The romanticism of vinyl – a skeptic’s view (BBC radio interview)

Close-up of vinyl grooves, viewed under an electron microscope. Image from the Vinyl Factory.

I appeared on BBC local radio last week to discuss the ‘vinyl debate’. I’m a skeptic – in my opinion there isn’t a debate to be had, at least regarding sound quality (although I personally remember my own ‘vinyl years’ of 1980s album-buying very fondly).

The fact is that vinyl sounds worse (and is sonically measurably worse) than CD or even medium-bitrate streaming audio. The arguments have been rehearsed by both sides many times – the pro lobby likes vinyl’s ‘feel’ (fair enough) and ‘warmth’ (i.e. signal distortion and low/high frequency loss). The anti lobby likes sound quality. Here’s a summary of the pro arguments, debunked with some physics and history.

I was interviewed on the Graham Seaman show, discussing the history of vinyl and speculating about why people still like it despite its sonic limitations. Here’s the audio, in two parts of around 5 minutes each; it should play directly in the browser, or download part1.mp3 and part2.mp3.

1 comment

  1. In 2012 I had the privilege of re-mastering the 1971 recording of ‘Symphony of Amaranths’ by Neil Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra for release on CD. At that time vinyl copies were changing hands on ebay for up to £300 and I was warned that I was treading on hallowed turf!
    When the analogue tape masters arrived what became immediately apparent was that the original audio quality was gob-smackingly good, with a huge dynamic range and fabulous frequency response. One of the best recordings I have ever heard in any format! By comparison the vinyl was a sad shadow of the original master tape, incapable of reproducing either the dynamics or the frequency response. Even in the world of analogue vinyl is a poor relation!
    Having re-mastered many albums from analogue tape I can honestly say that in all cases the CD sounds a great deal better than the vinyl for all the reasons outlined in your excellent blog post!

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