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A Lark Ascending

The CD/Vinyl Debate Part 765

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The Editorial of this month's FRoots (a long standing UK folk/world music magazine)

If I owned a goat, it would certainly be got by the back-to-vinyl fetishists. In my earlier career as a musician I made, solo or in bands, around fourteen albums that came out on LP. Whenever I got the finished artefact home I was always slightly disappointed, because it never sounded like it had done in the mastering studio – and we used the best. It wasn’t until the first one that came out on CD that I finally heard, in my living room, what I’d hoped to. Since then I’ve been able to remaster stuff for CD from original analogue tapes going back more than four decades, and in every single case it has restored the sound that vinyl never transmitted. To me, it is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt, that CD is a far better sound carrier than vinyl, and of course way ahead of mp3s, regardless how convenient the latter are.

Full editorial: http://www.frootsmag.com/content/issue/edsbox/

I'm not trying to wind up the vinyl enthusiasts here (again!) - we all pick and choose the formats that attract us (I've just never accepted that, for the average listener with average playback equipment, vinyl sounds 'better'; I can see how the whole ritual of playing an LP (or 78) can be very satisfying).

I was struck by this because you rarely see this side of the argument in print. It's normally just accepted that vinyl is superior.

Anderson is a prickly customer (and I'd go further than him as I think the deficiencies of mp3 are greatly exaggerated (again, when you consider the average listening equipment most people use [and I'm not just talking mp3 players]) and don't share his love of nice packaging) and he gets pretty testy if his (often quirky) views are challenged.

But it's good to see an orthodoxy questioned here.

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages.

For vinyl I would liken it to savouring a fine wine. It requires good front-end playback equipment to do it justice though and you wouldn't want to be spinning those things day in and day out.

For day-to-day listening and convenience, CDs do me just fine. Then MP3 for in the car at work etc.

(Yawn)... :D

Edited by sidewinder

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(Yawn)... :D

Yes, does fall into the 'Isn't Wynton rubbish?', 'Who else hates Smooth Jazz as much as I do?' category.

Except....

You don't see the "CD is better than vinyl" viewpoint (stress: viewpoint) expressed very often in print - it's mainly 'there's been a big vinyl revival because....'

Here's a challenge for you. Find three other links that support Anderson's view. I'd be surprised if there are many!

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You don't see the "CD is better than vinyl" viewpoint (stress: viewpoint) expressed very often in print - it's mainly 'there's been a big vinyl revival because....'

Here's a challenge for you. Find three other links that support Anderson's view. I'd be surprised if there are many!

IMO the point is this:

In the CD era remasterings cover(ed) a far wider range of the good, the bad and the ugly, and unfortunately (at least to a LOT of ears it seems) the bad and the ugly aren't exactly scarce. Relatively speaking, there seem to be too many CD remastering characters out there who can't seem to resist the temptation of tampering with the overall sound, the brightness, harshness, basses, trebles, clicks or pops (on less than perfectly preserved vintage souce material) or whatever, and all this just in the name of adapting to "today's listening habits". Not all of these remasterings were objectively "bad" but I guess to many they were just found to be "ill-suited", and this "today's listening habits" stuff is no argument IMO.

Whereas vinyl (in the case of music originally issued on vinyl) just sounded the way it always has ever since Day 1. And those who've grown accustomed to that do not always see the necessity of changing all that (I am not talking about vinyl reissues of pre-vinyl music vs CD reissues of the same - in the reissue field vinyl had its share of duds too, and needle drops on either vinyl or CD may be a different case again).

I find it easy to understand there are many out there who are very picky about such things. Hence this ongoing feud, maybe?

But though I am definitely a vinyl man, I have no trouble listening to most CDs either. As a huge part of my music on vinyl and CD dates back to the pre-vinyl era I can appreciate the pros and cons of both media for the time being. And those differences I have noticed on my "non-high end" equipment time and again (i.e. CDs sounding "brighter and clearer", vinyl sounding "warmer and fuller" if you know what I mean) often are a case of the listening mood you are in, at least to THIS listener ...

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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You don't see the "CD is better than vinyl" viewpoint (stress: viewpoint) expressed very often in print

At least with CDs you don't have to change out the laser after every 1000 hours or so at £1k a pop !

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I trust that's not what you pay for a stylus, Sidewinder!

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I trust that's not what you pay for a stylus, Sidewinder!

