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Why Vinyl Sucks and You Know It!

“You can buy our latest record on vinyl at our merch booth… of course it comes with a free download of the songs in MP3 format.” Everyone wants to be a little bit of a connoisseur (What the Cuss? Why is it not spelled connaisseur in english?) these days and seems to know exactly that vinyl just sounds the best – only if it comes with the MP3 download though.

I recently sold my player and conquered my inner hipster. It was even a really good vintage model with a mint modern cartridge. All in all a great sounding thingy-ma-jiggy.

But really, who sits down these days, pulls out a great piece of vinyl, puts it on the platter, spins it up, pulls out the brush, cleans it, properly lands the needle in the groove and sinks into the musical sound scape of … whoever-is-big-this-nano-second.

I was just going to let this topic go by without ever saying anything, but it flared up in me again when I read a great article in “Hear the World“, while waiting to see my audiologist. The article was titled “MP3 or hi-fi? Is MP3 really destroying music, or is it the musicians themselves doing it?”. The article argued, that there is certainly nothing wrong with MP3’s (or AAC’s, the much better and newer format), but rather the musicians and producers and the music industry, which drives music to sound worse than ever. And here comes the best quote of the article: “Some high-end audio fans are more interested in mysticism than solid improvements in sound quality.” (Professor Karlheinz Brandenburg) Amen, brother! You hit it on the head.

Analog certainly has much more information than any digital format has (infinitely more in theory). I’m not going to argue that. Vinyl does have some limits though – you have to properly master the music to create a great groove, which BTW is probably what appeals to most people. The real problem is that music is mastered to be as loud as possible and has lost all dynamics, to stick out of the crowd. This has nothing to do with Vinyl or CD’s or MP3’s for that matter. The article puts it like this: “For example, amplify the sound of a bird chirping to the level of a passing truck.”

I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of vinyl records which sound totally amazing on great stereo rigs, but I can’t afford them. Sure a $50 record, on a $1000 player with a $500 cartridge, a $1000 pre-amp, with a nice $2000 amp and $4000 worth of great speakers sure sounds great (don’t forget those $1000 oxygen free pure silver cables). But I can’t afford it, and I’m pretty sure that most of you can’t either, and never actually want to spend this kind of money on a rig. (If I remember correctly n’s principle is that you have to spend 10 times more, to get 10% better sound, which will very quickly break the bank of the average music lover.)

So here is what I did. I figured out how I can consistently get the best sound, without cracks and pops, at the lowest price (I buy quite a few used CD’s at flea markets and even at Value Village). I just can’t beat the sound of a $3 CD vs. a $3 Vinyl record (which is very likely completely junk), with music that I absolutely love, through a half decent stereo. Most of my music is digitized (Apple lossless, or AAC 320kbps for the music that I’m not too fond of) and I use an Apple-TV to stream the music to my stereo. “Light pipe” (optical) to a neat little amp (Peachtree Decco with Tube Pre-Amp) to a great sounding set of speakers (B&W DM302) that don’t break the bank.

Now I can concentrate on just buying great music and enjoy it with the click of a remote. For a second I think about the guy that was rummaging through the used vinyl section at the flea market, just to find out at home that the record is totally wrecked by someone that did not clean it properly in the past and stored it in a sunny spot for decades. Just for a second though, because I almost missed the great lick of the Hammond Organ in Feist’s “Leisure Suite”. Who is enjoying the tunes now?

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34 Comments

  1. Asd Asd

    So true. I get sick of people going on and on about analog recordings. The format is not scalable to a larger audience, as physical records take up so much space. Not to mention that independent groups have no chance to break through due to the costs of production, physical creation of the record, and the distribution of them. One of the most important parts of media is its durability. Records are not durable. Also, the sound itself, like you said, requires hefty upstart costs, as well as great care of records.

    •  Well-said.  My MP3s/AACs may not have all of the frequencies the vinyl record has, but most of those frequencies the human ear can’t hear anyway.  A digital file can survive indefinitely, and requires far less upkeep than a record.  Sure, out of the box the vinyl might sound better, but in 10 years, which is going to sound better? The MP3 or the average vinyl disc?

  2. Docboom100 Docboom100

    Fuck vinyl and all the dirty distortion that goes along with it. It is a format that can drive you mad. It's FLAC for me. 

