Part 1: Introduction
When attending CES and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest over the past couple of years, I noticed that turntables are starting to be the majority of sources for exhibit rooms. We all have heard about the vinyl renaissance, but I just did not realize how strong it is. I mean, LPs are being played everywhere at hi-fi shows.
The feeling is that LPs still sound better than CDs, even SACDs, so I decided to run some experiments comparing the sound of LPs that were sourced from analog recordings, and CDs/SACDs also made from those analog tapes.
It is taking me more time than I realized it would, with some issues along the way that need to be solved, so rather than wait until it was all done, I thought I would share with you the results as I gather them, in a running commentary. This will also allow our readers to ask questions along the way, even suggest some tests that you might want me to run while I have all the test equipment connected.
Click HERE to go to Parts 6-9 (Part 6: In the Groove, Part 7: THD+N Test Results, Part 8: Phono Preamplifiers, and Part 9: A Few Bits About DACs).
I contacted two companies (to begin with) that I greatly respect: McIntosh and Bryston. I asked McIntosh if they would be willing to send me their new MT10 turntable, and Bryston if they would send me another BP-26 preamplifier that I reviewed in the Fall of 2007. Both agreed with enthusiasm, knowing that I would be doing some in depth testing with my Audio Precision that probablly has not been done before. Since the BP-26 could have either a DAC or phono stage (phono preamplifier) installed, but not both, we decided to have the separate BP-1.5 phono stage to accompany the BP-26. That way, I could decode a CD bitstream in the BP-26, but then have the BP-1.5 handle the RIAA equalization from the phono cartridge, and all preamplification circuits would still be Bryston. A second reason I asked Bryston to participate, was the fact that my tests of the BP-26 revealed it to have astonishingly low distortion, and I obviously wanted the Audio Precision to be measuring distortion coming from the analog recording vs. the digital recording, rather than from the preamplifier.
Both the BP-26 and BP-1.5 are powered by the same power supply, which eliminates one more variable. Here is a photo of the trio installed on a shelf in the lab. As always, just click on the photos to see larger versions. The power supply is on the bottom, the preamp controller is in the middle, and the phono stage is on top.
The McIntosh MT10 is a new product from the big MC. They don’t seem to have bothered trying to promote it much, because McIntosh fans have been snapping them up like crazy anyway. Below is shown a photo of the MT10 installed on a shelf in the lab.
The MT10 comes with the tonearm and a cartridge already installed. I needed only to add the counterbalance weight and the anti-skating weight (to be described below), plop (gently) the turntable on the spindle, and it was time to boogey.
Part 2: The Technology
The MT10 comes with what’s called an MC cartridge. This means “Moving Coil”, and that brings us to the stage of defining the terms (and there are lots of them to plow through).
Phono cartridges (the thumb-sized thing with the needle on it) come in basically two flavors. One is the Moving Magnet (MM) and the other is the Moving Coil (MC). Both work principally in the same way. The tip of the needle has a small diamond, called the “Stylus”, that is shaped like the groove of the LP. It is attached to the cantilever which is a long thin – and very light – rod. It is really not much wider than the diamond stylus. It is attached at the rear of the cartridge, and it goes up and down in the LP groove as the LP is spinning.
When the stylus is moving, the interaction between a magnet and nearby coils of wire creates a very small signal (millivolts) in the coil, and that is sent to the phono stage.
So, here is the difference. With a moving magnet cartridge, a magnet is attached to the cantilever, while the nearby coils are stationary. With the moving coil cartridge, coils of wire are attached to the cantilever, and a magnet nearby is stationary. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types, and that is why they both still exist. For MM, the cantilever with its magnet has more mass, and thus, is a bit more sluggish to respond in the groove. Therefore, it tends to have slightly less detail in the sound. However, because the coils can be large, the resulting voltage is high, e.g., 4 millivolts (mV). This is important, because the lower the output voltage, the more likely the signal is to be swamped by electrical noise and hum. Remember, the output of a CD player’s analog jacks is on the order of 2 volts. That is 500 times higher than the output of even the MM cartridge.
The MC cartridge has tiny coils of wire attached to the cantilever, often just a few turns of very fine wire. The magnets are stationary, nearby. Because the cantilever has a very low mass, it responds to even the smallest detail in the LP groove. The result: better fine detail in the music. However, its output is usually less than 1 millivolt. The MT10 cartridge, for example, made by Clearaudio for McIntosh, outputs only 0.75 mV. Talk about having to be very careful about where you put the interconnects – Wow!
MM cartidges have high voltage, low current output, while MC cartridges have low voltage, high current output.
Phono preamplifiers need to have an extra gain stage for use with MC cartridges, and for example, the BP-1.5 uses a transformer to boost the voltage from an MC cartridge to the same level of an MM cartridge output, and then it is fed to the same gain stage circuits for both types of cartridges.
One rare variation is the Moving Iron cartridge, where the cantilever has a small piece of non-magnetized steel on it, and when it moves, this disturbs the magnetic field set up between stationary magnets and coils, generating the signal voltage. This type is generally not available now. Lastly, there are ceramic cartridges that were used in children’s record players, and are still available as replacement parts. They can put out several volts, so a preamplifier is not really even needed.
Unlike CDs where you just pop the disc in the player and press the Play button, there are a bunch of other things you have to be concerned about with a modern turntable, and the LP itself, in order to get the best out of it (them).
One of these is that once you have decided on using either an MM or MC cartridge, you can’t just use any old tonearm on the turntable. It has to balance what is called the “Compliance” of the cartridge. Ready for another definition? Here we go.
Think of the stylus dragging the cantilever as it wiggles through all the grooves on the LP. And, think of the cantilever dragging the cartridge. OK, now imagine you are holding the end of a 10 foot rope that is attached at the other end to a wall about waist height. You begin moving your end up and down, faster and faster. At some frequency, the up and down force you are applying to your end of the rope will match the mass of the rope, and it will move in a wavelike form, with a peak in the exact middle of the rope. This is the resonant frequency of the rope and the force you are applying. It’s the same with the stylus, cantilever, and cartridge. At some frequency – the resonant frequency – the force of the stylus to cantilever to cartridge will be “just right” so that the entire mechanism is swinging back and forth with the movement of the stylus in the groove. That resonant frequency depends on the “compliance” value of the cartridge and is specified in centimeters per dyne, which refers to how far it will move with a specific value of force applied.
The range of compliance values is from about 5 x 10-6 cm/dyne up to 25 x 10-6 cm/dyne. If the value is less than 12, it is considered a low-compliance cartridge, 13-18 is mid-level, and above 18 is high compliance.
Now, the reason this is worth paying attention to, is that when selecting a cartridge, you want to know the “mass” of the tonearm – in grams – to which it will be attached. And, the idea is that you match a low compliance cartridge to a mid or high mass tonearm, and a high compliance cartridge to a mid or low mass tonearm. A mass value of 10 grams or less for the tonearm is considered low, 11-15 grams mid, and above 15 grams, a high mass. These numbers and categories are not engraved in stone, but just a general guide.
The combination of cartridge compliance and tonearm mass will result in a system resonant frequency, and you want that frequency to be between 10 Hz and about 18 Hz. If it is above 20 Hz, you will get too much audible deep bass. If it is lower than 10 Hz, this will make the rumble (the motor and platter make very low frequency noises of their own) audible.
Part 3: Turntables, Tonearms, and Cartridges
When CDs supplanted LPs about 20 years ago, there was less and less availability of “record players”. However, there were still plenty of aficionados out there who wanted to maintain and expand their LP library, and some of them were clever engineers who simply decided to build their own turntables. And, the ones they built were a far cry from the $100 jobs that we used to buy at Radio Shack. Along the way, they said, “You know, I could probably sell these things and make back my investment.” Thus was born the high-end turntable market.
Of course, high-end tonearms had to be designed too, and the cartridges.
These days, you can spend $100,000 on a turntable, $15,000 on a tonearm, and $10,000 on a cartridge. That’s a lot of trips to Starbucks.
Besides being built in extremely limited quantities, they are all hand made products. No mass production on an assembly line for these things.
Here is one example, the VPI HR-X turntable and JMW-12.7 tonearm. The current price (2013) is $13,000. Notice that the platter is driven by a belt that is attached to a flywheel on the left, and that flywheel is driven by two motors using another belt. This totally decouples the platter from the motor and eliminates rumble that would otherwise be transmitted to the platter from the motor. This particular tonearm is described as low mass, although a specific number is not given. If you are anal, as just about any hard core audiophile probably is, you will ferret out the info about tonearm mass before you purchase one.
Here is a close-up of the flywheel and attached belts.
(Turntable photos copyright VPI)
Of course, you don’t have to spend $12,000 on a turntable and tonearm. There are plenty of nice products out there in the less than $1,000 range.
So, you have a turntable, and now you pick the cartridge.
Depending on how careful you think you can be setting it all up, you need to choose MM or MC. The Moving Coil (MC) will give the best detail, but will be the most vulnerable to noise because the output is very low. The more expensive they are, the more they seem to have lower and lower output, probably because just a few hand wound turns of wire are on the cantilever.
Here is the Koetsu Onyx Platinum MC cartridge. It is priced at $8,000. The output is only 0.2 mV. Keep in mind that is 2/10 of one thousandth of one volt. So, the interconnects from the turntable will be carrying less than a thousandth of a volt, and the interconnects from your CD player will be carrying about 1.5 volts. That is a factor difference of 7,500 to 1. Remember how careful I said you would need to be in connecting the turntable to your preamplifier? Very careful. A flatulent mouse standing two inches from the interconnects would probably cause some audible noise in the cables. Get the picture?
(Photo copyright Koetsu)
The one cartridge that does not fit the usual mold is the Sumiko Blackbird, which is an MC product, outputs 2.5 mV, and has a compliance of 12 x 10-6 cm/dyne. It’s priced at $1,099, and we will talk about this cartridge a bit later.
(Photo copyright Sumiko)
Part 4: The RIAA Curve
When commercial phonograph recordings were being produced in the early twentieth century – on wax cylinders at that time – they realized that the grooves for low frequencies were so wide, they took up a lot of space and reduced the recording time. And, as the frequency response technology improved, they started worrying about the hum and hiss from the electronics, as well as surface noise from initial plastics (which were not very good).
Then they got a bright idea. They realized that all of these problems could be addressed by using “Pre-emphasis” in the recording, which means altering the recording level of different regions of the audible frequency band, i.e., EQ.
However, no standards for doing this had been set up, so various recording companies added the EQ in whatever way they felt was best for them. Of course, this meant that playing back a recording could produce all kinds of tonalities, because the playback mechanism had its own tonality, engraved in stone.
Amazingly, it was not until 1954 that such a standard was realized, called the RIAA curve (Recording Industry Association of America). It took into account the need for increasing the recording time by reducing the recorded level of deep frequencies, and reducing surface noise and hiss by emphasizing the recording level of high frequencies, and then applying the inverse RIAA curve during playback. They also decided to manipulate the region between 1 kHz and 10 kHz to bring forward the sibilance of the music and voices.
So, there was an RIAA pre-emphasic curve and an RIAA de-emphasis curve.
Here is the pre-emphasis curve which is applied in the electronics during the process of cutting the master disc. Setting 1 kHz to 0 dB, you can see that at 10 Hz, the pre-emphasis is basically a 20 dB attenuation, and at 20 kHz, there is a 20 dB boost. Bottom line: 40 dB variance between the EQ for low frequencies vs. high frequencies.
You can see that it is obviously not a straight line. It took into account everyone’s wishes to reduce this or emphasize that. The curve actually goes out to 50 kHz, which says something about the wide bandwidth that LPs have in comparison to CDs.
