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Vinyl will always sound *different* than digital, right?

MattHooper

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Just thinking this topic is very interesting to read (even though I have zero interest in reviving my personal vinyl experience), however it seems to have little to do with the original premise of "Vinyl will always sound *different* than digital, right?" and seems to have turned into "how to overcome some limitations of vinyl" or "recordings in which I can't tell a difference"... :)

But what's cool about this topic is that there aren't outbreaks of "X is *better*" with either pseudo-science or complete ritual preference as support point, and no one disputes the fundamental physics. That's encouraging! :)

That's why I find this forum a haven in some respects: it doesn't lack for clashing opinions, but at least avoids the woo-woo excesses of typical audiophile forums.
 

Frank Dernie

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I ran a modified Rabco for about 10 years. I modified it by using carbon fiber... and a proper servo so the darn thing would work. But it had myriad other problems.

I ran a LP mastering operation for a while, after spending nearly 20 years restoring the lathe and cutter system. During that time, a lot of misconceptions I had about 'inherent' problems with the media died an ugly death. Its a lot quieter, a lot lower in distortion and wider bandwidth than many people take it for. Most of the denigration it gets comes from people that have never had an LP system set up properly. IMO/IME that's also its major weakness- so much depends on the users ability to set it up.

These days I run a Triplanar arm and have yet to see anything to cause it to mistrack. Serendipitously about 35 years ago I discovered that the phono section played an enormous role in the creation (or not) of ticks and pops. These days when I do audio shows I'm often asked if the playback is digital because there's no ticks or pops and no distortion even with walloping bass (I like electronia...). One of the lessons the Triplanar taught me is the cartridge is almost insignificant in the resulting performance, as long as the arm is able to get it to track properly.

Oddly, a lot of anecdote gets applied when the LP is denigrated, rather than fact, and often made-up stories propagate without measurements to back them up, or measurements done so poorly they don't fall in the perview of 'science'.

Its very likely I'm over-reacting to your comment- perhaps reading more into it than was there. I'm not arguing that digital isn't better BTW, but when people criticize the LP, its a good idea IMO to actually do so in a factual manner.
I did noise and vinration research as a young mechanical engineer. One often had to design one's own transducer for vibration measurements because the commercially available ones were unsuited, too expensive or on very long lead times.
I learned a lot about the mechanical influence(s) on the output of seismic transducers when I designed a sensor to measure torsional vibration on the "turntable" of a gear hobbing machine making 15 ft diameter gears for warship gearboxes.
It was my interest in music which brought me as a young R&D engineer to Garrard, though it was mainly to get me nearer to the Formula 1 team I had started to do consultancy for.
One of the first things I was asked to do was a rumble measurement on a 401 in the R&D lab. I was familiar with the Bruel and Kjaer measuring kit from previous use I struggled to get a consistent reading.
This was part of the "knowledge base" training. Even though the 401 was on a substantial old oak work bench on the 4th floor it was measuring the vibration every time a bus or other heavy vehicle went by on the road the other side of the carpark. Back then the chassis was mounted on rubber grommets which isolated/insulated higher frequencies, low frequency came right through.
The lab solution was to measure all TTs sitting on a big block of concrete suspended on springs which isolated down to 5Hz and the results were consistent then.

Now is probably not the time to go on more about TT isolation which is very difficult to get good, but the 1976 revision of the RIAA equalisation (which happened as a result of this and other group's results) was a good step in reducing the amplification of the already mechanically amplified subsonic output of a pickup cartridge.

I left Garrard in 1976 to go into Formula 1 full time but that lesson stuck in my head very firmly and when, in 1981, I was able to afford a bigger house, one of the first things I did was make modifications such that I could locate the turntable and electronics in my study rather than the listening room.
Sadly a lot of the depth and dynamics of the sound were lost by doing that so I reluctantly came to the conclusion I actually preferred the additions due to structural and airborne coupling. Ever since then it has been trial and error since every location in the room can give a different effect and every turntable I own has different isolation characteristics.

So despite knowing accurate bass comes from filtering out the LF dross I also tend to fall into the moar-bass is better camp on a purely subjective basis.

