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Vinyl Record Pressing Plants Struggle To Keep Up With Demand 433

An anonymous reader writes The WSJ reports that the revival of vinyl records, a several-year trend that many figured was a passing fad, has accelerated during 2014 with an astounding 49 percent sales increase over 2013 (line chart here). Some listeners think that vinyl reproduces sound better than digital, and some youngsters like the social experience of gathering around a turntable. The records are pressed at a handful of decades-old, labor-intensive factories that can't keep up with the demand; but since the increased sales still represent only about 2 percent of US music sales, there hasn't been a rush of capital investment to open new plants. Raw vinyl must now be imported to America from countries such as Thailand, since the last US supplier closed shop years ago. Meanwhile, an industry pro offers his take on the endless debate of audio differences between analog records and digital formats; it turns out there were reasons for limiting playing time on each side back in the day, apart from bands not having enough decent material.
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Vinyl Record Pressing Plants Struggle To Keep Up With Demand

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  • by rbanzai ( 596355 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:48AM (#48593727)

    I was born in the 1960s so I was brought up on vinyl, but I was bummed at all the hissing and pops and crackles even though I tried to take care of my records. The clarity of CDs was a revelation even though a certain warmth was sacrificed.

    I won't ever miss the defects of vinyl, but today's common digital formats sacrifice far too much information, leaving the listener to "enjoy" the watery tones of overcompressed music.

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:07PM (#48593831) Homepage
      Could that 'warmth' simply be emulated by an adjustment of the equalizers? Perhaps an increase the amount of bass or mid-range may get the effect you're looking for.

      If so, digital can emulate the older vinyl, but the reverse isn't true.
      • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:40PM (#48594479)

        No, it can't be emulated by equalization. If at all it could be emulated by special DSP effects that also add some special distortion. There are plenty such effects available (in fact, a bit too many), but it's usually a horrible idea to slap one of those over an already mastered track.

        The real problem has nothing to do with the warmth of vinyl, though. The real problem is that as a result of the infamous loudness war digital CDs are nowadays mastered in a completely different way than vinyl records, a way that is so overcompressed that it completely destroys the sound quality of the music - and provably so, as you can measure the horrible effects of this mastering precisely. It's not a subjective thing at all. Vinyl records have become much louder over the past few decades, too, but they have physical limits that digital media like CDs don't have. If a vinyl record was mastered like a CD, the needle would literally jump out of the track. (With adequate mastering CDs would be superior to Vinyl in almost every respect, but the reality is different due to the way mastering engineers were and are still forced to squeeze every inch of dynamics out of productions.)

        Things get much worse with modern digital formats like MP3 or AAC. These would be barely tolerable with very careful mastering, but with modern "loudness competitive" mastering they create even worse artefacts than CDs due to intersample peaks and the interplay with the lossy recording process. Mid/side processing can reveal the horrible blubbering effects that these formats produce in case you can't hear them. (Although, if you can't hear them then you're probably deaf anyway and it won't matter.)

        There is great hope that once broadcast stations have adopted new loudness measurement standards like EBU R128 the problem will vanish over time. These standards level the broadcast signals not to standard amplitude levels but according to broader loudness criteria - measuring mean values and taking into account the dynamic range of the audio material using standardized procedures. With these new standards we will hopefully get some dynamics and audio quality back to digital media which are principally vastly superior to vinyl.

        • This is my experience: https://twitter.com/t3rminus/s... [twitter.com] Vinyl sounds better because constraints in the manufacturing process require the source material to be mastered differently, and (surprise!) people prefer things that weren't wrecked in the name of making it loud.
        • by rnturn ( 11092 )

          ``There is great hope that once broadcast stations have adopted new loudness measurement standards like EBU R128 the problem will vanish over time.''

          Probably not. Have you heard what's on most radio stations nowadays? It's 50% commercials that are mixed to sound louder than the next guy's commercials. Who's going to listen to a radio station that plays music with a high dynamic range only to have their eardrums blown out when the station switches to a five-minute long block of commercials? I've given up o

        • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 14, 2014 @06:14PM (#48596095) Journal

          You ain't telling me nothing because I have a customer who has all the early Kiss albums on the very first CD releases and he came to me complaining that "These new CDs don't sound right, I think my PC is messed up" but when I threw an MP3 rip of Strutter from his first run CDs in Audacity? There was peaks, valleys, actual HEADROOM on the recording. Took the exact same song from the exact same album from his recent box set? it was just a fucking wall, literally it was just slammed to the max from the first note to the last and sounded like shit.

          So if you like classic albums? Get 'em on the first CD releases, you can probably find 'em on eBay. Avoid any new releases like the plague as the loudness war just shits on every thing it touches. Didn't matter the artist either we tried several from his collection and it was all the same, the first run CDs sounded great while the later releases? Garbage.

