Originally Posted by JBThazard
I have an issue I hope someone can clear up with me fairly simply.
Is there any point in buying modern day, 21st century pressings of any modern records?
Here is my current stance on this topic:
Music CDs used to have a set of acronyms that would display how the album was recorded, mixed and mastered (I am sure many of you know this already). There would be 3 letters either being "A" or "D". So for example, an old CD by Dexter Gordon I took out of my library a few weeks ago had the letters "ADD" on the back. This means:
Source Recording: Analogue
Nowadays, I don't think any albums have this label anymore, probably because just about everything nowadays is simply DDD, in which the mastering, mixing, and most importantly the recording, were all done digitally.
This poses a problem for the people who collect modern vinyls, no?
The SPARS code was designed to indicate to the buyer that the were analog steps in the recording. The original intent was to let the buyer know that they could expect reduced quality because of it, specifically higher noise and distortion and time-base issues. It would be as valid today as it was when it was introduced. Digitally recorded music mastered and released on vinyl isn't a problem. There's nothing about analog recording that improves sound recording and reproduction...but stay with me on this for the next bit.
Originally Posted by JBThazard
This is my ultimate question: I know there still is SOME music recorded using Analog means, but is there a way to find out how without having to directly contact the sound engineers? I simply think that most music nowadays is digitally recorded, and despite this we have this massive vinyl resurgence. But this "analog" renaissance makes no sense if very very little music is actually made with analog resources....Are most modern day vinyl pressings just digital recordings placed on vinyl??
Now some specifics: I don't buy or collect vinyl at all but I have a lot of digital vinyl rips of albums, including modern day records. I have noticed that a lot of albums will simply have better dynamic range, probably due to a different mastering, on vinyl compared to their original CD pressing. I can clearly hear the difference, even my non-audiophile friends (many of whom collect vinyls currently....), but here is an example of evidence for you all: http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/index.php?search_artist=opeth&search_album=still+life
The difference in quality is noticeable, but never huge. Often times the soundstage for drums or vocals will improve, or the diminished compression will allow really low and high frequencies to finally be noticeable. So at best, this is what seems to be the only benefit to getting modern vinyls over their CD counterparts: slightly better DR scores. Not exactly a massive SQ bump-up after all, no?
There are a couple of clues that the original was recorded on analog tape, but they're hard to hear all the time. One is the noise floor, but given a high average signal that may not be easy to hear. Another is subtle time-base errors, like flutter and wow, but if they're low enough they shouldn't be an issue either. Finally, tape has a rather mushy way of distorting high levels. It basically is audible as intermodulation. But if they recorded on a multi-track analog machine, but mixed to digital, you may not hear much intermodulation distortion. Basically, unless you've got some very quiet material, or very loud material, or some clean pure tones like piano, you may not always be able to tell it's analog unless it says so somewhere.
All the effects you outlined as being audibly different on vinyl releases have little to do with the fact that it's vinyl, but have everything to do with the fact that an entirely different mastering process has been used. The less compressed, better sound-stage, higher DR scores kind of thing you hear would be just as good on a CD if it ever got there. Sometimes the differences are larger than others, depending on how different the mastering process was. No rules there.
Originally Posted by JBThazard
So, most records are recorded digitally? But at what quality? Redbook standard? 96khz? I just really want to know if this whole vinyl renaissance is a crock or not if hipsters everywhere think 21st century vinyls are amazing sounding despite the fact that so many bands now don't record in analog...
(I admit some of this is speculative but I am very curious nonetheless about the truth...)
Yes, most records are recorded digitally. At what quality? In the end it doesn't matter. There are production advantages to higher sampling rates and higher bit depths, but 44.1/16 is quite adequate for the release to the consumer, and there's plenty of test evidence to support that.
The vinyl renaissance is only "huge" when compared to vinyl pressing counts in the past 20 years. Compared to the total music industry, it's tiny still, just bigger than what it was. A 50% increase of a small quantity may sound significant, but it only is relative to itself.
But the truth is, vinyl is often mastered with less processing, and more dynamics. There are two reasons I can think of. First, the vinyl medium itself can't handle full bandwidth at high levels. It's a physical limitation to cutting grooves in lacquer, and what that means is the maximum level that can be cut varies with frequency. There are other limitations as well, like you can't cut high level bass in only one channel, it has to be both or you compromise groove depth and toss the stylus out of the groove. And, highly modulated grooves wear out faster, so it's sort of a no-win. The best compromise is to take it easy and don't over-cut. Second reason is, people who want to release on vinyl want it to sound different purposely, hopefully better, but not always. So the lacquers from which the metal parts, stampers and final vinyl is pressed contain a different signal than what is placed on CD. That's the difference people hear, but make no mistake, it ain't the vinyl or the fact than anything along the way is analog. But that's often why people like the sound of vinyl. The medium doesn't improve anything, but the production path may often be handled differently and sound better as a result.
Hipsters love it because it's not main-stream. Oldsters love it because it's nostalgic. Vinylphiles of all kinds love it because its a very physical experience to handle and play it, and the jackets are 12" square works of art. And that's why theres sort of a love affair on with vinyl.
But I can tell you from first hand experience, it's very easy to make vinyl and CDs sound nearly identical, barring extremely high levels, and ignoring surface noise, vertical groove distortion, wear, tangency errors, mistracking, poor channel separation, and so on. But, as good as it is, vinyl is not of itself more musical, smoother, or more transparent. It's still a garbage-in garbage-out medium, like all others.
If you were to compare a well done master with a CD, vs vinyl, the CD is a clone of the master, the vinyl is only very close.