On the subject of bandwidth and dynamic range I would agree both are plenty for music if properly done.

My main TT is a Goldmund Reference, I did post some pictures of it here when I last rebuilt it. I used a Goldmund Ph2 phono stage for years but now use the one in a Devialet amp which is super adjustable (so easy to get wrong as well as right)
 

Tangband

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Note: I am not trying to compare the sound quality of vinyl to digital recordings.

I am trying to shed some light onto the fact why some vinyls sound vastly different than their digital counterparts. Not necessarily better, nor worse. Just as if someone mastered them completely differently.
With vinyl and open reel recorders you hear euphonic colorations that many people tend to like.:)
The vinyl version is always mono in the bass, because its impossible for the needle to track otherwise. This have a tendency to sound ”tighter” with pop/rock music. ( many digital albums also have mono bass, but theres no technical need for it.)

All vinyl records are digitalized before they are engraved. This might come as a surprise for many audiophiles.

All this are colorations that deviates from the digital master. Analog techniques like this has awful SINAD measurements. Still people often like the sound and feeling of vinyl records.

One must understand that 2-channel recording and playback is a very flawed system. Its not a photoprint of the original event in the concert hall and what you hear in the listening room is nowhere near the recorded event. In playback, the recording might need some help with some extra late reflections from the listening room and in some cases, colorations from analog technique can make the enjoyment and illusion when listening, bigger.:)
 
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MattHooper

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All vinyl records are digitalized before they are engraved. This might come as a surprise for many audiophiles.

For the most part these days yes. But to be fair, the vast majority of records produced did not come from digital masters (or weren't put through a digital step).
The back catalogue is a huge draw for many in to vinyl, young and old, and albums from the hey-day of vinyl often comprise a substantial portion of people's vinyl collection.

All this are colorations that deviates from the digital master. Analog techniques like this has awful SINAD measurements. Still people often like the sound and feeling of vinyl records.

Yes, it's why people can still speak about "the sound of vinyl vs the digital version" since, even if vinyl came from a digital file, it will still tend to sound different.


One must understand that 2-channel recording and playback is a very flawed system. Its not a photoprint of the original event in the concert hall and what you hear in the listening room is nowhere near the recorded event. In playback, the recording might need some help with some extra late reflections from the listening room and in some cases, colorations from analog technique can make the enjoyment and illusion when listening, bigger.:)

I agree. It's all an illusion; I have no qualms about helping out in any way I want to increase my satisfaction with the illusion.
 

beagleman

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Inner groove distortion is only a function of problematic tonearm/cartridge setup. Its not a thing otherwise. The LP's biggest problem is the performance is in the hands of the user; usually not the case with digital.
You seem to downplay things wrong with vinyl.

Not bashing on you, but there are many things vinyl does wrong, or are limited in some ways.
I really DO like vinyl, but convenience won out for me.

But I never thought vinyl was "Better than" or just as good as run of the mill digital, but very close in most ways, unless one runs INTO those limitations.

Inner grooves have a handful of issues that are not toneare/cart related.

Someone with your in depth knowledge I thought would point those out. But you seem very inclined to paint a semi-artificial rosy picture of vinyl being nearly perfect, and the end user being most of the issue.

Could you please name 3-5 issues with vinyl's inner grooves that are INHERENT to vinyl??
 