        • This is why I only purchase used CD stamped in 1999 and earlier, then rip to FLAC. DONE!!! I pretend all other CDs made after that don't exist. HDTracks.com has some decent material too. If you've got the DAC, 192k / 24bit is available. But again as you've pointed out, it's all about the mastering.

      • by ponos ( 122721 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @03:39PM (#48595193)

        If it were that simple, we could also completely emulate any instrument like a piano or a violin. Electric pianos can do wonders (I own one) but they can't copy the real thing (which I also own). The point is that a turntable is, in that sense, a complex transformation, like an instrument. You may like it or hate it, but it isn't that simple to emulate.

        That being said,I'm sure people have mentioned the simple pleasure of actually owning stuff (instead of a virtual license to some bits on some server). Vinyl has that.

    • To me , those "warmth" argument are really about psychological bias. Sound warmth is one of those term which are never really defined properly and means everything and nothing. The only really objective measure is amount of noise , and fidelity compared to the original signals. I have never met an analogue system (even a high range one) which objectively reproduced the sound as good as a digital HD one could. Not to mention you better replay your LP in vacuum , because no matter how careful you will to cle
      • by doginthewoods ( 668559 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:46PM (#48594099)
        Having been around mastering engineers and lathes "back in the day", and during the change over from tape to digital, I can contribute a couple of points: 1 -tubes - for a long time lathes, and mastering consoles used tubes which naturally warm up sound. Tubes handle even harmonics differently from solid state. Mastering consoles also used stepped EQ's - that is, instead of a continuously variable resistor, they used a gang of military spec resistors on a rotary switch, and some mastering engineers swore the stepped mastering consoles sound better. 2 - LPs come compressed- way back it was discovered that the needle couldn't track lows and highs well - the needle would skip and bounce, so the RIAA came up with this compression / restoration scheme that rolls off the top and bottom during the cutting process, and restores it in the amplification process. That is why you LPs will sound thin if they are not plugged in to "phono in". That input has the RIAA curve circuitry built in, while the other inputs are "flat". With the development of laser beams in place of a needle, tracking is more accurate, but, because of the cutter. the RIAA curve is still needed. 3 - and one other thing and that is tape. Almost all LPs are made from recordings made on magnetic tape, and tape saturation will warm up a track. The signal alteration during the recording process - from microphone to console (desk) and through signal processors, to multi track tape machine to 2 track mix down, then over to the mastering lab to be mastered and made ready for the cutting lathe - a master cut onto acetate, then metal copies of that are made for the pressers, which use injection molded vinyl to create the finished product, is way different. Today, it's microphone into a digital recorder of sorts - Pro Tools, Cubase, even Garage Band, etc., then completely produced and mastered and outputted in digital. The only issue is file format degradation if the end product winds up as an MP3 or 4.
      • by Megane ( 129182 )

        I've ripped a few songs off of vinyl, and they still sound like vinyl when I play them on my iPod, and I'm not talking about the snap crackle pop. The highs sound too "bright" or something.

        I suppose if they were brand new records, played on one of those laser record players, there might be a difference, but that would hardly be a typical vinyl listening environment. Otherwise, it's just a form of distortion that is desirable to some people, like vacuum tube amplifiers. Also, the weakest link is still the h

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )
      It's perfectly possible to distribute music that's not overcompressed using a digital format.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:28PM (#48594387) Homepage Journal

      I grew up in an urban, blue collar neighborhood in the 60s; we didn't have much (any) exposure to live music. But my mom had that depression era better-yourself ethic, so she amassed a fairly complete record collection of classical "standards", and bought a pretty good component stereo to play them on. But I never saw her listen to any of them. Having these meant we were cultured people to her, but she was too busy getting things done to waste time sitting around listening to music.

      I on the other hand had plenty of time, and listened to everything. When I was older I saved up my paper route money and bought a high end audio-technica cartridge, then began adding to the record collection.

      When I was sixteen I got a job at the hospital which paid good money; 20 hours a week at $3.75/hr which was good money back in 1977. I took my new found wealth and bought my very first opera tickets. I remember sitting in the audience and being shocked when the music just came out of nowhere, without the preliminary low hissing and popping I associated with the start of music. But that was nothing to what followed.

      The music had color, depth and dimension I'd never imagined music having. Even though by then I had a pretty good sound system, what came out of it was a washed-out echo of the real thing. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I can't describe it, except to say that if music coming off a vinyl record was a strong cup of coffee, then live music would be shooting cocaine directly into your veins.

      That experienced killed my budding audiophile tendencies. To this day if I had a thousand dollars to spend on music, I'd spend it on performance tickets rather than upgrading my sound system.

