CD vs. Vinyl

I've personally had to opportunity to listen to identical music on vinyl and CD on an extremely high end system, possibly a seven figure system, and certainly recognized the stark difference between the vinyl sound and a CD.

What makes this difference? Here are three situation to consider assuming the same piece of music:

(1) An original analogue recording on a vinyl vs. an A/D CD

(2) An original analogue recording on vinyl vs. an original digital recording on CD

(3) An original digial recording on CD vs. a D/A recording on vinyl

I wonder if the sound of vinyl is in some ways similar to the "color" of speakers? It's not so much of an information difference, just the sound of the medium?

Any thoughts?
7 figure system!

Whoah......a 7 figure system...let's hear about that!
I was just thinking about the cost of the system and has to be over $500,000, but likely not an actual seven figures. It's at a local audio store and is anchored by the Focal Utopia Grande speakers. Thankfully, they are always happy to sit down and listen. It's strange to listen to Focal 706v speakers that retail for about $650 on this system, at least I know what they are fully capable of under perfect conditions. They just changed a bunch of the equipment out so I think the Krell amplifiers are now Asthetics.

Honestly, the equipment is so far beyond my means that I just enjoy listening to it and leave it at that. I've listened to several different speakers on the system ranging from $650 to $180,000.

Sorry for the exaggeration...and misspelling.
When you think about the physical compromises required of the stylus and arm along with RIAA contouring you might expect vinyl reproduction to introduce its own coloration. As with tubes, some prefer the resulting sound, a sound they can more or less manipulate with cartridge selection, tracking parameters, and phono stage selection. An original analog recording is more likely to be on tape rather than vinyl.

With digital, you have sampling decisions, but those are quantified. Unpacking digital requires another conversion process, and again quantified decisions.

7 figures??
Does that include the decimal point?
There is one factor that the vinyl vs. cd argument cannot ignore - a tremendous amount of music is, and has been, released only on cd, and will never be available on vinyl.

If you are only interested in sound reproduction, this argment will not matter to you, but if you are a musical omnivore you have probably learned to live happily with cds over the last 25yrs (and they did start to sound a lot better in the early 1990's).
There is one factor that the vinyl vs. cd argument cannot ignore-a tremendous amount of music has been released only on vinyl, and will never be available on cd.

But if you are a musical omnivore you have probably learned to live happily with vinyl over the last 75yrs(and they did start to sound a lot better in the early 1950's).

Just kidding with you :^)
My question is more theoretical than anything else. I don't have any plans to get into vinyl, but appreciate the sound quality.

As for CDs, I have my music somewhat divided into quality and not so great CDs. I have one particular CD that is one of my best recording and it replaced a version that was probably the worst.
First of all are we comparing apples to apples? Usually these experiments include a much more expensive turntable/arm/cartridge. Another question is what source is the system based on. There is a difference paticularly in high frequency information between vinyl and CD therefore system assembly plays a crucial role in the end result.

One advantage vinyl has over digital is the signal remains analog. Did anyone see the movie "The Fly"? Jeff Goldbloom cuts a steak in half and sends half of the steak through his invention where the steak is taken apart and reassembled in another location. After cooking both pieces of steak it became very obvious the steak that was taken apart and reassembled did not taste quite right. Could this be the problem with some CD players?
Great analogy Rrog.
Sorry Clio, although I respect your judgments on most audio matters, I think Rrog's analogy is inept. The issue of remaining in the analog domain ignores the major energy transductions from acoustic to electrical then back to acoustic energy. IMO these transductions are far more difficult than sampling a waveform. Mathematical representation of the even high frequency energy in the waveform is entirely possible for digital processing. In either case, the waveform is most likely to have been originally recorded to tape with vagaries like head alignment and print-through if an analog tape recorder was used.

With all due respect db, digital still typically uses analog filters in the output of the dac. Furthermore the "quantization" as you call it still "analog" in the time domain aka jitter. IMEs, digital sources all have a sonic signature akin to analog source signatures.
"I wonder if the sound of vinyl is in some ways similar to the "color" of speakers? It's not so much of an information difference, just the sound of the medium?"