pablolie

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As a former vinyl user, this thread of discussion addresses many of the things that made me abandon it when there was a digital alternative. There's just too much attention and detail and overzeal that goes into the vinyl experience. The medium deteriorates with use and especially with careless handling (imagine me being 18 an telling my friends to be super careful handing my vinyl at a *party*). Now I can just tell friends to try to be DJs by granting them bluetooth access and making a call -it's my place after all- if that access continues to be granted :-D
When I switched over to CDs in the late 80s, it was to a very large degree because of convenience and ease-of-use. Back then, at that critical junction in my audio journey, I cannot honestly recall ever thinking "oh, CDs sound so much better". I had been happy with my vinyl setup, and it's been a long time, but I *do* recall thinking some CDs sounded edgy and unpleasant but hey it was much easier. Also, until well into the 90s, a lot of my listening -specially when social- was done with compact cassettes I'd record very diligently. When doing that, the difference between a good vinyl setup and a CD was not that noticeable. And if the mix was good - music and mood triumphs over a few dBs of resolution. :) Honestly - I did not embrace CDs aka digital because of better sound quality (although of course it was a big pitch at the time), but rather because of sheer convenience. Call me lazy... :)
Then CD recorders happened. I was an early adopter even though they were cumbersome and slow things at first. I recall putting a 5 CD player in my fancy car, recording my CDs and *loving* it, but I still played cassettes for a few years. This was prolly mid-90s, when I recorded CDs then it was just PCM stuff, MP3 had not become mainstream yet. Still, my TEAC 8030S started to languish, poor thing, and my Technics vinyl 1200t turntable didn't make it into my main listening room when I moved in 1999. Again, wasn't driven by strict sound quality considerations.
Then MP3 and FLAC and streaming happened. I think it was 2004 when I started digitizing my entire CD collection (over 4k of them). In the process of doing that, I also decided to digitize some vinyl that has not been released digitally and which I loved. As I did so, temporarily re-connecting the Technics through a NAD phono preamp, I *do* recall thinking "hey I had forgotten about this vinyl noise floor" - but it didn't impede my enjoyment of music at all - and to this day I have some "vinyl digital" FLAC files in my collection, and it doesn't bug me the least because it is the only way to listen to it, and in fact it kinda infuses some nostalgia that makes me enjoy that music in an age appropriate way. :) But note the convenience of digital is there.
My main message here is that my abandonment of vinyl (I gave my turntable away 6 years ago to a 25 year younger vinyl loving audiophile to support his journey, and still get free wine pours for it) was not because of sound quality considerations, but for convenience and ease of use and... well, I *do* think digital sounds better *to me* when a great recording is in play. The last vinyl album I bought was in 2011 by accident because it was mis-labeled in Ebay. :-D
So if you ask me the question that drives this topic,"does vinyl sound different than digital?", I'd say that anyone answering "no" fools themselves. If you can't hear that noise floor as soon at the needle descends into your fav vinyl's grooves, you need your hearing checked major time (and my ears are in their 50s :)). As to whether you enjoy it more or less, I have zero argument with your personal preference, ever.I can enjoy both, as mentioned, but my buying patterns for music and my current setup are a testament to my personal preference - which I'd never try to dictate as superior or argue about.
And without vinyl and cassettes, I'd never gotten into the hobby and my life would have been deprived of music that soothes my soul.
 
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MattHooper

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I had been happy with my vinyl setup, and it's been a long time, but I *do* recall thinking some CDs sounded edgy and unpleasant but hey it was much easier.

I have some vivid memories of first hearing CDs (which doesn't mean they are accurate). My friend got a CD player before I did and I listened to some of his new CDs - I remember a (jazz/funk/fusion) David Sanborn album and others. The impression was a never-quite-heard-before sensation of "super clear, super clean" sound. It simultaneously blew me away, yet also sounded sort of "odd" and antiseptic. Presumably this is because my expectations had been conditioned by vinyl and the super-saturated sound of cassette tapes. I jumped on the bandwagon pretty fast, but like many split between CDs and listening to records and cassette tapes until CDs (and CDRs) truly took over the market. I never rejected CDs as unmusical, yet I remember there was a sort acclimatization period. There was talk about what audiophiles would describe as "digititus" and I sometimes had the same impression: it seemed unique sound to digital, a sort of glazed, mechanical hardness to the sound, especially high frequencies, voices, sibilance etc, that could feel more fatiguing to listen to. I'm sure the explanation varied per title, from expectation effects, to possible differences in mastering, possibly due to early digital quality (though unlikely I think).

In any case I acclimated over time and was very, very happy with the sound of CD for much of it's tenure. I constantly looked forward not just to new releases on CD, but albums I grew up with being released and refreshed in this new format.
 

pablolie

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I have some vivid memories of first hearing CDs (which doesn't mean they are accurate). My friend got a CD player before I did and I listened to some of his new CDs - I remember a (jazz/funk/fusion) David Sanborn album and others. The impression was a never-quite-heard-before sensation of "super clear, super clean" sound. It simultaneously blew me away, yet also sounded sort of "odd" and antiseptic. ...

