Which is more accurate: digital or vinyl?


More accurate, mind you, not better sounding. We've all agreed on that one already, right?

How about more precise?

Any metrics or quantitative facts to support your case is appreciated.
Convert?fit=crop&h=128&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mda5odaznjasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&rotate=exif&signature=bf7d958cb2e78ed8feec61418c52d11f66da0c9531d569ff5801385c64f6a1f8&w=128mapman
Interesting question, Mapman, but I don't think that it has an answer.

Since there are a great many ways in which each medium and its reproduction can be inaccurate, how does one weight each of those ways relative to the others, and tally up a net balance?

Even if such a tradeoff could be worked up in a comprehensive manner, it seems to me that the weightings and the net result would vary as a function of the music, the recording, the system, the room, and the listener.

I assume, btw, that you are referring to accuracy with respect to the recording, as opposed to some envisionment of the original event (which would be, and as you probably recall has been, a whole separate discussion).

Best regards,
-- Al
strictly speaking...

i figure analog is seeing as how digital is a sampled representation.
So far direct cut vinyl is probably the best . Redbook CD has a restricted top end compared to the best vinyl and will not reveal the same level of detail but can still sound very good. HiRez has great potential but requires more effort than most of us are comfortable with to get its best. The world is digital at the micro level but analog at the macro so there is no real answer to this question.
I would say vinyl still has the edge. Through the whole process, it also keeps it in the same mechanical vibration format it started out in, and is reproduced by the speakers in that manner, the same as we hear. The gap has closed quite a bit though. I use more digital because of the convenience, and availability.
"Interesting question, Mapman, but I don't think that it has an answer. Since there are a great many ways in which each medium and its reproduction can be inaccurate, how does one weight each of those ways relative to the others, and tally up a net balance?"

I didn't think it would be an easy question to answer, which is part of the fun, at least a slightly different spin on a common debate.

I suppose one would have to create a model of some sort to determine. Best model wins, however that is determined.

I see digital as inherently more precise in that vinyl results can vary much more widely I think.

My gut tells me that decent digital is more accurate as well in that tolerances of digital gear is pretty tight with those relating to timing and jitter being the show stopper for many. Vinyl can be all over the place and requires a lot of owner loving care to even deliver whatever the level of inherent accuracy (of reproducing what was recorded) there is.

Also, I am not convinced that jitter is necessarily a significant show stopper these days if a pretty straightforward proper appraoch is taken for the home system building.
"I would say vinyl still has the edge. Through the whole process, it also keeps it in the same mechanical vibration format it started out in, and is reproduced by the speakers in that manner, the same as we hear."

I used to think that but having heard really good digital of late am not so sure these days.

Keeping things in the same (analogue) signal domain seems good in theory, but assures nothing in of itself. There is lots of good and bad in the non digital real world that we live in. If not being digital were the ticket, we would live in paradise perhaps.

The quality of execution of the overall process (design, tolerances, etc.) is what assures results. Digital has a lot of advantages in practice as well as theory in this regard that helps make the case.
Hmm. How are you guys defining accuracy?
I see digital as inherently more precise in that vinyl results can vary much more widely I think.

