Vinyl vs. top-notch digital


I have never had an analogy rig. My CD player is a Meridian 800, supposedly one of the very best digital players out there. From what I've read, it appears there is a consensus in our community that a high-quality analog rig playing a good pressing will beat a top notch digital system playing a well-recorded and mastered CD. So here are my questions:

1) How much would one have to invest in analog to easily top the sound quality of the Meridian 800 (or similar quality digital player)? (Include in this the cost of a phono-capable preamp; my "preamp" right now is a Meridian 861 digital surround processor.)

2) How variable is the quality of LPs? Are even "bad" LPs still better than CD counterparts?

Thank you for any comments and guidance you can provide.
jeff_arrington
You're going to get answers all over the place.

Basically, if you're happy with digital and never owned analog, you are not likely to be prepared for all the work involved to make LP playback enjoyable.

Musical enjoyment is basically a trade off between quality listening time and the amount of work required to reach that level. Factor in cost of the music and you get an idea of what's worth what.

If your taste dictates that you build a library of Jazz, classical and rock that's mostly older music then LP might be just the ticket. If you listen to mostly new music, it's all on digital with some exceptions pressed to LP.

Me, I'm an LP guy, don't enjoy digital but accept the fact that I must own a digital playback rig because a lot of music is only available that way. That's true for analog too, plus it's (in my opinion) a more musical and natural presentation.

You must decide how much of your favorite music is on each format and if the money and effort spent is worthwhile in terms of enjoyment and access to content.
If you're happy with digital save your money for high-rez digital downloads, which I think is the next format we'll see.

You would think that vinyl is the only way to listen to music by reading the audiophile magazines, but the numbers don't back that up. Below are the numbers for albums shipped and albums sold for 2007 from 2 different industry groups.

1. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, manufacturers' shipments of LPs jumped more than 36 percent from 2006 to 2007 to more than 1.3 million. Shipments of CDs dropped more than 17 percent during the same period to 511 million, as they lost some ground to digital formats.

2. According to Nielsen SoundScan, of total album sales for 2007:
vinyl makes up about 0.2%
digital downloads are 10%
cds are 89.7%

The 0.2% equals 990,000 vinyl albums sold in 2007, up 15.4% from 858,000 units sold in 2006.

I think the number of used cds purchased compared to used vinyl purchased would also show that hundreds of used cds are sold for every used vinyl album sold. Just my two cents. I have no problem with anybody who prefers vinyl to cd. We all have different ears, tastes and gear. Listen to what you enjoy most.
From what I've read, it appears there is a consensus in our community that a high-quality analog rig playing a good pressing will beat a top notch digital system playing a well-recorded and mastered CD.

That Vinyl is better than Digital is indeed the consensus of an extremely knowledgeable group of experts, such as Michael Fremer. Check out his website and while you are at it - how about a set of Pear Anjou cables?
Albertporter is so right. The goal of this hobby is to get to the music that moves you. I have an Ayre C5xe which is also one of the best digital players around. I remember working on my Masters in Music,when all of my music professors had very, very mediocre record players. When asked about that, they told me that they "fill in" what isn't there...they can actually hear what the second violins are doing by being an "active" listener. To me, however, I get a kick out of hearing what those second violins are doing...so, I listen at least twice to the piece...once for the music, and another time for the sound. I am able to get pleasure from both kinds of listening, but in truth, the music is formost. In listening to digital, it is convenient, and a no worry task. When the drawer opens, you put the silver disc in and listen. The turntable requires vast energy expenditures to make sure its as good as it can be. Cartridges settle, and with it comes more adjustments. Although I have a table that is known for its stability, and not needing adjustments, I seem always to check and slightly change something. There are times when just Redbook CD's can sound much better than SACD, or DVD Audio - or Vinyl, there are times when vinyl just trounces the CD, and SACD can be better or worse as well. I seem to prefer the vinyl sound as to digital - even at its best..and vinyl at its not so best. There seems to be a naturalness of air, that digital doesn't quite have - even if the lows may be lower, the highs sweeter, etc. As I write this, I just happen to prefer that naturalness that vinyl has. I experienced this naturalness with my old Rega P-25 with a Grado Sonata. Although the sound I have now is far better (the table, arm, and cartridge have all been very much upgraded), but I still preferred vinyl even then. This post is very circuitous, because there really isn't an answer. You gave up the big bucks for your Meridian, so - what the hell, get a good turntable setup.
Jeff, Albert and Stringreen offer excellent perspectives with which I concur. The challenge in answering your question is that the answer will be different for each of us depending on our listening priorities. Like Albert, I prefer listening to vinyl. I've listened to a lot of high end digital, but I continue to stay with vinyl as my preferred source.

Ultimately, the only way to answer your first question is with your own ears after listening to some systems that have been set up well for playing vinyl. That will not be most dealer setups, unfortunately.

To take a stab at an answer that I think is at least directionally correct: To match or exceed good high end digital these days, my experience suggests you should plan to spend as much on the vinyl playback as you have on the digital playback. Plan on investing something north of $10,000 for turntable, tonearm, cartridge and phono stage. Less or more will depend on how much the strong points of vinyl resonate with your listening priorities. (For me, the match point will be less because of my listening priorities.)