So, when you play the LP at home, the de-emphasis curve is built into the phono stage in your preamplifier or receiver. Here is what it looks like:
It is the opposite of the pre-emphasis curve, and the idea is to make the final frequency response flat, but get rid of hum, hiss, surface noise, and extend the recording time that will fit on the LP disc.
It works well, but like all “standards” engineers were always thinking of ways to improve it. Something called the IEC curve arose in the 1970’s, and the de-emphasis curve is shown below.
The biggest difference seems to be in the 50 Hz region.
The IEC curve did not take off, and maybe that is fortunate, because then what would we do with all the other recordings we had that were EQ’d with the RIAA curve?
Application of RIAA to the Phono Stage
Applying the RIAA curve in a phono stage is not as easy as you might imagine (on the other hand, maybe you imagine it is hard). It’s not just a crossover point. It is a continued scale of EQ all the way through the audible band.
There are basically two ways to do this. One is the passive method, using a variety of filters. The other way is the active method, which uses op amps and feedback in different amounts throughout the audible band.
The purists will say that the active method is not good, because it uses all those op amps that have voltage limitations and negative feedback which causes lots of distortion.
But, with either method, there is one big issue, namely, phase shift. Remember the discussion of phase shift problems that you have at the crossover point in speaker crossover networks. Well, since the response in the RIAA curve is basically one big alteration throughout, you have phase shift all over the place. It is defined by a complex set of mathematical equations.
Now, when the RIAA pre-emphasis curve is applied at recording, and then the de-emphasis curve is applied at playback, the phase shift should cancel out and you end up with a proper phase relationship throughout the audible spectrum. Right? Well, that would be fine if all the recording systems applied the RIAA pre-emphasis curve perfectly, and all our phono stages applied the RIAA de-emphasis curve perfectly.
Guess what? Nothing is perfect out there.
So, we end up with LPs and phono stages that deliver a sound with varying amounts of phase shift in all areas of the audible spectrum, and I feel that this is one of the defining characteristics of the analog LP sound. It delivers a soundstage that is much different than what you would hear from a CD where such EQ curves are not applied.
And, it’s very appealing.
Part 5: Setting Up the Turntable
I have seen a couple of turntables out there that come with the table, the tonearm, the cartridge, and a USB connection for your computer that will let you turn your LPs into MP3s. The cost of the entire package is $149. Those things may not need to be “set up”, but if you have a good turntable and an LP collection, and you want everything to last, it is important that the turntable be properly dealt with before you plop the discs on the platter.
There are several things to do in setting up the turntable: (1) Tracking Force (TF); (2) Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA); (3) Lateral Tracking Angle (LTA); (4) Azimuth; and (5) Anti-skate Control (ASC). Let’s go through them one by one.
The Tracking Force (TF) is the amount of weight, in grams, that holds the stylus in the LP groove. A typical TF would be 2.5 grams, such as for the cartridge that came with the McIntosh MT10. The adjustment is made by moving a counterweight at the rear end of the tonearm forward or backward. Here is a photo of the counterweight on the McIntosh MT10. You loosen the knurled knob on top, slide the weight forward or backward, then retighten the knob. The TF should be adjusted before the others, as this insures that you are not putting too much weight on the stylus at any time.
Of course, you need a way of determining what the TF is while adjusting the counterweight. There are several products out there for this. The least expensive ones let you put the stylus on one end of a small strip, with a pivot in the middle, and tiny weights on the other end. When the weights balance the cartridge, you have your measurement. The other kind is the digital balance, which is what I am using here ($129). You turn on the unit (powered by a small battery), press the “Tare” button which sets the balance to zero. Then you carefully set the stylus on the “pan”. Here is a photo. In this case, the TF was 2.7 grams, and I needed it to be 2.5 grams. So, I moved the counterweight on the tonearm just a bit to the rear, and it came out to 2.518 grams (second photo).
The Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) is the angle of tilt, nose down or nose up, that the cartridge has when the stylus is in the record groove. Here are a couple of photos. In the first one, see how the space between the tonearm and the LP is the same from front to back. In the second photo, you can see that the bottom of the cartridge is horizontal to the LP surface.
Adjusting the vertical tracking angle to be horizontal is where you start, and it is accomplished by making sure that the cartridge is mounted flat across the bottom of the head shell and then adjusting the tonearm height so that when the stylus is in the groove, the cartridge and tonearm are horizontal. Once everything is set up and you are playing LPs, you can go back and fine tune the VTA, knowing that adjusting the VTA so that the cartridge is nose down will increase the high frequencies and decrease the low frequencies, while adjusting the cartridge nose up will reduce the high frequencies and increase the low frequencies.
The Lateral Tracking Angle refers to having the cartridge not tilted to the left or right, i.e., when looking at the front of the cartridge, not having the left side closer or farther from the surface of the LP than the right side.
Besides the McIntosh MT10 turntable, we now have a VPI HR-X (photo below) so that we can compare cartridges. The cartridge that I chose to use with the VPI HR-X was the Sumiko Blackbird, mentioned in Part 3, above.
Here is a photo of the VPI HR-X tonearm when I first mounted it. If you look at the rear of the tonearm, you can see that the left side is down and the right side is up, with respect to the base, rather than being level. In other words, it was leaning over on one side.
So, I rotated the tonearm counterweight at the rear (red arrow) such that the tonearm moved back into a level position. The counterweight is oval shaped, so rotating it places more weight on the left or right side of the tonearm.
Now the cartridge was level (horizontal) in relation to the LP surface, as shown below.
The Azimuth is the angle between a line drawn from the center hole of the LP to the outside edge, and a line drawn through the cantilever as the stylus is in the groove. What you want is for the cantilever to be perpendicular to the line from the hole to the outside edge. The adjustment is made by loosening the screw that holds the head shell on the arm, shown in the photo below, and then turning the head shell until the cantilever lines up with the record grooves. Then you tighten the screw. Because the cartridge moves in an arc, the best that can be done is to have it exactly line up in two points across that arc. The rest of the time, it will be just a bit off. The reason this is important is that with the right channel on the outside edge of the groove and the left channel on the inside edge, if the cantilever is not perpendicular, the stylus will bleed information between the channels. Increased distortion also results. The second photo shows a close-up, and you should notice all the dust on the LP surface. I will talk about how to get rid of this in a later chapter.
The Anti-skate Control (ASC) is used to counteract the tendency for the stylus to move towards the center of the LP (this is called “centripetal” force), as the music is playing. This results from the fact that the groove is one big inward spiral, and the stylus “seeks” the inward grooves because they have lower linear velocity. Because the stylus tends to move towards the center of the LP, the force against one side of the groove is greater than the other side. The anti-skate adjustment fixes this by applying an equal force to move the stylus towards the outside edge of the LP.
Here is a photo of the ASC on the McIntosh MT10. It is the small thread attached to the pulleys with the round weight at the end. As the tonearm becomes longer (there are 9″, 11″, and 12″ tonearms), anti-skate becomes less important. Also, note that there are forces (other than anti-skate) acting to pull the arm towards the center – particularly if the tonearm is “S” shaped, and forces pulling it towards the outside edge of the LP. The inward force is larger than the outward force, so anti-skate is a force applied to bring the tonearm back towards the outside edge of the disc.
Click HERE to go to Parts 6-9.
Written by Kurt , April 24, 2008
I’m extremely interested in the outcome of this carefully designed study. Assuming there will ultimately be some blinded listening comparisions, it will important to make sure that the volume from the two sources is matched as closely as possible, preferably to within 0.1 db. I’d like to see comparisions of Redbook CDs and SACDs with the LP, because I recently read an article suggesting with careful tests, such as the one you’ve set up here, there is no difference between a good quality (i.e., dynamic range properly centered)16-bit recording and SACD. Audiophiles may accept your findings if you ultimately conclude that SACD is equivalent to (or better) than LP, but admitting the same for a CD will be a much tougher pill for them to swallow.
Best of luck
Written by JEJ , April 24, 2008
It is going to be a long experiment. The blind listening tests will be necessary for CD vs. SACD, but not for LP vs. CD or LP vs. SACD because the sound of the LP is so obvious. Surface noise is there, along with an occasional pop or tick. I will go into detail about how I am choosing the recordings, but basically, they are famous archives from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s that have been re-issued. I will only be using recordings that were made from the original analog master audio tape and have been re-pressed for the LPs using modern technology. The CDs and SACDs for these recordings are also new, made at the same time when the LPs were re-issued, so they have all the latest techniques to make them the best that they can be.
Take your time…..
Written by thedoublee , April 24, 2008
These listening tests taking a long time is a good thing. Don’t know if it is within your capabilities or scope but might be nice to see some different TT/cartridge setups as well.
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Written by JEJ , April 24, 2008
Yes, I do plan to get more turntables and some other cartridges. Compare MM with MC types for example. And find out what happens when I put a low compliance cartridge on a low mass tonearm (theoretically, it should produce a boomy bass).
In recording studios, this debate has been over.
Written by jeff , April 24, 2008
With all due respect to my fellow audiophiles, the euphonic appeal of both tape and especially the LP is distortion. Actually, distortions would be a more apt description. There are any number of non-linearities and harmonics added by analog that are not present in digital.
Present day, hi-res digital recording and playback sytems can deliver a fidelity to the original signal that surpasses even then best analog and it has been that way about a decade.
So why is analog still around? It sounds nice. It’s the same reason why very few electric guitarists play without distortion and some type of chorus effect.
I’ve found that in mixing audio that adding some sweet distortion to a vocal or instrument track can be exactly what makes it sparkle and cut through the mix.
And I haven’t even gotten into the fact that analog systems are noisy. And in the case of the LP you have the fact that the stylus wears out the media and the whole LP playback system is susceptible to both air and structure borne vibrations.
The LP… Technicolor… FM… reel to reel,,, all fantastic in their day, but that day is past
comparison CD vs. LP
Written by Hartwig Hanser , April 25, 2008
You could burn a CD from a LP, so you still would have surface noise and clicks, and could listen, if the sound is degraded. Of course you would need a high quality A/D converter.
Careful with those assumptions
Written by krabapple , April 25, 2008
‘The CDs and SACDs for these recordings are also new, made at the same time when the LPs were re-issued, so they have all the latest techniques to make them the best that they can be.’
Problem is, the latest CD versions aren’t necessarily ‘the best that they can be’ Often the recordings on CD will have had their dynamic range reduced at the mastering stage to LESS than what an LP can offer, even though Redbook CD audio permits MORE dynamic range than LP. The early 80s ideal of ‘perfect sound’ — the promise of freedom from the limitations of vinyl — has long been corrupted and superseded by the ‘loudness war’
Written by Tyler , April 26, 2008
JEJ, this is truly a great experiment. And I actually learned a bit about turntables from your opening so far. Thanks for spending the time and effort on this (which I imagine is considerable)! I’m looking forward to your findings.
Jeff is dead wrong
Written by Gregor Samsa , April 27, 2008
I’ll try to avoid flaming, but if this is the conventional wisdom in recording studios, it’s no wonder modern recordings sound so terrible. It’s bad enough that they are processed with Protools, which adds grunge, grain and glare. However, the biggest problem is that they eliminate all dynamic range, as recently documented in Rolling Stone. Then the digiphiles have the temerity to cite the superior s/n ratio of digital. Jeff’s commentary is typical of those who read a spec sheet to decide what sounds better instead of using their ears. Anyone who has ever heard a decent vinyl setup understands the superiority. Avoiding audiophile cliche`s, pianos sound more like real pianos, saxophones more like saxophones, etc. Real recording engineers like Steve Hoffman and Doug Sax are aware of this. High-res digital, especially DSD, can sound great, but doesn’t appear to be catching on. Vinyl, on the other hand, is the only recording medium to show a sales increase last year.
