Strangely enough, in this day of digital music, the old vinyl record album seems to be making a comeback. Vinyl records have long been worshiped by audiophiles who view it as the only way to seriously listen to music. A surprising amount of current music can also be found on vinyl, which normally commands a price premium over CDs.
Many think that vinyl always sounds better than a CD. They reason that with digital, the music is chopped up into little bits and then reassembled where it looses something. With vinyl, the music starts out and stays in its original analog form until it reaches the listener’s ears.
But does vinyl really sound better than digital? Not necessarily. The reason is that with analog, it is a lot easier to mess up the sound during the process from recording to the pressing of the album. In addition, several factors during playback must be perfect to get the proper sound.
With digital, as soon as the sound gets captured by the microphone and is sent to the mixing console, it is converted to digital. And while it can go through different processes to modify the sound, it stays in digital form and the basic sound quality will not deteriorate. It stays digital all the way to the CD which is usually accurately read by the playing device, where it finally gets converted back to analog so you can hear it.
Making an analog recording requires many steps, each one capable of deteriorating the sound if not done correctly. Without getting into a lengthy explanation of why each step can have a detrimental effect, here is a list of some of them:
….Bad recording or mixing. Regardless of whether it’s digital or analog, there are recording engineers who don’t do a good job recording or mixing.
….Substandard recording equipment or equipment not maintained properly that introduces distortion and noise.
….Putting the recording through a lot of different stages to doctor the sound. Every analog stage opens the possibility of sound deterioration.
….Improper techniques when cutting the master with on the recording lathe.
….Poor vinyl pressing techniques. This includes using inferior vinyl, pressing at the wrong temperature and humidity and pressing too many discs off of the same master.
In comparison, digital is almost mistake-proof. Creating a vinyl album is an art form. In the days when vinyl was the most popular format, there were many people who perfected this art. I’m not certain if many people new to this format have the experience needed.
I have an extensive collection of vinyl albums. I have some that sound magnificent; probably better than CDs. I also have some that sound much worse. I have some that have scratches, pops, and ticks. CDs don’t have that problem.
Taking full advantage of a vinyl album’s sound requires an expensive turntable and cartridge. The cartridge must be aligned perfectly from several angles and have the correct tracking weight. The album must be cleaned of all dust before playing or permanent damage to the grooves could result.
So the answer is: If every aspect is perfect, a vinyl album can sound better than a CD. But, in a real world, things are not usually perfect.
Personally, I listen to a lot of vinyl over the RSL CG Stereo System, which I feel brings out the best of this analog art form.