As we are talking about exceptional vinyl replay vs exceptional digital replay I believe you will hear more detail and thus experience a more realistic presentation via vinyl so I would say no it is not just a coloration. There are, however some caveats which relate to the three "situations" you propose. Really, I refer to situations one and three as I am not sure how many instances of the second situation are out there. Comparing the same performance, recorded on two mediums at the same time would be interesting and I am sure someone has done it but I have nothing in my library that I can listen to to form an opinion.

IMO digital comes closest to vinyl when comparing it with analog playback of digitally mastered material and with HI Res files in particular digital comes very, very close. I have never heard, however any recording of the same performance actually sound better via digital than it does via vinyl.

On the other hand if we compare the original analog recording with an a/d conversion in my experience the differences and superiority of vinyl are immense even using less than the very best pressings of vinyl.

When you get to some of the very best vinyl recordings via analog you are able to immerse yourself in the performance in a way that I do not believe is possible via even the best digital.

In my system I have room for both mediums and get enjoyment from both but I seek out digital only when the performance is unavailable on vinyl.
there are exception in digital that comes very close to vinyl. To my ears, Dvd-Audio by far the closes to vinyl playback.

If you get a chance to hear Diana Krall's CD, SACD, DVD-Audio and LP ( since her albums are available in all formats ) then you can tell us how you feel about all different format.
at the risk of redundancy, digital and vinyl are diffferent. one is not better than the other. so as to avoid being accused of either being a pedant or of sounding overly didactic, i will say that when one discusses aesthetic endeavors--art, food, movies, books audio, e.g., it is often arbitrary to say that one instance is better than another. again as an example, to say that one movie is better than another is philosophical in nature, an opinion and cannot be proven.

i know, a lot cannot be proven and we are entitled to my oponions.

i have been accused of many things,--iconoclast, lousy ears, contrary, etc. .

the point is the realm of audio is entirely philosophical.
there is no definitive conclusion to a philosophical argument.

enjoy your vinyl, assert that vinyl is better than digitla. its a matter of taste.

when using the word better, it helps to define what is good, better and best.

audiophiles will differ as to these things.

i'm ready for any invectives that come my way.

i believe what i learned in during my time in college in which i was enrolled in two philosophy courses justifies my position.

you may disagree.
I really agree with Mrtennis here. With an audio component, like with a mate, there are so many factors involved, some very hard to define because you are dealing with human senses, each factor can be better, worse, or just different from each other, and therefore a simple ranking becomes really treacherous.
In the listening experience that I refer to when I heard a CD vs. vinyl, the CD player wasn't at the same level as the turntable, but certainly wasn't a low end product. The salesman pointed out this fact and also noted that the difference was there, however maybe not as drastic, on more equal equipment.

My experience was that the CD sounded wonderful with the exception of the first few seconds after the switch from vinyl where it sounded harsh. Once my ears adjusted, it was again a wonderful sound.
What is it about the digital vs. vinyl flame that draws audiophiles inexorably closer until the inevitable happens, and the thread goes up in smoke?

Why is it that we can't simply enjoy what we enjoy without having to debate why we enjoy it?

I'm with MrT on this one.

I'm a bit of a novice audiophile and to be completely honest, my interest in audio is as much about the technology as it is the actual music. I'd compare my facination with speakers producing music to airplanes flying. It's simply amazing how it works.

In that context, I'm just interested in learning more about vinyl and what makes it different since I'm young enough that it's never been anything that I've been around.
Here's an interesting perspective, related to digital vs. analog, from my EE friend. As I've said on other threads, we discuss these topics and many more at work.

"Everything you hear ultimately is traduced through the fully analog mediums of speaker cones and air movement. Because of this, the ultimate audible result of a digital signal is a fairly smooth analog wave. Even if you have only 3 points to determine your wave versus 20 on an SACD or "infinite" on a record, how different will those representations be if you are at the upper frequency limits of the transducing surface? The surface of the speaker cannot instantly transition from full excursion in a positive direction to full excursion in a negative direction, so at some point, because time and motion are involved, the speaker produces the exact same waveform from a three point digital reference as a full analog signal. This would effectively be a "distortion" of sorts with the ironic result of being closer to the original signal.