  3. Julien_s_1 Julien_s_1

    The question here is why trying to preach over and over again? How many people, with a high quality system, listen to classical music on vinyl only? Just go to them and say it is “only for a nostalgic purpose” ,and I truly think that they will laugh at you, and all this pompous “smart ass sound engineer” wannabe genius articles

    • hanseich hanseich

      Julien, did you notice that I didn't actually bash the sound of vinyl? It obviously sounds great, when you have the right system and the right vinyl (which you must treat right). I mainly bashed the price and the hype of it (most people can't hear the difference between a CD and an MP3 file, how are they going to hear the difference between a CD and vinyl?). I just wanted to shake things up a bit around the hype of vinyl.

      Oh, and since you called me a “sound engineer wannabe”, I am a pro sound engineer with former training. Are you?

      • Bob from Orlinda Bob from Orlinda

        Its been a long time but he didn’t call you a Engineer wannabe – he called you a wannabe genius.

  4. Couldn't agree more. I consider myself one of those 'purists' – I've always had a very, very musical ear but I'm not hung up or snobby about it. Vinyl sucks. Time to move on. Digital was a MAJOR step forward in audio quality and durability. The vinyl 'snobs' are the ones who think they're one-up on the world. I can tell you from experience those people I know who claim to be vinyl purists are mostly afraid of technology and afraid to be proven wrong. 

  5. Nevar Nevar

    Interesting post, and I have to agree. I also have a point to add that has nothing to do with quality, but concerns the effect of physical media on access to cultural information. Over the years as I have become fonder of older more esoteric music that was made in the era before digital storage, I have come to realize how hard it is to find many good releases on vinyl, CD, or any physical medium. The copies you can find are absurdly expensive imports running into the hundreds. The vinyl is often affordable, but you still have to pay handsomely for the vinyl that has been decently maintained. The point is that perfectly good chunks of music history are inaccessible to many people because of the transmission limitations of physical media and nature of physical degradation in an entropic universe. As a musician and independent producer always seeking out old musical ideas, it breaks my heart that so much music will simply go unheard because it basically will not exist to most of the human race, meanwhile some collector or DJ gloats with aristocratic glee over “owning” one of maybe a few dozen listenable copies of any given rare release – a copy that some other sucker will never get to hear. (I am actually a DJ, nothing against DJs). Many vinyl snobs will praise the act of getting one’s knuckles dirty searching for hidden gems or long-sought after rarities. I bemoan the fact that there is limited access to what is basically cultural history that could be lost forever. Sure I like the sound of vinyl, but digital storage and distribution holds so much potential for the preservation and dissemination of the musical information, which is far more important in the long run of cultural integrity. I just don’t understand the obsession of some vinyl snobs with worshiping vinyl and tearing down digital media. My facebook feed is overflowing with these strange anachronistic and borderline hateful expressions.

  6. M Baggs M Baggs

    I still use vinyl. Don’t have a huge collection, but have most my favorite albums. Records and candle light work wonders on a lady. Panties don’t drop for mp3’s. Step up your game bro.

    • Murre Murre

      Hipster. I bet you don’t even get laid.

      • Murre, I’m willing to bet all my mp3’s that he’s probably getting laid more often than you.

  7. M Baggs, you win… if we are talking about cost per panties dropped!

  8. stupidonlinename stupidonlinename

    I grew up listening to vinyl and I hate it. You can hear the medium almost as clearly as you can hear the content. How can you tell if an audiophile doesn’t know what he is talking about? If he utters the words “its warmer”. If sound were to be thought of as an image, warmer would mean blurry. Everyone tells me I can hear the difference, so can I because vinyl sucks. Try this make a digital recording of your vinyl and then see if you can hear the difference between the two.

    • You are so right, Vinyl is not transparent. I think there are two things that people actually like about Vinyl, first: you commit to a record, you put it on, and then actually listen to it. It’s kind of like going to Starbucks, they don’t make better coffee, but they offer the “third place”, neither work nor home, and your mind relaxes.

      Second: the processing required to print to vinyl. I think the best recordings would be to use all the great analogue gear and processing used to print to Vinyl, but then record digitally with very high bit rates. This way you get a very high quality I colored recording (you need good DA converters for playback).

      • lashing lashing

        Indeed. I went and dropped some $ to rehab a great old Yamaha turntable and bought some vinyl. It is a good medium and yes it is warm. But after my little love affair I compared a few of my favorite albums which I had both on LP and loaded on my IPOD in MP3. I toggled between the phono and aux inputs using the same song playing and the difference was so small that I got confused what was playing .. that is until I heard a crackle – yup that’s the vinyl. I was using a cheap docking station for the IPOD I bought at a surplus store. So no fancy DAC. Cant say the vinyl was winning hands down if at all. The amp used to test was a Yamaha A-S700.
        I had fun with the “experience” of playing vinyl for about a day. Other than the artwork that “novelty” wore off fast. Plus new vinyl releases are $30 or more. The record industry once again is putting bullets in their own heads.

