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Dynamic Comparison of LPs vs CDs - Part 4

by September 02, 2004

Yes, you have heard all the arguments before, and you are probably sick and tired of it. LP vs digital is a "religious war" that has been played out by various audiophiles ever since the CD format was introduced in the early 1980s.

"Vinylphiles" claim that CDs do not sound as good as LPs, period. CDs appear to sound "harsh", " unlistenable ", "lacking in dynamics", plus a myriad of other "faults." Some vinylphiles even extend this to all digital formats, including the new Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio high resolution formats, whereas others believe the higher resolution formats either equal or at least get closer to the "superior" sound of LP.

"Digiphiles" on the other hand laugh at LP's pitiful dynamic range, surface noise, pop and crackle, harmonic distortion, and various other limitations to do with the ability of either the cutting head to master difficult signals onto disc, and the ability of stylii to track them without "jumping."

So, are there any evidence to support these claims? Can both parties be right? I was interested to find out if there are any objective evidence that I can gather using my sound card ( Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1 ) and my very old copy of Cool Edit.

I am particularly intrigued by vinylphile claims that LPs mastered from a digital recording sound better than that exact same digital recording on CD. Plus, recording an LP onto CD yields most of the benefits of the original LP, and still sound better than the commercially pressed CD.

The Approach

I took a few albums from my personal collection that I have on both LP and at least one digital format (CD, SACD, or DVD-A).

I selected the following songs from the following albums:

  • Main Titles from the original motion picture soundtrack to Chariots of Fire ( Vangelis )
    • LP ( Polydor 2383 602) 1981 Australian PolyGram pressing, purchased second hand
    • CD ( Polydor 800 020-2) 1984 Polyram made in Germany , purchased new
  • Mick's Blessings from Café Bleu ( The Style Council )
    • LP ( Polydor 817 535-1) 1984 Australian PolyGram pressing, purchased new
    • Original CD release ( Polydor 817 535-2) 1984 PolyGram made in Germany , purchased new
    • "Digitally Remastered" CD re-release ( Polydor 557 915-2) 2000 Universal made in the EU, purchased new
  • What's New from What's New ( Linda Ronstadt and The Nelson Riddle Orchestra )
    • LP (Asylum 9 60260) 1983 USA WEA pressing, purchased second hand
    • DVD-Audio (Elektra/Asylum/Rhino 8122-78341-9) 2002 Warner Strategic Marketing made in Germany , purchased new
  • Genesis Ch.1.V.32 from I Robot ( The Alan Parsons Project )
    • LP (Arista Code 304 AL.7002) 1977 Australian EMI pressing, purchased second hand
    • DVD-Audio (Classic HDAD 2003) 2004 Classic USA release, purchased new
  • More Than This from Avalon ( Roxy Music )
    • LP (EG 2311 154) 1982 Australian PolyGram pressing, purchased second hand
    • Hybrid SACD (Virgin ROXYSACD 9) 2003 Virgin made in Holland , purchased new

Notice that most of the LPs are second hand. LPs deteriorate with every play, so this comparison is potentially biased against LPs.

What I did was cleaned all the LPs using a VPI HW16.5 vacuum based record cleaning machine (using VPI record cleaning fluid, VPI brush and a domestic lint brush - don't ask why, but it works!) to ensure that I minimize surface noise and crackle, and take out any dirt and grime from the second hand LPs.

I recorded all the tracks on the LPs using my system ( Dynavector DV-20xL cartridge, Rega P3 turntable, Dynavector P-75 phono stage) via the analog outputs of my Denon AVC-A1SE+ amplifier. I used my HTPC and n-Track Studio to do the recordings in stereo at 96kHz sampling rate and 24-bit resolution.

For the CDs, I ripped the actual digital information (at 44.1kHz/ 16-bit resolution) directly from the discs using Exact Audio Copy . In some cases, I also recorded them as reproduced by my Sony SCD-XA777ES player via the analog outputs of my amp.

I recorded SACD and DVD-A tracks using the analog outputs (via my amp) of the Sony SCD-XA777ES and Panasonic DVD-RP82 players respectively.

Linear PCM 96kHz/24-bit tracks encoded as DVD-Video content were recorded using the analog outputs (via my amp) Panasonic DVD-RP82, but also digitally ripped from the disc using DVD Decrypter .

All wave files were then analysed using Cool Edit Pro. The results are ... interesting ...

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About the author:

Christine Tham has always been a keen "hi fi" enthusiast, which is an affliction she inherited from her father. She has a degree in Computer Science and a Master of Applied Finance from Macquarie University. In Chris' spare time, she contributes not only to Audioholics but also maintains her own web site.

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