A vinyl record effectively contains "infinite" data points, which is obviously more information than can possibly be contained by any digital medium. However, at some sample rate (it would depend on your D/A converter and amplifier), the analog output from the amplifier will be identical regardless of whether or not you use the record or the digital recording (assuming that your components are so well designed that they don't individually "color" the analog outputs as you suggest they may).

The ultimate result we are comparing is the audible output from the speakers, and while the D/A converter, amplifier, and speakers may all carry through some of the reduced resolution of a CD recording, there is a point in the digital realm (possibly SACD) where the end result reproduced by the equipment will not differ one iota."

To put my spin on it, at what level does the digital signal become close enough to the analog that the physical restriction of the speakers themselves are the limitation.

I have a difficult time believing that the groove in a record can really contain the same level of detail as a CD or certainly an SACD and that a mechanical needle can track this level of fidelity. So is it really a case of the digial signal actually containing more information than the analog and the analog is "smoothing" things in the digital signal that the speaker is having difficulty reproducing?
I ran my lastest theory by my friend and was shot down. His response was that test have showed that high quality cartridges can track in the range of 50khz which is significantly outside of the range of audio relevance.

He did say that the effect might happen with very mismatched systems like a $20,000 turntable and $200 speakers. Also, a cheap cartridge could have the potential to be the limiting factor with a nice set of speakers.
Physics accounts for much of the difference in sound.

A stylus tracking a record has mass and is hampered by inertia as it tracks a record and modulates to produce a signal. High frequency transients, if even present in the recording to start with, are essentially filtered and come across smoother as a result. It is a challenge for an amp to handle high frequency transients well. As a result, the micro dynamics produced from vinyl is less challenging to amplify accurately and the results are considered "smoother" and more pleasant by many as a result.

With digital, there is no mass or inertia at play. There can be jitter and other imperfections in the D to A process that affects the shape of the resulting waveform when samples are not converted properly at precisely the right time. The extent to which this occurs largely impacts the clarity of the resulting sound but the nature of the distortion is inherently different from that involved with records. When digital is done well, transients and microdynamics are more challenging for amps to reproduce accurately. When all this works well though the overall dynamics of the resulting sound is more vivid and lifelike than vinyl in general, IMHO.
This subject has been beaten to death! But it's still fun once in a while. Here are some advantages CD has over vinyl:

* Portable audio - you can cart around your CD in a nice portable/try that with an LP!

*Track access - you can jump from track to track, shuffle tracks and program tracks. With vinyl, you're carefully moving the needle around the record.

*Capacity - 80 minutes vs 45 (roughly). And you don't have to flip a CD over.

*Longevity - You have to baby your vinyl. One tiny nick or scratch on your LP and the playback is damaged. I think we all agree that CDs are tossed around (within reason) and they still end up sounding great every time.

*Size - It's convenient to store and hold CDs. LPs are large and unwieldy. That makes them vulnerable to damage. And back to that portable issue.

*Car - You can bring your CDs along to entertain you in the car. Ever try to rig a turntable to your Buick?

*Durability - CDs play great 20 years after I bought them. LPs wear out from repeated use.

*Care - you have to regularly clean your stylus and records. It's a chore some love but think about the ease of CDs. You almost never have to clean anything unless you are getting food or grime on them.

*Sound? - Oh...I"m going to get lynched! My point here is that without elaborate setups, expensive equipment, or variable settings (tone arm weight, etc) a CD sounds great every time.

Now sure, this can evolve into side arguments on how warm vinyl is (and it IS warm and nice) but in the end, CDs are hassle free, convenient, easy to maintain/store, and portable. They are not fussy or fragile and you can get them almost anywhere for reasonable prices.

The fact that someone has to spend thousands of dollars to get vinyl to sound better (I KNOW it can be done) than a CD is saying something. For CDs, you can get audiophile sound for hundreds, not thousands. And the rig should last you decades without any pain.