  9. Mike Mike

    Agree completely. Listened to some of my dad’s records, and had to do nothing but agree with him — CD sounds better. There is no surface noise.

    That said, the state of mastering on modern CD’s is horrible. Your best bet is to do like you said – go to a used record store and find old CD’s that are still in good shape. I get them all the time for about $5-6 in excellent shape and could not be happier with the quality.

    I think 24-bit “audiophile” downloads are a sham mostly. I cannot hear the difference between a good CD recording and those 24-bit ‘master’ recordings. Besides, I don’t care to spend mucho dollars on some super expensive DAC where I would only be able to tell a small difference anyway.

    CD is good enough for me. Thanks for writing the article. Couldn’t describe how many people I run into who tell me vinyl sounds better but can never really give me any specific examples to back it up.

    • robertrobin10 . robertrobin10 .

      we forget that most hi-fi people hated the sound of records,they preferred reel to reel tapes. its only when the cd came out that this love affair with vinyl happened.

  10. Mike Mike

    Also wanted to mention that I feel MP3 is outdated. AAC can do everything MP3 can. It is a more efficient codec in that it produces better sound quality at the same bit rate, and it can do it within a smaller amount of space. If you must use lossy encoding, use AAC. I hear Ogg is good too though I must admit I do not know much about it. Support for AAC on portable players has also grown quite a bit.

    I also have to be brutally honest here when I say that I’ve failed to tell the difference between 256k AAC from the iTunes Store, and the same mastering on a CD.

    • the original creator of MP3 also fully knew it’s limits, I think his intent was later lost “in translation”.

      If we were really interested in sound quality, we’d be using a very high bit rate digital signal, which will not deteriorate, and has the ability to sample even extremely high frequencies accurately. I think that DVD-audio at 24bit, 192kHZ (stereo) is a good start. The format doesn’t have the capacity to deal with surround, but that’s just a matter of storage capacity.

      I doubt that someone could pick out whether something is played of a well set up vinyl system, vs. the same recording (same mastering) played from DVD-A (all other things being the same of course).

    • oh yes, and you are correct, I use AAC for all my music which I don’t really care about. Definitely the better format, and Apple lossless for everything I care about.

  11. robertrobin10 . robertrobin10 .

    I have stacks of cd-r’s some are from albums, some from other cd’s some from reel to reel tape and some are from mp3’s downloaded from the internet.for years ive asked people to listen to then and say which sounds the best , and you know the ones that come from vinyl almost never get picked!!!

    • you are right. Check my replay below: “If we were really interested in sound quality, we’d […]”

  12. Tedsbungy Tedsbungy

    this is true. Vinyl doesn’t really sound any better on the average system. But the record company’s had the chance to sell tangible product again. They thanked customers by putting $30 price tags on these reissued records. The record industry is dirty and looks at customers as morons. That and that alone is why people DL for free.

  13. Arnie Arnie

    I have to respectfully disagree with the main premise of your article. I agree that vinyl has wannabe/pretentious connotations and that many will not hear the difference between vinyl vs. CD/MP3, however, your example of the cost of vinyl is an over-exaggeration. Sure you can spend 1000’s of dollars but it doesn’t have to be this way.
    A personal example: I picked up a Technics turntable, Yamaha integrated amp, and Technics speakers during a city-wide Re-use event (free), cleaned them up for $10, and am buying 5 vinyl records every week from Value Village for 8 bucks. Sure, some are in very shitty conditions, but the majority are only lightly used (very easily checked).
    As long as you listen to vinyl for the right reasons (dedication to listening the whole album, sense of nostalgica, fun to learn about electronics and older music types) it can be a worthy addition to your living room. I feel this is especially true given the trend of online streaming (Spotify/Google’s All Access), which increases the distance and relationship between the listener and the medium itself.

    • Arnie, I think we are both talking about the same thing though. You say that “As long as you listen to vinyl for the right reasons (dedication to listening the whole album, sense of nostalgica, fun to learn about electronics and older music types) it can be a worthy addition to your living room.” That’s all great. But most Vinyl buffs (or at least the wanna bees that don’t know any better), try to tell me that they just love the much better sound of vinyl. The real reasons for listening to vinyl, are the ones you listed, not the quality.