Yeah indeed. As topics such as this go back and forth, I think it's kinda cool for those of us who are old enough to remember that fundamental transition to recall what our experience was like. I have to admit that, until I read this topic and the balanced opinions that go into it (thanks ASR, this is the most civil analog-digital discussion ever), I'd never been drawn back into thinking about that critical transition time in my audio journey: when I got started in audio around 1980 as a teenager, stealing gear my Dad wasn't using and setting it up in my room, vinyl was the ONLY thing for HiFi. My Dad had a very good turntable and a spectacular Tandberg compact cassette setup (and Spendor speakers). I recall clearly hearing a slight deterioration of clarity (bless my young ears) between playing vinyl and playing the exact same song recorded on a cassette. If you recorded a cassette well - which was an art, setting up bias, checking for loudness peaks and setting up levels accordingly- you got a pretty darn good sounding copy. I was priviledged because it allowed me to establish a pretty good ear that served me well as I made audio choices going forward without leeching off my Dad (but I kept his Sansui integrated amplifier for a long time! Note: he preferred a softer sound and kept his Grundig IA+Tuner, which allowed me to steal the newer Sansui}.

In any case, the key here is that I truly cannot recall ever being majorly driven by the "superior fidelity" of the CD, I was majorly driven by the convenience and practicality of it (more resistant to hamfisted treatment, smaller, no scratches over time). I find it interesting that that was my primary motivation back then, as opposed to the SQ quality discussion that dominates vinyl vs digital discussions these days... (although differences clearly exist and, as the French say, Vive Le Difference!) :)
 

MattHooper

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I recall clearly hearing a slight deterioration of clarity (bless my young ears) between playing vinyl and playing the exact same song recorded on a cassette. If you recorded a cassette well - which was an art, setting up bias, checking for loudness peaks and setting up levels accordingly- you got a pretty darn good sounding copy. I was priviledged because it allowed me to establish a pretty good ear that served me well as I made audio choices going forward without leeching off my Dad (but I kept his Sansui integrated amplifier for a long time! Note: he preferred a softer sound and kept his Grundig IA+Tuner, which allowed me to steal the newer Sansui}.

:)

That's a really good point. I hadn't thought about that for so long. My dad was an audiophile though I can't remember which cassette player we had, I know it was top tier and pretty elaborate. I totally remember the care and attention in trying to get the most transparent and noise-free-sounding copies of my LPs to cassette. I think it did help fine tune my attention to sound quality.

On the other hand, later on especially when I was making mixed tapes, recording funk and dance music from radio stations and my LPs, I would push the recording levels on the cassette which resulted in a thicker, punchier sound due to the saturation ( and I think compression).
 

atmasphere

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With vinyl and open reel recorders you hear euphonic colorations that many people tend to like.:)
The vinyl version is always mono in the bass, because its impossible for the needle to track otherwise. This have a tendency to sound ”tighter” with pop/rock music. ( many digital albums also have mono bass, but theres no technical need for it.)

All vinyl records are digitalized before they are engraved. This might come as a surprise for many audiophiles.
This is mostly false. LPs are not mono in the bass unless the engineer had to deal with out of phase bass, which can knock the stylus out of the groove. I found though that if you spend some time with the project, you can find a way around the out of phase bass without having to resort to processing. The technical reason for mono bass is that below 80Hz bass is entirely reverberant in all but the largest rooms owing to the wavelength of the bass note, particularly below about 80Hz (14 feet...).

LPs are not digitized. I think you are referring to a 'digital preview head' which is a thing used with analog tape machines to obtain a motion value for the speed at which the cutter advances. Its not in the signal path.
So despite knowing accurate bass comes from filtering out the LF dross I also tend to fall into the moar-bass is better camp on a purely subjective basis.
I get it :)
Did you do anything to damp the plinth itself, as well as the platter? I found when doing a turntable design that these things had a nice, measurable and audible improvement in the bass. Also the platter pad is important, as it should absorb resonance in the LP as its being played. If the bearings of the arm are not in the plane of the LP surface, the tracing pressure will decrease with bass notes. If you sort those things out properly you get a lower distortion playback with more bass impact.
 

