Audio Systems/Quality of vinyls?
QUESTION: Dear Sir,
Could you pls advise the true quality of vinyls?
I read some articles which argue that vinyls provide the best and perhaps coolest listening experience.
They particularly resent the idea of mp3 and said vinyls are better than CDs.
Is it true?
ANSWER: About MP3 and other compressed audio: MP3 is a compressed audio file. The compression processes are, in most all cases, using something similar to the Fletcher-Munson hearing model and eliminating all the components of the audio signal that are below the threshold of hearing. Hence, theoretically, the lowest level of audio power is eliminated. It saves sending information that will not be heard by the human ear. So, the audio quality depends on the compression process and playback decoder. Many listeners cannot hear the difference between MP3 and cds or plastic records; either because their hearing is deficient or because their playback equipment is low grade.
Now, between LPs and CDs: In an absolute and objective way the CD is superior by far over the LP vinyls. This can be measured objectively by laboratory tests that are repeatable every time. The CD is much better for noise, frequency response and distortion as well as dynamic range. However, some golden ear contrarians are quick to claim the LP recordings sound better on a subjective basis. And, there are reasons for this. First, LPs do have surface noise which is much, much higher than the background noise of a CD. Secondly, the LP is subject to wear. Thirdly the sound quality depends greatly on the particular pickup/stylus being used; and less but still important are quality characteristics of the tonearm and turntable platter. Because of the high surface noised the dynamic range of LPs are very noisy compared to the CD.
In all cases it depends greatly on the source material, the recording session and the mix-down performed by the recording and mastering engineers.
In my own case I have conducted listen comparisons with many LP/CDs finding that all things being equal the CD comes out best.
Still, there are hardliners that without any objective information to support their claim persistantly and consistently will still prefer the LP.
One reason for the LP sounding good is because the analog process usually reduces odd harmonics whereas even harmonics are not suppressed. This make analog music sound a little sweeter in some ways than the CD.
To engineers, scientists and experienced musician the CD always sounds better. To some audiophile experts, old-time golden ears and lovers of certain classes or types of reproduced sound prefer the LP (even though many of them fail in sound quality listening tests).
Hope this helps.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Sir, great answer.
Could you explain? "Many listeners cannot hear the difference between MP3 and cds or plastic records; either because their hearing is deficient or because their playback equipment is low grade."
Do you mean if I have money to buy the best and most expensive audio equipment and play mp3s on it, then the sound would be horrible. By contrast, if I play mp3s on a rather good equipment, then it would sound better? Is that weird?
All of the above.
Some people just haven't developed the audio skill to hear the differences in sound quality. But most humans with good hearing (ears working right) can be taught how to listen and compare quality of sound. Some have natural hearing skill but most do not and must learn through experience and either training or self-teaching methods.
For one who has really good ability to hear audible sound quality and can differentiate between the various audio qualities (such as bandwidth, frequency response, dynamic range, low distortion, separation of signals, imagine of speakers systems, etc. ) then equipment and room environment or acoustic space become part of the equation.
Poor quality electronic performance will degrade the signal of even good sound to no better or maybe even worse than MP3 or really bad vinyl recordings.
Of course, good equipment will help good sound/music sources sound better and bad equipment will make both good and bad recordings sound worse.
Hope that helps.
PS: Audio sound quality and reproduction of music, specifically, is an art and a science of great detail.