I think that a big part of the debate is driven by an unfair comparison between something that is still in its relative infancy (Digital audio), and something that had been developed nearly to its material science limits (analog vinyl LP recording).
The technical limitations of the CD standard are well understood and many audiophiles will agree that, while it has improved over time, standard CD is only viewed (or rather, heard) as marginally audiophile quality.
However, Digital audio should not be painted with the same CD standard brush. With greater bit depths and wider bandwidth, there is no physical reason, other than for THE LACK of familiar and perhaps comforting analog distortion and S/N characteristics, that digital audio cannot readily outperform vinyl, both in measurement and to the trained ear. Of course, without also upgrading the rest of the audio chain to deal with shorter rise/fall times, wider dynamic range, lower noise floor, flatter frequency and phase responses, etc., the more demanding digital source material could elicit some less than flattering behaviour out of an existing system.
Finally, I have to chuckle a bit when I read "...I record my vinyl to digital format and it sounds better than retail CDs...". Kinda reminds me of those old color TV commercials when the maker shows a shot of their set playing some colorful scene and some guy exclaims to the viewer "Just look at that picture!"
Tube amps and solid state amps differ from each other in more ways than just tubes vs transistors; quality, for example. Although it's still a subjective area, a high quality tube amp will always sound "better" or least more pleasing to most ears than a crappy solid state and vice-versa. The contrast will never be as stark between a CD and a record unless you douse one of them in paint thinner or something. I've played my main guitar (Maton MS-500) through two Marshall solid states, one Fender solid state and a 70s Fender tube amp that I now use almost exclusively. I've played all my guitars through this amp and with the two Marshalls for comparison and regardless of any harmonic distortion, the Fender gives the guitars a sound that I am certain would be more pleasing and "natural" sounding to most ears. Gearhead friends of mine have described the difference in the same terms as me without prompting (eg. "less muddy") and gone into more technical analyses that exceed my knowledge, while my parents prefer the sound without being able to adequately put it into words.
"The discussion here is over which technology - vinyl or CD - is more accurate at reproducing the original audio signal." Actually, the original discussion was on which physical format *sounds* better. Which is purely subjective and isn't measurable by any accurate means. As far as which is more *accurate*, digital is, yes. but accuracy does NOT = better.
@David Brown It's also not entirely fair to make the comparison to tube amps. The difference between a tube amp and a transistor is more one of efficiency than "quality." Tube amps amplify sound less efficiently, but that also isn't necessarily "noise."
Just a thought.
"This debate shares features with many other faith-driven disputes."
Which "debate" are you referring to? The issue here is not whether "vinyl sounds better than CD" (or vice versa) - that's simply a matter of opinion (or "faith" if you will) and is not of course objectively testable.
The discussion here is over which technology - vinyl or CD - is more accurate at reproducing the original audio signal. This is hardly a "faith-driven" debate, unless of course one chooses to redefine "accuracy" in this context to something other than its traditional objective, engineering-based meaning.
Years ago I was giving some colleagues a lift to a station, and I popped a CD into the car player. after a minute or so, one said "hey, that sounds great, who is it?". I told them, then said "I ripped it from an old LP to my PC and burnt a CD of it". "Oh, that explains why it sounds so great!", he said, "because vinyl sounds so much better than CD."
This debate shares features with many other faith-driven disputes. Entrenched positions, solid bodies of unarguable facts and 'facts', a depressing lack of whole-picture knowledge on both sides, an elevated (but usually false) impression of an understanding of the issues involved. Discussions often end up in low-grade sarcasm which is a great shame because this is one of the most interesting aspects of the world of audio. I've been listening to recorded music for over forty years and I'm still learning about people's interactions with sound and music, and what different signal paths do to that.
It's fairly clear that you are not an electronics expert - you are simply regurgitating terms like "high frequency power supply noise" without an understanding of what that might mean, or what effect it might have on the music. (To give you a hint, from someone who /does/ know, the answer is zero effect, unless you have a very badly designed system.)
HiFi equipment is tested with dynamic testing, not just static. And even if there /were/ these mythical "subtle second-order effects" that can only be heard by a human ear - don't you think that HiFi manufacturers include listening tests during development? You can be sure that high-end HiFi manufacturers use panels of /real/ expert listeners, rather than "Which HiFi" addicts, to help tune systems and identify any issues.
Manufacturers use test CDs as part of their development and quality control. If there were combinations of sounds that emphasised particular problems, then you can be sure these would be used in testing.
It is correct that there are differences in the sound between different CD players (though very little between high-end players). And it is correct that no CD player is absolutely perfect - there /are/ distortions, and there are effects dependent on the type of electronics used, the way it is designed, and some variation due to tolerances in the electronics. No one will argue any differently. But it is total and complete nonsense to say that vinyl has fewer distortions because it is "all analogue" and CD is digital.
The distortions occur because the electronics are not "perfect", they are susceptible to high frequency power supply noise and RF interference; all sorts of subtle second order effects come into play which are dynamic and temporal in nature. The typical ways of testing equipment with steady state, high level sine waves, in isolation from a normal working audio system, just does not reveal their presence.
The tests for audibility are that CD players are different in sound; there have been tests to demonstrate that at least some players vary in sound from others. If there is any difference then at least one of those players must be distorting ...
"...many peoples' ears are very sensitive to certain types of low level distortion...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."
What specific "low-level" distortions are you referring to? Can you provide some real evidence (i.e., from blind listening tests) that shows that these distortions are indeed audible?
Otherwise your argument appears to be conveniently based on an unfalsifiable hypothesis - i.e., CD sound suffers from mysterious "very hard-to-measure" distortions that apparently only some people can hear.
Sorry, not buying it.
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.
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