Does music sound better from the vinyl grooves?
I know this question has been asked many times, and of course it boils down to each individuals tastes. Personally, rarely would I choose the sound of digital, even rarer would I choose CD’s or downloads over a pristine vinyl copy of the same music, but most of time the gap isn’t so wide to warrant throwing your CD’s or iPods away.
Speaking of compact discs, I sold my entire CD collection to buy records, and I did that right after doing things to save space with my media. Ironically I made my living-space less livable, but man was I hooked on vinyl records.
I have to admit, that cumbersome versus convenience issue still drags on me a little. I still tend to listen to digital music more, mainly because I am on the go a lot; but, I do make time for vinyl, so it is there to have a more intimate listening experience.
There are exceptions to the rule of course with the sound of vinyl, when considering vintage music for example. Especially modern jazz and progressive rock music. Being a big Blue Note collector, I think the warm analog sound and the 12 inch cover art adds something extra to the experience. The nostalgia of it all is nearly as important as the sound to me.
I think vinyl’s analog sound rings truer to me. Warmth might be an over used term, but acoustic jazz, classic funk, and soul jazz rely on a heavy bass sound, that style really benefits from that warmth in my opinion.
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The real difference to my ear:
I used to hear the warmth argument about analog, and I was a skeptic. It turned out to be a real truth to my ears, the vinyl does seem to soften the edges, the difference is very noticeable when comparing vintage jazz to CD, I will say that Sony has done a nice job making Miles Davis music sound as close to the vinyl as possible, especially the 65-68 classic quintet recordings
Those 50’s and 60’s Blue Note sessions never sound very good to me on CD, in fact, I think ironically the newer Rudy Van Gelder CD’s particularly sound thin and distorted.
Van Gelder’s sessions on Vinyl always sound warm with a good and sometimes great sound stage, even if the piano might be underplayed in the mix some times. Read more about Blue Note collecting here.
Once my vinyl radar was on, and I began looking for jazz vinyl, of course Blue Note was top on my List.
The first Blue Note Record I bought on vinyl was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Free For All, this was a second press, it was the blue and white liberty pressing.
Earlier pressings are what you want to shoot for usually, as the sound quality is as close to the day of recording as possible.
You can enjoy later Liberty pressings of the Blue Note 50’s and 60’s sessions at a fraction of the cost of first press Blue Notes. I am not ashamed one bit to admit, over half of my collection consists of 1970’s liberty label Blue Notes.
I was struck immediately how much more open air there was on the recording, “I guess that means sound stage?” I also remember distinctly how much compression and distortion was on that CD reissue I had. Now I have over 300 Blue Notes, each sounds better to me on vinyl than the CD, no matter if a vintage pressing or a new reissue.
I really don’t listen to a whole lot of new “released today” music, but what is released sounds just fine to me in the downloaded form. Vinyl would probably sound better, but I can’t judge one way or another.
I will also mention tube guitar amps always sound better to me than solid state amps, though I do have a pretty decent sounding solid state amp that mimics many of the better tube amp sound, but it’s still imitation.
Admittedly sound quality is not my only concern:
The cover art means a lot to me as an enhancement of the overall experience too, I like the thick card board, and it’s cool reading the original album notes. I particularly can’t get enough of the classic Reid Miles Blue Note cover art.
I will always prefer the larger than life, “at least compared to the puny CD cover art” of the 12 inch LP cover, those Blue Note album cover just mean so much more when I started finding them on vinyl. The CD versions just seemed so pointless to me, sort of like eating a hamburger at a steak house.
So what about that snap crackle pop? This is an issue, especially if your going to dig for treasure in those discount bins or even the thrift stores. Some tolerance, and some knowledge through trial and error testing the records will gain you a perspective of what to leave and what to buy.
VG+ graded vinyl or better is what you should be looking for, Excellent might also be the grade. Stay away from marks you can feel, and stick with people who “specialize” in records when buying online. Learn how to know what you really want condition wise.
Surface noise is a way of life with vinyl:
Surface noise will be a part of it overall vinyl listening experience, if you buy near mint or sealed vinyl you should not have too many noise issues, but you do need to realize that some surface noise will be apart of vinyl record collecting.
Some people, especially high end collector who have the cash to buy nothing but the earliest best condition pressings can’t stand any surface noise at all, but most people have to focus on bargains and a nice VG+ copy is nothing to sneeze at. You may have to endure a random tick and light static during quieter moments, but these records are very affordable.
I mentioned above I can pick apart tinny compressed CD’s just as as well as the snap crackle pop on a few less than ideal condition vinyl copies. Don’t forget, and this should be obvious: If you play a dusty or dirty record, that dirt will cause surface noise. You must clean your records.
*Photos are my own.
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Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.