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