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In recent years the ways of listening to music has changed quite a bit. What used to be either listening on a radio or using a record has now exploded into listening to music via phones, computers, tablets, CDs, records, and more!
All of these ways to listen to music brings up the question of which method is better. Which method has better sound quality?
Some people believe that listening to music on vinyl records is the way to get the best sound quality. Other people prefer the convenience of listening to music with their phone and are less concerned about the purity of the sound. Most experts agree that vinyl has the best sound quality when compared to other mediums but it is certainly less convenient than streaming music on your phone.
Most true audiophiles will answer that vinyl is always better, but those who haven’t listened to a vinyl record may argue the point. There are benefits and drawbacks to both.
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What’s the difference between all of these?
Vinyl records are analog, while the other methods are digital. The mechanism for playing a vinyl record is mechanical, and so is the sound it brings forth. Our ears are attuned to mechanical sound and can hear it better when that is what is being played. That’s the simple answer.
The complex answer will depend on the quality of the record, how well it has been taken care of and the quality of the record player. A high quality record that has been well taken care of and is being played on a surround sound system of good quality will sound much better than anything streamed over the internet. Throw in a bass-kicker and you could feel yourself take off in a space shuttle or find yourself standing next to the cannons in the 1812 Overture.
What are the drawbacks to vinyl records over CDs?
Some of the drawbacks are similar, others are exclusive to vinyl. If a vinyl record is not cleaned properly, you will literally be able to hear the dirt. It will pop and crackle more than a bowl of Rice Krispies. Not only will it be audible, it will also damage the grooves of the record over time.
Vinyl is also very easily scratched. When that happens, the needle won’t advance properly. Many a record has met its doom because it was too badly scratched to be played. However, proper care and cleaning will help avoid that issue.
CDs can play just fine with dust and are harder to scratch. Streaming services don’t have that problem at all. Granted, the laser tracks can be scratched on a CD, but it is not nearly as likely as damaging a record is.
Another drawback to vinyl records is that they have to be stored in the proper way or they could be damaged or warped. This doesn’t happen with CDs as they can be stored vertically or horizontally and as long as you don’t scratch the underside of the disc they will last forever.
Streaming services obviously don’t have to be stored at all so you will always have the same sound quality and don’t have to use any room to store your music.
So, why is vinyl so great?
The human ear, as mentioned, is mechanical in nature. Soundwaves go in and the eardrum and other parts of the ear turn it into the noises we hear. The grooves in a record are mechanical as well. They are carefully calculated and etched into the vinyl. Early records had to be calculated by hand; as there weren’t computers to do the job.
Digital music isn’t mechanical. It may lack the popping sounds sometimes heard on vinyl, but it can’t reproduce the sound nearly as faithfully for the human ear. There are still soundwaves, but the method of playing them is far different.
Here is why. Sounds go in waves, and some sounds are very hard for a digital recording to copy accurately. Also, sound is fluid; it moves up and down the scale and sometimes it is very quick. Instead of a curve, like a vinyl record produces, digital music is done in basic snapshot mode. Yes, the snapshots are very quick, but instead of a curve it goes up and down in steps.
These steps are called the bit rate. Vinyl records don’t have a bit rate; they are analog. Digital music does. The higher the bit rate the more accurate the recording but it still isn’t in a curve. It will still be missing something.
Most people can’t really hear the difference per se. It’s not like a trumpet note will be missing, it is more that something in it is missing. While the recording is taking the next snapshot, it loses part of the previous one.
The difference is in how rich the sound is. If you’ve ever heard an orchestra live, you can understand how rich the sound is. You can almost feel the music as well as hear it. The analog recording of a vinyl record comes the closest to duplicating that richness.
What is mildly amusing is that the digital recording on a CD or DVD has to be turned into an analog signal when it hits the speakers. The benefit of vinyl is that it is already that way and doesn’t need to be translated.
What are the pros and cons of vinyl records vs. digital recordings?
Richer sound is a major pro, it delivers what the writers and musicians meant when they wrote and/or recorded.
Vinyl record masters tend to have better dynamics. This is a term not easily defined, but is rated by how loud the music can go. Played on a home theater system, either can be as loud or soft as desired.
Vinyl draws attention away from computers and screens. We live in a digital age, but it’s not that great for our bodies. It can cause eye problems and lead to us being couch potatoes.
Vinyl records will often now come with codes for downloading digital copies. Digital music does not provide vinyl records free of charge.
Digital music can be played anywhere; at the beach, in a car, even at a backyard picnic. The idea of a record player at the beach or in the car is somewhat silly (although cars used to have record players!).
Digital formats don’t get scratched easily.
It’s expensive to buy records. Vinyl records cost around twenty to thirty dollars each, where the digital copy may cost less than a dollar.
It’s expensive to maintain a record player. The needles have to be replaced periodically and the records themselves have to be properly cleaned.
These arguments point out one truth; it is wise to have both types of recording available. There is truly something soothing about the rituals involved with playing a vinyl record. Watching someone use them is also rewarding, if they do it properly. The sound is usually better, but if you have both you can do your own side by side comparisons.
To learn more about vinyl records vs digital media you can check out the video below.
Ultimately only you can decide which is better for your situation. For most people the ease of use that comes with streaming music on your phone makes that the most popular way to listen to music. If you are solely concerned with the sound quality of the music then you will definitely want to get vinyl records as they will have a much better sound quality than a CD or streaming service will offer.