      As for CDs, they seem to be all over the place to me. Early on there were a lot of bad CDs because of bad engineering. Some were released with their vinyl oriented RIAA equalization intact, which is just plain dumb. People like to argue about technology, but I think recording engineering is an often overlooked factor in what comes out of your speakers. I have an MP3 album of the original cast recording of "Hair", and it sounds great over a good pair of earphones. It's not because of some kind of magical MP3 pixie dust, it's because the original recording was done so competently. If something is missing in the original master tapes, no amount of lossless encoding and copper-free speaker cables will conjure it back.

      • by lucm ( 889690 )

        To this day if I had a thousand dollars to spend on music, I'd spend it on performance tickets rather than upgrading my sound system.

        The most amazing live experience is stuff like brass bands, such as Empire Brass. No recording can give justice to the physical impact of natural harmonics of perfectly tuned brass instruments. Amazing experience.

        But his works for "listener" music, such as opera or jazz, but not for pop/rock concerts, where the sound quality is not there, the event is more about decibels and the social experience. Also instruments such as guitars tend to be tuned for intervals, not chords, and this minimizes the audio impac

    • by rnturn ( 11092 )

      It's not the digital format that produces "the watery tones of overcompressed music". It's crap engineers and (IMHO, mainly) crap producers that create the atrocities that are most of today's music. I have some early CDs made back when the format was new that are a treat to listen to. I also have a few CD titles that I have two copies of: the original garbage CD release and a remastered version that the artists got re-released after being engineered by someone who knew WTF they were doing and was more conce

  • not lossless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:48AM (#48593729)

    Vinyl is the only consumer playback format we have that's fully analog and fully lossless

    The article itself gives plenty of examples why vinyl isn't lossless, and it's easy to name a few more.

    • Re:not lossless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FalstaffsMind ( 1714776 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:22PM (#48593935)
      My daughter is into vinyl and I understand why. It's not necessarily about sound quality, although songs produced for MP3 are clearly produced differently. They are optimized for ear bud listening as opposed to being played on an old pair of floor speakers. The sound tends to be unabashedly electronic and lacks the lushness of old recordings. What really make vinyl attractive is the experience of going to the record store with friends, leafing through the albums and finding one you want. Then taking it home, and listening to it with your friends, not just the hits, but the whole album. You become a fan of a band, and not just songs. Then there is the album art. Back in the day, that was part of the reason you bought a record. Album art was an expression of the band just as much as the music was. I think a good analogy is the people who prefer books to reading on a Kindle. Sure, it's the same text, but for many people, there is something undefinable missing when they read on a Kindle. There is something about the cover, the turning of the page, the smell. And that undefinable something makes it better.
      • Exactly! I was going to say something along these lines. I truly think it's less about sound quality and more about the experience and tangibility of the records. In this digital age tangible products have a much higher value. You can have 30k mp3s and not really feel a huge attachment to them (and they can all disappear in the blink of an eye). The album art is also actually visible (compared to CD cases). The social experience of dropping the needle and hanging out with friends is also a lot of fun.

    • Right... Digital is superior in every measurable way to vinyl.
      The "lossyness" of vinyl does, however, have the effect of putting a filter on the audio output. It rolls off the highs and lows, leaving you with a warm, low-mids heavy mix. Some people like that sound... great! But you can get that same effect with an EQ and still enjoy all of the benefits of digital.

      That said... Digital can suck if the wrong person rips the song or over compresses it. Also, Vinyl is fun. I have a small vinyl collection myself.

    • Re:not lossless (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @02:47PM (#48594915) Homepage

      Vinyl is the only consumer playback format we have that's fully analog and fully lossless

      The article itself gives plenty of examples why vinyl isn't lossless, and it's easy to name a few more.

      This comes across as a second-hand, simplistic interpretation of something that was a fallacy to begin with. This is a fallacy that's either explicitly or implicitly used as the (flawed) basis of arguments, even on Slashdot.

      The fallacy is that because "analogue" as a *purely abstract* concept can in theory have infinite precision- as opposed to digital (which by definition has a clearly-defined level of precision)- then an analogue medium like vinyl records must inherently be able to hold more detail than a digital one like (e.g.) compact discs.

      Problem is, that argument could then be applied to any analogue medium (not just vinyl), so that e.g. a cheap, worn-out audio cassette recording made on a portable recorder in the early 70s must also be inherently superior to a CD, or even to a 24-bit, 96KHz digital master(!!!)

      This makes the flaw in the argument more obvious, but it's still a flaw when applied to vinyl. The problem is that we're talking about actual, real-world examples of analogue media, not the abstract concept. In real life, no analogue medium can have infinite bandwidth, so they quite obviously *do* have inherent limits of precision and quality- just not as clearly delineated as those of digital. (*)

      Of course, you might argue that we could engineer our analogue media to higher standards... but similarly, we could (theoretically) engineer a higher resolution and sampling rate into digital media, so there is no inherent argument in that either way.

