The key phrase you used was "good digital playback": unfortunately, the digital playback has to be very, very good for the type of distortion I'm talking about to be inaudible. It's not noise, it's the unpleasant, slightly artificial quality that overlays the sound when you wind the volume up to realistic levels; the quality that immediately gives the game away that you're listening to hifi, not the real thing; the quality that encourages people to fairly rapidly say, "That's very impressive, but can you turn the volume down now, please". This is caused by a distortion, a very insidious distortion, which makes most hifi incapable of reaching the heights of realistic reproduction. And digital unfortunately emphasises, highlights these inaccuracies more so than vinyl, typically.
This particular problem is much, much more brought to the fore in the playback, as compared to the recording side of the process: those myriads of opamps are not such a problem because they typically don't have to cope with the interference effects of power audio amplifiers on the mains waveform. This is also the reason why many people find headphones more "accurate" and pleasant, the much lower power levels involved mean that the electronics are having a far easier ride.
You have a few correct points here, but are missing the main point. Yes, peoples' ears are sensitive to certain types of distortion and noise - but you don't get them with good digital playback. You get them with vinyl. When you listen to a CD, the problem is not some extra noise or distortion - it is that the familiar (to you) noise and distortion is missing.
It's like tube amplifiers - fans will tell you they give a "warmer" sound than transistor amplifiers. In fact they give a less precise rendition than most mid or even low-end transistor amplifiers - there is more noise, and more distortion. In particular, they have significant second harmonic distortion that you don't get elsewhere - the "warmth" is that second harmonic.
If you like your music to have this added noise and distortion, that's fine. I can appreciate that, and understand it. Just don't make nonsense claims about CDs and digital reproduction adding noise or being less accurate in some way.
Oh, and the "minimal electronics" movement is purely about pandering to people who will pay for such "features". In the recording studio, the sound from the musician passes through perhaps 30 or 40 opamps before being digitised. A few more on the playback device would not make the slightest difference (assuming, of course, that the electronics is of good quality and design).
The simple answer is that many peoples' ears are very sensitive to certain types of low level distortion, inaccuracies which becomes irritating and fatiguing over a period of listening time, and unfortunately the digital replay mechanism is far more susceptible to producing this type of distortion. Yes, it is very low level, and very hard to measure but it is there, and causes many people to have major issues with CD sound.
Vinyl by virtue of the fact that at its heart is a very simple mechanical transducer is far less prone to this problem. In CD, with its intrinsic electronic complexity, these ugly problems can rear their head very easily and it needs a fastidious design to minimise the audibility of this distortion. That is one reason there has been a strong movement relatively recently to create digital playback designs with the absolute minimum of electronic circuitry -- the non oversampled DAC technique. They measure badly, but reduce this particularly unpleasant style of distortion very significantly.
I think the differences of opinion are actually quite simple to explain. CD gives a more accurate representation of the original recorded sound than vinyl. Very few people have the training and naturally good hearing to be able to notice any digitally-induced noise - SACD or 96kHz/24-bit digital takes that noise below anything that humans could theoretically differentiate.
The reason some people prefer vinyl (or tube amplifiers) is because they /like/ the noise. Humans are not comfortable with too stark contrasts - we write on paper that is off-white, we put patterned wallpaper on our walls rather than pure colours, etc. If there is not enough background noise, things seem artificial and cartoonish.
There is no point in having a technical argument about the quality of the reproduction of the sound - there are no doubts that CD is more accurate than vinyl.
But equally there is no doubt that some people /prefer/ the sound of vinyl. It has nothing to do with CD's sounding "harsh" or "failing to preserve the continuity". It is just that some people /like/ the pops, crackles and hisses from vinyl - it feels familiar and comfortable to them. As another poster says, it's the same reason people sometimes prefer candlelight to a light bulb.
Agreed, those Sheffield Labs direct-to-disc LPs sounded great. But they were expensive, specialized in musical content, and limited (even more than regular vinyl) in the amount of content that could be fit on each record. Later, well-recorded CDs reminded me of the sound of those direct-to-disc records - and now digital recordings provide that level of audio quality (or better) routinely.
Good column on Vinyl vs. CD. Since it is ultimately unanswerable and has issues of "faith" on both sides, I should probably add it to the list in my recent piece "I'd like to have an (engineering) argument, please." at:
"Your article starts with the subjective belief that the most transparent/accurate sound is the best one to listen to."
No, it starts with the objective assertion that the CD/digital medium is technically more accurate at reproducing the original source material than vinyl.
"[Vinyl] can sound subjectively better because of objective distortions that CD may not be able, or does not attempt, to replicate."
Absolutely. But the point is that many (most?) vinylphiles ignore that possibility and in fact believe that vinyl is the objectively superior medium.
One of my greatest stupidities ever was to sell
my Sheffield Lab direct to disk LPs.
Now THEY sure did sound good.
You have to pay attention to proper cartridge alignment and all the fiddles associated.
But carefully designed oversampling A to Ds and good analog front ends are now making truly superb digital recordings.
So maybe I am not so fussed. I still enjoy my vinyls too.
Your article starts with the subjective belief that the most transparent/accurate sound is the best one to listen to. Musicians and audio engineers spend thousands of dollars on equipment that distorts/colors sound in specific ways to a desired and preferred effect. The same could be said of vinyl. It can sound subjectively better because of objective distortions that CD may not be able, or does not attempt, to replicate.
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