In the end, I am like everyone else here. I love to play around with vinyl. I'm always cleaning it, caring for it, and putting it on the platter when I'm home kicking around. It's a hobby I take seriously. But I would never seriously ignore any of the points I laid out above and say that vinyl is *better*. Because lets face it, barring a very expensive setup and a lot of care and fine tuning, it's not very practical. more point. I an a CAD designer. If I brought a turntable to work, my peers would think I'm BONKERS. They already give me a hard time about my cassette walkman (still love to play copies of good vinyl on chrome tapes). With my Sony DEJ925 CD player, I can fly under the radar and it fits in my desk. :)
"For CDs, you can get audiophile sound for hundreds, not thousands. And the rig should last you decades without any pain. "

Is this perhaps part of why many high end audio buffs are so pro vinyl and anti CD? Hundreds of dollars is certainly not high end, right?

I'd also argue that audiophile vinyl can be had for hundreds as well but it does not come as EASY. EASY is the key word. Then again, EASY is not very high end either.
My personal thoughts on this are as follows:

Great Vinyl (player & Record) will always beat 'good' digital.

Great Digital will always beat 'average vinyl'.

Some days I like the ease and convenience of digital. Some days I love the process of putting on a record and reading the cover. So I guess the answer is GET BOTH!!! Great vinyl and great digital.
"Is this perhaps part of why many high end audio buffs are so pro vinyl and anti CD? Hundreds of dollars is certainly not high end, right?" - Mapman

You are arguing about preference and the discussion is about formats. People might prefer french fries over asparagus but any nutritionist will tell you that the asparagus is better in many ways for them. As far as "easy" is concerned, why would higher-end have to be difficult? Doesn't make much sense.

It is a bit more difficult to argue the facts. CDs are more durable, smaller in size, playable in cars and portable gear, more accessible from retail stores (even gas stations sell CDs), and have advanced features like shuffle/repeat/program. Preference doesn't dismiss these attributes.
"As far as "easy" is concerned, why would higher-end have to be difficult? "

Because it is always harder to do anything really well.

Take a look at some of the high end systems on this site and what the owners have gone through to get where they are and it should become clear that high end often means complex and hard. Not always, but I think there is a general case to make based on the evidence that this is an accurate assessment.
The most important part prior to any playback is the source of the sound. I don't think anyone mentioned here.
Vinyl has the least compression vs any digital medium.
Assuming if you have the same master tape source, it is then remastered to output to reel tape, vinyl or CD or SACD or DVD-A.
Even within vinyl, there are 78 rpm, 45 rpm and 33 rpm format as well. This all has to do with compression ratio.

The less you compress the data onto the output format the better it suppose to sound.

So there are suppose to be more information on vinyl vs typical CD.

Your friend rejected your assesment is correct. Vinyl can definitely sound better IF only IF the source is better. THe master tape from the recording studios also have duplicate copies. Obviously the first original was the best. You can see some LP would label which version of press ( typical for classicals where the performers already dead )

This is why some folks pay big dollars always for the first press copy of vinyl reproduction. This is what seperate true audiophile with unlimited pocket.

take a look at following example of first press beatles asking for $25,000 with 4 offers. Don't tell me that your friend is one of the bidder?

S23chang, unfortunately that is a very bad example and for a couple reasons.

First, this particular album, "Introducing the Beatles" is basically a sonic nightmare to begin with. First pressings are no better than later pressings.

Second, there are many original copies of "Introducing the Beatles" floating around. The very rare and collectible versions have back covers not often seen. The first is called the "ad back" cover and the second is called the "blank back" cover. Do a little digging and you can learn more about these covers and the history of the album. The information is readily available; the album has a fascinating history.

Hope that helps.
"Vinyl has the least compression vs any digital medium." -S23chang

Yes, but if we also factor in artifacts and noise, the vinyl comes up short. Even when I deep clean my records, the clicks and pops are gone but the noise is always there without exception. Sure, it is barely noticeable, but I can hear it very clearly with good headphones.
"Because it is always harder to do anything really well." - Mapman

Not always. As a designer, I always strive for ease of use and a great UI. If equipment is difficult to use, consumers gravitate to the competitors. Look at the success of Apple. Quality products, great design and interfaces on their products. I wouldn't say a Dell is higher end than Apple because it's more cumbersome and difficult to use.
I am not even referring to playback experience. It is true that bad press makes bad playback just like any CD recordings as well.