      Furthermore, by definition, a "perfect" analogue copy would require infinite perfection in the duplication process (clearly impossible) and the ability to verify this to infinite levels of precision (ditto). So by definition *any* analogue copy will be imperfect.

      This isn't to say that CD is better than vinyl, or that digital is better than analogue. Maybe vinyl *is* better... maybe not. What it *is* saying is that the "analogue is infinite and digital is limited" argument *in itself* is flawed, and not a valid basis for drawing a conclusion either way. One can make comparisons where either is the clear winner- a good quality analogue turntable setup (and LP) will quite obviously sound better than a grungy 4-bit digital sample "bit bashed" through a C64 or Atari 800 sound chip. But the aforementioned 24-bit, 96KHz digital master will blatantly knock spots off an analogue C90 cassette recorded in 1973.

      (*) One may be scientifically able to calculate the meaningful upper limit of cassette bandwidth and the noise floor by (e.g.) looking at the maximum theoretical magnetisation possible, spacing of the grains, et al... both in theory and in practice. I can't tell you what those limits are, but I can be quite confident that they'll exist, and hence dictate the maximum sound quality.

  • I don't have a horse in either race, but I'm curious - Have any blind studies been done to determine if vinyl does indeed sound better? My audiophile father-in-law would tell you HD-CD sounds better than vinyl, but I don't have the ears to tell either way...
    • Re:Sounds Better? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dotwhynot ( 938895 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:22PM (#48593933)

      I don't have a horse in either race, but I'm curious - Have any blind studies been done to determine if vinyl does indeed sound better? My audiophile father-in-law would tell you HD-CD sounds better than vinyl, but I don't have the ears to tell either way...

      Yes. These are from my days of reading high-end hi-fi magazines that don't have the content online, so I don't have links, but one of the more definitive double blind studies proved that people who claimed they preferred the LP sound over CD (including both "golden ear" audiophiles and professional sound people) indeed were able to reliably identify and prefer the LP sound in controlled double blind experiments. But, when the same experiment compared with CD-R recorded from LP as source, they were not able to identify the difference at all. CD-R from LP as source was equally preferred over CD as LP.

      This corresponds exactly with the science of the technical characteristics of the two technologies, signal theory and human hearing. The "warm, analogue" LP sound carried perfectly over to the CD-R, as it is distortion characteristics of LP playback that CD is perfectly able to replicate (Nyquist theorem).

      HDCD is a different discussion. I was myself a HDCD supporter in my (luckily now behind me) audiophile days. But HDCD mainly sounded better because the mastering was better, not because of technical specs of the format. HDCD productions took greater care with quality of mastering, not at least avoiding the overuse of dynamic compression.

    • "Sounding better" is subjective but what isn't subjective is that the "roomy and warm" sound we associate with pressed vinyl audio is the result of the frequency limitations audio must adhere to due to the nature of the physical media and the displacement of material the grooves create. There's a certain point at higher and lower frequencies in a given recording that extremes in highs and lows need to conserve both physical material and space since it is the depth and width of grooves that make vibrations

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kohlrabi82 ( 1672654 )

      It is well known that differences in audio quality between digital formats (CDs, MP3, FLACs, etc.) to Vinyl are due to different mastering for the respective media [hydrogenaud.io]. HA has also set up a wiki page regarding misconceptions about Vinyl mastering [hydrogenaud.io] and Vinyl as a medium [hydrogenaud.io]. Vinyl is an inherently flawed medium, with problems like wear, necessitating expensive gear and knowledge for playback, and low audio quality compared to digital media. That some people still prefer Vinyl releases shows that they either don't rea

  • One word: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Exitar ( 809068 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:49AM (#48593737)


    • Also, DJs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <voyager529 AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:41PM (#48594073)

      While "Hipsters" is the go-to answer to why vinyl records are all the rage, DJs are another part. Some songs are still pressed [discogs.com] on 12" singles (most commonly EDM and hip-hop; frequently with instrumental versions as well), but the best selling vinyl pressing for quite some time now has been the Serato Timecode record. It allows DJs to use standard Technics 1200s (and newer models, like the Numark TTX and the Reloop 7000s) to still spin and scratch records, but without being limited by what's actually being pressed because it manipulates MP3 playback on a computer.