      (BTW, I did have a really nice setup too and it didn’t cost me much, a DUAL player, which I retrofitted with a Rega Bias2 cartridge. My integrated amp (pre-amp and amp) was okay, Technics SU-V7, speakers B&W DM201. I would never buy Value Village vinyl, because they rarely had anything I liked, and most of it was in terrible shape. Once I started wanting to update the system, the cost got very high for very minor improvements)

      Here’s the analogy I always use: Most people aren’t actually aware as to why they like a certain product. Starbucks coffee is not the best coffee, although that’s what most people will say is the reason why they drink their coffee. What Starbucks does, it offers you a state of mind, called “the third place”. That’s the same with vinyl, it puts you in a state of mind, which you really enjoy – which is exactly what you mentioned.

  14. keith keith

    I will chime in one this. I hated cds when they first came out. Now if you had a crap system they made said system sound great. However if you had a good system they sounded very nasty. Now as the promise of them not going bad that has turned out to be crap as well. I have twenty year old cds in which you can see daylight through them, skip and pop worse than any vinyl. They were twice the price of vinyl which we were told the prices would drop as soon as the masses adopted the new medium. Didn’t happen. They just had no class at all. Just wait till your downloads get zapped.

  15. richardwicks richardwicks

    I know for a fact that vinyl records have distortion built into them to keep the needle in the groove. As the needle gets closer to the center of the record, high frequency sounds are attenuated to keep the needle from skipping.

    I worked with an engineer at RCA that did worked in this field. Hipsters are idiots, and audiophiles are frauds. They don’t know what they are talking about.

    • Michael Ellis Michael Ellis

      I see your comment is 2 years old. Are you still a dick?

      • richardwicks richardwicks

        I’m still a person that hates people are are entirely full of shit. So, yes, I guess I still am.

        What an audiophile is, is either a liar, or a fraudster, selling things like $500 digital HDMI cables – you know, scum taking advantage of liars.

        It’s a bunch of cargo cultists that claim they adore fidelity, and know absolutely nothing about the science behind it, and it’s not that difficult to grasp.

        • Michael Ellis Michael Ellis

          Geez, get over it dude. Why all the hostility towards people who love the sound of vinyl? If you prefer the 0’s and 1’s then go for it. But your criticism of analogue sound and insistence that the people who prefer it are somehow misguided is irritating. I am as far from a “hipster” as you can get (I’ve been listening to vinyl for 45 years). For me, a quality analogue recording on a good stereo system is hands down much better sounding than digital (you can spout all the specs you want, there is still a difference that many, actually most, listeners prefer). You seem to completely ignore the human element. While digital is sampled, analogue is a copy of the whole sound wave and there is a connection with how the human ear works. The distortion inherent in analogue also happens to be pleasing to the human ear. It is like you trying to tell someone they shouldn’t like a particular piece of art based on the science of optics. There is a big difference in someone saying a medium is “technically better” and someone saying it “sounds better to me.”

          • richardwicks richardwicks

            Geez, get over it dude. Why all the hostility towards people who love the sound of vinyl?

            Primarily because of things like this:

            http://www.bestbuy.com/site/audioquest-diamond-3-3-high-speed-hdmi-cable-dark-gray-black/2383276.p?id=1218324437192

            You have people, telling other people that a DIGITAL cable creates higher fidelity. It’s a complete lie. Let me more clear, this is a scam. It’s a fraud. Here’s some “audiophile” reviewing a similar cable:

            http://hifi-advice.com/Audioquest-Diamond-USBcable-review.html

            Here’s a random excerpt from that page:

            The differences between cables are
            just as clearly audible as with the cheaper dacs. However, now the
            standard USB cable sounded better than before. Already the soundstage
            was bigger and deeper than with any of the above DAC/Macbook
            combinations.

            See, I know this “reviewer” is lying.

            Audiophiles, are truly the modern cargo cultist in the west. They believe in hocus pocus magic. There’s been tremendous effort to make high quality, low cost, parts available to everybody – and that’s largely achieved due to digital technology.

            The monitor that is sitting in front of me right now, has higher resolution than ANYTHING you could have seen in 1970. Better than the best movie theater of that time. It cost $400.

            A typical $10 MP3 player produces better reproduction of sound than any equipment that existed in 1970.

            What you hear from vinyl records is DISTORTION, intentional distortion that has to be made in order to keep a needle in a groove. That’s the “rich sound” you are hearing, distortion. You can get this same exact sound using a convolution integral.

            http://gradworks.umi.com/34/12/3412211.html

            You can buy products that will distort a DAC such that it sounds identical to a record play

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