Well then let’s not do the test!
Written by Rick , April 28, 2008
Obviously there is no need to proceed with the listening tests as vinyl has already been proven to be not worthy of the challenge against digital media.
Written by J Levine , April 28, 2008
Will you be looking for LP’s created from non-digital sources. It would seem the whole things would be tainted by a D to D to A LP. All the “digital problems” would be pressed into the LP.
Long before the LP vs CD wars most high-end recording were digital so aren’t almost all records just Analog version of D to A output ?
Written by JEJ , April 29, 2008
I am using classical recordings from decades ago, so as to make sure that the originals were analog. There are also some moderns recordings that are still done with analog tape and then converted to digital for CDs. But, it is certainly one thing to worry about in dealing with LPs that somewhere along the line, may have gone through an A/D then D/A for editing. What I am finding is that some CDs sound like the LPs, except for certain details, but others sound much, much different, and I will have to work that out before I discuss those findings.
Both have distortions but CD (and concert DVD) doesn’t have to.
Written by Nick P. , April 29, 2008
Next time you hear people saying CD sounds better than LP or LP sounds better than CD, tell them they’re right.
Early CD had its faults because it was new – dithering hadn’t entered the equation for one, oversampling for another. That of course changed.
Although hard clipping on pop CDs wasn’t routine, it’s nothing new and in the last dozen years or so this effect of the loudness war reached absurd proportion e.g. Astly-remastered Who. Rip just about any pop CD and look at the waveform. As mentioned earlier people like Sax and Hoffman, add to that Diament, avoid it (thank you!) e.g. non-Marino/Page-remastered Zeppelin II (no pun intended). Surprisingly, things that ought not to have been clipped were too, e.g. parts of the Mercury Living Presence sampler.
How bad is bad? Some examples from random observation – 82 clipped samples one one peak on Alicia keys debut, 150 on the Billy Talent CD.
A clip or a peak meter is not good enough to see this – a lot of earlier CDs had clipping but the recording wasn’t full scale or even near it. Texas Tornados debut for example from 1990, the year I had access to the only ADAP workstation in Canada (anyone can try the same with free software as of 10 years ago).
In your face and dirty vs clean though not as loud as the last hit single… producers looking for maximum exposure don’t have to think about that.
And now vinyl:
Besides the setup matters that JEJ covered so well and the obvious noises, vinyl gets a signature sound from things like the cutter head’s phase response in the treble (including famed RCA Living Stereo) and by the groove walls modulating the signal. The result is often called “good soundstage” in the hi-end press. Plugins can simulate these things but even without that try this – record some groove noise that’s between tracks, loop it, and mix it with a good CD rip. Credit goes to a well known mastering engineer, can’t remember who, that wrote about it in TAS nearly 20 years ago.
As for digital processing, there is no blanket statement there either. Take a basic one, sample rate conversion – studios usually run at 48 kHz and CD is 44.1 so it’s almost always there.
The differences in noise between the good ways and the bad are obvious. Here’s a thought – an LP from a digital master that sounds better than the CD counterpart. Don’t know an example but don’t say it can’t happen!
Better term for vinyl lovers
Written by audionirvana , April 29, 2008
Hard of hearing.
Written by Josuah , April 29, 2008
Jeff’s comments about adding distortion are not the same as adding compression. Some distortion (is it the odd-numbered peaks?) sounds very pleasing to the ear, just like harmonies in a chorus as he mentioned. And that’s why people buy tubes and vinyl in many cases: for the added distortion.
I’d be very interested in seeing how well the test turntable and phono gear avoids introducing any noise and distortion. Presumably these mid-expensive units would do a decent job. And then comparing the actual output using the measurement equipment rather than just ears.
I’m sure JEJ’s going to be using extremely high quality source media so a lot of the comments about CD mastering flaws or poor vinyl shouldn’t be as important here.
Written by No Strings , April 29, 2008
As hard as I try, I cannot hear the snap, crackle and pops coming from my grand piano while it’s being played. So, I switched to my saxophone. Same results; go figure. In the meantime, my SACD collection continues to grow with new releases.
Maybe I’m just getting old 😉
Gregor Samsa is an idiot
Written by jeff , April 30, 2008
If it was recorded digitally, it is digital and will only lose fidelity being pressed to an album. Taking hi-res digital and carefully down-converting it to CD resolution will always yield superior results to vinyl. The vinyl may sound nice but, careful comparison to the original will easily expose the weaknesses of the LP format while the CD will be almost identical to the original.
And, oh, yeah, it will never wear out by the 50th play.
Hey No Strings
Written by Gregor Samsa , April 30, 2008
Clean your records.
Written by No Strings , May 01, 2008
Take it up with Nitty Gritty; I don’t think they’ll get much cleaner. Surface noise is surface noise, no matter how hard you clean ’em. If you can get past that, all the power to you. Just don’t come across saying “anyone” thinks vinyl is superior. You immediately lose your argument. There are far more engineer’s who prefer digital; not that this should matter anyway. This isn’t a contest. Vinyl lost a long time ago. Who cares. All that matters is enjoying the music, no matter the format. I have both types and am very happy.
Question for Jeff
Written by Bruce Stram , May 02, 2008
Let me pose a logical puzzle for you. You suggest the digital processing is truer to the original signal. The original signal is actually the sound coming from the musicians. It seems to me it would take at best a rather painstaking and elaborate setup to even attempt to compare this signal quantitatively to a digitally recorded signal (or analog signal) at any point in the chain. And no one has a reason to do it except for the fun of it. So I suspect its been done rarely, if at all.
This is more than semantics I think. When you add some “sweet distortion” (I presume some form of harmonic) and it sounds better (sparkle and cuts through the mix), does “sounds better” mean compared to the original performance it is more realistic, or does it sound better than the original performance which was rendered accurately in the recording process. If it is the former, why don’t people prefer to listen to recorded music rather than live? If the latter, then it seems unequivocal that something has been lost at some stage in the recording process.
Comment for Nick P
Written by Bruce Stram , May 02, 2008
I think the right question though, is what approach is better when implemented as well as possible. “Better” IMO has to be more like the live performance. I take your remarks to basically come down on the side of digital if properly implemented. If so please look at my “Question for Jeff”.
Please expand your remarks on cutter head phase distortion. I’ve not heard about this before. Having read the hi fi mags for a long time, I do note that they used to enthuse about precise localizing of instruments on the sound stage, etched was a word commonly used. This always puzzled me because, though I did hear this in some showroom set ups, I never heard it at the concert hall. I note that this particular “value” seems to have gone out of use. Is this part of what you’re talking about? Incidentally, if cutter heads have known phase distortion characteristics, why haven’t we corrected for it much as we do RIAA? Also, why didn’t tapes sound different in this respect than LP’s, or did they?
Could certain tweeters have enhanced the effect, causing even more of the right phase distortion, and thus even “better” sound stage?
Terms that are meaningless as musical descriptions
Written by Kurt , May 02, 2008
I hear terms like ‘grunge’, ‘glare’, ‘grain’, and ‘rhythm and pace’ thrown about quite frequently, particularly by vinyl lovers and reviewers who think music sounds better when it is distorted by certain tube amps. Can some help me out with some actual definitions? If an LP has better ‘rhythm and pace’ than a CD, is the song playing at a different speed? If I wear sunglasses, will I still be able to hear glare? If I clean an LP with furniture polish, will it bring out the grain in music, or eliminate it?
Seriously, as soon as someone starts describing the performance of electronic equipment with terms typically found in wine reviews, I begin to doubt that they have anything of substance to say.
Written by JEJ , May 02, 2008
One of the biggest problems with live performances, at least for me, is that most of the audience is seated at quite a distance from the musicians. Not so much with a jazz group at a local bar, but certainly with concerts in large auditoriums. In that case, the recording can sound better than the live performance, because the recording microphones are close to the musicians, and you are close to the speakers. I remember going to a Pavarotti concert once, and he used a microphone and PA system for his voice. I much preferred the recordings to the sound in the concert hall.
On the other hand, I was lucky enough to hear The Buddy Rich Big Band in a small jazz club in Seattle, way back in 1968. I got there early and was sitting about 15 feet from Rich. Now that was an experience that I would never be able to duplicate with an audio system at home, no matter how big.
My point is that we should not necessarily try to make our audio systems recreate the sound of a live performance, because I don’t really think that is possible. What I prefer to do is have the sound give me a pleasureable experience. The even-ordered harmonics of a tube amplifier do that. Vinyl can do that too, I just don’t know yet what all the characteristics of vinyl are, with which to deliver that different kind of pleasure.
re: Gregor Samsa is an idiot
Written by Gregor Samsa , May 04, 2008
Thank you for raising the level of discourse here with the use of the term “idiot”. It adds to your credibility when you assert that digital recording involves no loss of fidelity. Yes, No Strings, sweeping generalizations get you in trouble. Cleaning your records will not eliminate pops, but for me, it reduces them to a level that is tolerable. My copy of Disraeli Gears, which I bought in 1968, is still quite listenable. I have many LPs without any pops at all. The ones that have them? Yes, I can listen through. The sonic rewards are more than worth it. While I am now hypervigilant about overgeneralization, I think I can safely assert that anyone who has had a hard drive die or a cd that a toddler has gotten his hands on understands that digital is not immune from deterioration either. As far as imprecise descriptors go, this is music, not physics. If glare and grain don’t make sense to you, how about harsh and inaccurate? I play an acoustic guitar. I know what one sounds like. I have never heard a digital recording that sounds more like one than my copy of “Sir John Alot Of”. FWIW I don’t get “PRAT” as a dimension of music distinct from plain old accurate.
I wish this were not so. Analog is a PIA. For this reason alone, I probably listen to more digital than analog. 100% DSD can sound fantastic, closer to good vinyl than cd, but is rare and getting rarer. New hi-rez formats are unproven. No audio Blu-rays are even on the drawing boards.
Just to prove it to myself, I just listened to that Disraeli Gears again. A little crackle in between tracks. Nothing while the music is there. The end is bloody awful. No lead-out groove!
no matter how big
Written by Mutha , May 05, 2008
JEJ I can only assume that what you mean by “duplicating that Buddy Rich Big Band experiance” is the sheer dynamics, which your right, almost all consumer audio comes up way short. I have heard however two systems consiting of Crest amplifiers and an array of carefullly selected pro drivers thst do the dynamics of live audio justice. The small sytem cost about $40,000 and the large system cost about $250,000. Neither system could be called “cheap” by any means but with the price of high end electronics the smaller systems performance is a bargain on a cost/performance ratio.The larger system provides dynamics(and volume) that rival our concert venues here in Madison.(Tops them all in sheer quality). The largest drawback to a system like either one of these would be asthetics of which they have non. My main point being that if that is your goal, live sound (acoustic or amplified) can be duplicated if you have the space and funds. Although this does kinda bring us back full circle to the recording medium. On that point I can say that neither one of these systems include a turntable but both use a Krell sacd standard. I am looking forward to another installment in your comparison.
Written by JEJ , May 05, 2008
Dynamics and volume (SPL) were not the only things that the live Buddy Rich concert provided. When sitting so close to the entire band, the soundstage was just incredible. Keep in mind that your head moves constantly, either turning or bending forward or backward, tilting side to side, etc. So, the angles between each performer and the next, with respect to your two ears, are constantly changing. So, taking into account all the angles between the numerous performers and your ears are constantly changing, it give a 3D soundstage experience. This is much different than listening to two speakers where only the angles between the two speakers and your ears are changing when you move your head. This is the thing that cannot be duplicated between a sound system and live performers, but it has to be several performers (I think there were about 20 people in the Buddy Rich Big Band), and you have to be sitting close to the performers. If it is just a solo acoustic guitar, then certainly, a good sound system can make you think the performer is in the room with you.