Not quite ! Much as I would really like a Dynavector Tai Ketora Rua, I refuse to go there.. :blush:

Edited by sidewinder

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Some possible points to be made about Mr. Anderson's comments:

He's not a young man - 65, if Wikipedia is correct. He's been a musician and has produced records. His hearing may have been affected by age, playing music, listening, recording, and mastering through headphones - any or all of the above. I don't know what the state of his hearing is. Just bringing up questions.

The point he brings up about not being to play LPs in a car - stupid comment with an obvious answer, especially as what he was talking about was sound quality.

For me, both vinyl and CDs have their strengths and weaknesses. I listen to both.

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For me, both vinyl and CDs have their strengths and weaknesses. I listen to both.

Yep. Same for mp3s - they all have their place. And for some of us weirdos, 78s are important, too, in terms of getting close to the original sound.

Regarding Anderson's comments, I will say that a band I play with recently issued an album on CD and LP, and we had a hell of a time getting a decent-sounding LP out of the pressing plant. We went through five test pressings before getting something close to what we wanted. I think we chose poorly in terms of picking a company to press the records.

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He's not a young man - 65, if Wikipedia is correct. He's been a musician and has produced records. His hearing may have been affected by age, playing music, listening, recording, and mastering through headphones - any or all of the above. I don't know what the state of his hearing is. Just bringing up questions.

Quite possibly.

But equally possible is that the hearing of those who feel vinyl is 'superior' have hearing affected by nostalgia.

I'm not knocking an enjoyment of listening to LPs - I can see it can appeal.

I'm just very sceptical of any 'old is best' rationalisations. Smacks of the heritage industry (and boy is the industry milking that for profit).

'I like the way it worked when I was young' - that seems fine with me. Lots of places I'd say the same.

Glad there are options - 78, LP, CD, mp3. We can all chose from them. My preferences go in reverse.

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Smacks of the heritage industry (and boy is the industry milking that for profit).

Just like the "new gadgets for new gadgets' sake" and "anything not brand new and the latest fad is just like yesterday's papers" industry. Though THAT industry may actually be a lot worse in its milking for profit - because there are FAR more of those who go down THAT route all the time. And they go on and on and on and never even pause to stop for a second, lest somebody might call their "emperors' clothes" bluff. ;)

Glad there are options indeed. ;)

BTW, I agree with your "hearing affected by nostalgia" point. That may be behind a lot of it. Though OTOH that "updated for today's listening habits" remastering trend is just the opposite coin of the same medal, i.e. hearing affected by an unwilingness to adjust to what music orignally sounded like and how it ought to be listened to in the context of the way it originally was recorded (not talking about pre-electrical oldtime recordings before c.1926, of course, but rather about a lot of 50s recordings).

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My daughter had a party here a few months ago, and one of her friends wanted to talk to me because he knew I was a musician and as he himself pointed out, he "made music" himself (which in his mind involved making beats, which, ok, you can maybe learn more from me to further your craft than I from you to further mine, but let's talk any way, because who knows?).

Anyway, this guy says look at all these LPs you got, man that's the REAL DEAL, analog is SO MUCH BETTER because it SOUNDS MORE REAL and I stopped him and said, well, ok, for source material as such, yeah, it does, because that's what "it" "is", but - how do you chop your beats, how do you get your samples, how do you want your shit to sound after you've made you manipulations to the source material? Do you want it to sound analog? Do you think it SHOULD sound analog, all real-timey and shit? COULD it, even if you wanted it to? You do that, you'll have learned to make sound travel faster than light, you think that's ever gonna happen?

Well, no, of course not.

And think about this - I got all my shit literally covering WALLS (plural) in my house, and you got all your shit right there in your pocket? You got it any where you want it at any time, and you can send it back and forth to anybody you want at any time you want. Do you think you could do that it you had walls from my house in your pocket?

HA! Well, of course not.

And even more besides that (I wasn't scolding him or anything, it was a good exchange, really, in spite of how I'm writing it here) - how many of the sounds that you START OUT with even EXIST in the analog realm? How you gonna get THAT sound anyway? It's digital to begin with, how is making it analog going to make it anything other than a digital sound?

At that point he was kinda laughing, saying, yeah I see what you mean, they both have their advantages and they both have their problems...to which I agreed and added, hey, it's all tools, i.e. it's only what you make out of it, so learn what it all is and then proceed accordingly once you figure out what you want to do with these tools now that you know what they are (and aren't) , and we went off on some other tangent after that. He was a smart kid who didn't mind hearing what a crazy old fart had to say, which is always nice for a crazy old fart to encounter.

