FIGHT! What sounds better, CDs or vinyl?

[This was my weekly column for – AC]

Does vinyl really sound better than a compact disc? This is a debate that is not only very scientific but also very emotional. To explain this is very difficult because the appreciation of audio quality is a very, very subjective thing that involves everything from your emotional state to the health of your ears. But I’m going to try.

If we look at things from a technical standpoint, the audio from a CD is far superior to what we get from vinyl. Again, I said, “From a technical standpoint.” Please hear me out.

The compact disc offers a better signal-to-noise ratio. Rumble — that low-frequency noise that’s not part of the music and is created by the stylus running through the grooves of a record as well as vibration from the turntable motor — is pretty much non-existent with a CD. Because it’s played with a laser, nothing ever touches the disc. And while there is a certain amount of noise from the CD player’s motor, it’s very, very quiet.

Vinyl is also prone to pops from static electricity and clicks from flaws in the surface of the record. And if you talk to engineers, they will tell you that most human ears cannot sense the fact that the digital signal of a CD is broken down into 44,100 segments per second. CDs also use something called “anti-aliasing,” which is supposed to smooth out that tiny jaggedness and (theoretically) non-continuous stream of the digital signal.

Finish reading before you start yelling at me.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38291 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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