To address your second question: In my experience, "bad" LPs are not better than good CDs. OTOH, good LPs are common and their sonic virtues easily exceed those of the same recording released on CD. The quality of LPs is indeed variable, but the same is true of CDs. For both LPs and CDs, the quality of the work done by the original recording engineer, the mastering engineer and the pressing plant all impact the sonic merits of the finished product. If one shifts to listening to some of the 45 rpm vinyl reissues available (the 45 rpm jazz reissues from Analogue Productions and Music Matters, for example), I'm hearing about as close to master tape reproduction as I think I'm ever likely to experience. For an interesting discussion of this topic, read the comments from mastering engineer Steve Hoffman about his experiments when he had the "Waltz for Debby" master tape in house: What sounds just like the master tape: CD, Vinyl, SACD or an Open Reel tape copy?
.
I'm curious to hear from anyone who has been able to obtain superlative vinyl playback through a digital preamp/processor like the Meridian. I suppose it's possible, but it's certainly antithetical to the usual approach of analog uber alas.

If I were starting over & wanted to put short money in all the right places, I'd go cheap on TT with a replinthed Lenco idler, arm of choice, relatively inexpensive very low output MC such as Denon or Dynavector, with the majority of funds into a high-gain SS or hybrid phono section such as Klyne or VSE with 70db or greater gain. This approach gets very close to the best of what vinyl has to offer, while obviating the cost and degradation of a step-up transformer.
Jeff,

Why don't you post where you live, and see if you can go over and listen to another audiogon member's system, (one with both a decently high end analog source, as well as a digital source), so that you can see for yourself whether you think having analog is actually better than digital. (I'm sure there is another member who would gladly have you over, and might even want to go and listen to your system in exchange. I know I certainly appreciate listening to other peoples high end systems.)

I believe vinyl is better than digital, but then I don't mind doing the whole analog routine, (which includes pre-cleaning records on a RCM, flipping over records for each side, having to get up at the end of every record, etc.)

I think the only way your really going to know is to listen for yourself.

My two cents worth anyway!
Interesting questions. I have found that there is a $5000 factor. In my quest for what I seek I have found you need a table that sells for around $5K, An arm a cartridge and a phono pre in that price range each to get near SOTA play back. And LP's do vary widely in quality. All that being said I have never heard any CD based system that evokes the qualities that a well tuned LP play back system can even with a poorly pressed LP.
I have thought for a long time about this difference between vinyl and CD sound. They are in reality two entirely different perspectives on the sound of music. Since Stringreen and I are both violinists and have played for some 30-40 years in symphony orchestras, I think that we may come from the same or similar perspective on this subject. When one is playing say the Mahler 5th symphony , the sound on stage can reach 105-110 db and you can literally feel blown away by the impact of the brass, percussion, etc. A digital recording can capture the tremendous dynamics,bass, and scope of the orchestra spread out around you that one gets when on stage.
A friend of mine and I have measured the SPL with an Ivie SPL meter of the Los Angeles Phil. in the 15th to 20th rows in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA during concerts and they run usually 80-88db with ocasionally peaks of 92-94db. This gives an entirely different perspective and is much more pleasurable to listen to.
In MHO, CD gives the on-stage performer perspective and Vinyl the listener in the audience perspective. Which is best? I don't pretend to know.It is different for each listener and only he or she can make the decision as to whether they want to listen with a close up,dynamic,and super detailed sound(CD), or do they prefer the more distant auditorium sound(Vinyl). I only know that I cannot listen to CDs for any length of time without feeling that I am on stage getting blown away,and listening fatigue takes over. Whereas , I can listen to Vinyl, good vinyl, all day without fatigue and feel relaxed.
I do not know if this helps or answers anyone's questions, but this is my MHO.
Here is my perspective based on experience. You pretty much will have to go for top- notch Vinyl also. Not necessarily top-notch price bracket, although you may end up at similar or higher prize bracket than you digital. Top notch Vinyl definitely sounds better than the top-notch digital. No question. More organic and complete natural sound. Fortunately my digital comes very close to my Vinyl, sometimes eerily close to the uninitiated. So much that at time convenience of digital playback takes a precedence. But the minute on a whim a same music Vinyl is played back, digital stops. Almost always.
I would listen with my ears first before jumping in to serious investment. I started at entry level Vinyl and graduated to 'top-notch' vinyl rather quickly. No regrets though.
Jeff,

Everyone has given you good advice. The Rocky Mountain Show is not far off. If it is convenient for you to attend, I urge you to do so. You will be treated to many analog sources in a couple of days. Finding another A-Goner with a very good analog source willing to share time, music, and knowledge is the next best idea. You might take your Meridian with you and A/B the analog to the digital if you have the same recordings in both formats. Some members have mentioned hi/rez downloading. I am not so confident that this will be better than comparable existing software digital formats. In short, the analog and digital formats are recreations of the original live performance. Go to a concert and assess which format most closely creates the illusion of the real thing and go from there.
Jeff - Glad you started this thread...very thoughtful responses. In a sense, I'm mainly saying "me too." I worked hard for several years to get the best out of CD's, including picking up a demo Linn CD12 and having Great Northern Sound modify my Wadia 860, and I've had some extended experience with an EMM CDSA. All three are among the best you can do in digital, as far as I can tell. But something was lacking. I had an Linn LP12 that I hadn't used for 15+ years. I had it refurbished last fall, and put a new Koetsu Black in it, and bought an EAR 834P phono stage. I was amazed. Good vinyl is just wonderful. Digital can be fatiguing. Vinyl rarely is (although, as with CD's, there are vinyl dogs out there). And, yes, you end up in searches for 2nd hand vinyl, then you find yourself buying a record cleaning machine, etc.