I was under the impression of all things being equal. IOW, the best analog system and record, along with the best CD and player. Still a digital system can have a sonic characteristic that's not natural. I had a Luxman CD player years back that could not make anything sound real. Also a couple of other brands of CD players, or DAC's. I've heard plenty of bad sounding records, but they still somewhat sound more like the original source, than a bad sounding digital reproduction. After hearing some fairly bad digital reproductions, I find that I still hear that artificial reproduction in some pricey players. With analog, I never get fatigue, or those odd artifacts even from the worst records I've had. Bringing tolerances into it changes it some, but still I think vinyl has the edge.
The world is digital at the micro level but analog at the macro so there is no real answer to this question.
Stanwal, this statement does not make any sense! I believe it's the reverse - The world is analog at the micro level & digital at the macro level. As you ascend from the micro level to the macro level, you can quantize the info & make it digital (thereby losing as much as info as you deem fit depending the levels of quantization).
If the world is/was digital at the micro level, converting it to analog at the macro level means that we do not generate any new info. if the world is digital at the micro level it means that things exist only in discrete states. does this even make sense?
Think of Brownian motion - is it digital? I don't think so.....
i read "Redbook CD has a restricted top end compared to the best vinyl" and i can't really disagree. however, the question does not ask what is better, average digital or the best vinyl. a good hi res digital recording (96 and above) played on a system set up for it, is incredibly accurate and precise. way more so then any vinyl rig i've ever heard. since i haven't had an opportunity to listen to "the best" vinyl systems out there, i won't make a blanket statement here(and get pounced on =) ). i have listened to some pretty good ones though. i can say that when comparing the best i've heard from both sides, i think digital is more precise and accurate.
I think in the strict sense of the term digital is better, the best digital IMO trumps the best vinyl in this instance, one big reason for me is low frequency capability.
I have found when I upgraded my cartridge about 9 months ago that I was missing information buried in the grooves of vinyl records. I would have said digital was more acurate before then, but I beleive now that vinyl contains more information. It just takes the investment in turntable and cartridge to extract it (along with other sorted related equipment of course). MHO of course.
Strictly speaking in terms of accuracy I would have to say digital due to the lack of Dynamic Range in Vinyl media and the accuracy of the RIAA curves in the Phono Preamp.
Digital, not cd, has the potential to deliver a bit perfect copy of the original master recording of, say, a 24 bit 192khz resolution recording. I don't know how close we are to reaching that potential at the moment, but I'd guess we're not too far off. So I'd have to say that digital soon will be or is now more accurate.

Digital doesn't make all those crackling and popping noises either.

If anyone prefers vinyl over digital, I will not argue that you should not. Enjoy whatever you enjoy.
Digital is only a way to store the information, not less accurate. If the sampling rate is high enough and the bit word length is long enough, say 24/192, or more, or SACD, done well, analog is just too inconsistent, and a bad storage medium. Master tape is very good, but degrades over time, and is not convenient. How many people are rushing to turn in or yard-sale their inaccurate digital cameras of 15+MP for film ones???? Digital cameras are just evolving faster than audio is, but hopefully audio will catch up and digital will obsolete analog once engineers adopt a good format like SACD, and implement it correctly. And yes, I have both analog and digital, and like them both, but like digital more and more. The future is digital, and CD's are on their way out, once inexpensive storage is available, in quality, and simplicity, it will happen very fast. I see many .99 cd sales. Sell them fast or better yet, store them on a hard drive, like a mac mini. jallen
Good tapes and mastering will decide the winner. Both can be accurate. Like a paint job the bodywork is 90% of a great job. The clear coat and paint itself is going to show a crappy bondo job. Poor tapes and mastering is obvious.
Neither, only the final mastering tape is really accurate.
Consumer based, good god
I believe you have to throw the almighty dollar into this equation. For the poor man, digital has it all over vinyl in every way. However, if you have a coral Koetsu and everything to go with it, there is a good chance that vinyl is the best.
Please define "accurate." I do not think you can. We do not yet have instruments or measurements that can equal the distinctions the human ear can make. If we did, many of these questions in audiophilia would disappear, and subjective evaluation would be unnecessary.

Don't the high frequency cutoff filters of redbook dacs disqualify digital from being the correct answer?

I think high bitrate digital could be as accurate, or more so, but "loudness wars" mastering is a big problem with cd's.
3 inch master tape is a fine way to record music but it is going extinct, just like photographic film. I don't think much of it is being made and that which already exists is decomposing. I know that remasters of albums made in the late 60s and 70s have noted that the tapes were "baked" to get one last read off them.

Most music is now recorded to a hard drive or some equivalent and in the not too distant future all new recordings will be made on digital equipment.

So you can rant and rave all you want but the future for recording and playback is digital.

Digital has been improving rapidly and will continue to improve until only the diehards think that vinyl sounds better.

Compression has nothing to do with digital. It is a fashion in mixing. If your records are highly compressed, you're listening to the wrong records.

