If you have any audiophile or music lover friends like I do, you might exhaustingly hear about how vinyl record sound quality is so vastly superior to your favorite streaming service. I know, it’s annoying. But let’s take a moment to hear them out and discuss why they’re right. It won’t make them shut up but it might help us better understand why they’re so passionate (and perhaps we’ll be persuaded to dabble in vinyl in the process).
Vinyl record sound quality is superior to digital for a number of reasons. First, vinyl records have a much higher dynamic range than CDs or digital files. Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds that can be heard in a recording. This range is what gives vinyl its richness, warmth, and clarity. CDs and digital files have a much smaller dynamic range, making them sound harsh and brittle in comparison.
Basically, the quietest sounds are quieter and the loudest sounds are louder on vinyl records than on other formats. This comes across to our ears as detail. Yes, it’s true, vinyl recordings can convey more details and nuances than their digital counterparts.
In addition to detail, vinyl records are also capable of reproducing much higher frequencies than CDs or digital files. This is because vinyl can capture more subtle details due to its larger surface area. The result is that vinyl recordings often sound brighter and clearer than their digital counterparts.
Audiophiles often refer to this benefit of higher frequencies as “air”. It’s what gives vinyl its characteristic openness. A vinyl record played on a high quality turntable with an excellent cartridge will create more space between instruments, creating the sensation of hearing music in three dimensions rather than two (on average).
You might have heard of Apple’s recent foray into what they’re calling “spatial audio” with their new AirPods. This is the digital attempt to recreate some of the kind of benefits that a vinyl listening experience provides.
Finally, vinyl records are also better at reproducing low frequencies than CDs or digital files. This is because the lower frequencies on vinyl recordings travel through the air and into our ears, whereas the lower frequencies on digital recordings are reproduced by vibrations in the speakers.
This difference is most noticeable when listening to bass-heavy music like hip hop or electronic dance music. On vinyl, you can feel the bass thumping through your body, while with digital audio it just sort of rattles your eardrums.
Vinyl albums are not subject to compression like digital files are. Compression artificially boosts the volume of softer sounds and mutes the louder ones, resulting in a loss of detail and clarity. On vinyl records, all sounds are reproduced with equal intensity, providing a more natural listening experience.
Vinyl records offer an analog signal path which is less prone to interference and noise than digital signals. This results in a warmer, more natural sound quality that is often missing from digital recordings. For these reasons, vinyl club members swear by the superior sound quality of vinyl records over any other format.
In conclusion, vinyl record sound quality is superior to CD and digital audio for a number of reasons: higher dynamic range, higher frequencies, better reproduction of low frequencies, and compression.