But I'm fascinated by Violin's comments, and think he's onto something, also. I find that I like classical music more on vinyl...and my "reference" is my typical listening post, mid-hall in a good concert hall. Yet, I tend to prefer pop music on CD, perhaps because, like Violin, I spent a lot of time on the bandstand over the years, playing rock, later fusion, and country. Jazz (except fusion), works pretty well (for me) either on vinyl or CD, although I think vinyl tends to catch the sonic nuances better than CD.

You ought to be able to get a fine rig for around $5-6K. If you go this route, and want some thoughts on places to find good 2nd hand classical vinyl, send me an email.
Violin's response reflects my experience too. Good digital and good vinyl reproduce different things well. How important each aspect is helps determine which is more important to you.

With my digital surround rig, I can play bombastic orchestral pieces such as Holst's "The Planets" or Moussorgsky's (arranged for orchestra) "Night on Bald Mountain" at live concert levels sitting in the first three rows. With 1200 watts on tap and a 200w sub ready to go to 20Hz, I can play Telarc's 1812 Overture no sweat.

My analog rig can creat a great illusion for pieces such as this from the 15th row or the front of the balcony, especially if the orch. used a starter pistol into an oil drum for the cannon.

But for small acoustic ensembles, whether classical chamber music, James Taylor/Joni Mitchell/Gordon Lightfoot folk, or small jazz ensembles such as LA Four, Miles, Brubeck, Coltrane ... vinyl RULES!

And it can be anything. I don't care if it's 40-yr-old vinyl from the $1 bargain bin or a new $50 45rpm pressing from Acoustic Sounds, I just *love* the sound of vinyl on a wide variety of material.

In absolute terms, I'd say my 45rpm Acoustic Sounds reissue of Water Lily Music's "A Meeting by the River" and some direct-to-disc LPs are the best-sounding recordings I have from *any* source.

As for the others, I likes me LPs, but if you're hung up on a little noise and the occasional tic/pop, stick with digital.

By the standards of these wacky A-goners, I have a very modest analog rig: Technics SL1210 M5G, Audio Technica AT150MLX cart, LPGear Zupreme headshell, Cambridge Audio 640p phono stage, Outlaw linestage, 1980s Amber Series 70 power amp, and Mirage Omnisat spkrs w/matching LF150 sub.

Yet this silly little rig beckons me to the sweet spot whenever I spin vinyl on it. And long after the record is over and I put it away--sometimes for days afterwards--the best of this music continues to haunt me in a way that digitally sourced music NEVER did.
Some very interesting views and as normal, Albert Porter summed it up. The main reason you may need vinyl is for recordings not on CD. This would mainly be for classical, some Jazz. There are a wealth of great classical recordings, particularly HMV, ASD series and Decca SXL series, which never got on CD. I also happen to agree that Classical in particular sounds better on LP. To me that is due to the soundstage depth you get, which even top flight CD can't match.
It is ironic, that at a time when CD is dying and I think there is no doubt it is, some of the best CD players ever, are available. I use a GNSC modded Resolution Audio Opus 21 and it is very close to my TW accustic Raven one, Zyx Airy 3 K&K phono stage set up, at a cheaper price.
I would only go for vinyl, as Albert says, if there is music you want, that is only available on CD.
The quality of your phono amp fits into the mix as well. Just another variable to consider...
Jeff, i have been asked these questions many times. i agree with many here, there are many perspectives. i am one who has always attempted to try to have state-of-the-art players for both digital and vinyl. recently; i have also pursued state-of-the-art reel to reel. to me one of the fun parts of this hobby is comparing formats.

when i have visitors over we first listen to digital then at some point i put on an Lp of the same music we just heard in digital; i love to watch the look on their faces and the jaws dropping.....then a big smile and a shaking of the heads.

what does it take to get this difference?

the big difference between vinyl and digital is that with vinyl everything matters alot. there is so much more information in those grooves that at almost any level of vinyl changing the right thing will take you further.....and you will likey clearly hear the change. this makes moving up more fun.

in the past i have said that the right tt, arm, cartridge, and phono stage purchased for $10k-$12k new or around $7k used would potentially take you to a performance level where most listeners would easily prefer Lps to digital. as you step that up there would be more 'wow' factor at higher levels of investment. as you travel up the foodchain you have much lower levels of noise; better speed accuracy, and higher levels of refinement.

recently 2 things have changed my perspective on this equation. first; i have a new digtial player, the Playback Designs MPS-5, that likely raises the stakes for vinyl to better digital by another level. for a vinyl rig to exceed this might take another level, maybe $3k to $5k more. second; there has been a bit of discovery what the performance of some vintage direct-drive and rim-drive tt's when combined with top level arms and custom plinths can do. this lowers the investment level of very high level vinyl performance.

so digital is better, but very good vinyl performance has become less expensive to aquire if one goes after these vintage tts.

regarding how much Lps vary; i have 7,000 or 8,000 lps; 90% sound good to great. the others are varible. most of those 'others' were purchased for less than $1 each.

i would add in fairness that many Lps have tics and pops, and the sensitivity to those issues varies from person to person. some people enjoy cleaning records and the little tweaky things one does to get the best results. if one likes the sterile and clean aspect of digital then maybe vinyl is not for you.

a month ago a friend, who owns a record label, used my tt to record some direct-to-disc Lps to make an K2HD recording. he had purchased the rights to these Lps and no master tape exists. he brought 3 pro audio guys and 2 hi-rez recorders; a Pacific Microsonics II (recording at 176/24) and a DXD (recording at 386/32). during this session; we did many test recordings back and forth between the tt and the two state-of-the-art digital recorders.

you would think that these ultimate digital recorders could make a digital recording indistinguishable from the original Lp. if you thought that you would be very wrong.

as good as the digital sounded; the Lp still smoked the hard drive based recordings. digital (at whatever resolution) simply cannot get the whole picture.

the real question is.....is it worth the trouble?

you bet.
I think great digital does indeed sound better than vinyl. One basic reason, I cannot get past all the noise with even the best of vinyl systems. All those clicks and pops etc - they drive me crazy and get in the way of the music for me.

