Tonight my friend and I sat down and listened to some vinyl for the first time in years. I have a VPI HW-19 Jr turntable with a Rega 300 arm and a Grado Red cartridge going into a McCormick Micro Phono Preamp. Not a shabby playback setup if I do say so.
We focused on music that I had on multiple formats. We started with the classic Genesis album Wind & Wuthering. I have a vinyl re-issue as well as the 1997 Definitive Edition CD. I began playing both as close to simultaneously as I could so we could switch between them. The CD was far superior in almost every way but that's not saying much; the vinyl re-issue was cheap, very thin vinyl. The vinyl did have the edge in the smoothness of the cymbals. More about this later. The vinyl had a nice 'glue' to it but the vocals were not as present and the distortion caused by the medium itself was annoying.
Second we tried A Trick of the Tail. This time I have an original pressing of the vinyl and the Definitive Edition CD. Again the CD sounded better but I have to admit there was something really nice about the very first track on the vinyl. As the album progressed, the sound got worse and worse (a product of the medium) and the CD in comparison sounded better and better. But the first cut on the vinyl sounded really good. Again, the cymbals were clear but not harsh. But like W&W the vocals had a fuzzy, almost distorted quality around them.
I want to offer a caveat here: I think the Genesis catalog is long overdue for a proper digital re-release. The 1997 Definitive Editions are the best so far but they all suffer from the same slightly harsh highs. The 2007 remixes by Nick Davis are awful. He did not stay true or pay homage to the original mixes, instead opting to modernize everything. The drums are too loud, the vocals too upfront, too much dynamic compression on everything, and on some albums like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, entire parts (like background vocals) are missing. They are unbelievably bad. I would love someone like Steven Wilson to be hired to do a proper remixing and remastering job on the catalog.
Next up, we tried Blackstar, the final David Bowie album. Thanks to my friend I now have this on vinyl as well as CD and high-res audio from HD Tracks.
First we compared the HD audio to the CD. The HD tracks are 24bit/96kHz. Neither of us could really tell a difference. I kept wanting to hear something but when I'd go back and listen to the other source, I really couldn't tell. I have no idea if these hi-res tracks are actual mixes from the original hi-res master (if there even is a high-res master) or if they are simply up-sampled versions of the CD tracks. Who knows? All I know is that I could not hear any difference at all.
The vinyl actually sounds really good. However, I think the CD / digital audio still wins. My friend liked the vinyl more but he said he lived with the album for weeks just listening at the gym on crappy earbuds, so the lack of 'fidelity' and the 'smushiness' that vinyl imparts on everything wasn't an issue for him and he preferred it. I liked the digital better because it had way more punch, more dynamics, and less distortion. But the vinyl did have a nice vibe to it. It was certainly very carefully mastered and pressed. And the packaging is awesome.
So that's that. I understand why people love vinyl; it's really cool and fun. But the fidelity when compared to CD is obviously lacking. Even with the occasional harshness in those Genesis CDs, there are enjoyable details revealed that are completely masked by the noise floor and surface noise of the vinyl. Maybe one day we'll get high-res transfers of the original master tapes of the Genesis stuff. Until then, I'll take my Definitive Edition CDs over the vinyl.