Answers for Bruce Stram and more on “anything goes”
Written by Nick P. , May 05, 2008
Copied from stevehoffman.tv (and posted by him):
Also, most older records that are pre-Neumann (cut US on Scully/Westrex heads) went out of phase around 9k. That includes all of our old beloved RCA-Victor Living Stereos, etc. Part of what people like about them actually.
For more info besides asking Steve, somewhere there’s at least one old textboox on record cutting technology. Can’t remember the name but if you’re interested enough try a university’s EE library (where I saw it years ago).
Blanket statement, the best of 16/44.1 PCM beats the best of analog (although a Studer with Dolby SR is stiff competition if you can find new tape), and with a lot more ease and less cost.
It’s just that most recordings regardless of format aren’t made to their potential, whether it’s the equipment, who’s at the controls or both. For me the listening comparisons are for getting back to what this is about – finding the better recordings. Without specifing which titles and their release sounded better on CD vs LP or vice versa it’s meaningless.
I also agree with JEJ that trying to make a recording or system sound identical to the live performance isn’t always the best goal – it depends on what’s being recorded and where. On one hand a minimally mic’d small acoustic ensemble can sound stunning on a good home system. On the other, the typical pop record would lose a lot if only the drums get recorded like that even though no one listens to a kick drum with one’s head inside it. OK, I’m sure someone tried.
(And good luck capturing ambience fully with only two channels. Stereo’s inventor, Blumlein, probably knew that before anyone else since he said so in the 1930s, it’s just that the idea of multichannel was way ahead of making it a commercial success and stereo was the next best thing, which still took 20 years. Unfortunately DVD-A is not *in general* a yardstick either – dynamic range clipping goes on there too, add to that ill-advised mixing similar to ping pong stereo of the 1950s and 60s.)
Switching gears to dispel a 40 year old myth, search the net for Hamm’s AES paper on tubes vs transistors and read all of it. It’s as far as I can tell where the “tubes sound better due to even-harmonic distortion” thing started. He was talking about mic preamps of the day, nothing more. Push pull circuits, whether in vacuum or solid state power amps, cancel even harmonics.
Re-read the previous two sentences. Tube amps get their signature from output impedance that’s high enough to affect frequency response, saturating transformers, rolled off frequency extremes and other things that generally (though not always!) add up to soft clipping. Loosely, the more technical term is dynamic range compression. Ironically, these distortions can give the perception that the playback is *more* dynamic than it really is. Also that there’s more bass than there really is. The transformer’s rolloff also takes out nasty 7th and 9th order arising from crossover distortion, but then crossover distortion doesn’t belong in a properly designed amp of late. (Best of tubes vs best of transistors anyone? Haven’t seen a powerful enough tube amp to even begin that.)
So, it’s not just about what’s lost in a recording. It’s also about what can be lost during playback, such as dynamic range that might be fine on a recording, and what can be added such as harmonic distortion, noise, and modulation.
Plus the rush of nostalgia but that’s another story.
Therefore when comparing two playback systems “better” means that which has an output closer to the input. If it editorializes in a way that’s a “good problem” the question becomes, is that with everything or just selective memory of the recordings it enhanced and using those to make generalizations? Either way, enhancements are a different matter and a subjective one.
Feel like I’ve said enough though looking forward to wherever the article goes.
Written by Paul Taatjes , May 05, 2008
I believe that an exceptional sound system even in stereo can make you think the performers are in the room with you.
The only thing that it will be severely lacking in that respect is if you start to move around, once you move from the sweet spot, then I agree. However, when seating in a stationary spot, soundstages from stereo systems can be amazing and able to duplicate far more than a solo guitar.
I have heard front to back, up and down and left and right, full 3D imaging from a single pair of speakers…not just “kind of” but very localized in each direction
Blu-ray audio discs
Written by KDeering , May 07, 2008
Quote: “No audio Blu-rays are even on the drawing boards”
I will have in my hand the Blu-ray audio release of “Ghosts I-IV” by Nine Inch Nails by the end of this week. It is a 96/24 stereo recording straight from the master.
I already have the recording in FLAC lossless albeit in lower resolution and it is a spectacular recording (although some may not like the music) in terms of imaging and dynamics.
Written by krabapple , May 08, 2008
Steve Hoffman also sells ‘healing discs’.
“I actually invented a CD called The Healing Disc that has nothing but tonal vibrations on it manipulated in such as way as to stimulate your own body’s healing force. “
oh, *really*? They may know a lot about mastering, but rigorous science and hypothesis-testing is not often these audio ‘engineers’ forte. They routinely ignore the pervasive role of bias in sighted comparisons to determeine audio ‘quality’, for example.
Anyway, CD, done right (good source tapes, proper tape playbak setup, excellent ADC filtering, 24-bit production and proper dither to 16bit, tasteful mastering choices in between), should sound closer to the source than vinyl. It would be great if mastering engineers did it ‘right’. A lot of them probably know how to; a lot of them probably aren’t allowed to, given the loudness craze
Written by Leandro, Portugal 9th May , May 08, 2008
I did not make a detailed reading of all you guys but for instance and in my opinion JEJ and Mutha cuted much of the mustard. As we all know is there any true audiophile that would not like to hear a great recording? And it does not matter if it is cd vinyl or sacd. What really matters is the recording quality. Anyway at this point I think we all should be listening to high quality single layer stereo sacds. Yes I know that the answer why it is not is very complicated I can not really answer it myself but is a pitty that it is still not this way. Great music to all you.
tracking force counterweight
Written by RossJones , May 09, 2008
I guess we’re not supposed to balance the counterweight by stacking pennies on the tonearm anymore?
Written by JEJ , May 09, 2008
Actually, when I was 16, I built a turntable and used a bolt on the rear end of the tonearm. I put some steel nuts on it and turned them slightly to adjust the tracking force. It worked great. The entire turntable cost me $0.50. The cartridge cost $15 from Radio Shack.
16/44.1 CDs just don’t cut it…
Written by Roy P. , May 09, 2008
I do not agree with those who say 16/44.1 CDs beat any analog. There are minor bumps and dips in frequency response with analog (in my price-range anyway)… You really need to learn and experiment to get the best sound out of analog… Your table and preamp need to have a good range of adjustments to fine tune for different carts, etc… But, when everything’s right, analog just sounds more “real” to me. Better imaging, instruments that sound like instruments with no “hashy” sound… Even if there is a slight “haze” caused by the little bumps and dips in frequency response, it still sounds better to me.
For a long time I believed 16/44.1 CDs were perfect as far as the human ear could hear. That’s what they told us… at least until they tried to sell us higher def formats… lol. It’s simply not true. I recently had the chance to hear the same recording in 16/44.1 and 24/96. The difference is EXTREMELY obvious.
It’s about the same as the difference between mp3 and CD. The CD sound was clearly just an approximation of what the original recording sounded like. Vague imaging and a “hashy” sound that came from near misses of the CD trying to duplicate the original recording. Even a slight loss of impact… a “mushy” sound. They used to try and tell us this could be corrected by better digital plaback equipment. Well… The 24/96 sounded dead-on… on the same equipment. Great imaging and no audible “hashy” sounds with cymbals… better rhythm… It reminded me of the sound of vinyl… even better with flatter frequency response.
So… That’s why vinyl is still around in my opinion. They just missed the mark with 16/44.1 CD. It’s just not “perfect sound forever” as promised. It was a primitive first step into a digital format and they probably should have replaced it with something higher def awhile back. I think the sound of CDs probably has a lot to do with lackluster record sales and this generation’s general lack of interest in good hi-fi. A system’s only going to sound as good as what you play on it. The sound of CDs just doesn’t “take me away” like the sound of vinyl or 24/96 digital does… It never has and trying to listen to them almost made me lose interest in hi-fi until I got back into vinyl.
re: “Blu-Ray audio discs”
Written by Gregor Samsa , May 10, 2008
Wow! First I’ve heard of this. No video at all? What was the codec? Who makes it? For sale in the US? Are they going to make any more? With artists that aren’t clinically depressed? Can’t wait for your usual comprehensive review.
I don’t think I would let Steve Hoffman try to cure my tennis elbow, but I would listen to anything he mastered. Telsa was crazy too, and he was a genius.
good reading…but i won’t change my mind
Written by leo , May 10, 2008
CD is better than LP…and you have to spend thousands of $ to obtain good LP sound…no way
….I have change my mind
Written by S Martin , May 11, 2008
Take the Rega P3-24 TT – I’ve been running it against the Rega Saturn CD player and I much prefer the deck – it just sounds so, well, “analogue” compared to the CD which sounds so “digital”
Dare I say the CD sounds harsh too after listening to vinyl.
Also, “guitar strums” sound so real and stand out where I had not noticed this on CDs
Agree – Very Interesting
Written by KD in WA , May 11, 2008
JEJ, consider me another curious reader who will be looking forward to the results of your tests.
I’ve always felt, as many of your other readers do, that digital’s biggest weakness is the pesky carbon-based life forms who record and listen to it. All those “squeaky clean little ones and zeros” (to borrow some Jim’s Big Ego lyrics) — who can resist processing them? Obviously, in most cases, not the producers, engineers or consumers. It’s not loud enough; crush that dynamic range! Compress! EQ! Normalize! I can’t be done yet, my computer still has spare processing cycles! Look, at 128kbps I can fit 500 more songs on my iPod! Woot! A typical digital recording probably begins well, but too many ill-conceived (and poorly-informed) assumptions have found their way into the mix before it even leaves the studio.
Analog is an altogether more organic process. That McIntosh turntable isn’t a black box, it’s a delicate, fascinating mechanical device that generates sound using simple (if clever and effective) physical and electrical techniques. A turntable is also an investment. Setting it up requires some time and effort, and LPs demand careful handling, cleaning and storage. Operating an analog playback system is like cooking your own dinner, and what tastes better than the meal you successfully prepared yourself?
don’t close your mind
Written by chuck , May 12, 2008
its just not true that you have to spend thousands to get good LP sound, but of course that’s fun too. the rega p2 or p3-24 get the job done. you do have to spend thousands to get good CD sound as I found out when I got my Ayre C5xe
Written by andrew , May 12, 2008
Reading through the basics of a turntable was definitely enlightening for me. My last recollection of using a turntable was when I was 6 years old, so the technical basis of LPs was lost on me then, and after a brief intermission with cassettes, it’s been a digital world.
My first thought after reading through was why there hadn’t been any move away from a traditional tonearm, turntable and stylus to read LPs. There is a Japanese firm that’s developed a laser “needle” for LPs. It seems to me that given the much higher resolution potential of a suitable designed laser system, as opposed to a mechanical needle, along with the benefits of not physically degrading the source each time it was used would have lead to more common development and commercialization of a laser-based system. I suppose the market for anachronistic, technophiles is only so large.
a problem even comparing “apples to apples” lp/cd playback
Written by thomoz , May 15, 2008
I have the cd AND the lp versions of Dylan’s ‘Modern Times’, released Sept 2006. Both are credited as Greg Calbi mastered . . . but this simply cannot be the case as the lp sound and the cd sound are so frighteningly different.
I bought that lp curious to see if a different (superior) mastering existed, and was shocked by the change in dynamics, depth, and clarity.
Other recent titles by Weezer, Vampire Weekend, Paul McCartney (the UK lp) and REM differ only marginally from their cd counterparts when heard on vinyl, I blame those minute changes on the differing front-end equipment. The US lp of McCartney’s latest has been mastered differently (reportedly recut by Kevin Gray).