I hear to much noise for my liking.

Sure, noise can be greatly reduced with lots of cleaning effort etc, but I still hear those clicks and pops.

That said, vinyl does indeed sound better if one can get past this reality. I cannot.

I wish I could as I do think vinyl sounds more "natural".

Bill
Jeff,

I'm an analog guy who's slowly migrated towards more digital time in my
listening room. However, the process has been largely driven by ergonomics
- many posts above note the time required to do justice to analog - and I
have been spending less time in my dedicated room over the years.

To answer the 2 questions you asked

IMHO (and just MHO)

1) $5K ish will put you in a VPI or Acoustic Solid or Galibier w/modified Rega
RB set-up with about $1K available for a cart. Phono stages of concomitant
quality will add from $1K to $3K (and up). This does not represent SOTA
phono performance, but - in my experience (Acoustic Solid Wood/RB300/Lyra
Dorian. I also own a more elaborate and expensive set-up that still hews to
the comments to follow) - it will outperform any digital I've heard. CAVEAT:
Only when the LP in question is a fine recording. Which brings us to...

2) I own many, many crappy LPs which are inferior to most cds. Most (though
certainly not all) rock LPs from the '70s leave much to be desired. OTOH, the
vast majority of my jazz LPs easily outperform their digital counterparts.
IMHO, you should not expect across the board improvement if/when you add
an analog source to your system. However, I suspect that your best quality
listening will be analog.

Good Luck,

Marty
As someone who is just starting out in vinyl but already having a sota digital system in a dedicated listening room, i would encourage you to get into analog but to think of it as complimentary.

some swear by one or the other. In my opinion, the quality of the recording, type of music,listening room, cleaning and your subjective taste will determine your preference album to album. this makes it fun so get both!

My first tt is not sota and dont own yet audiophile lps and can tell vinyl is natural, organic
..regarding "vinyl noise". If your table is set up properly and your equipment is good, you will get very little nose. People who hear my system tell me that they are amazed that the old vinyl that seemed to have the sssss sound - just doesn't. I dare say, that I have many records (older ones from the 60's, 70's as well ) that have about the same noise level as CD. When the occasional "pop" comes along, it is reproduced on to a different plane than the music, and everyone - not only I, can easily disregard it.
Bravo Violin....
Hi Jeff,

If you happen to live in LA or get out this way come over to my house and hear the difference. I own the Lector Digicode/Digidrive. Harry Pearson(and other major reviewers-do a google search) considers the Lector to be one of the most analogue sounding digital rigs out there. I happen to agree with him. Having said that it still doesn't come close to my analogue setup.

If you can't come out my way find a dealer near you that sells turntables. Bring your CD player over and compare. That's what I did. I walked out of there with a turntable.

As far as the time investment it's really not that bad. Unless you buy a really tweaky turntable like the Walker(or any table that has a linear tracking arm for that matter) you shouldn't have to adjust your turntable once it has been setup properly. Yeah you have to clean the records(but I don't do it all the time only when they need it), and yes you have to get up and switch sides but other than that it's really not that bad. Plus not being able to skip tracks is a bonus in a way. You start listening to albums instead of songs.

As far as noise goes 95% of my records(new or used) are as quite as CD.

Speaking of setup it is the key to good vinyl playback. Only a properly setup turntable will sound better than CD. If you do decide to go vinyl do yourself a favor and find a dealer in your area who really know how to setup a turntable correctly.

As to the statement that new music is not being put out on vinyl that is incorrect. Please go to the following link for some interesting info on this.

http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/commentary/listeningpost/2007/10/listeningpost_1029
http://blog.wired.com/music/2008/04/riaa-admits-vin.html

One last thing only you can decide what sound you prefer. To me analogue sounds more like the real thing, but there are plenty of guys on Audiogon that prefer digital. So, again, go check it out for yourself and see which you prefer.

Justin
"If there's a better format for listening to hissing, popping, and crackling, then on a cumbersome, yet fragile 12-inch piece of vinyl, I'd love to hear it." -THE ONION
If you read the Hoffman link provided above it will descibe the difference very well in the favor of vinyl. I recently had an experience while listening to Bill Evans 45 RPM Acoustic Sounds pressing of "Everybody Digs Bill Evans". We put the recently released remastered CD (Keepnews Edition) on right after listening to the vinyl. The difference in tone was quite noticeable. We turned off the CD and returned to a night of vinyl listening. Also, Violin has it right about listener fatique. Plastic, be it SACD or CD, tire my ears well before vinyl does, which is hardly ever.
If you love music and have the money you owe it to yourself to try vinyl.
Like the man or not,
Harry Pearson of the Absolute Sound has repeated over the past few years the Very best digital has not equaled the Very best analog play back.

You can contact the man directly yourself via his e-mail address in TAS or AV guide to tell him he's a fool if you like.

Whom Else on the planet have equipment available to him on a scale like this?

Just recently he took delivery of ClearAudios Statement turntable, to his absolute delight there's even more musical information on these 50 plus year old Lps in his collection.