Again, if you prefer vinyl to digital, that's fine with me. I would lose the hatred of digital, if you have it, though. You're missing out on a lot of great music available only on cd or high-res digital.
i've not read every post above, so forgive me if this has already been said.

to me the issue is which format is most complete. which is different than most accurate. sampling (digital) can be accurate but it's inherently less complete. there are gaps. so at those particular moments when the sample was taken, it may be more accurate. but it turns out that our ears like complete more than accurate.

an analogy i use is "consider a perfectly clean mirror". break it into a million pieces then glue it back together. then look at it. it is accurate. in all the places you see the reflection it shows an accurate refection. but; there are all the areas of the mirror (where you see little cracks filled with glue) without any information; so in the whole it does not look real. then consider a mirror that is dirty, there are not areas which are missing, but the slight amount of dirt is there. it's dirty but it is also complete. the reflection looks real.

i like digital and am not anti-digital. i listen to it often and enjoy it. it does not need to change to be worthy. but in direct comparison to the best analog it comes up short.
MikeL,

I like your assessment and the mirror analogy.

Its a matter of degree though. You could say that the record is made of individual molecules but they fit together perfectly and occur at a scale that makes it insignificant. Similar with digital. It all depends on sampling frequency, sample size, (and accuracy of the device that creates the samples). Gets back to Nyquist Theorem or similar models assuming the minority opinion perhaps that Nyquist does not cut it as teh basis for CD format. I think it is an extremely close call in theory especially for younger better ears (although older ears are better trained perhaps even if not able to hear above 12-14Khz or so in general) but a good one in practice. Plus, as time goes on and technology improves and becomes more affordable, teh bar can be raised further if needed until it finally becomes clearly insignificant, like those molecules.

Digital is clearly improving all the time. Vinyl format stopped getting better probably almost 50 years ago now. The conclusion down the road seems inevitable if not already the case.
Its a matter of degree though. You could say that the record is made of individual molecules but they fit together perfectly and occur at a scale that makes it insignificant. Similar with digital. It all depends on sampling frequency, sample size, (and accuracy of the device that creates the samples). Gets back to Nyquist Theorem or similar models assuming the minority opinion perhaps that Nyquist does not cut it as teh basis for CD format. I think it is an extremely close call in theory especially for younger better ears (although older ears are better trained perhaps even if not able to hear above 12-14Khz or so in general) but a good one in practice. Plus, as time goes on and technology improves and becomes more affordable, teh bar can be raised further if needed until it finally becomes clearly insignificant, like those molecules.

Digital is clearly improving all the time. Vinyl format stopped getting better probably almost 50 years ago now. The conclusion down the road seems inevitable if not already the case.

We had a $72,000 digital system at a recent show. I had heard an earlier version several years earlier and back then it was easily the best I had heard, and this new version was even better. The designer was in the room with us, has an LP system (a good sign), and upon hearing our analog system in the room, turned to me and said 'digital has such a long way to go' and sighed...

Molecules are no comparison to bits, its really not an acceptable analogy.

Analog also continues to improve :) It did not stop at some sort of roadblock 50 years ago. I guess you could say its my opinion that analog is much more accurate. Also, I try to be careful not to assume that one example of the medium, whatever it is, is representative of the whole, just as one playback of such is not either.
Ralph,

Out of curiosity, what was the analog set-up that you had to compare to the high dollar digital playback?
Do you really think vinyl playback has progressed much if at all over the last 50 years? How about 20?

Maybe for a price. The cost of the best rigs today is outrageous compared to those days. And there certainly are not many good new records being produced.

So lets assume there is some progress but at significant ocst that most will not be interested in to play poorly made overpriced modern lps. Digital is still moving ahead at light speed in comparison and my rig is evidence that very good digital can be had these days for not very much. A $72000 digital system makes me laugh especially when the final judgement is the vinyl is still better.
Do you really think vinyl playback has progressed much if at all over the last 50 years? How about 20?

the biggest improvement in digital music reproduction happened over 10 years ago; dsd and SACD. when it came out i jumped in big time. now 10 years later the digital players are only marginally better. many people would not hear the difference between my first SACD player and my SOTA digital player now.

OTOH vinyl has been improving dramatically over that same time. all levels of vinyl playback have improved. technology advances and market demand have pushed vinyl perfromance much higher due to the much higher potential of the format. there is simply lots of information in those grooves that improving playback gear keeps uncovering.

i just recieved a new Durand Telos tonearm which further separates the very best digital and top level vinyl.
"OTOH vinyl has been improving dramatically over that same time. all levels of vinyl playback have improved. technology advances and market demand have pushed vinyl perfromance much higher due to the much higher potential of the format. there is simply lots of information in those grooves that improving playback gear keeps uncovering.
"

Maybe, but the cost seems to keep skyrocketing in order to cover whatever the heck is in those grooves that has never been heard before.

