Tales from the Jugular

Staff Debate -- Vinyl vs. CD

By: Maximum Metal Staff
Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2004
STAFF DEBATE -- Vinyl vs. CD

EC--I've recently given my metal "dungeon" an overhaul with some new speakers (cerwin vegas) and gave my turntable a fine tuning. Now I can't stop listening to my vinyl. I swear it sounds "thicker" and much heavier than my disc. For example, Black Sabbath's "Heaven And Hell" sounds like a thundering beast in my turntable. On disc it sounds thin and very light. Never felt that way until I started listening to this vinyl. I've also discovered the same effect on Savatage's "Power Of The Night" and Krokus' "Headhunter".

Frank Hill--I've heard plenty of people say that CDs have a "harshness" or "crispness" and records have "warmth" and "soul", but those are largely undefined terms. Others philosophize on beauty and perfection; that a "perfect thing" is missing out on some natural randomness. Then you have the humanistic bias-view that computers are sterile and unhuman, thus inferior. It's makes us feel better to find fault with the machine.

Well, what's the big difference between vinyl and a compact disc? One is plastic with grooves that are "read" by an electrified needle into impulses and sent through speakers. The other is basically plastic with a micro-series of on/off switches that are read by a laser which are turned into 1's and 0's that a computer can interpret and send through speakers. Can a computer not accurately digitize the source of sound vibrations? Do records even reflect the original sound very well?

"a very good phonograph record can contain ultra-high frequencies ranging from 21,000 Hz to 25,000 Hz (cycles per second) or even higher, while a compact disc will not have any musical frequency above about 19,000 Hz." Source:

Point for the records if your ears are well-tuned, I'd say. I could put up some pictures of an analog sound wave and a digital sound wave so you can see the difference, but I'd like for people to continue reading this without falling asleep.

I did find out importantly that music in analog can then be converted later to any digital format. If you use digital only, you're at the mercy of the technology curve. According to the man, Bruce Dickinson from the making of Brave New World:

"People's ears have gotten so degraded because a CD is only sixteen bits. Most people don't understand what "sixteen bits" means-they think sixteen bit is good...It will never sound like analog because it doesn't have the information. If you record it digitally, you will never have it; you're f**ked. In other words, when they bring in sixty-four bit CD's or DVD's, the Beatles records are going to sound unbelievable. People are going to go, "Wow, what did they do to the Beatles records?" Nothing. They always sounded like that, it's just that they sounded so lame on CD. And the fact is that vinyl, really good vinyl on an amazing system, kicks the shit out of the best CD on the planet. Whatever poor fools have recorded and mastered their albums thinking, "Hey, I recorded it on Sony 24 bit..." Hey, that's as good as it is ever going to sound, only 24 bit". Source:

What may be most important is the technology curve. A long time ago, people probably complained that analog recording devices didn't accurately replicate the sound of someone speaking. Well, vinyl with low quality equipment sounds like crap, also. So does cheap cassette tapes. Note that Bruce did say "really good vinyl on an amazing system". So, it could be that whatever digital bit-levels we're recording at now just aren't as good as the best vinyl equipment and at some point in the future they will be.

Can my ears detect the difference in recording technology? If not then all that above is really bluster anyway. I played three songs on album and three on CD:

1. AC/DC - Dirty Deeds
2. Dio - Last in Line
3. Iron Maiden - Hallowed Be Thy Name

ALL of the songs on album sounded fuller and a bit louder at the same volume level. Analog vs. digital...analog wins.

What concerns me currently is not the quality of CDs. It's the MP3 files that are holding residence on millions of computers and are traded in mass quantity. All those file are ripped from CDs and generally played through $50 or less computer speakers. Those are then burned onto cheaply made CDs that cost pennies to produce. It's not a question of really close sound similarity; a lot of the music sounds horrible.

Musicians are hoping they can cut out the record companies and send files directly to the consumer and some pundits are even saying that the CD will be done away with in 5 years. If you thought CDs were inferior to vinyl, then what kind of backslide are we on now and how long will it be before we can get back to where we once were?

Troy Cole--Vinyl has a different and better sound to it and with some of the newer needles made for the players a lot of the crackling and popping has been reduced. I think its interesting to hear a cd version of a song and then the vinyl just like EC was talking about with the Black Sabbath song. Neekoy has a good point with the life spans of the technology also. It will be interesting to see what cds sound like down the road if they last that long before a new format comes along.

Neekoy--Elitists have always said that vinyl is better (not accusing anybody of being an elitist though ok) maybe they don't want to let go, I don't know or maybe they are on to something.

Analog certainly does have a fuller bass, and a "real" sounding feel to it. You certainly can pick up a more live sounding treble. The thing is that CURRENTLY with the limitations to digital recording, CD's can't pick up extreme highs and lows that vinyl analog can. Which leaves CD's coming of sounding pingy or tinny.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Digital technology does sound a lot "crisper" in it's presentation, where as vinyl has ALWAYS had the campfire of crackling and popping.

I think the thing to remember is we are picking VINYL at it's peak and Digital technology at a relativly NEW stage in it's life. Compare CD's to the 15 years into the Vinyl revolution and Bing Crosby most certainly comes off second best for quality. With technology moving into MP3 ect give it another ten years and we will be able to download instantanously recording sessions as the album is being produced, delving much deeper into the musical experience and ultimately being the better for it.

Of course the real reason for going to CD was so record companies could mass produce cheap albums and hock them for 30 bucks a piece. But thats another arguement.

Agent of Steel--Normally I'll go for vinyl. But it all depends on how well the record was pressed and same goes for the CD. Take "The Warning" for example. The original CD version of that is too quiet. A lot of early CD's were like that.

IcedMojo--In my opinion, I’m torn. If you have good equipment and the albums are well taken care of, then yes, in a way. Although now there are methods of placing your vinyl on CD-Rs. Utilizing this method, it is virtually impossible to hear any difference, except that the disc sound is clearer, without the popcorn. CDs only reproduce the sound that is stored on them. Due to mass production reasons, the industry has found it cost effective to digitalize media. It used to be that a lot of sound quality was lost. Now with the advances in technology, a lot of that sound quality is coming back.

The upside for cds is, it is cheaper to mass produce, they are harder to ruin, and they are more portable (have you ever tried to put a record player in a car). I guess vinyl has some upsides as well as discs. I mean, a lot of bands do not even print in vinyl. If bass is what is important and don’t mind missing some cool bands, then vinyl all the way. If you want a little less bass but a crisper sound, discs all the way. In my opinion, I would say screw it! Whatever can be played loud and heavy is cool with me!

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