The best digital player that I have heard to date is the Canadian made emm Labs cd/sacd.
Affordable to many and easy to use like any digital player at this price. Very nice for short term listening.

However, I will put up with the maintenance level of my record player and vintage and reissue Lp collection over digital any day.
Jeff,

Here is a commentary on the misconceptions in the wired article. It tries to point out there is most likely a subjective basis for preferences.

For those who have a DSP preamplifier with any half decent DAC's from the past ten years, I would suggest trying to listen to your Vinyl rig through 'direct path' versus A to D and D to A (with no filtering or tonal adjustment from the DSP). If you have the volume levels matched precisely and a good quality DSP then it should be impossible to tell which one sounds better or when the DSP is in the loop and when it is not (best to do this blind). If this does not convince you that digital is transparent then I don't know what will.

The easiest way is to do this is with a remote - so you don't move your position - but it is best to have someone else make the switch in case bias creeps in from knowledge of what you are listening to. Frankly, most modern D to A and A to D has a precision of reproduction that is far beyond human hearing.
either this is reality.....

Frankly, most modern D to A and A to D has a precision of reproduction that is far beyond human hearing.

or this is reality...

a month ago a friend, who owns a record label, used my tt to record some direct-to-disc Lps to make an K2HD recording. he had purchased the rights to these Lps and no master tape exists. he brought 3 pro audio guys and 2 hi-rez recorders; a Pacific Microsonics II (recording at 176/24) and a DXD (recording at 386/32). during this session; we did many test recordings back and forth between the tt and the two state-of-the-art digital recorders.

you would think that these ultimate digital recorders could make a digital recording indistinguishable from the original Lp. if you thought that you would be very wrong.

as good as the digital sounded; the Lp still smoked the hard drive based recordings. digital (at whatever resolution) simply cannot get the whole picture.

the fact is that even at 386khz with a 32 bit word length it is easy to hear the shortcommings of digital's attempt to reproduce music compared to vinyl.

just listen.
Why do these questions always degrade to a digital vs. analog debate? Who cares? It's like trying to convince someone to switch religions or political parties.

Jeff just go listen for yourself. Bring your cd player and do the comparisons.

Oh and about the wired article the reason I posted it was to point out that new music is being put out on vinyl. That's it.

Justin
the fact is that even at 386khz with a 32 bit word length it is easy to hear the shortcommings of digital's attempt to reproduce music compared to vinyl.

just listen.

Yeah but that is all because of the tourmaline hair dryer tweak, which gives Vinyl a massive but unfair advantage!

More seriously, perhaps the K2HD guys either made a mistake or their equipment was faulty or you were getting microphonics from the cartridge or preamp when playing vinyl rather than on the digital devices (no microphonics). Distortion, S/N and other specifications on the type of high end digital gear used should have made your observations impossible provided the equipment was working properly and operated correctly.
yeah right. 2 different hi-rez professional recording chains were simultaniously mysteriously faulty and the three pro audio guys plus the producer were oblivious to that. and remember; their recorders were getting the same signal source as my amps and speakers......but could not fully reproduce it at playback. any distortion in my tt would (according to your position) also be in the recording.

Distortion, S/N and other specifications on the type of high end digital gear used should have made your observations impossible provided the equipment was working properly and operated correctly.

i have one question. if you had been there and heard it; checked and rechecked your gear; and then heard it again.....would you then believe it?

here is what the pro audio guys said. "i guess i've never been exposed to a really high performance vinyl set-up before.....it really openned my eyes".
i have one question. if you had been there and heard it; checked and rechecked your gear; and then heard it again.....would you then believe it?

Well I would naturally be alarmed and would want to investigate further. High end pro digital recording equipment should be good enough (based on specifications and test measurements) that one should not normally be able to hear a difference even with headphones.

I don't doubt you have an eye opening system and that is much better sounding on vinyl than digital and much better sounding than anything I could ever aspire to. Please don't take this as any reflection on your system it is just that digital recording equipment really should work much better than you observed.
Jeff,

If you do decided to try an analog front end (and spend comparitive dollars to do so), do not forget (IMHO) two of the most important components of an analog front end - proper set-up and a good record cleaning machine (or process).

A poorly set-up $10k analog front end will be nothing more than a pretty showpiece (until you tire of dusting it). Pay for someone to come to your home and set up your rig.

Also, clean source material is a must. Don't overlook this critical component.
Shadorne,
You could very well be right about digital recordings and digital in general.

Disregard what Harry Pearson and Roy Gregory have written about digital and analog sound these past few years.
Their just acouple of audio industry whores pushing way over priced analog junk before the trend withers away.

Also,
What possibly would Mike lavigne know about home stereos and music?
Did you get a chance to read anything on his page?

Shurley he has to be nuts...


Shadorne, your posts are typially well considered and even though we are not agreeing here i don't take your comments as any sort of judgement on my system.

please understand i am very pro digital and typically listen to digtial 60% to 70% of the time. i am as interested in hearing the very best digital player possible as i am the top level analog/vinyl. in fact; i think my current digital player sets a new digital standard. i say 'think' because i have not heard everything out there. let's just say that i know what top level digital performance is. and that, as good as it may be, is really not very close to what top level vinyl can do at this particular point in time.....although it is slowly getting closer.

i've been going down this path for 8 or so years now; since i purchased the Linn CD-12 in 1999 and the Marantz SA-1 in 2000. so i am not just shooting from the hip here. i have 3500 CD's and 800 SACD's and for many of those i have Lp versions.

that recording session i referred to was a very interesting event. it's too bad more digital dogma believers were not present to witness it. those pro audio guys work with those digital tools daily and certainly came to that session with similar notions as yourself. but listening to 8 to 10 hours of tests and more tests and then doing 2 sets of each recording and having 5 people's opinions on each of those events. there was no place to hide from the truth. and that truth is that digital recording is not able to reproduce the magic of vinyl.

