28 Mar

Vinyl Albums Recorded Digitally?

I read an article this morning at the Idolator.com. It was basically saying that digitally recorded music already has some loss of information, so why should it sound better on vinyl than CD. This is an example of bad logic.

If you’ve picked up an arts section lately, you’ve probably seen a story with one (or both) of the following theses: “Vinyl is making a comeback.” “If you want great sound, you buy vinyl.” The hype is even starting to annoy some label folk, as it calls into question why non-audiophiles would bother buying tangible music at all. Sure, analog grooves of a vinyl record hold more information than any digital sample rate. But if an album was recorded digitally—a situation that’s becoming more and more common—are you getting more information by buying it on vinyl?

Time’s January article on the vinyl upswing offered that “LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information.” But what if that “sonic information” wasn’t there in the first place? Isn’t everyone using ProTools now? It would seem that this call for great sound and the rise of digital recording would be at odds.

Is vinyl mastering so superior to the “noise reduction” CDs are legendary for that even digital music sounds better on LP? Or is the hype just, well, hype? Do people just think they’re getting better sound on new records because they assume they’re getting a pure analog experience? Does the appeal of the gatefold overcome the fact that once a sound is digitized, there’s no turning back? The vinyl I buy tends to be used and $1.99, so I can’t speak from authority about the sound quality of new vinyl. But maybe you can.

Why do I say this is bad logic? First of all, yes, records are analog, they have all the information that is put on them. CD’s are digitally, they take ‘snapshots’ of information. Recording digitally takes ‘snapshots’ of the instruments. Do you see the pattern here? If something is recorded digitally, then put on CD, then you have music that ‘snapshots’ of ‘snapshots’.

To see what this is like, try to take a bunch of pictures in a row with your camera to show action. Then take those pictures and flip through them really fast, and take pictures of that.

That’s a CD.

Now, the second reason that this article is just plain wrong, is that not everybody uses Protools. A lot of people do, it’s a lot cheaper than investing in an analog studio, and it’s a whole lot easier than using 8, 16 or 24 track tape. However, a lot of artists still want that tape sound. A lot of engineers still like to record using tape. More artists are seeing the benefits of using tape, and usually those are the artists who are now releasing on vinyl.

So most of these records are being mastered from analog tape recordings. Not digital.

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11 Responses to “Vinyl Albums Recorded Digitally?”

  1. pbmiller18 Says:

    I am not sure I agree with your logic. When an artist records digitally, there is only one “snapshot” series taken from the session. This session is exactly transcribed into the digital master for lossless CDs using the data already gatherd. This is the same process in principle for transcoding an analogue session onto an analogue master. The only step to really attend to is the first choice of analogue or digital in the recording stage. It would follow that if digital bitrate opperates higher than what the best human ear can attend to, then both anaglogue and digital sound equally superior.

  2. Ben Says:

    Thanks for your comment. If you look at this image, you will see what I’m talking about. A CD under a microscope shows the
    There are gaps in the CD that we can’t hear normally, but there will be gaps in the music. Whereas the vinyl record (whether you like the sound or not) has no gaps, it is continuous.

  3. Steve Welsh Says:

    It’s a very interesting argument. My personal experience can be related by sharing something i noticed last week. I consumed a 3cd set in one sitting: Frank Zappa at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1978. Thanks to the downright heroic efforts of Gail Zappa and Joe Travers, we FZ fans have been graced with continuing releases from the vaults of the deceased musical genius. The sound quality is amazing, and the original multitrack tapes were transferred en-masse to the digital domain for mixing and mastering, (it’s well-documented). I think the main difference between analog and digital sound is the mood experienced by the listener. Since this is not a tangable, measurable quality, there is no hard evidence to support either side, but a condition known as “listener fatigue” is something that creeps into the experience of listening over time… Toward the end of a 3-hour digital audio program, I personally find myself unable to fully enjoy the music, and a strange tension develops. I do not find this to be true about vinyl. I can drop the needle end-to-end for 8 hours straight, and whether noisy or not, I never really want to turn it off, (until real-life comes to reclaim my attention). I’m not sure if this effect is present on vinyl that was digitally mastered, since i only buy vinyl i know to be of analog decent. When cd’s first came out, they were all stamped with AAD (analog recording/analog mastering/digital release) and I feel it would still be in the public’s interest to impose this code to newly released vinyl, so the consumer knows if they are buying a DDA product.