And I saw the guy just last week, he stopped by to hang out w/my daughter, and he asked me to recommend some drummers, so I gave him Max Roach & Bruno Carr, go look for those guys & see how that works for you. And although you didn't ask, look for some Charles Mingus records, because you will find locked-time vamps and random emotional sounds that you might find useful. Next thing I know, him and her were out to the Half-Price.

In search of LPs or CDs, I have no idea...hopefully it didn't matter all that much.

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Jim, in 1969 I got Bruno Carr's autograph!

Fifteen years ago I visited a store in Atlanta that sold Linn sound systems. Their thousand dollar turntable made late-1950s LPs sound terrific!

Edited by GA Russell

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Well, I looked myself for other defences of CD over vinyl and was surprised to find a few. A few extracts:

This one closely reflects what Anderson is saying:

METCALFE: Well, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm primarily a recording engineer, as far as working with music. And it's [CD] - the closer thing to what I'm sending into the recorder is very much what I'm getting back out. With analog formats, although the sound can be very pleasing in certain styles, it's definitely imparting its own sound on it. And I think, to an extent, it's that sound that some people are really drawn to. But it's nice as an engineer to have the confidence of knowing that what I'm putting into - in most cases these days, the computer - is pretty close to what I'm going to get out.

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/10/146697658/why-vinyl-sounds-better-than-cd-or-not

Interesting thought there - the preference for vinyl (amongst those listening to music they first heard on vinyl) suggested as a preference for the sound heard on the original vinyl, rather than a preference for the most faithful recorded sound (which didn't originally make it to vinyl).

To summarize the science, digital is the superior reproduction format, but analog (particularly vinyl) offers a particular type of sound that some people prefer. I liken it to a Ferrari versus a Mustang. They may have different metrics, but the people who like them for what they are don't care so much about that.

The best argument in favor of vinyl recordings need not be bolstered by unsupported claims about the technical quality of the recording, and that's the physical, tangible experience. Lowering a needle onto a record engraved with an actual audio waveform is comparable to building your own hot rod with greasy hands and case hardened tools. Its performance compared to that of a factory produced BMW is simply not relevant. It's about an experience, not about metrics or tabulated results. More senses are involved: the smell of the album cover, the touch of lowering the tone arm into the groove, the sight of the stroboscope indicating the precise turntable speed. It's a full experience to which the listener must dedicate focused attention and time. Vinyl records are a hands-on, personal connection to the actual audio, and that's something no amount of digital perfection can replicate. You can debate the validity of that connection all you want, and you'll find that it's a metaphysical, philosophical issue. There is no logic or practical connection. But some things, these types of connections — those for which no practical, quantitative explanation exists — are sometimes the most important.

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4303

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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Smacks of the heritage industry (and boy is the industry milking that for profit).

Just like the "new gadgets for new gadgets' sake" and "anything not brand new and the latest fad is just like yesterday's papers" industry. Though THAT industry may actually be a lot worse in its milking for profit - because there are FAR more of those who go down THAT route all the time. And they go on and on and on and never even pause to stop for a second, lest somebody might call their "emperors' clothes" bluff. ;)

Glad there are options indeed. ;)

BTW, I agree with your "hearing affected by nostalgia" point. That may be behind a lot of it. Though OTOH that "updated for today's listening habits" remastering trend is just the opposite coin of the same medal, i.e. hearing affected by an unwilingness to adjust to what music orignally sounded like and how it ought to be listened to in the context of the way it originally was recorded (not talking about pre-electrical oldtime recordings before c.1926, of course, but rather about a lot of 50s recordings).

Well, the industry (or industries) are very aware that there is a certain demographic that is often averse to the new and who can be tapped by appealing to the 'classic' [the classical music industry constantly recycles its old recordings in this way] - the whole heritage industry is built round that (you could argue that the Renaissance was a consequence of that outlook!). Part of the same thing in the end - we're all caught in that web one way or another.

I'm not knocking the nostalgia thing - it's a very powerful force, something I'm very susceptible to in other areas.