OTOH digital is wonderful in it's own right and needs make no apologies. it simply is not quite as 'perfect sound forever' as some might think.
The best vinyl played on a decent system properly set up beats the best CD digital in regards to sound quality, without doubt. Also, the artwork and liner notes on album covers contribute to a more enjoyable overall package than the CD equivalent in most all cases.

There are only so many bits to work with on CD (though theoretically enough) which limits the possibilities, even if perfectly captured from analog digitally and then transformed again back to analog for listening as of course is required in the end by human ears.

However good sound can be obtained more cost effectively on CD. CD players are also more user friendly, which is important. They play longer, are easier and more convenient to use and require little from the owner to set up properly.

I purchase both CD and vinyl regularly. These are the factors that always come into play whenever I have to make the CD versus vinyl purchase decision.

Albert Porter made a good point inthat it is true that I will out of necessity tend to go for vinyl on older, otherwise unavailable recordings whereas for newer recordings, CD may be the only option. Also, used vinyl these days is relatively inexpensive and often provides good sound more cost effectively than CD.

Buying vinyl and then burning to recordable CD for the stated benefits of the medium is not a bad option. Strangely enough, the resulting CD preserves the sound of the vinyl recording pretty well, often resulting in a CD copy with sound quality preferable to those mastered commercially to CD.
The "digital vs. analog" controversy seems unresolvable, from a talking standpoint. As an semi-active musician, I've recorded in both formats and had good, and bad results in each. I've been disappointed with transfers of analog material to digital. I've read a fair bit about digital vs. analog, and talked to my engineer friends. Seems like there are a lot of theories floating around out there about why digital "must be" as good or better than analog, or why analog might "seem to be" more listener-friendly.

What I hear when I listen, using top notch digital playback vs. at least very good analog playback (all as reported above) is quite consistent with what many others (but not all) report: good Lps present a sound that is somewhat warmer, somewhat more detailed, and typically less fatiguing, than what I hear on CD's. I've heard theories that suggest that what I'm hearing is actually a result of deficiencies in the whole analog process. I suppose those theories could be right.

But at the end of the day, who cares? Enough of us hear differences in the formats that I think it's hard to argue that there are no differences (depending on the characteristics and quality of the playback systems, of course). Beyond that, it seems like what matters is what you like. (As noted, I tend to like classical vinyl, and pop CDs. Possibly that plays to the strengths of each, at least on my system.) And, if you're a really serious music and audio junkie, like most of us here, the two formats are at least worth experimenting with. Sure can be fun, and satisfying.
Rushton,

thanks for posting that link to Steve Hoffman's findings. I've read his site, but never came across that one.

Fascinating that he thought a lacquer played back at both 45 and 33 sounded almost identical to the master, and that a pressing sounded so close to the lacquer. I would have assumed much more loss in fidelity at both steps. Nice to know that with a well mastered and pressed LP that we can in fact get so close to the master tape sound. I would have assumed that the open reel copy would have been the best.
For me it is a matter of economics. I've collected music since the day this buck toothed little kid forked over his allowance for Meet the Beatles on Vjay Records. I now have over 18,000 black diamonds and to replace them with CD's would be an expense that I could not incur. I would rather use that money to upgrade my analog front end which is what I'm in the process of doing. My digital Cd player is tits up,sounds awesome and I don't sit and compare it with my turntable when I'm listening to music,I mean if my foot is tapping or I'm being swept away by something breezy of airy as the tension from the day is being exorcized then it's all good. Just enjoy the music.
I'm presently in the midst of optimizing a vinyl setup in my system. I have spent 8k and tons of time optimizing my digital setup, at this point I'm very satisfied with digital sound.

Now I put the vinyl rig in, I started with a $3.5k setup, ended up giving up on that particular rig, simply not enough resolution compared to my digital. Two months ago went with another tt, started with about $6.5k investment, finally had sound that could better my digital. Since then, more upgrades, and more importantly, optimizing the entire setup (allignment, isolation, etc.), still, its not that much better that I'm ruined for digital sound. I'm now in the midst of further upgrades, $2.3k tonearm next week, a $2k cartridge next month, at least $4k phono pre next. I only point out the costs as an example of what you may have to spend to get your vinyl sounding better than your digital.

At this point in my vinyl evolution, I don't think there is any doubt the best vinyl sounds better than the best digital. However, I've found the better digital recordings still sound better than mediocre vinyl. I'm just a bit skeptical this will change with a larger investment in vinyl, I may only hear the deficiencies to a greater extent. Still, I'm open-minded about this, the upgrades I've made to this point have resulted in greater satisfaction with a larger variety of vinyl. I always expect sonic improvements to bring me closer to what I call, 'the breath of life', I already know that vinyl gives me more of this.

Now for some of the downside (as if cost is not enough) of vinyl for me. First of all, I hear very few speak to the issue of optimizing multiple sources within a single system. This is turning out to be a problem for me, I suspect I'll be working on this for a long time, perhaps I'll never be able to resolve it to my complete satisfaction.

