Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vinyl is a Cult. Sorry.

I'm not gonna go into a long harangue about this -- and I certainly wouldn't mention that I used to toil at a stereo magazine or that I've actually been to recording sessions where they did A & B comparisons between digital and analog feeds.

But the other day I mentioned a certain Sha Na Na album...

...that hadn't been transferred to CD until very recently. And that I had a vinyl rip of it that was done from a pristine, never played LP copy by a highly regarded engineer.

Here's the aforementioned LP version of the concluding track...

...and here's the new CD transfer from the master tape.

If you tell me the vinyl version is better on any level I will mock you mercilessly.


shawk said...

Vinyl is not a very good medium.

Sometimes the analog master tape has been played so often that it is falling apart or noisy and distorted.

Sometimes the master has tape binder deterioration.
The goo that holds the iron dust / music on the tape backing rots. Getting any signal off of one of these tapes is an Adventure.

So, an original pressing can sound better than the master as it exists now.
But the master, as it exists now, sounds like shit.

Mark said...

I've bought (and later got rid of) crate-loads of vinyl in my lifetime. I currently own crate-loads of CDs. I also worked as a recording engineer for many years, and while in college, I worked at an commercial audiotape distributor (of commercial open-reel, 8-tracks, and later cassette) tape recordings. These cites do not make me an expert, but they do provide me credible experience.

Your honor, I come here to support the contention that most commercial off-the-shelf CDs sound better than most commercial off-the-shelf thirty, forty and fifty year old records.

It is possible to make a conventional record that sounds great, with full fidelity, great dynamic range, and a paper label centered around a tiny little hole in the center.

It is also possible to make a CD that sounds great, but without the paper label that so many of us have come to love and cherish.

Since I began buying CDs in the early 1980s, I have found that the percentage of bad (and by bad, I mean poor quality) records far, far, far outnumber the instances of bad commercial CDs. I can cite example after example of poor quality -- not to mention warped -- records I've purchased, but many fewer instances of poor quality CDs.

Another area of comparison is a little number I call cost-necessary-to-hear-medium-to-high-quality-sound. And sure, there are cheapo digital-to-analog converters in cheapo CD players and PCs, but the cost of a good turntable, cartridge and stylus, and preamp is considerably higher than the cost of a decent CD player.

And while there will always be instances of theoretical differences, potential differences, imaginary differences, and psychoactive differences between high-quality sound played back on vinyl and high-quality sound originating on CD, the actual cost -- not to mention the practicality -- of such equipment to A-B such differences can better be spent tending to a yacht anchored off Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and paying to see a good therapist. And not just ANY therapist, but a clinically trained SCLC (Self-Certified Life Coach).

Neither vinyl nor CD is better. Both are good. Sometimes. But commercial off-the-shelf CDs are largely better than commercial off-the-shelf vinyl most of the time.

Thank you, your honor.

kurt b said...

For some reason I couldn't get the cd version to play (just the vinyl rip). However, it's not really a fair test because you've converted an analog source (the vinyl) to digital.

I prefer vinyl for most (but not all) of my music. I don't have a problem with cds (now) but cds have come a long way since the late eighties / early nineties. Compare the 1988 Elektra cd of the first Stooges album with the Rhino remastered cd from 7 or 8 years ago. There's a huge difference, at least to me.

As someone who has spent his whole life working at and now owning a record store I can tell you that the "Battle Of The Formats" is primarily a 21st century thing and has become tedious at my shop. I miss the days when we all would just talk about music and the format you listened to it on wasn't important. Everyone should just listen to music on the format that is best for them.

steve simels said...

Everyone should just listen to music on the format that is best for them.


Anonymous said...

It is significant that this is the concluding track -- shows up how with vinyl you get the problem of "groove jamming" that you don't get with CD.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I think that in general analog recordings sound better than digital. A vinyl lp is a few more generations than a cd. Analog master well transferred to digital stays the same from that point onward. For a vinyl record that same analog master gets made into a metal master from which copies are made that stamp out the lps. They degrade. The first copies sound better than the later ones. Traditionally record companies pushed the envelope of how many they could make before having to make new stampers. Part of their business plan included how many returns due to poor quality were acceptable. They counted on a certain number of defective records not being returned due to consumer ignorance. The only defective cd I recall buying was by "The Smilin' Buddha Cabaret" which when played was actually "The Best of Sade".

Brooklyn Girl said...

Okay, so let's really go at it: are CDs qualitatively better than iTunes downloads?

I miss records, if for no other reason than the cover art, and the liner notes.

pete said...

The second one has a skip in it.

Billy B said...

I still have all my vinyl and an audiophile turntable. I also have one of the turntables with a usb port so as to computerize said vinyl. Sadly, I've had the latter for three years and haven't bothered to use it. The former hasn't been used in over 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Sha Na Na. Haven't heard that song in literally 35+ years. I doubt anybody else has ever heard it. I owned the only copy of "The Night is Still Young" that I ever saw. I'm not sure I would call it a great pop album. There was a clever song called "Glasses" and that amazing version of "In the Still of the Night." I was a big Sh Na Na fan in Jr. High before that embarrassing TV show came out. My first introduction to Doo Wop.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Cd's are audio files. iTunes are mp3's, which are lower fidelity than a cassette copy of a vinyl record.
The iTunes default on your computer is 128 kpbs. I try not to download anything less than 320.

John Werner said...

CDs are eq'd good and really have came a long way. That said the one big problem is the over compression. It squashes the dynamic range. Even Don Was and T-Bone Burnette can't resist the mass market pressure. If they'd get this right CDs would clear the last stumbling block.