Compare the UK lp and UK cd of Geo. Harrison’s ‘Brainwashed’, they are pretty close. Compare either edition to the US cd, and you want to kick somebody’s head in, the US cd is atrocious.
Written by Ashram , May 15, 2008
I am always amused when people say that “the information between the waves are never recorded because of the limits of digital encoding on CD.”
What they describe is the inability to record frequencies above the maximum response because of bandwidth limitations, a problem that analogue recording is also not immune to.
The information they talk about in the middle of the waves are higher frequency oscillations that, although cannot be recorded at 44.1 kHz sampling if that info is above 22,050 Hz, would never be recorded by analogue means anyways if they themselves can’t record above 22,050 Hz.
Analogue and digital encoding are all bound by bandwidth limits and all tend to work under one principle: the conversion of a signal into a form suitable for storage or broadcast for later reproduction. It’s what goes into a format to make it work to achieve that end that makes the differences.
As for perceived depth and air in vinyl, the article explains what I had contended for a while: the effects of the RIAA equalization curve. The curve, if not implemented perfectly for both pre-emphasis and de-emphasis, can introduce distortions such as phase shifts. Humans perceive phase shifts as distance in much the same way our brains process visual information from both eyes; what one eye sees isn’t exactly the same as what the other eye sees and the brain perceives this difference as depth. This is distortion that, although is euphonic, is far from accurate compared to the original master recording.
BUT, as the sound from vinyl has been found to be a desirable trait, it is also possible that people who record may have this characteristic in mind, which is where the “disadvantage” is turned into an advantage and where, perhaps, the vinyl is preferable to a CD or even analogue tape.
As for music versus recording, people need to remember that recording is both an art AND a science. You need a good ear to know if something sounds good, of course, and the ability to decide what kind of sound you want. But without good knowledge of how and why things work and, consequently, the ability to understand what you can and can’t do and the fact that one very important thing is to keep things balanced with respect to your recording objectives, you cannot be expected to produce consistently good recordings or recordings yielding the type of quality you are trying to achieve, even if you have a good ear.
an interesting exercise
Written by Bruce from DC , May 29, 2008
I have a foot firmly planted in all 3 camps. Of the 3 formats, I find that DSD (SACD) seems to be the best, and I have a feeling that the difference would be even more obvious if I were to invest the same $$$ in CD/SACD playback that I have invested in vinyl equipment.
With CD vs. vinyl, it’s a case of “choose your poison.” Both formats have significant drawbacks; it’s a case of which group of them you find less offensive. Without even stumbling into a technical discussion as to why, to my ears RBCD seems to have a tough time with high frequency transients, cymbals, brass wind instruments and the like. And I have yet to play a piano CD recording that sounds as much like a real piano as any number of piano records that I own (NOT including KOB). So often the transient of the hammer striking the piano strings produces some spurious tones on RBCD that fundamentally alter the instrument’s timbre.
However, as many serious pianists noted when CDs first came out, the pitch accuracy/stability of digital vs. analog can be quite noticeable and attractive (although the generally improved quality of the vinyl playback equipment currently in use vs. 25 years ago makes this much less of an issue than it was).
The bigger consideration for us consumers is practical. There is enough “legacy software” out there that the continued production of vinyl and RBCD playback equipment in the adult lifetime of people walking around today is assured (even if the CDs are loaded into a computer hard drive for later retrieval, rather than played on a separate standalone unit). SACD is another matter; and the situation is not helped by the general unreliability of the first generation of SACD playback hardware foisted on the public by both Sony and Phillips. Of course, without a sufficiently large installed base of hardware, no one will keep producing the software (and, as it is, new SACD releases seem to be limited to classical music).
I think I may vomit – written by KD in WA , May 11, 2008
Written by audionirvana , May 29, 2008
Give me a f***in’ break please!
Analog is an altogether more organic process. That McIntosh turntable isn’t a black box, it’s a delicate, fascinating mechanical device that generates sound using simple (if clever and effective) physical and electrical techniques. A turntable is also an investment. Setting it up requires some time and effort, and LPs demand careful handling, cleaning and storage. Operating an analog playback system is like cooking your own dinner, and what tastes better than the meal you successfully prepared yourself?
I’m tired of this senseless debate.
Written by contented listener , June 03, 2008
Who cares which format is better? Its up to the listener to decide for themselves amd I don’t care which camp you self righteous twits sits are in !! I recently bought a new turntable and I enjoy playing LPSs more than my CDs. Why? Its not because of anything sounded superior. Its because of the involvement vinyl brings, the cleaning of the surface prior to every play, the album covers which are easier to read then CDs, its watching the album spin and marvelling at how good it all sounds. I said it sounds good, not better, not worse than CD. Its also hunting for used LPs of music I heard in my youth that is no longer available in any other format.
Get a life people and enjoy the music!! You’ll be dead soon enough!!
this is a senseless debate
Written by contented listener , June 03, 2008
I enjoy vinyl over CDs because to me, it involves me more with music than simply playing a CD. I have to be very careful in handling vinyl and I need to clean it prior to every play. I can actually see the artwork and can read the information printed on the album covers which I find very difficult to do with CDs. I can also find music that is no longer available in any other format. Thats why I enjoy it over CDs. Is it a better or a worse format? I actually don’t care and I’m not about to listen to either camp on which is the better format. I like it for the reasons stated above. Life is far too short to argue over something as pointless as formats. Simply respect one another’s views even if you might disagree and get on with what’s really important, listening to the music itself.
Laser tracking turntable response….
Written by Ashram , June 05, 2008
This is a response to Andrew.
There is a laser turntable available for sale from ELP, which is a Japanese company.
The advantage of a laser turntable is that obviously there is no stylus, so there is no wear out factor.
Another is that the pickup system is completely neutral as opposed to traditional pickups which can have their own set of characteristics.
But, there are also significant disadvantages.
First, the laser turntable is very expensive with prices starting at around $10,000 for a model that can support 33 1/3 and 45 RPM speeds. It’s about $3,000 more for a model that has a 78 RPM model. And then it’s another $1,000 on top of that for a model that can support sizes other than 7, 10, and 12 inches.
Second, the vinyl must still be clean and in relatively good shape; the pickup can perceive dust and scratches and convert them to sound. There is noise reduction to mitigate this problem, but that’s an optional upgrade that will set you back about $3,000.
Third, although you can switch between vinyl and shellac, you can only play black records.
Have a Kiss picture disc? It can’t play it.
Have any vintage RCA Victor Red Seal 45s made with colored translucent vinyl? It can’t play it.
Have any Japanese pressings made using Toshiba Everclear vinyl? It can’t play it.
For the price, there are just too many drawbacks for a regular consumer.
Now, for archival purposes, it may be good because you may have rare recordings on phonographic discs that you don’t want to wear out any more than you have to and, perhaps, would like to “back up” such rare recordings to another medium just in case the originals are ever lost.
Written by Josuah , June 07, 2008
This is really the page I was looking forward to, although all of the previous pages were also extremely informative. The results are consistent with what I was expecting, but it’s great someone is taking the time to actually prove it. Thanks, JEJ.
The sensible route?
Written by gstarr , June 07, 2008
The only thing I miss about vinyl albums is tghe large artwork and often larger lyrics printed along with specifics about various things.
The ease of use of a cd, DVD-A, SACD, and the new Blu Ray concert discs and plain music discs are too monetarily compelling, much easier to use, and with DVD-A and Blu Ray you have the option of discrete multi-channels.
I have a very large LP collection that I haven’t added to in many years. I still play many of them on my old CJ Walker turntable with a Dynavector MC cartridge.
I mostly use the LP’s for music that was never duplicated into digital and for the early cd’s that seemed particularly problematic.
As one can buy a great universal cd and dvd player for $399 (the OPPO DV-983H) and by the end of the year and into 2009 there should be some excellent format 2.0 Blu Ray format players out there.
Rather than spending many thousands on a new turntable, arms, and a high priced cartridge, I would much prefer spending that cash On a Linkwitz “Orion” active crossovered pair of speakers with each driver separately amplified.
Or when new digitally crossovered active speakers, where each driver is separately amplified making as perfect a match as the speaker designer can achieve, while allowing the listener to dial in the digital crossover to obtain as close to ruler flat on and off-axis listening — that is when I will spend a substantial amount of money on new speakers, along with spending much of the rest on great room treatments.
So far the stereo Linkwitz Orion is the best speaker I have heard, you just need topnotch source material, which you really need on any quality system.
Don’t vomit yet…
Written by KD in WA , June 07, 2008
Sorry if you didn’t appreciate the (admittedly) unnecessary flourishes, but I hope you caught the simple point: There’s nothing inherently wrong with digital recording/playback. I do listen to most of my music from digital sources. I’m busy, and it’s more convenient. But analog is more fun. Not interested in fun? What a shame.
By the way, you may have noticed the very next contributor, contented listener, makes the exact same point. He or she used the word “involvement” in reference to LP playback. I think that’s exactly right and it’s a big reason many others also prefer vinyl.
Hopefully you’re feeling better; now back on your path to enlightenment!
Another Advantage of LP
Written by Chabis ben Duvid , June 09, 2008
Play an LP enough times and you get to hear the other side playing backwards at the same time. This saves 50% of the needed listening time. Or, put another way, it allows you to enjoy twice as much music in the time you have.
CNN Website this morning
Written by Erik Hagberg , June 10, 2008
Don’t vomit yet… written by KD in WA , June 07, 2008
Written by audionirvana , June 10, 2008
KD, kudos for your even tempered response to my over the top reaction to your post.
I am passionate about SACD for several reasons.
1- Vinyl has several inherent distortions in the recording process. If that makes music sound more musical to some, so be it.
2- SACD initially got a bad rap because so may releases were made from poorly engineered analog. Analog is fine, it’s the poor engineering that’s the issue.
3- To my ear, listening to SACD recorded and edited in DSD will blow away any vinyl recording for accuracy, lack of distortion and yes, musicality. Try listening to a multi-channel Telarc symphony sometime. Audio-Nirvana!
4- Vinyl will never provide 6 discrete channels of music. Sure 2 channel can sound great, but equally well recorded multichannel will always blow it away.
5- I prefer to listen to music, not spend my time endlessly cleaning records and getting up every 20 minutes (best case) to flip over records that have prepetually distracting clicks, pops and about a dozen kinds of distortion.
6- I fell into audio nirvana with SACD, ivinyl puts you there too, then all is well.
Its all about timing.
Written by Matthew , June 13, 2008
Interesting article but it does’nt address, in my opinion, the most important aspect of music.
TIMING! And that for me is where digital and analogue still show a large difference. Analogue being superior. A lot of people seem to miss this, I dont know why. It is the fundamental premise. I play in a 5 piece band and timing is the most important aspect of our performance. You can hit wrong notes, have guitar strings snap, have instrument leads earth lift. Still the most important thing is that everyone keeps playing in time with each other and generally if thats the case the performance sounds great! What I tend to find is that if your hear an album on a top end CD player it can sound excellent. BUT hear the same album on vinyl and it strikes you how much tighter and in time the muscicians sound. My wife could tell even with a recent Kraftwerk album (we have the CD for the car!). Its all about digital jitter and timing inacuracies. Some companies have started to address this. Its quite difficult to tackle, accurate clocking and buffering, but all possible. Linns music sling and a few others have low jitter solutions. Have a listen its surprising how good digital can sound. As usual with Linn though its way way over priced. You can get commensurate solutions a lot cheaper elsewhere.
Pointless arguments really.
Written by Magic Matt , June 20, 2008
There are a few pure and simple facts that people need to realise, which are lacking in any of the comments so far.