Frank Dernie

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Did you do anything to damp the plinth itself, as well as the platter? I found when doing a turntable design that these things had a nice, measurable and audible improvement in the bass. Also the platter pad is important, as it should absorb resonance in the LP as its being played. If the bearings of the arm are not in the plane of the LP surface, the tracing pressure will decrease with bass notes. If you sort those things out properly you get a lower distortion playback with more bass impact.
IME there is no sensitivity to bass frequencies in the platter or plinth, they are too small, given the wavelength of bass. Damping them and the record does reduce colouration at frequencies they are capable of carrying though, yes.
I have 2 choices on my main TT, the damped clamp pulling the disc into its slightly conical surface to remove small warps - which works well, and I have an old lossy mat in a Sorbothane like material.
The platter is pretty “dead” by design.
 
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Frank Dernie

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the engineer had to deal with out of phase bass
It actually needs addressing if the low frequency source is to one side of the soundstage. If not as you will know the groove risks not being continuous which is bad news :)

Back in the day the fact that bass is non directional below (insert favourite frequency here) it was just standard practice on the basis:
a it didn’t matter because bass isn’t directional
b it was helpful for most stereos because sharing the bass between both amp channels and both speakers shared dealing with the most power hungry part of the spectrum in a fashion less likely to lead to clipping.

Whilst it isn’t always essential I bet you would be hard pressed to find an LP from the 100% analogue era that wasn’t mono in the bass, for the above reason.
 

atmasphere

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It actually needs addressing if the low frequency source is to one side of the soundstage. If not as you will know the groove risks not being continuous which is bad news :)

Back in the day the fact that bass is non directional below (insert favourite frequency here) it was just standard practice on the basis:
a it didn’t matter because bass isn’t directional
If the bass is only in one channel it is a bit more challenging to cut a trackable groove (but not as challenging as out of phase bass). In my experience, you can use several techniques. The first is to look at the modulation level, since a 3dB change can cut the modulation in half. So even a 1 dB change can be quite significant in terms of trackability. Another thing to work with is to reset the groove depth a bit deeper. This is independent of groove modulation.

If none of this works you can use a processor. But even it works by sensing the out of phase bass and makes it mono only for a few milliseconds until the event has passed. The processor we used was a passive device when it was in action, but we actually never used it. Most of the LPs with 'mono bass' used this technique since sometime in the late 1960s. My cutter system (Westerex 1700 with 3D cutter) was designed in the late 1960s and did not have mono bass as part of its suite (which did include optional HF limiting, an input module, a feedback module and so on). So I'm not convinced by any means that mono bass was all that common- else it would have been somehow included, perhaps in the design itself. Mono bass is one of the misconceptions I had about the LP prior to obtaining my mastering system and it is one that died an ugly death. In reality mono bass is a time saver, not a requirement for the media. The mastering house was usually being paid (in the old days) $300-$400/hour (these days its a bit more) so anything that added to the time was expensive.

IOW money is the reason mono bass exists- its not inherent to the medium.
 

Frank Dernie

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but not as challenging as out of phase bass
I am struggling to get my head round where in the soundstage and where a microphone would have to be placed to end up with left and right channels out of phase with each other in the Bass.
Well over to one side of the soundstage isn’t uncommon because the Tympani is normally placed to the side, as are, even more so, double basses. The only powerful bass instrument I know which is often in the middle is the bass drum.
But still, bass out of phase between stereo channels is a hard one to get my head round.
Connecting speakers in opposite phase leads to an obvious loss of bass, in fact with speakers 4M apart everything below 85Hz or so will cancel, so certainly no point in trying to record it!
 
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atmasphere

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I am struggling to get my head round where in the soundstage and where a microphone would have to be placed to end up with left and right channels out of phase with each other in the Bass.
Its not a problem if only 2 mics are used for 'true stereo'.

It can be a problem when independent tracks are mixed together; for example the bass drum is out of phase with the bass guitar or synth line.
 

