The Science of Vinyl/Analog Setups


It seems to me that there is too little scientific, objective evidence for why vinyl/analog setups sound the way they do. When I see discussions on tables, cartridges, tonearms and even phono cables, physical attributes are discussed; things like isolation, material, geometry, etc. and rarely are things discussed like wow, rumble, resonance, compliance, etc. Why is this? Why aren’t vinyl/analog setups discussed in terms of physical measurements very often?

Seems to me like that would increase the customer base. I know several “objectivists” that won’t accept any of your claims unless you have measurements and blind tests. If there were measurements that correlated to what you hear, I think more people would be interested in vinyl/analog setups. 

I know vinyl/analog setups are often system-dependent but there are still many generalizations that can be made.
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Anyone that concerned with specs, should stick to digital.

In the end, it's simply a subjective decision. Playing a record either sounds more convincing or not. 

Best specs on white paper is important, but how can that ensure everyone will agree it sounds "good?"
celander
I know several “objectivists” that won’t accept any of your claims unless you have measurements and blind tests.
Who cares?

I’m glad you put "objectivisits" in quotes. Real objectivists conduct their own measurement and listening tests and they don’t automatically dismiss the experience of others. The people you’re describing are really "measurementalists." They worship the tests conducted by others and believe numbers, charts and graphs are sufficient to describe the sound of a component.
"...rarely are things discussed like wow, rumble, resonance, compliance, etc. Why is this? Why aren’t vinyl/analog setups discussed in terms of physical measurements very often?"

I disagree. These features and specifications are very often discussed here in these threads. I would bet that most, if not all, vinyl enthisiasts here pay very close attention to the measurable aspects for cartridges, arms and turntables when making not only decisions as to what to buy, but what to listen to before purchasing.

Do you have a specific question about any piece of equipment you're interested in?
@elizabeth Thanks for your post—a wealth of info in that link.

@tablejockey True enough.

@cleeds Indeed, you are correct. It’s about things other than being objective. Measurements are used often to justify the objectivist argument. But therein lies the trap—measurements often have subjective presumptions tied into the mix.

@stevecham I have no Q’s about specific items.

As the astute will recognize, I created this thread to funnel similar posts away from the “The Science of Cables” thread in the Cables sub-forum.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/the-science-of-cables



The Science of Cables’ thread has, unsurprisingly and perhaps somewhat sadly, taken on a life of its own. The topic of cables touches very sensitive nerves in this industry/hobby and it seems most have a strong opinion about it. My hope is that in the vinyl realm, other than comparing it endlessly to digital sources (yawn), there will be civility and education. I’m here to share experience, knowledge and wisdom; I've been playing records for the past 55 years.
It seems to me that there is too little scientific, objective evidence for why vinyl/analog setups sound the way they do. When I see discussions on tables, cartridges, tonearms and even phono cables, physical attributes are discussed; things like isolation, material, geometry, etc. and rarely are things discussed like wow, rumble, resonance, compliance, etc. Why is this? Why aren’t vinyl/analog setups discussed in terms of physical measurements very often?


A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. - W.S.

You must be new. Anyone around long enough to know - arbitrarily and conservatively rated to at least 40 years, or roughly the late 70's - would remember the great "golden age" (sarcasm) of the IM & THD measurement wars  and the enormous pile of crappy amps it produced. You would have quite vividly recall just how great amplifiers measured, and how gawdawfully bad they sounded. You would remember Robert Harley saying, "If the first watt isn't any good, why would you want 200 more of them?" You would know that if we learned anything from this it is that measurements have nearly nothing to do with sound quality. But then you asked anyway. So you must be new.

Also you don't need to be around hardly any time at all to realize the objectivist clique aren't really objective or science-oriented at all, but merely bad listeners. Granted its hard to say if its bad in the sense of they don't believe their own ears, or bad in the sense they really can't hear. Either way, bad.

Anyway, it turns out there is in fact at least one very solid science-based reason why people prefer analog over digital. Its very simple: people prefer even-order harmonics over odd-order, and by quite a large margin. Huge. Not even close.

Every musical instrument ever made pumps out tons and tons of even-order harmonics. The best most cherished and most highly valued among them, Stradivarius violins, in spades.

As does pretty much everything in nature. Or for that matter man-made. Drag a needle through a groove and everything from the cantilever to the headshell to the arm to the platter, plinth, bearing, feet, frame and stand starts vibrating like crazy- and its mostly all even-order harmonics. 

