Vinyl has been around for a long time and will forever remain a classical part of music.
One of the most frequent questions I run into in most forums is:
“Does Vinyl sound better?”
This post will therefore answer this question and provide valuable reasoning around the answer so you have a deeper understanding and clear picture as to whether vinyl does sound better or not.
With that said,
Does vinyl sound better?
Vinyl doesn’t sound better because; a lot of the processes involved in the pressing of Vinyl and preparation of audio for Vinyl negatively alter sound quality. So you cannot compare it to digital quality. Digital audio processing is fairly less complex as compared to the rigorous processes involved in vinyl pressing so the short answer is NO, vinyl doesn’t sound better compared to digital audio.
I’ve had experience with vinyl over the years and after conducting various sound tests.
The conclusions indicate that vinyl isn’t better than digital audio, it’s a classic way of record creation and that’s that.
So let’s get into the reasons why vinyl doesn’t sound better or produce better audio quality.
Narrow Stereo image
The stereo image of any sound composition is simply the sound field on which various sounds are arranged.
It is composed of the middle which is the mono and two sides which are the left and right channel.
With vinyl you basically get a centred representation of audio which is pretty much narrow because of all the processing that vinyl pressing applies to audio.
This is one reason why vinyl quality is not really meant to compete with digital quality.
Digital audio is more balanced with a wide and deeper stereo image as compared to the audio you would typically get from vinyl.
With most record players this is easily noticeable especially if you’re listening with the motive of getting a sense of the stereo image.
Thin Low end
The way that audio is processed and mastered for digital audio is a lot different from the way audio is mastered for vinyl.
Which is why you’ll find most vinyl pressing companies also offering mastering services.
Because a sort of delicate touch has to be applied for audio to be applied to vinyl.
With mastering for vinyl, the low and mid frequencies are cut from audio as well as some of the high frequencies.
You’ll therefore easily notice that vinyl tends to have a less pronounced low end.
Digital audio on the other hand doesn’t have such limitations which makes it have better audio quality.
Another thing that I’ve noticed with vinyl is that it exhibits a lot of distortion. Specifically, harmonic distortion.
Vinyl pressing tends to skew audio which therefore gives it some distortion.
This is easily notable and record players tend to exhibit this.
Vinyl crackle greatly affects the quality of the audio which is why vinyl is great for classical records that were specifically meant to be on vinyl.
With most vinyl records you’ll that most hit songs are far away from the centre of the record.
The reason for this is that audio tends to sound worse near the center.
Therefore the last song on each side of a vinyl record will sound worse as you go towards the center.
This is another reason why vinyl is not of better quality.
If you’re going for good quality you’re better off going digital or the CD route.
That way you’ll encounter less problems.
Vinyl is tricky, it’s not really meant to preserve audio quality to a 100% degree which is why most vinyl pressing plants will offer you test vinyl so you can get a better sense of the audio quality you’ll get from pressing vinyl.
For most of us, panning is an everyday technique that we apply to our records.
Panning is done to widen the stereo image and give the music some depth.
Furthermore, Panning allows you to properly create space around each individual element in your mix.
With vinyl, you will get less transparency when you pan on either side and will most likely have a centred or mono stereo image.
So this is another issue that makes vinyl a not-so-great option if we are strictly looking at sound quality.
With vinyl you’ll most likely run into tempo issues.
Speed accuracy is a problem that most record players run into and greatly impacts the quality of audio.
Because a slow playback will result in your audio sounding stretched which will bring about notable problems like distortion.
Playing a record at accurate speed is the way that you can enjoy a record in its natural form.
Any alterations diminish the sound quality of the music which is a common problem you’ll face with vinyl.
Furthermore, every vinyl record player will affect your sound so that’s another thing about vinyl.