  4. Ryan Thornton Says:

    @Ben in reference to your response to pbmiller18.

    I think youre missing his point. A losless reproduction of a digital recording is NOT a snapshot of a snapshot, its a perfect copy of the original snapshot. He’s also not speaking to music whose sound “you “dont like” he’s speaking to new higher sample rates that only leave out what the human ear can’t hear anyway. Bottom line. No advantage to vinyl unless the music was originally recorded in analog.

  5. Thomas Says:

    @Steve Welsh,
    I agree with Steve. I too have had that experience with digital where after sometime listening my ears, mood and physical state become fatigued. I have no such issues when vinyl is being cued up.

  6. Versus Says:

    The point is that in typical CD production, there are at least two stages of loss. In the first digitization, typically the digital files generated are of higher data rates (both in terms of bit rate and bit depth) than CD quality. So a second digital degradation is required to down-convert the final mix file to CD 16-bit/44kHz.

    The only way to have a single phase of digital degradation is to purchase exact copies of the original digital masters, before down-sampling.

    – Versus

  7. Ben Says:

    Two of the best recordings I have heard are vinyl albums.

    One is Jethro Tull – Aqualung, and the other is Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother. Both of them were pressed on heavyweight vinyl (they are very thick and weigh about as much as three normal records) and they were recorded using the original master recordings, but done at half speed.

    I don’t want to get into the difference that the half speed makes, but because it is slower, more sounds and details are recorded.

    These albums sound amazing. I feel like I am inside the music. In fact, the Jethro Tull I bought new and still have not listened to the B-side yet.

    Thanks for your comments,
    Ben
    The Classic Vinyl Record Guy

  8. Ben Says:

    Ryan,

    I am still on the fence about lossless MP3’s. I have done some myself at lossless (which is around 900Kbits/s) and then listened to them at 320Kbits/s.

    I have heard a difference. although I am not sure if I am ready for the lossless simply because of the storage involved. I do have 2 terabyte drives, but keeping everything lossless is still a lot.

    However, the lossless is still sampled. It is sampled at an extremely high rate, but it is still sampled. I know that it is so highly sampled that there is virtually no detectable difference to ears, but I still believe it cannot be honestly considered lossless.

    I do know that what MP3’s are supposed to do is remove what we don’t hear anyway. But whether we can distinctly hear something or not, I believe that is what this whole Vinyl vs CD vs MP3 debate is about. Some people are used to ‘hearing’ those undetectable sounds. Some people are used to not ‘hearing’ them.

    There is no answer, but it sure is fun trying to defend our positions.

    Thanks,
    Ben
    The Classic Vinyl Record Guy

  9. Brian Says:

    My understanding is that a digital recording and master contains about 30 times what is on a CD – but it’s nowhere near what is in analog (like a silver halide photograph is still dependent on the granularity of the particles in the negative and the paper). Neil Young was said to be working (possibly with Steve Jobs) about how to get the digital master recording into a consumer package.

    So, going from Analog record & mastering to vinyl is basically lossless. Half-speed benefits because vinyl is reliant on the lateral movement of a stylus, and half-speed allows that movement to happen in a shorter track length of music.

    Going from digital master to vinyl means its much better than CD, but not the analog quality.

    My issue is that one can no longer tell how something was recorded. Studios are going back to add analog equipment for musicians that desire this, which makes it even worse. At some point you could identify where an album was recorded, and you could look to the equipment there. Now, you just have no idea unless someone puts it in the liner notes. So, a new album can come out, and I’m trying to decide “buy it on vinyl” or not – and the only reason to buy on vinyl, IMHO, is if it were recorded in analog.

  10. T Says:

    The Floyd 180 gram reissues dont use the the original tapes at all cause the masters are gone so stick with 1st pressings.

  11. David Bradbury Says:

    The argument that there are gaps in the music that can be heard displays a lack of understanding how the human body perceives sound (and to the same extent vision)
    Are you saying that movies recorded digitally at 25 or 30 frames a second look like a lot of still photos played in sequence so they need to somehow record and play them in an analogue way? The 60fps movies are only an improvement if you want to slow them down. Your ears (unless you are a bat) cant really detect the “missing information”. The micrograph of a CD showing the “gaps” is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. A vinyl record playing a digitally recorded piece of music cannot add information to make it sound better. A vinyl record will sound nice. A CD will sound equally as nice. Your ears are the weakest link – especially if you are over 30 years old and have ever been exposed to loud music.

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