      Amongst the reasons these records sell so well is because instead of having hundreds of records that get 1-2 plays a night, the same pair of records are played all night, so it's entirely realistic to go through a pair a month, depending on how much pressure is put on the needle. Serato is (or was-for-a-very-long-time depending on who's numbers you believe) the most popular DVS platform, with Traktor in second place, though it's more popular with DJs who use (MIDI) Controllers instead of vinyl. Serato and several other DJ software titles now support the vast number of controllers that have been released, so overall interest in DJing with timecode vinyl isn't quite as popular as it once was. Still, while Jack White’s Lazaretto sold over 75,000 copies this year, it pales in comparison to the number of club jocks who buy timecode records, in pairs, monthly.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • Sorry for the self-reply, but this is a better DMC routine video; there are hundreds and hundreds of them on youtube...

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • Its also greatly waning in the house/trance/etc genres. Most of them at this point just carry usb sticks since the club standard players all have usb ports. Less to lose, less to carry, easier to keep backups

  • I grew up with albums. I remember many hours spent flipping through them at the record stores... But I didn't have good equipment so never really developed that Romance with vinyl that so many people have... Rare was the time that I just sat down to listen. Listening was always something done while vacuuming, or cooking, or studying or whatever... Having to flip the record or change it every 20 minutes was just a pain in the ass.. That's why I bought my vinyl and then immediately transcoded it to streamin
    • Or it could be that human beings haven't changed much and seeing a physical object directly picking up a squiggle wave and turning it into an electric wave that makes a speaker cone wobble is instinctively more "human" than a cheap chinese piece of plastic with 5 cents of silicon running more software than a team of PhDs can understand in a year.

      • by VAXcat ( 674775 )
        Yah, you're on to something here. I have thousands of hours of music available in digital form (most of it ripped lossless to FLAC). What I really enjoy listening to, though, is my old reel to reel tape deck. Even thought the fidelity is dramatically less than my digital collection, I enjoy thinking about the magnetic domains gliding by, being picked up by a coil and amplified into music. The dance of the VU meters is also hypnotic to watch, in time with the music.
  • I often buy physical books because I like to have them on my bookshelf and the tactile experience of reading a paper book... even though from a practicality perspective, ebooks are easier to refer to and carry around. So I end up often having both a paper and ebook version. If you want to do something like that with music, then I can see the appeal of vinyl over CD as the physical format: CDs have smaller artwork and are generally less interesting as objects to own and play. So might as well get vinyl for t

  • by fred911 ( 83970 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:55AM (#48593775)

    Someone still makes buggy whips. If an infrastructure and supply line is established to fill the current market demand, that's where it ends. There's no growth here..

      The fact is that given the same source content, high quality digital copies are by far higher quality, have better SN ratios and dynamic range than vinyl is capable of delivering, with a media that doesn't degrade the minute it's used.

      It's not realistic to compare a highly compressed MP3 to vinyl. Compare a lossless audio file to vinyl and you'll find it to be significantly higher quality. Even if you don't believe the math.

    • Yeah but unless you have the speakers and room and amplifier to go with that dynamic range (on what music? Today's music is so compressed a Fisher Price cassette deck is hi-fi), it's wasted information.

      Oh and it's "niche".

      And why does everything need to have "growth"? Only cancer has continuous growth. What if there's enough demand to keep some local technical people gainfully employed in the West?

      Sure it's not the same kind of jobs our parents had, with job security, health insurance, benefits, and a retir

      • The loudness wars started long before CDs.
        It's prevalence has more to do with how music is produced than with the format it's recorded on - i.e. it's easier today to over compress something than it used to be.
        If vinyl was still successful, there would be just as many over compressed piece of shit vinyl records as there are over compressed piece of shit CDs.

      • by fred911 ( 83970 )

        "And why does everything need to have "growth"?"

        Because without growth, there's no investment. Sometime look at the security pricing data after the most stable, profitable company reports flat earnings. Investors will keep a security of a company that reports huge losses but shows growth. Fear and greed drives the market.

        • That's just a social model, a human convention. We will have to do away with "growth" as the "#1 model over all else" mentality we have. It works now and then, but it basically ignores all the productivity gains and technology we have.

          What's wrong with a leisure society and guaranteed minimum livable conditions for all? And for the people with weird wiring who absolutely must have an owner or must dominate others or must have a bigger car, let's put them in a reserve and watch them fight over artificially s

          • by itzly ( 3699663 )

            What's wrong with a leisure society and guaranteed minimum livable conditions for all?

            Sounds good. Who will oversee the global culling program to bring the world population to sustainable numbers ?

    • The beauty of math is that you don't have to believe in it, it will be true (if calculated/proved correctly) regardless.

      • Exactly, and if I made 5000$/hour and worked 40 hour weeks, I'd make 200000$ a week, you don't have to believe it, the math just works.

        That's the beauty of maths!

        Oh, it has no meaning in the real world and there are no jobs that pay 5000$ an hour for the vast majority of the human race?

        But the math works!!!!

        My point is that math is just a concept, sound is real and how you perceive it is all the evidence you should need.