Even-order harmonics are so common in nature our ears mostly either tune them out or actually even prefer them. This long-standing preference by the way is what we call pleasing, or what "objectivists" deride as "euphonic", just one of the many ways they try and manipulate the terms of debate all the while loudly proclaiming their objectivism. Its a sickness.

Where was I? Oh yeah, man-made. There is one thing man has made that breaks this rule. And its not tubes, wire, speaker cones or cabinets, and it certainly isn't records. Its CDs. And yes, digital distortion levels are lower. Absolutely. But we're not talking absolute. We're talking odd relative to even. With digital they are all very low, meaning the irritating odd are just as loud in level - which means much worse in effect. With analog our beloved natural even-order harmonics overwhelms the man-made odd-order noise. 

Which, by the way, perfectly explains why digital recordings sound even better on vinyl.

So the superiority of analog is proven objectively, and we need at the very least to be awfully careful in just how we use tools like measurements and the scientific method.

Which is why I always say: just listen.

@millercarbon eloquently put

“....and it seems most have a strong opinion about it.”

Yes, only a few have weak opinions. 😛
It’s often helpful to read beyond the original post to understand why the original post was made. But, verily, it’s sad the literate are not among us to discern the nuance thereof. 
Look, when you go to buy a new TV do you look at the specs? No. You look at the picture. Problem solved. You’re making it harder than it’s supposed to be. It’s not really rocket science. 🚀
And who said my post was directed to you? Lol
I used the word you editorially. 😬
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Absolue Sound.....Perfect Vision.....

yes, I held a strong opinion on the former and a weak on the latter, having banished “ TV “ from the house .....
@celander
Nice follow up on the original thread of "The Science of Cables" A lot of interesting posts here and some good points on both sides of the discussion.

 @elizabeth thanks for posting that wealth of info.

@millercarbon very good points made on harmonics that has a good deal of merit in explaining our attraction to analogue. In addition, we sometimes forget or don't realize that - at the very foundation of true analogue, whether magnetic or mechanical, it is an organic tit for tat recording (copy) of near perfect time, amplitude and substance - a natural re-creation of ex actually what is presented to it. How it is, or was processed from there sometimes becoming a bit dubious.
Digital, on the other hand is, from the beginning, an assignment of numerical bits, processed, re-processed, filtered and processed some more until finally reaching someones idea of perfect.
Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate digital, particularly it's convenience and ease of use and do admit the sound has become convincingly real.

Whether digital or analogue; whether cords, cables, components, speakers or aftermarket tweaks - I do have a problem with questionable, unsubstantiated high dollar claims of grandeur, that's pseudoscience and allure seems to find a home in HEA, but would never fly anyplace else....Jim
When did music become so much about science? Either you like it or you don't. Numbers don't mean much if they don't translate into real human experience.
Didn’t take long now did it?

In analog, unlike digital, magnets or coils are moved relative to and through fields, not numbers.  What's the resolution of a field? At least no worse than the size of the quarks, muons, gluons, higgs, electrons and other particles with spins that comprise it. Certainly higher than any digitized format. More like a continuum. Plus, that field displacement directly translates from magnet or coil to the coil and magnet of the speaker, with only gain stages on the original field. No conversion to numbers and back. Nothing lost in translation. That's why we like analog. That's why the ear/brain uses it too.
I started my stereo oddesy a tad over 50 years ago.  I had a Dual 1019 turn table, Sanaui speakers, receiver and tuner.  I was in heaven sonically, as were all my friends when I returned home from the service.

Over the years I lost a record collection and hardware via a divorce and moved into CDs.  

My circumstances changed allowing me the system I now own, which is mostly digital.

If I could habe my extensive record colkecrion back I would definitely go vinyl again.  I still may, but the cost would be high.  All that said, I think it may be worth it, as long as my wife does not hit me over the head, LOL.


millercarbon, check out reviews of cd players and DACs in Stereophile. They are tested for harmonic distortion out to about 20th order and cd players and DACs do not necessarily output high levels of odd order harmonics. They may have back in the 80s but digital has improved and will continue to improve for a long time to come.