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This is mostly false. LPs are not mono in the bass unless the engineer had to deal with out of phase bass, which can knock the stylus out of the groove. I found though that if you spend some time with the project, you can find a way around the out of phase bass without having to resort to processing. The technical reason for mono bass is that below 80Hz bass is entirely reverberant in all but the largest rooms owing to the wavelength of the bass note, particularly below about 80Hz (14 feet...).

LPs are not digitized. I think you are referring to a 'digital preview head' which is a thing used with analog tape machines to obtain a motion value for the speed at which the cutter advances. Its not in the signal path.

I get it :)
Did you do anything to damp the plinth itself, as well as the platter? I found when doing a turntable design that these things had a nice, measurable and audible improvement in the bass. Also the platter pad is important, as it should absorb resonance in the LP as its being played. If the bearings of the arm are not in the plane of the LP surface, the tracing pressure will decrease with bass notes. If you sort those things out properly you get a lower distortion playback with more bass impact.
No , what I wrote was not false . About 95 % of the new vinyl records you buy today is made from a master or mixing file thats been digitalized at least one time during the process. This is the hard truth for vinyl audiophiles.

Vinyl records bought in the 60s and up to about -82 have true analog sources both recording, mixing and mastering, with no digitalization anywhere.

This video is very educational .

 
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atmasphere

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If what you are saying is most LPs made today are made from a digital source then I agree.

A nice advantage you have with the LP is you usually don't need the DSP stuff like compression which is usually present in the digital master file. So when I was mastering I would ask the producer if they had a version of the master file that only had only normalization applied. In that way I could make an LP that sounded better than the digital release (since the latter is often mastered with the expectation of being played in a car).

The other problem you run into is re-issues of older material where the analog master was improperly stored. The tape can get sticky and so has to be baked to chase out the water molecules causing the stickiness. At that point the tape might be good for a few months before needing it again, but its a really good idea to make a digital copy ASAP since the master is so fragile.
 

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About 95 % of the vinyl records you buy today is made from a master or mixing file thats been digitalized at least one time during the process.
Not that digital vs analog sources matters but by far most records sold today are used (Forbes estimates used records outsell new by 1.5 X.... my experience is that is radically low) and most of those are analog source so most records sold today are analog but as time goes on that will change.
 

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Not that digital vs analog sources matters but by far most records sold today are used (Forbes estimates used records outsell new by 1.5 X.... my experience is that is radically low) and most of those are analog source so most records sold today are analog but as time goes on that will change.
Many outstanding recordings are done with AAA , Killing me softly with Roberta Flack is one good example from - 72.
The digitalized streaming of this recording sounds also very good with Apple lossless, or on cd.

Nowadays, having very good monitoring for listening ( SAM ) I realise that the reason many cd recordings sounded bad for me in the late -80, was because I had a rather bad speaker and amplifier.
 
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Tangband

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If what you are saying is most LPs made today are made from a digital source then I agree.

A nice advantage you have with the LP is you usually don't need the DSP stuff like compression which is usually present in the digital master file. So when I was mastering I would ask the producer if they had a version of the master file that only had only normalization applied. In that way I could make an LP that sounded better than the digital release (since the latter is often mastered with the expectation of being played in a car).

The other problem you run into is re-issues of older material where the analog master was improperly stored. The tape can get sticky and so has to be baked to chase out the water molecules causing the stickiness. At that point the tape might be good for a few months before needing it again, but its a really good idea to make a digital copy ASAP since the master is so fragile.
Yes, This maniac-compression in CD and also in streaming is very bad for sound quality when listening in a quite place at home. As you say, this compression makes it sometimes easier to listen in a car.

Those facts are often mistaken by audiophiles - with the wrong conclusion as a result . The sound quality on both LP and cd depends much on the amount of mastering compression used. The fact is that many vinyl recordings are less compressed than the cd copy, because the compression were very easy to do in the digital domain when mastering for the cd, and vinyl records could not play in cars anyway….

When I do recordings of organ musicians in churches I always use only two omni microphones, 53 cm apart, with 96 kHz 24 bit quality , and the only digital mixing done afterwards is normalization to - 1 dB.
 
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