Digital is mre mainstream so more people are likely to be able to afford the improvements as the come.

How much does a Durand TElos tomearm cost? How about the whole vinyl rig needed to hear the previously unheard?
the vinyl front end i use is less than the $72k that Ralph mentions for the digital at RMAF.

but my point was that all levels (price points) of vinyl playback have improved. a $5k or $10k vinyl front end can sound terrific. just 10 years ago the story was different. there was far fewer choices and less development focus. drive systems, arms, cartridges, and phono stages have all improved up a down the price spectrom.

so yes; maintstream does have better vinly.
What are the technical innovations that have made modern vinyl rigs better?

I have no doubt there have been improvements in amplifier and speaker technology that would make the source sound better in general than prior but what about the source itself? Also what about the recordings? Have records improved?
We all like our digital HD TVs, right?

Someone explain to me how digital can seemingly do such a good and seemingly accurate job with video but much older and mature digital audio technology is incapable of doing the same with music? Timing? Pace, rhythm, perhaps? Digital clocks are extremely accurate these days. I just do not buy it in theory and both my eyes and ears agree.

IS vinyl the equivalent of HD in audio and digital not? Is analog even capable of doing what digital appears to do even today? I just do not see it.

Then again, I do not doubt that analog can sound better. It often does to me. Then again I have a movie buff friend that does not like to watch old movies in HD and preferes analog because the HD makes the recording look like a fake production whereas conventional analog TV allows it connect better for whatever reason (familiarity maybe). The video equivalent of what we audio kooks often refer to as being "musical" or engaging (which is clearly not the same thing as detailed or accurate) perhaps?

Only within the last couple years have I managed to achieve digital that is consistently engaging like good analog. It is also some of the most detailed sound I have ever owned and I suspect also reasonably "accurate". Now I know it can be done and for reasonable cost to boot.
As I have said before, I have yet to hear a consistent superiority of one format over the other.
Digital format is more likely to be consistent ( accurate?) from source to source rather than Analog. Each TT sounds different- mere change in settings. clamp force changes the sound drastically -questioning which one is truer.
Digital is but a sample of the sound.
Analog is the entire sound.
Out of curiosity, what was the analog set-up that you had to compare to the high dollar digital playback?

The analog setup was a re-tipped Grasshopper 2, mounted on a Triplanar arm which was in turn on a Kuzma Stabi Reference. The arm was set up with a balanced connection driving the balanced phono section of the Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp.

The difference between that and the Staltek system (easily the best digital I have heard so far, regardless of the digital source file) was readily audible as an increased smoothness and level of detail on the part of the LP. For the most part ticks and pops did not give away the vinyl either; if things are set up correctly the vinyl rig will not enhance ticks and pops (although it is my opinion that so many rigs do have troubles with this; thus one important reason that digital has done as well as it has).
Analog might(?) be the entire sound, and then some. That entire sound is often masked by extraneous noise.
i figure analog is seeing as how digital is a sampled representation.
sampling (digital) can be accurate but it's inherently less complete. there are gaps.
Digital is but a sample of the sound. Analog is the entire sound.
Although these statements reflect a commonly held position, as I see it they amount to assertions that because digital does not have an infinitely high sample rate, and an infinite number of bits per sample, it is inherently inferior to analog.

As I see it, given that analog has many shortcomings of its own, and given the fact that our hearing mechanisms are not infinitely resolving, there must be some finite value of those parameters which will, when implemented in well designed hardware, inarguably result in digital being the superior format. Whether or not that point has already been reached, or is foreseeable, is debatable. But I don't think the fact that digital is a sampled format in itself has much if any relevance to that debate.

Regards,
-- Al
Good debate by Al above.

I have always wondered: Does number of samples reduce as you go high in frequency range? I always read that there are only two samples at 20Khz say in redbook CD format. Does this mean that at 10 Khz there will be 4 or 5 khz 8 and so forth or is this not true. Meaning the sample 'saw tooth' profile get coarser at higher freqencies?