Second, for some of us getting up and changing records every 20 minutes or so is distracting to say the least. I find myself going back to digital during every listening session (listening sessions can go up to 8 hours for me), as turning and cleaning records gets tiresome. With digital I get to hear up to 80 minutes or so of uninterupted music, which really allows immersion into the music. With vinyl, there are times I get a bad case of music interuptus.

While I love vinyl, there are downsides which are valid and real. Its not enough to say you have to put up more tinkering and fussiness. Actually experiencing this fussiness is a reality that imposes on the musical experience, ie. the enjoyment of the uninterrupted album or classical piece. Flow of music is vitally important to me, vinyl necessarily impinges on this flow. It seems rather ironic to me, on one hand, the sound of vinyl more fully allows one to listen in the mindset of a music lover, on the other, it takes away from that mode of listening by it's insistent fussiness.
As I sit here typing this I am listening to Joe Cocker played back form my hard drive. A recording I made with an inexpensive a/d d/a interface from my vpi scoutmaster ruby 3h. When I listen seriously I prefer and collect vinyl. Yet listening to this from my hard drive will still stop me in my tracks at times and capture my complete attention to the music. I think like many of the others the enjoyment matters more than the format. At whatever level you can afford buy what sounds good to you and stirs your soul or causes your foot to tap.
I'm thinking electronic music that is mostly digital or electronic at the source (and perhaps lacking in higher order harmonics?) works better in general on CD than vinyl (perhaps also with SS versus tube amplification) but "acoustic" sources with more complex harmonics that are inherently not digital can work better if captured properly on vinyl.

In the end, for someone who enjoys all genres of music from classical to pop to new age to death metal would be ill served by not leveraging both, though many still would not miss not having vinyl unless they already own a lot of records (like me).

Classical lovers and to a lesser extent jazz lovers so inclined to deal with the extra demands of vinyl may be able to get along without CD just fine if desired. Toss the more electronic genres in the pot and I think vinyl alone becomes a bottleneck that might limit ones listening options in a way that matters.

Technicalities, aside, I would just like to agree that its the music and whether or not you are able to enjoy whatever is presented that really matters and leave it at that.
41 responses so far, but very little mention of the software.

My personal preference is firmly in the vinyl camp but I would not recommend anyone getting into vinyl today unless they truly felt committed to the sonic benefits of analog playback. It is not just the time and expense of selecting the hardware, it's building a vinyl library.

There are three basic choices for buying vinyl today. First there is a growing supply of favorite (and some not-so-favorite) albums being reissued. Most of these cost from $30-$60 when remastered by established engineers. Other label-generated reissues with unknown mastering may sell for $10-$20. Next is the vinyl resale market on line or from a few remaining stores. Here you can expect to pay from about $5 to three figures, depending on rarity and knowledge of the seller. Lastly, there is something known as "dumpster diving". This entails visits to local thrift stores to scrounge through their collections of used LPs. Prices can be cheap ($.25-$4) but it can be dirty and time consuming to sort through all the rejects to find anything of interest (artist, music, and condition). Who knew there were so many copies sold of Firestone Christmas music, Ray Conniff and Herb Alpert?

For anyone who has a collection of LPs they set aside when they sold their turntable years ago or have been given a collection by a family member or friend, that could be a different story. But starting from scratch with no current software could present a real challenge -- for both time and expense.

So Jeff my advice would be to find a friend with a decent analog playback system (not a dealer, you want a relaxed, unhurried experience) and spend some time listening. If you find that you appreciate what vinyl offers and you are willing to face the time and expense of building both the component parts and the LP library, then by all means go for it.

06-22-08: Pryso
...There are three basic choices for buying vinyl today. First there is a growing supply of favorite (and some not-so-favorite) albums being reissued. Most of these cost from $30-$60 when remastered by established engineers. Other label-generated reissues with unknown mastering may sell for $10-$20.
Ah, but this harkens back to when the recorded music had value and was prized by all. I remember when the going rate for an LP in 1969 was $4.50. Run it through the inflation calculator and you'll see that everybody was paying the equivalent of $26.55 then for any run-of-the-mill mass-produced vinyl LP. If you were a typical teenager/early 20's guy working minimum wage, an LP represented 3-4 hours pay.

As for audiophile special releases, I remember paying $10 in 1974 for the Sheffield direct-to-disc "Lincoln Mayorga and Friends vol. II," which in 2007 money is $46.19. So the $50 I just dropped for the 2-LP 180g 45rpm reissue of "A Meeting by the River" is in the ballpark, and is actually a better and better-sounding album.

So I guess the real question is, are you ready to throw off the de-valuing of music through CDs, CD-Rs, ripping, and digital downloads and pay for a (relatively) laboriously made analog copy of what went down in the studio that day?

Next is the vinyl resale market on line or from a few remaining stores. Here you can expect to pay from about $5 to three figures, depending on rarity and knowledge of the seller.
True enough, though these record stores often have dollar bins, and I've gotten a lot of records in excellent shape from such. Sometimes I don't even know how the record ends up there. I've gotten some ECM releases and some of my favorite rock/pop from the '70s/'80s from these.

I got a near mint 2-LP Gordon Lightfoot "Gord's Gold" at such as store for $2.99. I like Lightfoot, especially what's on this particular collection.

And if you're at a good store that is picky about what they'll accept and put out for sale, the $5-10 range gets you some great music in excellent shape. Last year the store with the best selection in my town (Seattle) had a half-price sale on everything through the summer. I came out with some great music in great condition, including most of the Beatles that I wanted, the Police discography for about $10 total, several of my favorite jazz albums, etc.