I'm not sure about your "unwilingness to adjust to what music originally sounded like and how it ought to be listened to in the context of the way it originally was recorded". I'm never going to be able to listen to a Carter Family or Muddy Waters or a 1950s Irish sean nos singer the way it was intended to be heard when first issued (and I imagine that when those recording were first made many a musician/engineer/producer dreamed of a way his/her music could express what they really wanted to say beyond the limitations of the then available recording/distribution methods). Harder still to listen to a Beethoven symphony the way most listeners would have heard it in the full knowledge that they would never hear it again. Or, as many people only heard it in the 19thC, as a piano reduction.

If you were going to listen to classical music from the 78 era 'in the way it was originally recorded' then you'd need to play it in three minute chunks, getting up to physically put on the next three minutes (and there are many things to be said for that way of listening over putting on a CD for 70 minutes or, god help us, running a 70CD boxed set through your system over a period of weeks).

I may have come up with marketing angle there. Just as Beatles and Rolling Stones singles have been reissued as CD singles, maybe we could have Elgar's own recordings of his music issued in multi-disc 'albums' where, after 3 minutes. you have to swap the disc. There's 'authenticity' for you.

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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The way CDs should be marketed is within a 12" cover. The large cover is a big reason why people get more invested in the listening experience. It's hard to get excited about a CD booklet and clamshell.

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Not, IMO.

I've actually gone almost strictly to digital (AAC and Apple Lossless mostly), and the main reason is that digital formats are far superior to what they were a decade ago, and I've really reached a more minimalist stage in my life. That rack of nearly 1,000 cds just doesn't excite me anymore.

I will still buy boxsets on cd, as the last cds I purchased (a couple of years ago) was the Bill Evans complete Village Vanguard set.

Outside of that, give me digital and save me space.

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As long as I can hear all the instruments, I really don't care. My audio systems aren't sophisticated enough to lay bare the differences. The most annoying thing for me are the different qualities of digital audio files which make the volume go up and down on my iPod.

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I've been building a really nice system over the last decades because sound quality does matter to me, though it's the music that matters most. I went to CD because of the resurgence of releases: material out of print for decades was suddenly available all across the genres in dazzling quantities. I have no interest in "music on the go" because I don't have a car with a radio, was rarely allowed to really enjoy music at work, and I was spoiled by the quality of dedicated listening at home.

In the last few years I've been drawn back to vinyl because someone whose opinion I valued told me that he thought I was working hard to make my digital sound like vinyl. I realized he was actually right, and bought a few nice turntables, and a few nice phono preamps, and have been bowled over by the absolute enjoyable sound of my old records and new record purchases. I still love the digital sound of my system, but to be honest, the vinyl part of my system has as good or better a sound than the digital at a lower price point. I'm really enjoying listening to vinyl and will continue to do so in both systems. Life is good in that regard for me, I love both formats, redbook and hi-res digital audio, and vinyl. I've little love or use for MP3 or "lossless" files. I don't have a computer as a main music playback device anywhere in my life.

Just what works for me and feeds my musical needs.

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As long as I can hear all the instruments, I really don't care. My audio systems aren't sophisticated enough to lay bare the differences. The most annoying thing for me are the different qualities of digital audio files which make the volume go up and down on my iPod.

Should have nothing to do with varying qualities. It has to do with the original mix of the music you're listening to. If you're not familiar with the "Loudness Wars" I'd encourage you to read up on it.

Producers left a lot more headroom in their mixes up until the late 80's/early 90's when every artist and producer wanted their song to be the loudest one on the radio.

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I feel lucky to have access to high quality playback of 78/ LP / CD. All three have their merits and draw backs.

The only thing regarding CDs that I couldn't stand is over who remastered , in how many bits or hard the stereo is panned. Although I've a decent set up I rarely found common ground with complaints about either McMasters, RVGs or Toshibas. Sure a limited number of CDs were poor but in the scheme of things they were few and far between. So that puts me in a lucky place where only "Brilliant Circles" and "2 Ts for a lovely T" cause irritation

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Ugh...

The RVG's are incredibly thin and brittle. I'm no sonic snob by any stretch of the imagination, but the RVG's I have are rather irritating.

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I find that interesting because though there ARE thin and brittle RVGs, I wouldn't characterize them all that way.

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The only one I recall not sounding that way, that I own, is Sonny's Night at the Village Vanguard.

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Most 'reissues' in the 80s were very poor transfers - thus the whole 'remastered' thing of the 90s that had many of us buying records for a third time!

I suspect this fed the idea that CDs were inferior to vinyl. Actually, it was the lack of care taken over remastering, not the medium itself (to my mind!).

Edited by A Lark Ascending

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