Vinyl media invites disparate opinion. For some, vinyl conveys handling and listening pleasure that transcends the many shortcomings of its aged vintage. Others regard vinyl as obsolete, and view its performance and convenience limitations as intolerable.
LP discs are the product of a 1948 compromise that traded fidelity for the means to fit some 25 minutes/side onto a 12 inch record. Bass response was sacrificed to reduce groove excursion, and treble was boosted to mask surface noise. Complementary equalization is introduced during playback, but analog LPs still measure poorly when compared to standard “Red Book” CD media. CDs convey a dynamic range some 30 dB better than most vinyl, with much flatter frequency response, far less total harmonic distortion, and near-noiseless playback. These critical advantages compel the professional insiders, e.g. musicians, performing artists, conductors, and audio engineers, to express uniform preference for the superior realistic accuracy of CDs—see http://www.laweekly.com/music/why-cds-may-actually-sound-better-than-vinyl-5352162.
Further, LP records undergo frictional abrasion with every play, causing groove wear (fussy cleaning often needed), while CDs are read without contact. And LPs deliver 25-28 mins./side, whereas CDs can store up to 80 minutes. Given this score, why would any audiophile prefer vinyl? Well, some say that “vinyl sounds better." But objective listening isn’t likely if you’ve just bought your hi-end vinyl playback gear. Massive turntables, exotic tonearms, and costly cartridges exude strong visual karma, and will implant a potent vinyl bias that overrides even the most astute aural perception. (Refer http://www.pnas.org/content/110/36/14580 for a closely related study.)
The “vinyl revival” depicts what can happen when specious improvement meets marketing greed, with 50 lb. turntables (at > $5K ea.) to spin 1/4 lb. records. Vinyl is a potential option, but it’s best ignored unless you already own lots (and lots!) of LPs, or you feel compelled to support the groupthink cult at your local hi-end audio club. Conversely, CD media makes it easy to hear great sound without the brief play time, compressed dynamics, low signal-to-noise ratio, high harmonic distortion, endless groove wear, and dedicated equipment expense that’s forever innate with vinyl.
(1) NOTE: Be aware that the analog era of LP vinyl has largely expired, at least for popular music discs of the recent decade. In SPARS code lingo, most vinyl releases are now DDA or ADA—not AAA. Most of the recording, and virtually all of the mixing, is now accomplished digitally. Only the final master is analog, so you’re listening to a digitally-sourced signal that’s delivered via LP microgroove. If you’re of the school that “can’t bear digital sound,” your shopping should be confined to musty tubs that stock old, used LP records.
(2) WARNING: If you intend to “A/B” (compare) vinyl-to-CD sound, be aware that many pop market CDs are intentionally “hyper-comped” (mastered with gross dynamic range compression) to assure that they’ll peak the level meters (sound loud) when given any airplay; ditto when played in cars. This odious digital distortion will cause this freak CD to sound inferior when compared to its vinyl equivalent. Analog discs can’t be artificially despoiled to this same extent, so it's the CD release that gets intentionally compromised.
BG (June 2019)