What happens to number of sample at this said freqencies when we consider high rez- 24/192 format or SACDs.
Nil, yes the number of samples (for each cycle of each frequency component of the analog signal that is being digitized) increases as you described, as the analog signal frequency decreases. Hi rez also increases the number of samples per cycle. For instance, a 192 kHz sample rate provides 192/44.1 = 4.35 times as many samples as redbook cd's 44.1 kHz sample rate.

However, what is often not recognized is that the problem with having a finite sample rate and a relatively limited number of samples of high frequency components in the signal is not "gaps," per se. In theory, if an infinitely long analog waveform is digitized using a sample rate that is at least twice the frequency of the highest frequency component of the analog signal, and if the number of bits per sample are high enough to reduce what is called "quantization noise" to insignificant levels, the digital data can be converted back to analog perfectly, with no loss of information in the "gaps."

Arguably the most significant theoretical issue, however, is that frequency components in the original analog signal that equal or exceed half the sample rate MUST be kept out of the a/d converter, or they will be reconstructed following d/a conversion as spurious lower frequencies (referred to as "alias frequencies"). Keeping those frequencies out of the a/d converter, while at the same time avoiding side-effects on audible frequencies, has historically been one of the most major technical challenges in digital. Hi rez formats certainly have a big advantage with that issue, all else being equal, as 96 and 192 kHz exceed twice the highest audible frequency (nominally 20 kHz x 2 = 40 kHz) by a far larger factor than redbook's 44.1 kHz.

Best regards,
-- Al
Al,
I used to argue that digital is a sampling of analogue but there are more fundamental issues. It is relatively easy to fill in the gaps using mathematical modelling.
The real issue with digital is the Red Book Standard and the use of sine x/x.
I'm sure you are aware the use of sine x/x means that all the calculations are truncated.
If they had used tan x for example the calculations would have yielded whole numbers and there would be no truncation errors.
My view is that digital is fundamentally flawed, not because of the concept, but due to the maths being incorrect and the way it has been implemented..
One of the biggest issues in developing digital product is that most audio engineers are engineers not mathematicians.

I am very used to hearing things that are hard to see on the oscilloscope. Interestingly, instrument manufacturers use a different rule for scanning a signal. The rule of thumb is 10x the highest frequency to be displayed.

This is quite different from what we see in audio, where Redbook only asks for 2x the highest frequency to be reproduced.

The instrument manufacturers use higher scan frequencies in order to maintain waveform fidelity. This is not the case in audio, seems to me that audio reproduction has been treated as the poorer cousin.
Atmasphere, I have to agree that audio does seem to get the short end of the stick, and has for a very long time. After all, it would seem to me that the original cylinders would be a better performing platform than the flatform record platters that replaced them.
The tapes were baked because they used a synthetic tape lubrication not whale oil based lubricant. Overtime they became unplayable. Record companies were in a frantic panic to find a solution. The solution? Bake the tape. It can be played back within I think 48 hrs. You can bake it again, but don't know how many times! Steely Dan goucho had to be re-baked to do the sacd version.
When you bake a tape, it takes a few years for it to regain the moisture chased out while baked. IOW, you have plenty of time to work with the tape- certainly more than 48 hours.

The reason you have to bake them has nothing to do with whale oil :) Modern tapes are made with polyesters, which can absorb moisture at the ends of broken molecular strands. The water molecule allows the magnetic substrate to come unglued. Baking chases out the moisture so the substrate can function normally.

Older tapes from the 1950s were made with acetate. Acetate does not have the moisture issue, so although they have less performance and break easily, they do store much better.
Question about digital sampling. The missing information from the digital samples must be added by the play back component, correct? When recording say a violin, is the first sample taken at the start of a note played and does it also sample at the very end of the note regardless of the samples in between? If it does not then how can digital play back components perform proper decay and bloom of the music played regardless of the sample rate?
I know nothing about digital recording but feel it is missing the soul and heart of the music IMO.
"The missing information from the digital samples must be added by the play back component, correct?"

This is incorrect, at least in theory. Read up on the Nysquist sampling theorem for more information.

