Does Vinyl Sound Better Than CD? (Or any other digital format for that matter!)
Of Course It Does!!!
But if it was as simple as that this would be a very short blog.. you'd have your jacket on and be on your way to the pub by now... SO here it is!
This is not a new question, a few years ago I sold a whole boot full of HIFi magazines... I'd been collecting them for ages and they were taking up space - the internet wasn't! But I do recall reading many an article about this very subject, particularly when CDs came to the fore, they were stacked with measurements and pictures of oscilloscopes; Since CD's started fizzling out in the face of better bandwidth it has become less of a novelty comparing them to vinyl. I just don't really see those type of comparisons as much any more. Now though, Vinyl is back! and it is standing in the face of lossless streaming, from services and NAS drives, FLAC and whatever else comes along, so let's ask the question again for this generation of Vinyl Revivalists!
OK - so this is how I see it, and, as usual this is going to be the non-anorak version. I have decided not to use any scientific equipment or mathematical analysis to prove any point here;
a) Because I don't have any scientific equipment!
b) Because I can't do long division
c) Because I have realised there is an awful lot of subjectivity needed here and the positivist approach is far too objective for my tastes!
So - Simple enough question, 'Does Vinyl Sound Better Than CD...?'
Well of course I have to say yes, I collect vinyl, I listen to vinyl, I sell vinyl and as a byproduct of all of that I store vinyl (the fabled warehouse of course!), and I don't need science to help me to agree, I don't have to prove it to myself and I don't want anyone to prove it to me - or prove it not to be the case. You see the way I see it is that many people have asked the right question and given the wrong answer, or have asked the wrong question and given the right answer - there are some very intelligent and hard working people out there who have just got their Q's and A's a bit muddled up. Maybe the slight eccentricity that this level of thinking can attract has allowed this to happen.
The question wasn't 'Is vinyl better than CD?' Or 'Is vinyl more accurate than CD?', or anything of the sort, the question was does it 'sound' better. It is not a matter of measurement, it is a matter of perception. I maintain (fortunately I'm not the only one) that no matter how good digital sources get they just don't sound as nice as a record. At the moment (It is now 2020 and this is about the third revision of this article) I listen to Amazon Unlimited more than anything else - in full HD, however a CD - played through our Graham Slee Majestic DAC - still sounds extremely good!! Don't throw your CD's out just yet!
SO what is nice? Well, according to Mrs. Cowburn my old English teacher 'nice' does not exist, we were penalised for using it in essays, it is a word we should avoid using, it is neither here nor there - a non-committal adjective that is a cop-out for really describing something properly. Well, wise as she was, unfortunately for Mrs. Cowburn 'nice' does exist - it exists to describe a quality that is non-specific but amiable, any further definition would by definition make it more specific and therefore less 'nice'. Nice is the X factor, nice is the difference we feel when we see a photograph from 1976 taken with a Boots film - and even though it is just Auntie Mabel's wedding it looks like art, think Tony Ray-Jones (look him up if you have the time.. genius!). What nice isn't is when we see a digital print of a Lion pouncing on a Zebra from half a mile away taken with a 4 zillion megapixel 1Ds III and a 600mm lens. It is astonishing! Technically impressive! Accurate? (depends on Photoshop!). Thinking of saying there is a tad of motion blur? Mild colour cast? It is easy to see the imperfections in something nearly perfect, it is rarely 'nice' no matter what else it is.
What I am trying to say here is you don't need the best digital equipment to capture 'nice' or do art, you don't need to have the best voice to have the 'X' factor, after all, Bob Dylan can't sing. It is so difficult to capture that un-measurable quality and repeat it with no measurements to go off - and no template - just your gut feeling. This is where we stop being technical and start being human. We are analogue beings, we are not binary, we are not a series of on-off short bursts of movement and information, we flow. We are very imprecise. Digital sources look and sound so much like the real thing now that they will always be technically better than a record with its noise or a film photo with its graininess and colour cast. The closer we get to our human-ness the more chance we have got of recognising - or even having - the X factor; of recognising 'nice'.
My scientific ignorance is a blessing, I have objectivity and can just trust my ears - I am sure that my records sound better than CD and streaming, I don't know why and I am glad I don't. I suspect they are not technically as good as some sources but luckily for me I don't care. I can genuinely say that I prefer it. I am honest with myself and can live with technical imperfection, actually I can enjoy technical imperfection, it is more human, more analogue. This is why I think vinyl sounds better - I think it mirrors our human qualities, the analogue flow, the imperfections, the errors it makes don't 'jar', they mirror ours, we have variations, we never do two things exactly the same.
My truly beloved wife has no interest in measuring my output! She knows not her woofers or tweeters and cares not about the gauge of my cables.. she does however - pretty consistently say that my records sound better than other stuff I play - whether on the Sunday HiFi (oooooooooooh) or on the 1210 that I use to demo records for sale, they still have the 'X' factor even on more modest equipment. She doesn't know why and doesn't have to. It is liberating to know what you like and what you prefer and be content to leave it at that, I wish I was more like that sometimes.
So getting back to the question - 'Does Vinyl Sound Better Than CD....?
Well - the answer is different for us all and all of them are correct, mine is correct for me - so ask yourself...