        It's like food, I'm sure you can measure every spice down to the genetic level but I sti

  • by paskie ( 539112 ) <pasky.ucw@cz> on Sunday December 14, 2014 @11:58AM (#48593789) Homepage

    Audio is just a crazy world of snake oil and placebo.

    Really, the argument that's supposed to convince us is this?

    > That warm vinyl sound: "I think this is what people like about it: it pins very closely to the way that human beings hear music organically," Gonsalves said. "It's very mid-range-y and very warm," a sound that flatters the fuzzy guitars of rock 'n' roll.

    I'm sorry but I just don't buy it. There seems to be no obvious reason why you couldn't easily hack up a digital audio filter that makes stuff "sound like a vinyl". I'd even wager that it already exists?

    Especially when you skip the compression and use FLACs. (But no, I'm not that kind of person who would claim to be able to distnguish 320kbps mp3 from a FLAC.)

    • I can certainly tell the difference between a FLAC 24bit sample and a MP3 320kbps with my theater setup, however that seems more of a comparison of 16 bit to 24bit mastered audio when using quality speakers and a good amplifier with a DSP supporting 24bit audio. Using a phone, I typically can't tell the difference between something streamed from Spotify and a FLAC 24bit, although that's probably speaking more to the DSP In the phone. Quality equipment and you can tell the difference in terms of recovery fro
      • by itzly ( 3699663 )
        Did you do a blind test ?
        • I have, yes. Both conducted and had them conducted on me, including some tricks from a music producer friend who would send the same track mastered identically and simply exported into different formats. It's only possible with active listening when the information is present in the actual file. I can't tell the difference between one 16bit track and another regardless of format (even 256kbps to 320kbps for most tracks), or a 24bit track that was mastered in 16 and then upconverted versus a strait 16bit tra
  • Some (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chas ( 5144 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:00PM (#48593803) Homepage Journal

    Some listeners think that vinyl reproduces sound better than digital

    And some people buy Gold-plated Monster cables and Macs too. It just proves there's a sucker born every minute (at least).

    some youngsters like the social experience of gathering around a turntable.

    That's mainly because most youngsters' "social experience" has been limited to school (see "Lord of the Flies") and texting. Actually, y'know, MEETING UP with someone is a HUGE novelty these days. The turntable's just incidental.

  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:00PM (#48593807)
    People are starting to draw back from the overwhelming complexity in all things.
  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:08PM (#48593835) Homepage Journal

    Meanwhile, an industry pro WITH A VESTED INTEREST IN THE SUCCESS OF VINYL offers his take on the endless debate of audio differences between analog records and digital formats

    There. Fixed that for you.

  • NO DRM! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TarPitt ( 217247 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:12PM (#48593861)

    The best thing about an analog format is no digital rights management. You buy it, you own it. You will always be able to listen to it, no-one will be able to revoke your license.

    Digital formats and DRM have made music a transient, throw-away experience.

    With vinyl, the recording has history. The vinyl you buy in middle school will be still playable in middle age.

    • by itzly ( 3699663 )

      The vinyl you buy in middle school will be still playable in middle age

      Except for the fact that it will be worn down.

  • I listened to vinyl and cassettes growing up. My brother had a Technics turntable and watching the checkered edges (don't know if there's a name) of the turntable platter at the light (front left side) was mesmerizing. It was also mesmerizing to watch the analog VU meters bounce around on a tape deck to the beat of the music. I enjoyed looking at the artwork, photos, and print on the jacket/sleeve. I thought that the music sounded pretty good at the time with a good turntable and good speakers, with an

    • Stroboscope. Or, stroboscopic rings. The intervals were set so a 60 Hz flash of a neon lamp would, at the right speed, stand still. There was a set of 2-4 rings, one for each speed the turntable would do.

      Pink Floyd and Yes covers FTW. Hipgnosis and Roger Dean were gods!

  • First, how good your digital sounds depends a lot on the digital-to-analog circuitry. Your speakers are still analog, as are your ears.

    Second, all reproduction loses information. The question, as those who developed MP3 and other psycho-acoustic compression models realized, is which losses are more noticeable to human listeners. Also, our brains process information at far higher resolution than we can consciously report. As philosophers say, phenomenal consciousness is broader than access consciousness.


  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @12:23PM (#48593939) Homepage Journal
    Ah, yes.... I rather vaguely remember a series of experiments I attended a couple of decades ago. My colleagues and I participated in several hours-long, herb-fueled, analysis sessions comparing cassette tape, CDs, and vinyl, with and without equalizers. We listened in sessions controlling for acoustic, heavy metal, synthesizer, etc.. I'm pretty sure the committee's conclusion was "put the money into the speakers". But I think we forgot to write it down anywhere.
    • by clonehappy ( 655530 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @07:24PM (#48596523)

      As a youngster growing up in the 1980's, countless dozens of hours were spent both in my own basement and the basement of my childhood (well, still) best friend's parents house listening to vinyl, cassettes, and analog FM radio. I later became a smalltime audiophile, I don't buy Monster Cable or equipment that costs more than 4 figures, but I still enjoy a good audio listening experience.

