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NPR Covers CD vs Vinyl: The music experience

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

I found this over at NPR's site and figured I would post it for everyone here.  They give some actual examples of playing a track from CD and then compressing it.  They then invert the compressed file and add it to the original track.  If the two tracks are exactly identical the resultant would be null.

 

I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

 

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=146697658&m=146697647

 

Particularly at time 20:10...

 

I also have a few questions for you all:

 

Can you hear the difference using a hi-fi source vs a good DAC?  For example if you use a hi-fi CD transport and then play the exact same track via AAC using a hi-fi DAC can you honestly hear a difference?

 

I am looking for definitive answers, because it has been my experience that a hi-fi DAC can make most high quality, yet compressed, music sound just about as good as the original.  If you dig around over at Headphone.com in the DAC section you can see they also agree.

 

In addition have any of you taken a track from Vinyl and then subtracted out the equivalent CD track to see what is left?

 

Happy New Year to you all.


Edited by NA Blur - 12/28/12 at 2:26pm
post #2 of 24

Thanks for posting that. I heard that segment at work on NPR back when it originally aired in February. It was nice to listen to it again. It is a good discussion of vinyl vs. CD vs. MP3 etc. and well worth a listen.


Edited by StratocasterMan - 12/28/12 at 4:01pm
post #3 of 24

This was fairly one sided...and I feel like they didn't touch on the difference a good master can make nearly enough. I also feel like that 'LP vs CD' comparison was absolutely stupid. I'd be willing to bet it wasn't cleaned at all before that test... rolleyes.gif

 

I completely agree that if a CD and LP produced the exact same sound I'd take the CD due to ease of use and storage (though I love my big cover art), but it's simply not the case.

 

I feel slightly like I'm picking nits, and it was still a good listen, but the actual conversation was fairly laughable.

 

EDIT: Not to mention equipment quality differences.


Edited by MorbidToaster - 12/30/12 at 9:05pm
post #4 of 24
By definition an LP and a CD would have different mastering. I had a devil of a time just finding an SACD that had the same mastering on both the redbook and SACD layers. Summing out different formats is pointless.

A DAC shouldn't be adding dynamics that aren't there in the recording. If something is compressed, a DAC should present it just as it is. If you want to expand the dynamics of compressed music, you'd use a dynamic expander. But there are limits to how much you can bring back that way.
Edited by bigshot - 12/31/12 at 1:48pm
post #5 of 24

I think that most people don't understand how much must be done just to get a clean low-distortion signal on vinyl.  They think it's all "analog" and therefor "high-resolution" and "linear".  The vinyl process is anything but those things.  There are so many issues to deal with in just cutting a good master disc, they really have no idea.  

 

Just as one example, the angle of the playback stylus as it sits in the groove is standardized at 15 degrees from vertical, angling downward and in the direction of the record's rotation.  For low distortion, the groove should be cut with a stylus that matches that angle, but because it is essentially hinged and cutting a variable depth groove, the actual cutting stylus angle is constantly changing, and lacquer tends to spring back after being cut, so a compromise is made by setting the cutter stylus angle at 18 degrees.  The result if this angle misalignment is increased distortion.  There are active methods that can add pre-distortion (add inverse distortion) to the groove, but you can't accurately predict the shape of the play stylus (is it conical, eliptical, shibata?) and stylus shape affects contact area, pinch, etc., so that pre-distortion is not always accurate.  And that's just one example.  The process is fairly loaded with compromises and potential inaccuracies and distortions.  

 

If you get intimate with the entire process and know the flaws and compromises, you begin to see that the fact that vinyl ever sounds good is pretty amazing, but the compromises that impact audio quality in CD-quality digital are far fewer.  I've done both, side by side, and produced CDs and vinyl that sounded virtually identical - on the first few plays.  You can always pick out the vinyl, though. It wears, it's got surface noise, and it's more distorted on peaks.

 

But to me, the discussion of the final medium is pointless unless the discussion includes the entire signal flow from master to release, which as noted by bigshot, has to be at least slightly different.  Separate the two projects in time, and you've now got different people doing the mastering for CD and vinyl.  And the problem with that is, since cutting a master lacquer is quite complex, it required a fairly deep understanding of the process, and required some pretty well trained and educated people.  "Cutting" a digital master for CD is a much simpler process, and the breed of people doing that are far less trained.  The results often speak for themselves, and that's why some old vinyl releases beat their later CD counterparts.   It's not the medium, it's the total process controlled by people. And the people are the biggest variable.

 

Inverting and differencing two versions is interesting, but which was right?  Sort of pointless, except to show one is different from the other.  


Edited by jaddie - 1/3/13 at 8:44am
post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 

I do not think the engineers on the program say that CD or Vinyl is necessarily better as that term is subjective.  They did, however, list some definite advantages of CD over Vinyl.  I posted this because there are a few engineers being interviewed and their knowledge is greatly appreciated.

post #7 of 24

I feel like they talked about theoretical advantages over vinyl rather than factual ones...and what I mean by that is numbers rather than listening.