Let me ask you this, I have no idea what your system consists of, but do you think it sounds better than every digital system in the world? Not just to you, which it probably does, but to a group of audiophiles who listen to both digital and vinyl?
There's a wealth of material lodged at the AES from the original era on materials science of vinyl, including vinyl compounds, pressing and challenges in manufacture; curves, RIAA, the introduction of quadraphonic records; measurements of frequency response and the like. Much of this research was funded by companies like RCA who had good commercial reasons for doing so. Others, like Western Electric, are long gone.  
You'll need to become a member of the AES to access the archive, which is digitally accessible. Makes for some interesting reading. 
I suspect, once LP was long in the tooth and replaced by CD as mainstream format, there was no need to do any "science"-- it was considered a dead letter commercially. 
The revival of the LP in mainstream consciousness is not necessarily about state of the art, but price point and value. Who would fund such research and for what purpose? The big record companies are a shadow of what they once were-- like Hollywood studios, they license content rather than create and manufacture the product themselves.
The state of the art endeavors in LP playback are small shops for the most part, aren't they? Panasonic is the biggest one who comes to mind and it's probably a tiny part of their business. Have they published papers on the rebooted SP 10?
I suspect a lot of the advances since the heyday of vinyl playback are in areas like materials science and isolation (where there should be some scientific substantiation for claims, e.g. Minus K, whose business is not strictly audio). But, a lot of the science was established years ago so improvements are likely in a better execution, higher grade bearings, lower noise motor systems, all of which should be measurable. 
Where will that leave you? Most of the more recherché equipment isn't bought on specs. If a turntable can't keep speed, that's something that a reviewer would note, isn't it? If there is motor noise, that's measurable and also probably evident to the ear. I'm not suggesting that there is no innovation, but an awful lot of LP playback isn't new science is it? And is science going to explain why a Lyra cartridge sounds different than an Airtight than a Koetsu? I doubt it. (Airtight claim that there are advantages to extremely low impedance and also probably to some of the materials they use, but I didn't buy those cartridges based on such claims or specs, I bought them because I liked what I heard). I'm not sure that buying at the top level requires scientific validation and the more modestly priced stuff- things like reliability and long term in the field usage probably sold quite a few of those Technics 1200s, then and now. 
@millercarbon: well articulated!
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Geoff, thanks for clarifying. Lol
Where was I? Oh yeah, man-made. There is one thing man has made that breaks this rule. And its not tubes, wire, speaker cones or cabinets, and it certainly isn't records. Its CDs. And yes, digital distortion levels are lower. Absolutely. But we're not talking absolute. We're talking odd relative to even. With digital they are all very low, meaning the irritating odd are just as loud in level - which means much worse in effect. With analog our beloved natural even-order harmonics overwhelms the man-made odd-order noise.
Its not odd orders that make CDs not sound right. Its **inharmonic** information, which the ear/brain system interprets about the same as odd orders in that it is interpreted as harshness and brightness.

Inharmonic distortion is intermodulations where harmonics are created that are not related to the fundamental tone but the difference between the fundamental and something else: in digital- the scan frequency. It sounds like 'birdies'- little squeaks and squeals. Normally you don't hear it as it happens too quickly; its more audible if you take an analog sweep generator and record that and then play it back. So inharmonic distortion is a form of IMD which is to say its really audible, but its rarely measured as there is a simple way to get around it- record the sweep tone using a digital means rather than an analog sweep generator and presto! no inharmonics.
So its not a spec that shows up. But its a thing that analog simply does not have unless its really broken (you can get it if the record oscillator on a tape machine is intermodulating with harmonics of the signal being recorded but this only happens if the incoming signal is overloading and the record oscillator frequency is too low).

Aliasing is also a form of distortion but the digital world doesn't like to express that as distortion. But that's totally what it is and it too is really audible.

If/when digital eliminates these problems then it will sound like analog. Its certainly gotten a lot better over the years but digital began in the early 1980s and we're still dealing with it, so don't hold your breath...

Jim raised an interesting point, timing. Fascinating subject, since when anyone figures out what time is you let me know. Kidding. Sort of. Never good taking any of this stuff too seriously. Especially where you got all kinds of stuff like frequency as a function of time, fourier transform, the craziness of people being able to hear jitter distortion measured in picoseconds, on and on.

Cool stuff. Sounds real sophisiticated. Here's a real good trick anyone wants a nice little reality-check to keep things in perspective.

Anyone ever heard a gramophone? The original record player. Needle you could sew a baseball glove with, drug along with half a pound of tracking force, vibrates a bit of foil the tinny sound of which travels down an expanding pipe until it comes out the other end. 

Purely mechanical. No magnets. No electricity of any kind anywhere. No RIAA, no equalization of any kind anywhere. Talk about analog! The squiggle on the black disk creates a squiggle in the air. 

I ask again: anyone ever heard a gramophone? I have. In an antique store one day. They had one. They had some of the heavy black disks. The lady was nice enough to put one on for me.