Firstly, the skill level of the engineers making the music is dropping. It’s the same in all industries actually – introduce automated tools that “improve productivity” and what you really do is lose that human element that may bring out an instrument more in a mix, or give a recording that extra sparkle. Sad but true. The old Blue Note recordings had much more variation in the sound mix than any modern CDs I’ve heard. It’s not because of the media, it’s because in that era, the engineers were far more into the music and spent that extra time getting the sound right.
Ultimately, it’s not quality that is the deciding factor either, it’s popularity with the consumer. People like LPs because they are very tactile, especially from the perspective of a DJ. You can achieve the same, if not more, using DSP on a good twin deck, but it’s just much more fun with an LP regardless. It’s the same reason the Kaos Pad was so popular – nothing new about the FX in the unit, but it was much more tactile, and to a consumer that’s a BIG factor.
As for sound quality, I weep when I think of the months I spent on this argument. Simple answer – digital is now more accurate, but the consumer ultimately doesn’t benefit from this because their equipment is usually limited to a digital playback system working on 16bit 44.1kHz. Even if you ignore the butchery of modern mastering techniques (the fault of marketing and the noise war as already discussed), you’re talking about a distribution format that is far below the capabilities of most modern multimedia PCs, which can deal with uncompressed 24bit 96kHz 7.1 sound (SACD and DVD-Audio are both compressed).
Ultimately, whether the “audiophiles” (who usually are self-labelled numpties who wouldn’t know Vinyl from CD or Cassette in a blind test) like it or not, analogue is less accurate in reproduction, but the defects are more pleasant to the ear and often add “colour” to the sound which although wasn’t there originally is ultimately pleasing to the ear. Digital is far more sterile in this aspect, requiring such “colour” to be added afterwards. This answers the question as to why some engineers prefer to record in analogue – it seems pointless to artificially try to recreate something on a sterile source that you can get exactly the way you want using a different recording medium. Engineers doing this also often don’t like the whole Analogue vs Digital argument anyway, and wish people would shut the hell up and get on with enjoying the music.
Digital Jitter and Timing are often stated as reasons why analogue must be superior. Actually, far more “jitter” is seen on LP due to the pure physics of dragging a stylus across an uneven piece of media and the various speed differences introduced by the stylus weight, gravity, bounce, drift, elasticity of the stylus, etc. not to mention small fluctuations in the drive motors.
So why the percieved difference in LP vs CD where people claim the recording sounds “tighter” on LP? Well, some of it is bullshit, pure and simple. Even if they were timing issues, they would affect frequencies and not individual musicians as some claim. If the musicians are slightly out of sync, that’s due to latency in the mixing stage where effects are applied that hasn’t been counteracted. Nothing to do with timing in the circuitry at all. It’s down to two things that you can actually recreate using something like CoolEdit and your PC. Take a recording at 96kHz (very nice) or 48kHz (old-type studio DAT) of sine waves that start in sync at different octaves. You’ll see them line up nicely in multiples. Convert it to 44.1kHz and they go a little out of sync. This frequency drift can be heard on some CDs. Another is down the harmonics as has already been discussed, however a side effect of hearing more odd-order harmonics is it can affect your perception of timing! Place two sounds perfectly in sync together, one having second order harmonics, and the other third order harmonics, and even though they sound at the exact same time, the one with the third order harmonic seems to be slightly delayed. Think of it as the audio equivelent of one of those optical illusions you see so many of – yes the same can, and does, happen with sound! In fact, some of these effects (mainly using out-of-phase echoes) are used to produce artificial aurround sound.
After all this, I say stop arguing over which is best, as both will be outdated in a few years anyway by something else. Just enjoy the music!
THD N vs intermod
Written by lhpcope , June 21, 2008
I for one would have liked to have seen some intermodulation distortion tests run on both formats, not just harmonic distortion plus noise.
Written by JEJ , June 21, 2008
I would love to run some IM distortion tests but the test LP does not have such tests. I am looking for a test LP that has them.
Hi Rez Multichannel is the Future
Written by C. Weber , June 21, 2008
The article was interesting and confirmed my longstanding opinion that vinyl is a very high distortion but very euphonic medium. If I want to listen to some of the great music performances from the distant past, either vinyl or CD does an adequate job. I can enjoy either. But, frankly, from the standpoint of truthfulness to the original musical performance, I do not care very much about 2-channel music any more. Therefore, this audiophile debate that has raged for well over 25 years is rather pointless.
After over 50 years as an audiophile, I am now getting the most truthful and involving listening experiences of reproduced music I have ever heard anywhere via multichannel SACD’s and DVD-A’s. There is simply more information with less distortion transported from the recording venue to my listening room than with any other medium. It is literally like the difference between hi-def TV and the old analog standard broadcast system.
I know these current hi-rez media are nearly ready to die in favor of the 7.1 channel lossless codecs on Blu-Ray. I am salivating as I wait for this new medium to flourish, which I believe it will inevitably. It will take a little bit of time, because the Blu-Ray era did not officially begin until a few months ago with the death of HD-DVD. I did not really care who won that format war, but I am glad we got it over with, and that we have a single new standard.
Back to SACD/DVD-A, I listen to 80% classical, 5% other music, and watch about 15% DVD or television through my system. Sorry about those pop music afficionados who have engineering problems with compression/overload of digital. In the classical music world, this seldom occurs, but there are other engineering problems – mainly mike placement issues, or poor hall acoustics – I do hear. Mostly, not, though.
One of the issues here is loyalties. Audiophiles seldom get to hear good multichannel, because it’s in the other room, the video room at the dealers. And, that room might be populated with a lot of mass-market Asian home theater equipment that we high enders look down on with disdain. Well, I have learned a lesson. My Integra (from Onkyo) DTC 9.8 pre/pro displaced some very expensive, American-made, high end, 2-channel gear. With an Oppo 980H connected digitally via HDMI, it delivers the best sound I ever heard – tonally, dynamically, spatially, and emotionally – in today’s hi-res multichannel SACD or DVD-A formats. (Plus, I get the absolutely stupendous Audyssey room equalization system built in.) The rest of my system based, on Martin-Logan ‘stat hybrids with some really good amplification, is quite revealing.
I quickly became convinced that hi-rez multichannel was king when I heard the Ondine SACD’s of the Philadelphia Orchestra in live recording sessions I actually attended. The rest, as they say, is history.
No sides necessary…
Written by Mark , June 22, 2008
Why pick sides at this point, or ever? I had a great time reading the article thus far. Great work! The more effort put into the comparison, the more revealing and the more I am enlightened to my own opinions. I can hardly wait for more. I will say this – you have to spend a lot of money today to match my Dad’s two-channel 70’s set-up. A Technics turntable playing an LP of Chicago through a Pioneer SX-780 receiver onto early Chapman Speakers – well, it was damn fine. Was it better than the Alison Krauss live multi-channel SACD on a Pioneer 59avi through my Denon 5805 split by a c-2000 bi-amp module onto ADS L1530 mains with MK surrounds and three subs?
I don’t know. Really. I’m glad I experienced it and will love to read more about the nature of both.
Written by Ashram , June 24, 2008
No sides necessary, indeed.
With the fights between analogue and digital, you forget about the music.
And, the tags “analogue” and “digital” go on to merely describe how a format may approach modulating a signal, which makes either process artificial in any case; a pale comparison to the real thing.
The end result is always going to be sound on playback, and, so long as the quality of the playback is good enough to allow you to enjoy the music, then that’s what matters.
The only argument that really has merit is reproduction versus live performance. A live performance may always be better, but reproduction of a recording can be very enjoyable and is certainly more convenient and practical (not to mention far more economical).
To Magic Matt
Written by 3db , July 03, 2008
Very well put and I’m a vinyl fanatic!! *L* Its the 2nd order harmonics that the human ear find pleasing and I’m one of them. To me, vinyl just sounds better where as CD sounds sterile and accurate.
2nd point is I believe the marketing forced dictate more what a CD should sound like rather than the recording engineer. Most recent commerical CDs (within the last 5 years) are really loud and their dynamic range is much less than my vinyl albums. I’m not saying that CDs don’t have more dynamic range capability. What I’m saying is “loudness” sells more than a well recorded CD so most CDs are loud and flat.
I still buy both formats and despite this senseless debate, I look past the medium and enjoy the music.
remember the master audio
Written by Arg , July 05, 2008
The testing would be best if you also have access to the original analog master. (I say analog because LP lovers won’t accept what I’m about to say if you use a digital master. Otherwise a digital master would be just fine).
You could then compare the master with the CD and the LP. I think this would be quite an eye opener if (dare I say when) the CD turns out indistinguishable from the master, and the LP is “preferred” to both! I am not interested in something that I “prefer” to the original master; I want to hear the master.
I have found that adding 8% THD N to all music playback simply adds the same coloration to all music. The fact that it is a ‘pleasant’ coloration doesn’t prevent it from becoming a bit tiresome to me, because I want to experience the ‘raw’ music in all its colors, pleasant or not.
Regarding your distortion level tests, please note that the LP has much higher third order distortion than the CD, -65dB vs -100dB. So if third order distortion is the cause of less-preferred sound, the LP should sound much worse. Truth is, any order of distortion at -90dB is inaudible in music, as verified by properly conducted tests.
Written by JEJ , July 06, 2008
All of the harmonics are higher, but the noise floor covers it up except for the second order. That is the point I am making. You only hear the second order, which is high, and that makes it sound like a single-ended triode. If you add THD N to the signal, it would have to be second order only and that might make it sound like an LP. If you simply add harmonic distortion, that is not duplicating the LP sound. You need to mask the upper harmonics, perhaps just with pink noise. Enjoying LPs is not about whether it is accurate, it’s about the feeling that it gives. Distortion in an amplifier can probably be sensed at any level, just as it has been shown we can sense frequencies far above 20 kHz. If that distortion is odd-ordered, we will notice it much more. That is why THD N at 3% is a spec we often see in single-ended tube amplifiers. It’s acceptable because it’s second order so it’s pleasant instead of irritating.
analog vs. digital
Written by JM , July 15, 2008
Tom Scholz, Boston’s lead guitarist, producer, engineer, (trained engineer), etc. (in short a guy who knows a hell of a lot more about recording and sound than most) is quoted as saying in Sound and Vision that digital reproduction currently does not accurately capture the sound of the analog master. He stated that a 12K waveform run through 16/44 digital conversion is significantly altered and clearly not an accurate copy. He added that this is obviously audible to most.
Vinyl, or tape for that matter, is loaded with certain distortions endemic to the method of reproduction. To ascertain that analog sound results from these distortion is a bit shortsighted, however. It reminds me of the folks that cannot contemplate that single ended triodes offer theoretical and practical performance advantages over push/pull designs both tube and solid state, which are clearly measurable. Of course, the caveat here is that the load not compromise performance. If, as an engineer, these performance advantages are beyond your scope (no pun intended), than you may be likely to jump to conclusion regarding the performance variants in analog and digital reproduction.
It simply does not come down to second order masking. Digital conversion is not accurate. Pretty much everyone can here this, though they may wish it wasn’t so. I know I wish that digital did a better job, but it does seem that this is much of a priority for the music industry.
Written by JEJ , July 15, 2008
The bottom line for the sound is the original signal along with whatever distortion spectrum comes out along with it. For the vinyl, if all that comes out is the original, plus second order harmonics, plus noise, then that is all there is to make the sound. There is no magic invisible component. Everything in the electronic signal that makes the sound is measurable. There may be a 12 kHz problem in the D/A conversion, and there appears to be a 5 kHz problem with Class A operation, but it is all measurable. There could be IM differences with LPs, but I can’t find a test LP with IM test tones, such as 250-8020 Hz or 50-7000 Hz. I would suggest 50-7000 Hz, recorded at – 20 dB and 0 dB, in both channels simultaneously, each channel individually, and also with 50 Hz in one channel and 7000 Hz in the other channel. We also need LP tracks with frequency sweeps in steps rather than continuous, because an Audio Precision test instrument requires stepped sweeps. Perhaps 60 steps, 2 seconds each, from 10 Hz to 30 kHz. Also, maybe an additional stepped frequency sweep with no RIAA curve applied. That would let us measure the frequency response directly from the cartridge, although it might only work with high output cartridges.