And if you like classical music, these stores practically give it away. I typically pick up like new LPs for $1-3, including RCA Living Stereo, DG w/Herbert Von Karajan, stuff with Heifetz, Rubinstein, etc.

Lastly, there is something known as "dumpster diving". This entails visits to local thrift stores to scrounge through their collections of used LPs. Prices can be cheap ($.25-$4) but it can be dirty and time consuming to sort through all the rejects to find anything of interest (artist, music, and condition). Who knew there were so many copies sold of Firestone Christmas music, Ray Conniff and Herb Alpert?
... and Neil Diamond, John Denver, Barbra Streisand, and Jerry effing Vale. Hoo-boy. It's rare to find a popularly prized album (that holds up over time) in a thrift shop. I've gotten one Rolling Stones album at a thrift shop--only time I've seen one. Neven seen any Beatles, Beach Boys, Led Zep, etc. I once saw a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but it looked unplayable to me.

But it also depends on the thrift shop and your taste in music. I picked up a huge stack of Haydn on Nonesuch at about 50 cents per, and last week I just came away with 16 box sets from Time/Life's "Great Men of Music" series at $1/box. Each box has 4 LPs, and is of a specific composer. I got (among others) Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Ravel, etc. These are mostly culled from RCA Living Stereo archives, so they feature Fritz Reiner & the Chicago Symphony, Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony, Artur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn on piano, Heifetz on violin, Julian Bream on guitar and lute, etc. And one thing I found out--people almost never played these subscription series box sets. Most of the vinyl looks gleaming and unplayed.

There are two more ways to get vinyl--the Internet via eBay, Amazon, GEMM, and the like, and local private transactions via moving sales, garage sales, estate sales and Craigs List. You can often get excellent condition stuff privately, and I've gotten some really cool things off eBay, including some still-sealed new old stock at reasonable prices and a collection of unplayed special broadcast pressings that included both volumes of Ella and Louis on Verve and The Monster by Buddy Rich (also on Verve).
I dont think its necessary or even wise to spend a ton on an analog rig to experience vinyl. My 2nd system is a technics dd with a shure V15/4 into a 25 yr old NAD int amp and is preferred to cd by everyone in the house. If after living with a modest vinyl rig like this for a while, it doesnt float ones boat mabey its best to stick with cds. I would never advise some one to invest heavily in vinyl unless they were sure it was for them. My digital friends buy much more music and spend less time playing with their systems and more time listening.
Johnnyb, my intended point was that starting a record collection today could quickly become expensive. Considering the broad alternatives for purchase (and please notice I included on-line sources) at say an average of $20/record overall, a modest collection of 200 LPs would cost $4K. Yes, bargains will come up and someone could buy them for less if they didn't mind getting dirty and spending quite a bit of time. So it was not about inflation, rather what buyers face today.

I posted because no one else said much about the records themselves and I hoped to help Jeff with that added perspective. But I'm lucky, I began buying LPs in high school and never stopped.
gentlemen...it has been my experience(over 40 years of record collecting) that on any given release, one format can sound better than the other. its a battle that gets fought one title at a time. records have always been ambitiously flawed, but lots of fun. the compact disc has shortcomings, but sometimes they do indeed sound as good or better. of course no compact disc player can replicate the 'feeling' of watching that record spin, but sometimes records are a pain in the ass. cool, but still a pain.
Pryso: I didn't mean to criticize your post. What you said is true. I was just trying to point out how the value of recorded music has dropped since moving to the digital age, and getting back into vinyl demands a reconciliation to the old relationship between music lover and software. Getting new LPs cost about the same in adjusted dollars as they did 30 years ago. From thrift shops and bargain bins, however, you can get whole albums ($1) for the price of a one-song download.

What's true regardless is that going to vinyl requires a different relationship to the software than if you source from CDs, servers, or downloads. It could easily cost more money, and it definitely costs more attention and especially, maintenance.

06-22-08: Rccc
I dont think its necessary or even wise to spend a ton on an analog rig to experience vinyl. My 2nd system is a technics dd with a shure V15/4 into a 25 yr old NAD int amp and is preferred to cd by everyone in the house.
That's what's going on at my house too, except my number one rig *is* a Technics direct drive. I have made some modest upgrades over the year (Cambridge 640p phono stage, Audio Technica AT150MLX and much faster, more transparent line stage), and now we enjoy both the smoothness and continuity *and* a higher level of resolution and detail.

My wife, who came from a strong background of vocal music, treasures all the operas and oratorios I've been about to pick up at the thrift shops for next to nothing. We always prefer the LP, and especially love it for vocals.
A friend drove in from N.Y. to go listen to my other friends Walker T.T. into a pair of Avalon Radians today.

We spent well over six(6) hours continuous listening and at one point during the session,
we turned to each and I remarked "shit, our damn CEC/Museatex & Audio Aero front ends can't compete with this monster, no way."
"Now for some of the downside (as if cost is not enough) of vinyl for me. First of all, I hear very few speak to the issue of optimizing multiple sources within a single system. This is turning out to be a problem for me, I suspect I'll be working on this for a long time, perhaps I'll never be able to resolve it to my complete satisfaction." Sns

An interesting point from Sns. I have'nt seen it discussed and was not in fact, aware it was an issue. Do others think a system can only be optimised for CD or vinyl and not both? I presume he is saying, that the rest of the system, speakers, amplifier etc, can be optimised for one or the other. Do you think that is true? If so that opens up a large can of worms.