 

Comparing a CD to uncleaned, loud, random vinyl is just an unfair fight. 

 

Ease of use is in fact an advantage (to some), but actual measurements (dynamic range specifically) favor LPs (even though CDs are capable of higher dynamic range in theory).

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

I do not think the engineers on the program say that CD or Vinyl is necessarily better as that term is subjective.  They did, however, list some definite advantages of CD over Vinyl.  I posted this because there are a few engineers being interviewed and their knowledge is greatly appreciated.

post #8 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post

I feel like they talked about theoretical advantages over vinyl rather than factual ones...and what I mean by that is numbers rather than listening.

Even the best records don't sound better than the best CDs. The only reason to collect records is to get music that was never released on CD, or for the odd case where the mastering on the CD is inferior.
post #9 of 24

Oh of course. And while I know you're not exactly a minority you do listen to a lot of Classical music, yes? I'd probably stick to CDs if I did (for the most part) as well. 

 

When you're talking Rock, or modern music it's a totally different ballgame. 

 

If everything was best vs best I'd pick CDs every time. ;)

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post


Even the best records don't sound better than the best CDs. The only reason to collect records is to get music that was never released on CD, or for the odd case where the mastering on the CD is inferior.
post #10 of 24
The fact that rock music is often poorly engineered doesn't mean that LPs are better than CDs. There are plenty of examples where rock music sounds best on CD too. For instance, David Bowie. Many of his albums were released originally in wretched Dynaflex pressings... Warped, crackly, full of distrtion. On CD they sound light years better. I'd say a great deal of rock music, particularly post oil crisis, sounds better on CD than it ever did on vinyl. It actually takes work to make a CD sound bad. If they just transfer the masters flat, like with the first release of the Beatles catalog, stuff sounds great. It's when they start remixing, like the dreadful Led Zeppelin box, that things get bad.

In the day, I collected MFSL half speed mastered LPs. Now, just about all of those are surpassed by plain old $7.99 mass market CDs.

Now that I think about it, most of the CDs I know of that sound like crap were bad on LP too. If the recording was botched, there's only so much of a silk purse that can be made out of it.
Edited by bigshot - 1/3/13 at 10:20am
post #11 of 24

Of course not, but from my own listening they often sound better (even if it's still bad). 

 

As for Bowie...Dynaflex may be bad, but the recent 2012 LP is Ziggy as his best that I've ever heard. And while the girlfriend isn't passionate about much, she sure loves Bowie. 

 

You can't always have everything well recorded and well mastered, but when it's good music despite all that, you still want it to sound it's best...and with new music especially the LP is usually noticeably more dynamic than their CD or MP3 counterparts. 

 

I've also noticed that (while this could be achieved with EQ) vinyl tends to roll off the crappy highs of modern music as well.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post

The fact that rock music is often poorly engineered doesn't mean that LPs are better than CDs. There are plenty of examples where rock music sounds best on CD too. For instance, David Bowie. Many of his albums were released originally in wretched Dynaflex pressings... Warped, crackly, full of distrtion. On CD they sound light years better. I'd say a great deal of rock music, particularly post oil crisis, sounds better on CD than it ever did on vinyl. It actually takes work to make a CD sound bad. If they just transfer the masters flat, like with the first release of the Beatles catalog, stuff sounds great. It's when they start remixing, like the dreadful Led Zeppelin box, that things get bad.
In the day, I collected MFSL half speed mastered LPs. Now, just about all of those are surpassed by plain old $7.99 mass market CDs.
Now that I think about it, most of the CDs I know of that sound like crap were bad on LP too. If the recording was botched, there's only so much of a silk purse that can be made out of it.
post #12 of 24
If your highs are accentuated, you can do a global EQ and make everything sound right. I've found in general, first release CDs sound more like the LPs than remasters. In the past they didn't monkey with stuff so much. I have the original CD reease of Ziggy and it sounds as good as my MFSL half speed mastered copy.
post #13 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

I do not think the engineers on the program say that CD or Vinyl is necessarily better as that term is subjective.  They did, however, list some definite advantages of CD over Vinyl.  I posted this because there are a few engineers being interviewed and their knowledge is greatly appreciated.

Both clearly stated their preference for CD over vinyl right in the first few minutes.
post #14 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by MorbidToaster View Post

I feel like they talked about theoretical advantages over vinyl rather than factual ones...and what I mean by that is numbers rather than listening.

Comparing a CD to uncleaned, loud, random vinyl is just an unfair fight. 

Ease of use is in fact an advantage (to some), but actual measurements (dynamic range specifically) favor LPs (even though CDs are capable of higher dynamic range in theory).
Would you mind citing a reference for this? Measurements, etc.?
post #15 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by jaddie View Post

Would you mind citing a reference for this? Measurements, etc.?

Sure. Example...
Mumford & Sons
http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/index.php?search_artist=Mumford&search_album=Sigh+no+more
That's vinyl vs CD on their first album

Purity Ring
http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/index.php?search_artist=Purity+ring&search_album=
Again, vinyl vs CD on modern stuff with no 'remasters'.
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