Maybe there are some problems with certain frequencies in vinyl, like the 12 kHz issue in D/A conversion and 5 kHz issue in Class A. That is the purpose of our article series. We are trying to find out what the differences are.
Written by JM , July 15, 2008
I am not sure that the point that he was trying to make was that there was an anomaly at 12K. I believe that the point was that a 16/44 conversion distorts the waveform in general. He chose 12K because he noted that this is a frequency that most of us can hear. He also noted the affect on cymbals, violins, and even electric guitars. Not good and audible.
Sadly, there are number of records available that were mastered from digital sources, even cds. Some were even mastered from downloads. Why not measure those. I suspect that your findings will not vary, but I don’t really know. Then listen and compare the vinyl and cd version. When we ran this latter test, and we found ourselves typically preferring the cd version.
Vinyl second order distortion may well exist, but it couldn’t mask the problems with digital very well. Absolutely no one preferred the cd version to any pure analog equivalent.
analog vs. digital
Written by John Kotches , July 15, 2008
I’m curious, was Tom Scholz not in attendance in engineering school when they taught the Nyquist/Shannon Sampling Theorems? This isn’t exactly new stuff here, it dates back to the first half of the 20th century. Were Mr. Scholz in engineering training in the 1920s he would be celebrating his 100th birthday very soon, and not a member of Boston in the 1970s.
A 12K fundamental will pass completely unaltered by the process with a 44.1K sampling rate. This will then be exactly reproduced at the output following the output filter.
Realistically, most signals are not pure sine waves, and any harmonic of a 12K fundamental will be above the input low-pass filter of the analog system. That said, I don’t know of many signals in music that have a 12K fundamental. The highest note on a piano is just under 4200 Hz if we are using an A4 = 440Hz tuning. You’d have to be above the 3rd order for this to be skipped by an output LPF. This exceeds the range of all musical instrument fundamentals in western music. I’m sorry, I’m not quite as knowledgeable about eastern music to discuss that with any significant level of detail.
So we have every instruments fundamental covered — with the noted exception of a few percussion instruments, of greatest interest which would be the cymbal and the triangle. There are also intentional colorations of some instruments such as a harmon muted trumpet which can produce content above 20K. It should be noted that the harmon muted trumpet produces less than 2% of its energy above 20K.
This would only hold true for close-in mic’ing of the instruments however. Once you get out to more along the lines of 5-8 feet the ultrasonics become almost immeasurable.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that 2nd order distortion is highly euphonic, it occurs at an exact frequency doubling of the fundamental, which is a much richer sound than the raw fundamental.
Try this experiment — play a middle C on piano. Now play a middle C a very light High C. Guess which sounds richer? Guess what 2nd order distortion does? It will reinforce at octave intervals all the way up the chain. So, you get 2nd order distortion of the fundamental, 2nd order, 3rd order ad infinitum — or at least to the limits of the system. That this is a distortion cannot be argued.
Whether or not one finds that distortion to be euphonic is quite another issue entirely, but it is (ipso facto) not accurate to the source.
Written by JEJ , July 16, 2008
I haven’t listened to any LPs that were mastered from a digital recording. I suppose I will eventually, but right now, I have my hands full just trying to decipher the differences between LPs from analog tapes and CDs. Funny you should mention cymbals, because I hear a very big difference with that instrument between the LP and CD versions (analog tape master). I play drums, and the LP version of cymbals sounds much more realistic.
Talk to Tom
Written by JM , July 16, 2008
I am just reiterating what Tom stated in the question and answer session found in Sound and Vision. Not sure of his pedigree, but I thought that he graduated from MIT. He claims that the signal at 12K is clearly altered. I suppose I am more inclined to believe the opinion of an engineer, producer, guitarist, recording engineer, mastering engineer, etc. more than that of most others.
To imply that engineering, sound engineering, is somehow static, I think is not quite right. Obviously, as we gain the capacity to measure the phenomena, we come to new understandings. Quantum mechanics makes proposals much different than those that I learned in Chemistry, and I am not that old. I am not sure how Tom might be measuring the signal, and I don’t know that we can necessarily ask him to explain further.
Note, however, JEJ’s comment seems to reaffirm Tom’s contention. I often see these types of comments from musicians.
Master tape distortion
Written by JM , July 16, 2008
I do have a few questions regarding the source. Aren’t analog master tapes typically loaded with second order distortion? Wouldn’t that mean that an exact copy of the tape would also contain significant second order distortion? Wouldn’t this also mean that a vinyl copy of an analog tape would be adding second order to second order? Wouldn’t this also mean that a pure digital recording that never touched tape and went straight to disc would have the lowest distortion currently available, and technically the best sound?
Where do the resources go?
Written by Robert Badcock , July 21, 2008
Most quality turntables are made in Germany (Clearaudio), United States (Sota), England (Rega), and made in factories that support their employees enough to have families.
Consider where most CD players are made… by near slaves living lives that are at best difficult by most western standards, and typically working much longer days and more days a week.
Much of the vinyl thing is more than a sound thing; it is a quality and lifestyle issue. Myself; I am proud to see my audio devices produced by craftsman as compared to low wage fast food type drones.
Naturally, this will sound different to some people. Besides, aren’t CDs nice and shiny? Pretty, pretty. You can even see your reflection in them. Does the money you spend reflect your own personal values?
I give the CD 5-10 more years as a medium. The LP? Ha, it will still be around in 50.
Too many blanket statements
Written by Nick P. , July 23, 2008
If 12 kHz running through analog to digital conversion is so bad across the board, what’s the performance of 12 kHz running through an analog to analog converter when it’s the kind that converts electrical signal to mechanical groove?
Since it costs about the same as a CD or LP, I suggest any audiophile visit an audiologist or hearing aid supplier with a special request of extending measurement of each ear’s sensitivity to 12 kHz.
On Apr 29 I posted a link showing 48 to 44.1 converter performance. Here’s another more comprehensive one showing huge differences between 96 to 44.1 converters:
The default graphs showing sweeps should have a completely dark background and no “tail” at the upper end.
There is a 1 kHz test from the pull-down menu. Note that the scale goes to about -185 dB.
The point again is that without knowing whhat’s in a randomly selected recording chain other than how bad its weakest link is, talking about everything else in it has no point.
Written by Ashram , July 24, 2008
Mr. badcock, with all due respect, your comparison isn’t fair and, for that matter, isn’t really relevant.
You are comparing turntables made by niche manufacturers to CD players made by mass market manufacturers.
There are CD players that are made by niche manufacturers such as Linn (Scotland), Meridian (England), and Krell (USA) that are also made in the same types of factories that pay highly skilled employees well enough to allow for decent living in Western society.
Likewise, there are also mass market turntables from AudioTechnica, Stanton, and Gemini that are likely made by those “near slaves” you talk about.
You also ask about how the “money you spend reflect your own personal values?”
Well, in the case of personal expenditures, you are either an elitist who spends a lot of money on a Bix or a cheapskate who spends little on a Circuit City scratch-n-dent special on a Teac. Either way, you can’t win which begs the question: why bring the question of ethical values in the mix since both aren’t so separate in that regard?
As for relevance, your comment does not contribute to the technical scope of the discussions and, rather, seems as an attack against those who may prefer CD or who may prefer vinyl but acknowledges that it’s advantages are due to inherent inaccuracies compared to the original master.
nobody ever mentions bass performance….
Written by binary rules , August 25, 2008
First off, I’ll state I’m firmly in the digital measures better and therefore must be better camp.
I want to hear the closest account of the original possible, if the recording needed loads of 2nd order harmonics, the engineer’s would have added it.
I have approx. 1000 albums, so I consider myself very familiar with the vinyl sound. However when I used to play records (back in the 80’s), my system did not have the ability to reproduce the lowest octaves.
My system today has a pair of SVS Ultra subs, and my speakers are fairly flat down to 35hz. When I recently attempted to play vinyl on this system, I couldn’t get any SPL without a violent reaction from the subs, and of course the subs would excite the tonearm and make things worse very quickly. Even at levels low enough to not excite the tonearm, the subsonic noise being reproduced by the subs was enough to make you sick to your stomach….and given the deflection of the woofers, wasting alot of amplifier power as well.
In the time of powerful subwoofers how are people dealing with this while playing vinyl? I have all my speakers on a concrete floor, TT as well.
I just can’t understand how and why people are willing to deal with all the mechanical noise when it can be completely avoided. Needless to say I’ll be sticking with digital.
First hand experience
Written by E.M. , October 08, 2008
I own a mastering operation and I cut custom disks for people who want them, as well as masters for production. Through experience before digital, during digital, and now at the full circle stage my $.02 is that analog recordings inherently sound “better” because the technology used to make and reproduce them behaves in respect to response more like our ears do, plain and simple. Digital, on the other hand, now that computers and processors are capable of much higher sample rates than they were when CD’s were introduced, can produce results similar to the best analog equipment. Remember at the time CD’s were first marketed, we had ‘Pong’ and ‘Ms. Pac Man’ not the high end games of today because microprocessors simply weren’t capable of handling that much data, especially in a stream as required for audio recording and reproduction. It worked, but not at the level of analog of the time.
Fast forward to today, and digital equipment does make a good origination and editing medium at the higher sampling rates – I’d much rather ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ than literally, well, cut and paste like we used to. However for a distribution medium, the LP wins because the CD limits frequency response because of the sampling technology available at their introduction which is still the same to this day, and other formats such as SACD or DVD-A are getting closer, but still have limitations and issues as with any format, but lack the character and sound quality of an LP.
Disks cut on our system and many others that are being brought back on line around the world to meet the new demand have a sparkle and warmth that digital recording haven’t had. As stated with the newer sampling rates available (over 100 kHz) the quality is getting closer and those are the rates we use to originate, then transfer to disk the new recordings we make. Whether original recordings or transfers from tape, we use the high sample rates which have to be busted down to 44.1 to make a CD of the same material (most customers want both formats), and you end up losing information and quality because of that.
In my opinion, there really isn’t a “which is better” it’s more a question of which is the better way to originate and edit, and which is the better way to copy and distribute. Both technologies have good and bad characteristics, but what we’ve found is that digital work at a high sample rate for origination is a great media to record and master with, but then output to a lacquer disk and you have two winning products.
Finally, my recollection of the CD’s introduction was mainly to address surface noise as records had been commonplace items for years and were subsequently used and abused. Noiseless recording was finally possible – that was the digital advantage of the time. Somewhat greater dynamics played a part, but I recall most of the emphasis was on noise. If you take care of your records, keep them clean, play them on a good turntable with a good stylus, ground your turntable, and put the vinyl slab back in the sleeve when you’re through, you don’t have the “ticks and pops” people cried about because they didn’t treat their records with respect. Now that CD’s are as common as LP’s once were, look at what happens when your CD gets damaged. I’d much rather hear a passing click or pop if my disk did get damaged, rather than the d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d repeating and subsequent ejecting of a CD when it gets damaged.
Turntable Alternative: ELP
Written by Bruce Stram , October 11, 2008
Anyone who has read this far has learned that high end turntables can be very expensive. Add to that the cost of a suitable tonearm, cartridge and pre pre amp (if you’re using the preferred MC cartridge) and you’re easily in the 30k plus range.
