Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vinyl isn't all that

Who doesn't have a vinyl fetish? It's so shiny, isn't it? And handily wipe-clean, too.

But there's another a kind of vinyl fetishist, which is the one who insists that music is "better" when it's reproduced by bouncing a needle on a groove in a circular disc. Because it sounds better. Because it's more authentic.

That's actually not true, though, says Marc Edwards, who knows a thing or two about audio fidelity:

[W]e’d send every single release off to be mastered for vinyl, and receive an acetate (a one off copy), a test pressing (initial pressings using the vinyl master), or the final release pressing and be able to compare it to not only a 16bit/44.1khz master of the exact same recording, but we were also often able to compare directly to a 24bit/44.1khz master and 24bit/44.1khz pre-mastered version of the exact same song. And all typically on studio nearfield masters and really nice headphones.
His verdict? Vinyl isn't superior. Here's a sample:
Not only does vinyl have a narrower frequency response, but that response curve changes based on side length and how close to the center of the record the needle is. It makes sense when you think about it — the record player spins at a constant rate, but the distance the needle travels and the amount of data is lowered as you get closer to the center. This is why most releases put the important tracks early in the playing sequence. This is really, really obvious if you have a record handy. Focus on high hats or cymbals, and move the needle to different positions to hear how drastic the effect is.

Vinyl often has issues with sibilance as well (“s” and “t” sounds in vocals). The solution is to run an aggressive de-esser as part of the vinyl mastering.
Now, the cussedness and fragility of vinyl adds something - crackles, pops, a scratch from that time you accidentally dragged the zip of your vinyl catsuit over the turntable while Screamdelica was on it - and that is character you don't get with digital. But the things that make vinyl special are actually the same things that reduce its audio fidelity.

The artwork, though? That's always better on a twelve inch square space.