      About 5 years ago, my friend's parents finally retired and I was around to help them move out west. While the old Pioneer receiver we used to jam out on had long since died or been retired to the local landfill, the off-name floor speakers were still there. I believe one had the same old lamp sitting on it that it always did, and the other one was just sitting there in the corner. They told me to put them out to the street.

      Of course, they went in the trunk of my car, where I promptly took them home and stored them in my garage. This summer, as the garage had now collected enough surplus computer and electronic equipment to need it's twice a decade cleaning, I found the old "Utah" speakers and decided to hook them up to my receiver and see if they were dead or alive. I flicked on the local "oldies" station (meaning 70's and 80's music now) and I was immediately transported back in time. Radio still sounded today like it sounded back in 1986. The speakers provided all the "warmth" and "fullness" that people are always chasing after.

      This may sound like a no-brainer, but speakers determine what you hear. Those speakers are now a permanent fixture out in my garage/man-cave. No, they don't sound like any of the big-name equipment I run in the home theater. But they are immersive with only 2 channels in a way a 9.2 surround system can never match. And when I sit outside on the weekend, enjoying a few beers and some (sometimes herb-fueled) tinkering with Linux boxes and electronics, to me at least, it's like going backwards to a time when things were still exciting, the guy on the radio was someone everyone knew, and you had the whole world in the palm of your hand.

      I do apologize for waxing nostalgic on a public forum, and I do love my new technology, but damnit sometimes it's nice to just sit back and enjoy something simple that you love. I can understand the value to youngsters of sitting around listening to a piece of tangible vinyl that you can hold in your hand, look at the album art, read the lyrics (all without a LAN connection or Wi-Fi AP being involved) rather than some logical arrangement of bits on a chip or spinning platter. So yes, of course, put your money into speakers (or vinyl, or whatever makes you happy)! I recommend garage sales, swap meets, and flea markets!

  • No other format offers the canvas that an LP cover does. Some of the best albums I own were selected because I liked the art, even if I did not know the band. Of course there were duds, but I did get introduced to some great music I might have missed otherwise.

  • by jasno ( 124830 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:20PM (#48594317) Journal

    I always hate these kinds of discussions when there are too many engineers in the room. Of course, digital is better. You can prove it with Nyquist's theorem. In the long run, digital will win.

    That said, there are numerous implicit signal-changing steps which tend to happen with analog equipment that people often find pleasing and which are not/haven't been sucessfully emulated in most digital audio equipment.

    Take guitar amps. I've got a couple of decent Roland digital amps. They do an OK job of modelling a few different old tube amps. Do they sound like my friend's old blackface quad reverb? Oh god no. There is some magic going on there that the digital guys haven't figured out how to reproduce. Even vs. odd harmonics? Yeah I think we get that now, but there's more in there and we're not successfully modelling it. I can enumerate a lot of factors we're probably missing(power supply brownout at high volume, capacitive and inductive feedback loops, tube nonlinearities, transformer nonlinearities, temperature fluctuations, microphonic components... etc etc etc) but there are still more we haven't really considered yet.

    That said, there are still people who prefer solid-state guitar and HiFi sound to analog colored sound. A lot of it is what you're used to. People hear different things, sometimes due to culture, sometimes due to physiology... it's complicated.

    Back to vinyl records - they do have a nicer sound in many cases, clicks and pops aside. It's probably a result of the RIAA EQ and the physics of a needle riding over vinyl, but I don't really know. One thing I do think has value is the act of listening to a complete record. Not only are you appreciating the artists' complete work as they intended it, the ritual of listening to a record often entails setting aside time and space to solely enjoy that record. You can't compare listening to, say, Dark Side of the Moon, while lying on your couch in a dark room to listening to a few out-of-context songs on your headphones while riding a bus.

    Whatever... we aren't going to solve this battle on /.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Sunday December 14, 2014 @01:34PM (#48594437)

    "Some listeners think that vinyl reproduces sound better than digital,"

    No, it's just that this generation has got hearing damage from the free, crappy, white iPod/iPhone earbuds and MP3s rely on a normal hearing capability.
    So this sounds different for them.