An alternative is the ELP turntable. Not cheap except by these standards, it runs about 10k. Its an elegant approach, playing the LP with laser beams. The record slides in and out on a tray similar to but obviously much larger than a CD tray.
The laser beams read a much smaller part of the groove than a cartridge stylus, which is good. Its depth in the groove is adjustable, so that you maybe can find an unworn part of the groove. Obviously the laser beam does not wear the record any further.
It also has features that let one track effortlessly to a given cut and adjust turntable speed with CD like remote control.
The playing of a record is very different. Clear surface problems can be minimized or even ignored by the laser beam. They claim, and it makes sense but I’ve never had occasion to try it, that it can play though an actual crack in the record. On the downside, dust which would be pushed aside by a stylus is obviously not. And the dust is “played” with a pop or a tick. Records can not be too clean on this machine.
It plays into a normal MM style phone input, no additional preamp needed. And for those digitiphobes, the signal is strictly analog.
And last, Micheal Fremer, one of Stereophile’s “golden ears” and a vinyl lover, gave it an A rating several years ago, legitimately putting it in the stratospheric range in terms of performance.
In the real world, it’s the one you emphasize
Written by Cliff , January 04, 2009
As many have noted, much of this is academic – and of literally no import in the real world, or in my listening room. Let me explain.
Both digital and analog have become so good that it’s ridiculous. A strong example of either one can be – literally – breathtaking. Which one you prefer is determined by which one got the larger share of your budget. I’ll give you five-to-one that that every person on this page who says CD is superior spent far more on their digital set-up; every person who prefers analog dropped more on their turntable. To whit: my CD player cost less that $1,000. On the other hand, my turntable – once you add in the cartridge and the fancy-pants interconnects – set me back about three grand. Can you guess which one sounds better?
Folks, the complaints are ALL legit. My turntable has some pops. Sometimes a CD sounds a bit tinny. And with more investment, I can make either one sound better than the other. Except for those of us who live in a world of unlimited money (checked your 401-K lately?), this is the only answer of any real-world significance.
Written by George , January 18, 2009
Whether or not YOU like the unarguably distinct sound of Vinyl over Digital is a matter of preference, and there cannot be a right answer there.
As to which format provides a higher fidelity representation of the original waveform, there is no debate.
It’s like creationism vs evolution or climate change vs “co2 is good”
A bunch of science on one side and a bunch of emotion on the other.
The ignorance is laughable
Written by Blod , February 26, 2009
anyone who starts off with the claim that dithering and aliasing of 24-bit audio is actually not a bad thing knows almost nothing about sound and should immediately be ignored. Anyone who thinks that upsampling a compressed 16-bit CD up to a trillion bits will somehow bring back information that was destroyed is fooling himself and needs to watch more upconverted DVDs and compare them to good Blu-Ray.
Anyone who makes the blanket statement that vinyl and tube lovers are enjoying the “distortion” of the medium is an imbecile. I enjoy the deeper soundstage, greater resolution, better detail, and more realistic timbre of vinyl. Distortion DOES NOT enhance resolution, detail, timbre, and soundstaging depth. Distortion is nasty, much like most digital sounds.
Anyone who thinks that original master digital recordings are anything special needs to learn the basics of how digital recording actually works. Even at the master level, digital recording is horribly flawed and aliased/dithered, whereas analog recordings are not.
In the end, you take a flawed digital recording, then compress to it a terribly flawed medium like CD, and then upconvert it through a consumer level DAC (even a $2K DAC), and you STILL think that digital is the better sonic format? LOL.
Written by Bob L , March 19, 2009
There has just been a study published that found that most young people tested prefer low bit rate MP3 over higher res formats essentially because they have listened to MP3 so much and for so long that they are accustomed to this sound and even though the “cognescenti” have ruled that it is inferior.
I postulate that this also the reason that may people stil prefer the distorted sound of vinyl…. habit. This is a legacy format for anyone over 25 or 30 years of age and the plethora of distortions in vinyl have become a “comfort food” for them.
So pick your distortion preference – vinyl or CD. Chacun a son gout!
Written by Daniel , January 21, 2010
I’m in my mid twenties and I find the pops and clicks of LPs horrendous. I can’t stand it. I think people who listen to LPs are crazy. You get rid of them with a $3,000 dollar turntable? I can get rid of them with a $10 CD player.
Maybe CD’s sound horrible. Maybe they don’t capture everything LP’s do?
You know what? I DON’T CARE you think CDs sound horrible. I fricken enjoy it.
Just like you DON’T CARE that I think LPs sound horrible. You fricken enjoy it.
Just like 12 year olds DON’T CARE we both think their MP3s sound horrible. They fricken enjoy it.
It’s all about the fricken enjoyment. Get out there and fricken enjoy your music. This emotion filled/technical detail filled debate drivel is pointless. This is about as stupid as comparing the realism of paintings to photographs.
Back to this fascinating article.
Enjoyment and cost
Written by ChrisHeinonen , January 24, 2010
I’m just over 30 now, but have been listening to vinyl since my early 20’s, though on a fairly entry level setup as vinyl goes. Sure, there are occasional pops and other sounds that shouldn’t be there, but when I compare it directly to the same CD, I find the vinyl to sound more natural, warmer, and more like real life.
Is vinyl convenient? Of course not. Records can warp and break, they need to be cleaned, they take up a lot of room, and I can’t easily rip a copy to listen to at my computer or on my iPhone. However, I don’t think any of us would keep buying it unless we thought it had a more lifelike sound that a CD can offer.
No one is going to compare a $3,000 turntable to a $10 CD player, though not because the $10 CD player is inherently better as you seem to suggest. Both formats have weaknesses and strengths, and they are different and some of the weaknesses of one format are too much for someone to deal with.
Your photograph argument would be much better if you compared film to digital photography. Both take a picture, but both have pros and cons about them. Film is a pain to work with, harder to develop, and more expensive, but to me it has that wonderful grain quality that looks so much better to me than digital photos. Of course, I use a DSLR instead of a film camera since, despite the fact that I might like the image from film more, it’s too much of a pain for me to deal with in my life, but just because I choose to go with digital for some reasons, doesn’t make it superior to film automatically, or make someone that chooses film wrong.
Having a debate about this isn’t pointless, it’s enlightening for people on both ends of the spectrum. I find all music formats have a place in my life (I own hundreds of CD’s, and I acquire mp3’s if there is no other way to obtain the music I’m after), and while I wish there was a format that was always better than another one, there isn’t as far as I can tell. But saying that vinyl is automatically worse because of the random pop or click is flawed.
At CEDIA this year I heard one of the best demonstrations I have heard, using Martin Logan’s CLX panels, with Descent subwoofers, and Diana Krall – Live in Paris from a McIntosh turntable. I certainly heard some pops and clicks while they played it, as that turntable picked up everything, but I also heard a dead black background, and a completely natural voice and piano coming to me from the speakers. It was more natural than any CD’s I’ve heard, and I’d happily deal with the pops and clicks to hear something that sounds so natural all the time.
Feedback — Turntable Setup
Written by G. Steenbergen , June 26, 2010
With the resurgence of LP’s, it’s great that you are taking the time to take on the analog-vs-digital source quality argument in-depth – and to educate the current generation of hi-fi enthusiasts to the finer points of turntable setup. Since I was actively involved in hi-fi audio for quite some time when turntables evolved into THE source for high-end audio in the early ’70’s (and eventually took over as a store manager for a McIntosh dealer in the Midwest), I was intimately familiar with the settings and finesse involved in the proper set-up of a turntable/tonearm/cartridge system. I may be a little rusty on some of the terms, but I would like to offer the following feedback/clarification – please feel free to respond (or not).
First, skating force really has nothing to do with “centripetal force” – it is a consequence of the geometry between the tonearm pivot and the stylus/LP contact point, and is caused by friction between the stylus and the LP. That friction force, essentially tangent to the groove being tracked at any given moment, is not directed toward the fixed pivot point of the tonearm, but to the outside. As a result, a slight ‘torque’ is applied to the tonearm assembly which induces the tonearm to drift toward the turntable spindle. Tonearms (back then) induced an opposing ‘anti-skating compensation’ torque, using either a small counterweight like the McIntosh turntable in your article (a more desirable means due to its predictable and constant force) or a small spring mechanism (less desirable due to being less predictable and not truly constant). I also seem to recall that someone even devised an anti-skating compensation system utilizing magnets but cannot recall who it was or if it was in a trial or final product. In any case, both the skating force (and the anti-skating force used to counteract it) were directly dependant on the tracking force applied to the cartridge (spring systems were typically adjusted via a small knob with markings matching cartridge tracking force settings; counterweight systems were typically adjusted by altering the distance from the tonearm pivot to the counterweight attachment point, with attachment points provided to match various tracking force settings). Ergo, skating force clearly correlates directly with tracking force.
Secondly, with tracking forces slowly falling back then as cartridge technology evolved, anti-skating compensation was becoming less pronounced as a factor affecting turntable accuracy/performance (my last two cartridges, moving-coil units, were: an Ortofon with a 1.0-1.25 gram tracking force, and a Bang & Olufsen with a 1.5-gram tracking force – both around half of that noted for the McIntosh turntable). Those interested in as much precision as possible regarding turntable setup at the time (as I was), could verify anti-skating compensation empirically and, if the turntable was so capable, fine-tune it – one would merely place a smooth (ungrooved) ‘LP’ on the turntable (available for this purpose at that time), start the turntable, place the stylus on the surface of the disc, watch for the tonearm to drift toward/away from the turntable spindle, and adjust as needed to minimize the drift in either direction.
Next, I didn’t notice cartridge ‘overhang’ mentioned in your article. This specification (as I recall) was given by the turntable and/or tonearm manufacturer. It was intended to help achieve better symmetry between the stylus ‘arc’ (that described by the stylus as the tonearm swings across the LP) and the point of tangential alignment (“azimuth”) of the cartridge (which should be aligned at a point midway between the innermost and outermost grooves on the LP). This keeps the unavoidable azimuth error to a minimum across the LP by “zeroing” it in mid-arc.
Lastly, I want to note that, when viewed in cross-section, stereo LP grooves have a 90-degree V-shaped profile, with each of the groove’s two edges containing information for one of the two stereo channels. Each edge, when modulated, undulates perpendicular to its surface and parallel to the other edge – which, by virtue of groove geometry, provides the primary separation between each channel’s discreet information. Because of the 90-degree V-shaped grooves, the primary motion of the stylus is not up-and-down, but movement in a diagonal direction (at 45-degrees to the LP surface) – an up-and-down motion is realized only when information is delivered to the stylus from both channels simultaneously, thereby causing the two primary (diagonal) motions to combine into a vertical motion.
I hope this all makes sense, and sorry to ramble on.
A refreshing read indeed…
Written by Aaron , June 08, 2011
CD vs LPs… The battle still goes on.
– For me once upon a time in the late 90s till about 2008, LPs were a cheap medium (Even cheaper than tapes & CDs).
– I discovered the Clash, realised that Foreigner was a hard rock band, The Band was not a generic term 😉 and the thrill to get your hands on a mint unopened Joni Mitchell or stumble on a Bruce Springsteen box set of live performances for a few bucks only because the pawn store had no idea what their true value was..
– Hacking my Technics SL-D3 to get the best of what it could deliver
And I think that’s the charm of vinyl. Theres always scope to push the bar a little further. Atleast for an audiophile ;-).
Digital on the other hand – like it, hate it – For sure you can’t live without it. The sheer pervasiveness cannot be ignored. In my opinion the next commercial format to supplant CDs could possibly put the Digital vs Analog rhetorics will be effectively put to rest.