Vinyl vs Mp3

It is amazing how a format as inconvenient as vinyl is still held in such high regard. I imagine it is partly due to the fact that you can control it with your hands; that I can understand. What I don’t understand is how there are still people today who defend the quality of sound on vinyl over a CD or an mp3.

A lot is said about the limitations of an mp3: how some frequencies are masked by others and how they’re incapable of producing high and low frequencies well. For the love of god! If there is an audible deficiency, why would it be in the frequencies that need the least amount of information to register? It is true that in a low quality mp3 with 128 or 160kbps, you can hear a difference in the high frequencies, but I am personally incapable of hearing a difference between 192Kbps and WAV.

But, let’s get back to vinyl and talk about some of the problems with this legendary format, some well known, but others generally not:

- Clicks and Pops: Vinyl is susceptible to static electricity, which causes small shocks in the form of audible pops. The static electricity itself attracts dust, which can also be heard in the form of clicks and other noises.

- Groove abrasion: The needle, every time you play it, literally sands down the information contained in the grooves. In other words: the more you play it, the worse it sounds.

- Angular speed (this is my favorite): The vinyl turns at a constant angular speed (45 or 33 rpm), but the needle runs along the groove at a variable lineal speed, which brings about a loss of quality as the needle gets closer to the center. To be more precise, there are some 500mm per second on the outside of the disk and some 200mm on the inside. No one pays attention to this because the loss is gradual, but if you grab a disc that begins and ends with the same beats and you quickly jump the needle from the beginning to the end, you will hear a clear loss of the treble.

- Loss of stereo image: Owing to the physical limitations of vinyl, the L channel as it leaves the record has about 20% crossover from the R channel and vice-versa.

- Leading echo: The longer the recording is, the tighter you have to squeeze the grooves together and, the closer they are, the more you can hear the sound coming from the next spin, in effect a “leading echo.” This also happens in reverse; you hear the sound of the last spin if the disk goes suddenly silent. It’s not the worst defect, you can just hear it with big changes in volume, but that’s it. The list goes on.

- Feedback: High volumes make the needle vibrate as it plays, trapping these vibrations and transmitting them again to the amplifier to be trapped once again in an infinite loop, creating the typical low hum. Fascinating!

I could go on, but with just these in mind, the only explanation that works for those who still defend the sound of vinyl is that their opinion is based on the legend and romanticism that comes with the circular piece of plastic. Music professionals, please, use your ears to listen.

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