Why vinyl produces better sound than CD

There are streams of articles online comparing vinyl records and CDs. But whether you’re a vinyl lover or a CD obsessive, vinyl will always rule the roost. To understand why vinyl records are better quality than CDs, we first need to delve into the world of analogue and the origins of sound.

It all boils down to the difference between analogue and digital recordings. An original sound is always in analogue and a digital recording takes snapshots of the analogue signals at a certain rate and measures it at a certain accuracy. This means that a digital recording can never capture the complete soundwave as analogue can. Instead, a digital recording will approximate it with a series of steps. The digital version basically transforms a wave into a stream of numbers, digitally estimating as it goes and producing a quality digital copy.

Where this falls flat on its face is during quick sound transitions, such as drumbeats, which the digital recording will distort. In fact, compared to vinyl, a CD recording doesn’t actually do that good a job at mimicking the original sound. Think of CD vs vinyl sound quality like someone who can see perfectly choosing to put on glasses to read a signpost. Their original eyesight is a clear as day until they filter it through a lens.

Groove to the music

To add insult to injury, a vinyl record has a groove carved into it that mirrors the original sound’s waveform, so no sound is lost. An analogue wave represents the vibrations created by someone’s voice or any sound in that room.  So, the original sound is permanently etched into the black surface, accurately recording that moment in time.

What’s more, the output of a record player is analogue so can be fed directly into an amplifier with no conversion needed. This means that sounds coming from a record player are much more accurate and fuller bodied, creating a richer and more diverse sound than CDs every could.

Where CDs might ‘top trump’ vinyl, is in their maintenance. As soon as a record is scratched, dusty or even damp due to lack of maintenance or bad storage, it will noticeably affect the quality of the sound or, even worse, create extra noises and static. Digital music doesn’t degrade over time, and even the most damaged CDs won’t have static noise during silence. And CD collectors can even bridge the gap between vinyl and CD if they have the time and energy. The best way is to increase the sampling rate of a digital recording to get it closer to the original analogue sound.

From humble beginnings

But let’s not forget the origins of the CD. The sole reason CDs were invented was to create a digital recording of analogue. It was never about trying to achieve better sound quality or replace the role of vinyl in the music industry. The idea was to mimic the sound as close as possible and revolutionise the way we listen and consume music.  CDs were an easier and more affordable way to listen to music and so vinyl was quickly thrown to the wayside and portable CD-ROMs were snatched up.

But when mp3 music hit, the CD heydays were over. Before you could say iPod, the CD’s unique selling point was stripped away. Because why do you need to carry a batch of CDs around when you can listen to 1,000 tracks from a device 10 times smaller than a CD player? And so, the mp3 triggered the demise of the humble CD, which was no longer the king of convenience.

Music lovers now have the choice between quick, easily accessible songs from a click of a button and physical thought-through records that will always produce a better quality sound but take more time to set up and listen to. A CD comeback will never match a vinyl revival because the CD doesn’t provide any added quality than an mp3 and adds bulk to the equation. Where CDs might shine through is good old nostalgia, especially with the millennial generation, who might want to keep their first CDs or collect some of their favourite music growing up.  

Here comes the sun

And all the while the vinyl was biding its time, knowing its moment in the sun would come again. And just as predicted, the vinyl started to make a comeback once we were all bored with instant music gratification. The vinyl revival was especially spurred on by the millennial generation even though there are of course diehard vinyl lovers who never followed any sort of fad, knowing that vinyl will always play the best quality sound.

Vinyl is now back and is here to stay. Vinyl collectors aren’t going to make the same mistake again and toss out their prized records to make room for the newest way to listen to music. That’s because people are consciously choosing vinyl for its unrivalled sound quality and because it gives them a different and more purposeful listening experience. It’s also perfect for anyone who loves collecting to their heart’s content.

And even though the CD has a place in our hearts and helped democratise music, it will never be able to stand up to vinyl records, especially if you look after them properly. One thing is for sure, music should be enjoyed in whatever way someone likes best, whether you do love a good CD, stream from your favourite app or are sticking to your tried and tested vinyl.

Want to know about all things vinyl? Check out our blog which focuses on music, Manchester and our unbridled vinyl love. We also have some pretty useful vinyl covers and cleaning kits to make sure your vinyl will always pump out quality sound.