quality" vantage point.
It's can't be true. It violates the laws of physics/mathematics. You take the original data, have to alter it to account for weaknesses of ancient technology and then have inferior production and playback quality reduce the signal integrity considerably.
Yes, BG is probably pandering to the intended reader. Why wouldn’t he?
 

Gorgonzola

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Even when I first became a serious music listener in the early 1970s, it seem vaguely absurd to me that squiggles stamped on a sheet of plastic was the best way to deliver music to listeners.

Tape seemed to me then to be the better, more technically advance option for delivering sound which, by then, was pretty much all being recorded on tape, then transcribed to vinyl. By the early '70s cassette and 8-track were becoming common place, but sadly their sound didn't beat LPs, mainly because of high noise levels -- and, I suspect, because those who made and sold the tape players were aiming at low end of the market. That market, as they judged, want convenience and low-cost over audio quality.

The cassette situation changed significantly for the better with the advent of the Dolby process and higher quality playback devices. Unfortunately, IMHO, production and distribution of high-quality, Dolby tapes never displaced vinyl LP.

Personally I hated both (a) the aggravation of setting of turntables, tone arms, and cartridges, and (b) the handling and care of the fragile, dust-collecting discs. Not to mention that the LPs tended to wear out and need, eventually, to be replaced.

Once CDs arrived, I began to buy them rather than LPs. I got my first CD player about 1985 and thereafter only bought LPs when the music wasn't available on CD. Since the mid-90s I've bought zero LPs

One thing I'll grant was that my first CD player, a Yamaha CD-X1, did not sound better than my vinyl rig. I guess refinement of DACs and analog output sections just wasn't there. But my next CD player, a Technics SL-PS70 bought in '91 was already a big improvement.

Yamaha CD=X1_1.jpg

IMG_0186(X).jpg
 

Bob from Florida

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Personal admission. Once I learnt that ever time you played an album. You degraded the vinyl and the more you played it the faster it became worse/less quality. This then led to a irrational reluctance to play an album for fear of further degrading the quality. I became a collector of albums I would not play. The collection grew but my listing pleasure decreased. Digital CDs and Streaming set me free of this very irrational, but very real fear of use problem. Strange how a passion for music led me down this path of being trapped by my own reluctance to depreciate my albums by playing them. I can’t be the only person who felt this way. I even had some albums that Never got played. In the end I gave them all away and it was a great relief to have been set free of the Vinyl Trap! Funny now….:facepalm: We humans do some pretty irrational stuff.
I have never worried about degrading the vinyl by playing the vinyl. If it is something I want to hear - I play it. The obvious solution to those folks concerned is to rip it to digital.
 

JP

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So yes, that bolded quote very much does support my point. The end of the sentence is irrelevant to my point.

He said the test pressing sounded better to him than the CD because the test pressing was cut from a high resolution source. Disposing of the majority of the statement to have it say "the test pressing sounded a bit better to me than the CD" would be a deliberate misquote.

Which supports my point: neither of these well regarded engineers seem to agree that vinyl was essentially hopeless in getting satisfyingly close enough to the master or that it was "never any good."

They're pandering to an audience for PR.

I've no issue with your core argument and have certainly found many instances where the OG vinyl is more true-to-source than a remaster. I just don't think grasping at what is principally marketing material helps your point. At all.
 

Cote Dazur

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Personally I hated both (a) the aggravation of setting of turntables, tone arms, and cartridges, and (b) the handling and care of the fragile, dust-collecting discs. Not to mention that the LPs tended to wear out and need, eventually, to be replaced.
In light of what you hate about playing LPs, dropping them in favour of an other medium makes perfect sense to me, even though I do not share your hatred. Your situation is probably affecting a majority of music lover around the world and members here at ASR. Your disgust for the whole process, helped you embrace a new medium, which was also praised with superior technical abilities (at least on paper). Seem like a pretty easy decision and a common theme amongst people who decided not to bother with LP anymore. Switching for an even more practical medium among the majority, streaming over playing CD, is just the continuation of the same attitude, even though the sonic superiority of streaming over CD is not obvious.
Easier to justify the preference to digital over vinyl based on higher “quality” than just being less of a hassle, but make sense to have a bias toward digital being actually “better”.

If taking in consideration just enjoying retrieving music from a medium at home, then a lot of the arguments are different, highly based on personal preferences, some of them about liking the music we hear.
 

krabapple

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Nothing Waxx said was false,

Did I say it was *false*? I said his view was blinkered...as in woefully incomplete.

and it seems most reasonable to presume Waxx is fully aware of the popularity of streaming, and so his comment was made within that context.

It's also misleading to simply state vinyl outsold CDs because streaming made CDs less relevant or appealing as a delivery method. That wouldn't explain why vinyl sales have continued to surge and surpass CDs and take the lions share of the physical market. The explanation for that surge lies in, among other things, just what Waxx referenced: a building enthusiasm that now involves many young people, and the fact that it turns out vinyl seems to fulfill desires for many of these people that they aren't getting from just streaming music.

The vinyl resurgance is still finding its level. Inevitably it will top out at somewhere far below the sales peak of both LPs and CDs.

The rest is just more of your 'feels' argument. Yes, I know that vinylphilia is largely about feels (the young definitely included). Btw what proportion of young music comsumers do these 'young people' comprise? Want to bet a sh*t-ton more young listeners turn to digital media than to vinyl?
 
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