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @03:08PM (#48595037)

    Maybe modern hi def digital audio formats exceed anything that can be practically extracted from vinyl. But, we could do things with equally modern analog technology that would blow digital out of the water. Imagine a physical family photo that you can hang on the wall, but also high resolution enough to make 100x magnified reprints with simple optical equipment. Now add a reasonable assurance that a photo will be still viewable after 100 years for your grand-grandchildren. Magnification may degrade, but whatever is left can be accessed with hardware made based on simple instructions. How do you like the chances of preserving and especially being able to read and display a JPEG over that timeframe?

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Sunday December 14, 2014 @03:14PM (#48595067) Homepage

    Different technologies have different characteristics, and I guess one has to use one's personal weighting function. I had a pretty good system (AR turntable, top-of-the-line Shure cartridge, electrostatic earphones) and I love digital audio and honestly don't know how anyone can stand vinyl.

    I used a dust bug, I used a DiscWasher, I treated my records very carefully, but there always came the dreaded moment when I would hear: "tick." And at that point, I'd always tense up, and only relax 1.8 seconds later if I didn't hear a second "tick." Three consecutive "ticks" 1.8 seconds apart would seriously interfere with my enjoyment of the sound. My success rate on removing them by cleaning was very low--more often then not, the cleaning attempt (even with the best D4 fluid etc.) would simply add a very delicate, light background crackle.

    And I am not even talking about tape hiss, surface noise, warp wow, rumble, and a little trace of 60 Hz hum that I never could quite get rid of. And ugh, getting to the end of a symphony and having the big loud glorious coda come up in the inner groove (vinyl was pretty good at the outer edge, but no-kidding-obvious-problems in the slower-moving inner grooves).

    And taking the occasional bad pressing back to the record store and arguing with the store clerk about exchanging it.

    And changing the darn record every 20-30 minutes... and feeling guilty if I left it unattended and came back later to find it had been playing the end-groove for hours.

    Even with a good tonearm and lightweight cartridge, vinyl does not sound as good on the tenth playing as it did on the first.

    Digital audio may have its faults and if people enjoy the characteristics of vinyl, there can be no dispute about tastes. But to me the positives outweigh the negatives--by about a factor of ten.

  • by blanks ( 108019 ) on Monday December 15, 2014 @04:04AM (#48598961) Homepage Journal
    I'm not going to bother touching on the ongoing debate of which sounds better or which format is generally better. I personally believe the difference of vinyl and other audio formats is the process involved with vinyl and the a lack of a better word the intimacy people have with it.

    I always tell friends who ask about my collection that vinyl is to digital media what home cooked meals are to microwave dinners. Some people don't like cooking and choose easy and fact meals they can just eat so they are no longer hungry. While other people enjoy the process of cooking for hours to make a meal they are proud of and enjoy. Is the home cooked meal better? To the person who cooked it yes it most likely is because of their involvement.

    These days with digital media you simply browse a site/app click a few buttons and the song or album is lost into your collection. It becomes background noise after listing to it a few times and has no real relevance to the person. With vinyl (specifically hard to find albums) a person can spend years searching for the album. They might go to stores weekly talking with employees and building friendships so they can get items held for them or called when a big collection just comes in, or spend hours walking around the city searching all the stores. Nearly all my records have stories like this.

    There is also the process of playing the albums vs simply hitting shuffle on your computer. You have to search your collection deciding what you want to listen to, start up your equipment, maybe you have to clean the record before hand. You also have a tangible object you need to interact with. There is involvement.

    So like I said; some people want quick and easy music that requires no involvement. Some of us do. I love the process and thinking about what I went though to get an album I'm listening to, or who I talked to when they suggested something or the show I picked the album up at. Personally I could care less if one or the other sounds better and I still personally listen to streaming music/mp3's when I simply want background noise, but when I want to listen to music I turn to my vinyl.
  • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Monday December 15, 2014 @07:23AM (#48599479)
    A lot of this argument IMO hinges on when you grew up/got into music. I'm quite happy to accept (as an old git) that high resolution digital audio beats an album on vinyl hands down in terms of true fidelity. However, to *my* ears, because I grew up with vinyl, I find that sound more appealing and enjoyable. I have albums on everything from cassette, vinyl, CDs, MP3s to FLAC. Even some 24bit high res files. Yes, there's some incredible detail in there with modern formats. However, for whatever reason, I just don't enjoy listening to it as much. In many cases it's because they're mastered too hot and have stupid waveforms with almost no dynamic range, although the high res formats are better in that respect. I find vinyl just more enjoyable and relaxing to listen to. Plus of course there's the well worn stuff about the cover, reading the lyric sheet without a magnifying glass etc. As far as crackles/pops/wear and tear goes, I've got records that are nearly 40 years old but still more enjoyable to my ears/brain. It beats me how people's records get so beaten up, are they tracking too heavy? Pouring grit down the sleeve? Maybe 5% of mine from 30+ years ago have anything more than a little surface noise when the stylus hits the lead in groove. After that, no pops or crackles.

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.