A better MC can track way better than the low end MM. We don't need to open a can of warms here as you want to compare it to the digital artifact.

As far as example goes, you can find the TAS recommanded list from the earlier recordings which never made to digital format.

sounds like some folks here are more interest in personal opinon rather than the facts about the source.
>>07-22-10: S23chang
A better MC can track way better than the low end MM<<


A better MM can track way better than a low end MC.

Oh, yes, back to the topic.... CD Vs. Vinyl, let me state , emphatically, that in my many many years of playing music and evaluating various equipments at my personal disposal in... "yawn"... umm, where was I? oh yes, I find that there is always, unavoidably, discrepancies, and variations between the... Yawn, Oh my!
Snork!! Whattzat?? Huhwhuh?? Oh Yeah, as I was saying.... TUBES!!!!
the valid comparison to make is between a recording and the hardware.

thus a cd player or dac and transport is compared to a turntable, arm and cartridge.

there are many variables and there is personal taste.

while the facts of the recording are the facts, one must consider all of the variables.

it is possible, therefore, that a given recording may be preferred on either medium, regardless of the facts of the "superiority of the recording.

although, i would grant one could make a case that a well recorded lp will most likely be preferred over its cd counterpart--but not always.

i own csome cds which are quite exemplary in their sound quality and would be acceptable to those who love vinyl.
My analog source is better than my digital source because I built it that way and because I hate digital recordings. So for guys like me their is no debate. Never has been. I like reading these threads solely for the purpose of free entertainment.
Ten to twenty years from now, it's going to be very interesting to read the debate, if any audiophiles even exist then, about what format is best.

Where will the debate shift when the old-timers who grew up on vinyl are no longer around?

I'm not of the opinion that there will be enough new users of vinyl to take up the LP banner in any significant way.

So, the moral of the story is, have fun with the digital v. vinyl debate while there's still time...'cause it'll run out before you know it.
I think it is pretty obvious to anyone who is not deaf that the spring drive Victrola was and still is the pinnacle of audio quality.

For starters, stereo is just a gimmick. Worse, electrons are not natural sound vibrations and never ever will be. So any system that uses the modern A to E or E to A (Analog to Electron or Electron to Analog) converter approach can't possibly ever sound correct.

There are several $100,000 systems here on Audiogon and none of them can hold a candle to a good 1920 Victrola (where mechanical vibrations are used directly from the vinyl to make sound - a completely natural and lossless approach).
Shadorne I've got one of those together with a pile of steel needles and shellacs of Amos & Andy and Princeton fight songs. I assure you the Victrola is over-rated outside of Antiques Road Show.
LOL Shadorne, nice post. Mapman, you say one thing I find a bit strange - "When digital is done well, transients and microdynamics are more challenging for amps to reproduce accurately. When all this works well though the overall dynamics of the resulting sound is more vivid and lifelike than vinyl in general, IMHO". Exactly what do you mean by "the overall dynamics of the resulting sound?" If you are speaking of dynamics in the musical sense, as in soft to loud, I would have to strongly disagree - vinyl has so much more dynamic range than CD. This is easily proven by comparing the same recording in both formats, say with a Mahler symphony where there are dynamic extremes in close proximity.

I would also very strongly disagree that digital is more life-like - it is very much the other way around IMO, due in part to the dynamics issue I just mentioned, as well as the resolution of instrumental and vocal timbre. Vinyl also almost always creates a better soundstage than CD, again directly comparing the same recording in the two formats. Yet another reason for me is that many engineers will edit out ambient noise when they digitally process the recordings - I think they think it makes the recording sound cleaner. This is a biggie for me as far as the sound being more lifelike. In some of the orchestral recordings from the "golden age," you get a real sense of the original recording space from the vinyl, and this is very largely lost in a digitally re-mastered version.