You ever get the chance, do not pass Go, give it a try. Amazing experience. Unlike anything else I have ever heard. In terms of all our beloved audiophile standards it is pure crap. Yet at the same time it is hair-raisingly live and real! Exactly why is hard to explain. Maybe because, unlike today where we get excited at the feeling of recreating the performer in our room, the gramophone creates the distinct impression the performer is IN THERE! 

I don't know if its timing. I really have no idea what it is. Only thing I know, whatever it is, analog has it in spades. And digital does not.
Yes, the performer seems to be inside the gramophone.  And he or she also seems to be dying to get out.  But I do get what you mean by the sense of immediacy.  Unfortunately, it covers the audio bandwidth from about 300Hz to 2kHz.  Within its severe limits, the gramophone has the character of a horn loudspeaker (maybe because all the "amplification" depends upon a real horn), which sounds very immediate and fast.
I think you have to differentiate between acoustical and electrical recordings on ’78s. The latter did involve ’electricity’- at least in the creation of them. 
I get what you mean about the immediacy of the sound.
That’s something that some vintage style analog systems can do with LP.
Wonderful tone.
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For you measurement types, based on the following specs, how are each of these cartridges going to sound? Since I have had both, I know if the specs actually tell the difference in sound quality. 

Frequency Response: 10Hz - 60kHz
Channel Separation at 1KHz: 40dB
Input Load: 47K
Output: 5.0mV
Recommended Tracking Force: 1.5Gms
Stylus Type: Elliptical
Inductance: 45mH
Resistance: 475Ω
Compliance CUs: 20
Stylus Replacement: Factory
Mounting: Standard
Weight: 6.5g

Stylus: Selected Contact Line low mass Nude Stylus 
Radius of curvature: 6 x 17 µm
Cantilever: Boron
Recommended Tracking Force: 1.8-2.2 gm
Effective tip mass: 0.32 mg
Compliance: 10 µm/mN
Body material: Corian and Brass
Frequency Response: 15-45,000 Hz (±2.5 dB)
Channel Separation:
  1000 Hz: >28 dB
  50-15,000 >25 dB
Channel Difference: <1.0 dB
Output Voltage: 2.4 mV
Weight: 10.27 Gms
Load: => 47 kohms

i look at a couple of specs to determine if a cart will match up with my arm and my phono preamp. After that, I’ll let my ears determine which piece sounds better.

The process of setting up a turntable for optimum performance is a laborious process that can only be achieved with the proper equipment designed for the task.  Test records, cartridge analyzation components, microscope, and oscilloscope are all required. The forces at the contact point between stylus and vinyl are significant and measured in thousands of pounds per square inch. First it must be determined that the diamond is properly mounted on the cantilever arm and rejected if more than a few degrees off axis.  Assuming the arm is properly set up, and the cartridge properly mounted, it must then be determined if the attack angle at the surface of the vinyl is optimum.  Using the test records, along with the anti-skating and tracking adjustments, the oscilloscope allows the technician to adjust the system for best results. These steps, along with attempting to decouple vibration from the drive system and forces external to the table, will result in the best possible performance with this analog approach. In light of today's technology, with a nod to the fun had by the analog hobbyist, the most realistic way to achieve a momentary suspension of disbelief when enjoying music is to avoid the above entirely and transition into the world of digital sound recreation.              
Digital is like looking at the world through the tines of a comb, or in strobascopic light.

Vinyl and Analogue are like looking at the world as it is, in continuous non stop light.

One can reduce the size of each tine to bring in more light, one can increase the flash rate of the strobe, but what you see will never quite be what is available to see.

Digital is a parabolic curve that approaches but never quite touches the horizontal line of analogue.

That said, there are trade offs for analogue and digital that should be examined by the curious.


rbstehno
For you measurement types, based on the following specs, how are each of these cartridges going to sound? Since I have had both, I know if the specs actually tell the difference in sound quality ...
Specifications may give a hint of what a component may sound like, but it's just a hint, and then mostly when something in the specs is extreme. In the case of the two cartridges you list, their weight is substantially different. Provided that you install each in the same pickup arm with the same counterweight, you've introduced a new variable, because the arm will have a different moment of inertia depending on the location of the counterweight. So I'd say you can't conclude anything absolute about the difference between these cartridges from specifications alone.
Generally, digital provides more detail and wider frequency response. Digital also provides higher SNR and DR. So the comb tine theory falls apart. Digital is not like that at all. Actually analog is like that. Of course, I’m not referring to stock, off the shelf digital. That obviously sucks.