Is Vinyl Better Than Modern Media?

A friend recently asked what was going on with the recent popularity of vinyl records. Is vinyl “better” than more modern music media? Or is it just a hipster fad with no base? I am far from an expert but, as I have a fair bit of experience with vinyl (~100 LPs and a jukebox full of 45 singles), I weighed in with the following take.

Vinyl can be “better” (a very loaded – and subjective – term!) than newer formats for older music:

  1. When a song was originally recorded, mastered, and stamped out to vinyl, that was how it was “supposed” to sound (barring disagreements between the artists and the production/engineering staff, disagreements within the band, limitations of production technology of the time, etc.).
  2. When the music is transferred to digital formats, some sound quality loss necessarily occurs. Digitization samples the original audio many times per second to create the new, digital signal. If it samples more frequently, the audio is higher quality; if it samples less frequently, the audio is lower quality. Practically speaking, the human ear probably can’t tell the difference but hardcore audiophiles care about it.
  3. During early digitization, ie to CDs, many filters were used during the digital transfer process to remove pops and other imperfections that are often found on vinyl (and that vinylheads find endearing – a feature, not a bug!). Those filters, though, often filter out more than the imperfections and the music loses some of its top end and/or bottom end sound.
  4. During digitization, “remastering” sometimes happens as well; someone remixes the tracks, plays with the volumes, applies filters, etc. to make the the music sound “better” in the new, digital medium. Occasionally this works out well, like the 50th anniversary re-release Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (performed painstakingly by the original engineer and his son!), occasionally it is disastrous, and usually it is a mixed result. Regardless, it changes the music from the original standard.
  5. For most digital file formats, e.g. mp3, after digitization of the original analog music, there is also compression to save space; the compression further distorts the music. This is probably imperceptible to those who aren’t looking for it but, again, hardcore audiophiles care about it.
  6. For streaming media, digital files are further compressed and altered, especially when bandwidth is low, further reducing the quality of the audio.

So what does this all mean? Firstly, vinyl pressings of modern music that has been digitally recorded offer no real benefit other than a cool physical medium. For older music, recorded on analog tape, there are indeed differences between its vinyl format and its conversion to more modern media.

Whether the vinyl is “better” depends on a number of factors and is highly individualistic. Not all digitization efforts are equal and neither are the preferences of the listener. Whether vinyl is right for you really comes down to personal taste.

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

3 thoughts on “Is Vinyl Better Than Modern Media?

  1. This is where I'm thankful I'm not a huge audiophile! I have so many friends who are highly invested (dollars and emotions) in audio systems that are totally lost on me. However, even I enjoy music played on vinyl at times, especially older music, which sounds somehow warmer on record. Until I read this post, I didn't realize what \”remastering\” meant–now I think I can see why some older music just sounds better on older media.

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