Assuming the theory is sound, then the sampling is sufficient to capture all the information including high frequencies that matter, ie that most humans, even those with the best hearing, are capable of hearing.

Of course, not everyone may agree that the theory is sound and that the CD redbook implementation specifically is sufficient to capture everything that matters.

Then as you get into higher resolution digital audio sampling formats, the possible issues become even less likely to be real, so hi res is an insurance policy at minimum of sort.

The CD redbook format I think was well done in the sense of applying the best theory at the time towards being good enough to deliver very high quality sound, however, practically, a line had to be drawn in the sand at at that time now about 30 years ago regarding what was sufficient moving forward yet practical from a data volume and processing perspective at a commercial scale.

That fact that newer hi res formats have not caught on faster than they have 30 years later when the technology is far more advanced is testament actually to the robustness of teh original CD design.

NEwer CD recording and playback systems I find do increasingly better jobs of producing better recordings (when teh producers choose to) and a lot of progress has been made since CD was started in regards to providing better playback peformance with the now 30 year old format.

So it is extremely grey at best whether or not even the 30 year old redbook CD format is really missing anything of consequence to most as predicated by the theory it was based on.

Of course there may be "golden ears" out there that can hear something missing perhaps, but I take that with a grain of salt as well in that I do not know of any authority that certifies individuals as having golden ears.

I am not up to date these days unfortunately on the theory behind digital audio, so I am not sure if there is any newer theories out there or refinements to teh Nyquist principles applied 30 years ago that would indicate cleary that teh CD redbook format is now technically lacking in theory.

Maybe others know of something?

Yes. Nyquist assumes an analog sample of unlimited resolution, not a 16-bit sample. Its application to digital audio is thus, not. Ah, people don't like to talk about this! Or they do but it just turns into a ridiculous argument. But I suggest anyone look into the life of Nyquist:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Nyquist

(you will note that Nyquist had no concept of digital audio back when he proposed his sampling theorem)

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nyquist%E2%80%93Shannon_sampling_theorem#The_sampling_process

If you read carefully, you will note that the samples are not defined as '16 bit', instead they are samples of the 'bandwidth-limited' signal, which have an analog value.

Now 16 bits can define a fairly precise value, but that is by no means the same as saying it can define the exact value. Further, the significance of 'bandwidth limited' should not be ignored. Current Redbook specs put the sampling frequency at 44.1KHz, if you think about it, the significance is that anything above about 19-20Khz is ignored. It is not so much that Nyquist is out to lunch that it is that Redbook specs are poorly applied.

The Redbook specs were created in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Seems to me I heard one of the first CD players about 1981. Back then, the IBM PC was king; a $10 cell phone has *considerably* more computing power! IOW, Redbook was **intentionally** limited in order to cope with the limitations of the hardware of the day. It is quite anachronistic that we still take it seriously today...
If I sit and play an instrument for recording purposes onto an analog tape I will record all that I play. Is this also true for digital recording or is the device recording parts of the sound (sampling) I am playing and the computer puts it together sort of like digital morphing of one image to another. If it is the latter then why call it a sample you are just asking for trouble and confusion.
"If I sit and play an instrument for recording purposes onto an analog tape I will record all that I play. Is this also true for digital recording or is the device recording parts of the sound (sampling) I am playing and the computer puts it together sort of like digital morphing of one image to another. If it is the latter then why call it a sample you are just asking for trouble and confusion."

Both are somewhat imperfect reproductions of the original using two different approaches. The question is always "how somewhat????" and how much do whatever teh differences are matter? That is true be the approach digital or analog. We live in an imperfect world. There is no such thing as a perfect reproduction in most any case. The 16 bit sample size for CD redbook is perhaps the prime bottleneck with teh CD redbook format, but as ATMAS noted 16 bits gets you a lot of resolution ie 2 to 16th power individual levels.

I think that bottleneck can be heard in some cases, but not all and is very difficult to determine when done right, at least that is my subjective assessment having heard both really good analog and really good digital.
Atmasphere,

Just wondering how good is your hearing at 19-20Khz?

I am 52 years old. I do not hear those frequencies anymore as best I can tell.

When I was a young punk 18 year old budding audiophile, I recall getting up there pretty good with test tones and such.

Maybe thats why good systems sound better than ever to me these days in general?