I believe in many cases where digital does not sound as good as vinyl, a big part part of the problem (alongside jitter) is that the amp's transient response is not fast and accurate enough to handle the digitally produced signals transients accurately whereas this is less of a problem with vinyl sources.

I can get all the dynamics I can handle in my setup with either digital or good vinyl these days but this has not always been the case. Getting the digital dynamics and transients to sound right has been the bigger and more costly challenge for me.

Vinyl surface noise when present then is the biggest thing that gives away the nature of the source to me. Live music does not have surface noise.
What makes this difference? YOU. You and your alone personal response to the music you are hearing. Don't matter to you what my stereo sounds like...and nothing anyone tells you is going to change this fact.

I too often wonder about the "color" of reproduced sounds, especially in relation to colorblind persons. wonderful.
I've been to the NY audio show (and various dealers) several times with lots of vinyl and digital rooms. FWIW, all the systems that haunt me still for their sheer beauty of sound happen to have been digital. These include systems with Dynaudio Evidences, JMLabs Grand Utopias, Von Schwiekert VR9s,
Avantgarde Trios, Aurum Acoustics, and Apogees. (Digital was from EMM, Linn [CD12], Levinson, and others I've forgotten.)

And you know, I grew up happily with the joy of LPs and my AR turntable. Now, with an EMM front end and some Senn HD800s with a good tube headphone amp and good cables, the music is just so breathtaking and true and flowing and joyful I don't want to change a thing. I often say to myself I wish some of the good folks here on audiogon could hear what I hear. (OK, I do need to warm up the system for a while to get to this level...) So I have embraced CD sound without reservation.
Imagine two ladders, one has 10 rungs, the other has 15. The vinyl ladder has 15 rungs if you got the $$$$ to get to the top.
I was born listening to scratchy 78's. Records slowed down to 45 and after that 33 1/3; now they got a 45 craze going. Their noiser than CD's at any speed.

I'm not sure whether or not "analogers" are smoking something or what; their claiming that those old "mid fi" tables sound better than CD's. Maybe they have become addicted to "record noise".

CD's are the best thing since sliced bread.
CD's are the best thing since sliced bread.

Yeah, Wonder Bread.
Back around 1984, Dave Wilson put out a test record entitled "Digital -- How Accurate?"

Both sides of the record contained the same music, consisting of ragtime piano and a jazz trio. Both sides were produced from the same master tapes, recorded on his high quality custom-built 30 ips 1/2" analog tape recorder. Mastering and pressing were done to expectably high standards.

The only difference between the two sides was that on one of them the output of the recorder had been processed through what was then a state-of-the-art Soundstream digital recorder/processor, which converted the analog output from the tape recorder to digital, and then converted it back to analog.

That made possible an extremely clear-cut assessment of the degradations that were introduced by the conversions to and from digital, because:

1)That methodology eliminates all variables in the recording process, the mastering process, and the playback process, other than the effects of the digital processor.

2)That methodology eliminates subjective judgments, since what is being assessed is not which side sounds better, but simply whether or not the two sides sound identical. If they don't sound identical, it means that the conversion to and/or from digital has introduced a degradation. (Although of course some "degradations" may be subjectively preferable to some listeners).

On that record the difference between the two sides was clearly audible in many ways, even on modest playback equipment. It would be interesting to see a comparison like that repeated with today's state-of-the-art equipment, and the results might even help to settle some of these kinds of debates.

Beyond that, I second Tvad's earlier comment: "Why is it that we can't simply enjoy what we enjoy without having to debate why we enjoy it?"

-- Al
Al - what if Master Tape is digital (most common)?

1. Master Tape to CD to DAC to amp
2. Master Tape to DAC to LP to amp

Both have one D/A conversion. Perhaps quality of D/A conversion is important since most of LPs now comes from digital Master Tapes?
hi kijanki:

i'd rather hear the microphone feed, not the cd and not the lp.

i realize this is impractical. a live broadcast over a decent radio comes close.

sorry to be a wise guy, but i could'nt resist the temptation.
Mrtennis - why microphone? With the pricetag of top quality gear it might be cheaper to hire Symphony Orchestra to play at your place.