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Analog vs Digital Sound Quality Test Results

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Our listening panel featured an interesting mix of people.  We had two professional musicians (Martha and Larry), a quite talented electrical guitarist (Ron), a seasoned listener and forum regular (Dave), and two inexperienced but highly technical people (Alex and Kelvin).  Of course, I was in the mix listening as well and share my observations, but I didn't participate in the scoring.

Listening Scorecard Results

Scorecard Results of Analog vs Digital Listening Tests

Status Acoustics 8T Speaker System

Status Acoustics 8T Speaker System

 

Phil Collins - Hello I Must Be Going
Again this was originally an analog recording, so the CD stands at a disadvantage since it was being remastered from the analog tapes.  While the CD had a whopping 2.7 pt average advantage to the Vinyl recording for noise floor, it still lost out unanimously with our listening panel to the latter mostly because of dynamic compression found in the digital recording.  I personally preferred the Vinyl recording myself as I felt Phil Collins vocals were more realistic sounding and the drums were far more dynamic.  I was quite pleased with the sonics of this used Vinyl recording that I picked up at my local record store for $5.  Money well spent, especially if you're a Phil Collins fan like myself.

Phil Collins  Kind of Blue  Spyro Gyra Breakout

Spyro Gyra - Breakout
Ok, I was interested in the results on this one since we were dealing with an original digital recording that had to be remastered for the analog Vinyl version.  A lot of the new Beatles records are being done like this from the 192kHz FLAC files and I'm hearing mixed results of these on our forum.  A couple of listeners left the "vocal" field blank until I later explained you can substitute vocals for brass instruments in these cases.  In the situations where a blank remained, I simply averaged the data I had on hand only.

The results were almost dead even for this recording which tells me the Vinyl transfer was done very well to preserve the dynamic range of the digital recording. In fact, the noise floor was so low on the record that it was often hard to determine which was the CD and which was the Vinyl record.  The listening panel seemed to slightly prefer the more detail, especially in the trumpets, the CD version offered.  I personally preferred the detail and snappiness of the digital recording but also really enjoyed the somewhat smoother sounding Vinyl transfer, especially at high listening levels.  Given the choice between both recordings, I'd probably find myself still picking the Vinyl record to listen to most of the time. What can I say, I like seeing my record player spin, especially when it sounds this good. I got this record for $2 used, but still sealed at a thrift shop.  What a great purchase!

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

I was eager to pop in this recording as I'm such a fan of the 180G Vinyl recording.  It set me back $22 from Amazon but I felt it was well worth it for the experience.  As I said prior, I don't know too much about how the FLAC file was transferred to the HDD so unfortunately this was a bit of an unknown.

Update (2/26/15): After recently downloading Kind of Blue (192kHz/24 bit FLAC) from HDTracks and comparing the file size, it has become apparent that the FLAC copy of this album we used in our comparison was NOT lossless.  Thus, we will be reruning this comparison and reporting back in a future editorial.

While our listening panel judged both recordings almost similar in their overall experience, they clearly critiqued the finer points much differently.  They clearly preferred the Vinyl version in every category, most notably in dynamic range with a 2.2pt advantage, and in clarity and realism in the brass instruments.  I honestly couldn't believe the difference when I took a critical listen.  The FLAC file on its own sounded very clean with good tonal balance.  But, when you directly compared it to the Vinyl version, it was as if the FLAC version was lifeless, void of dynamics and realism.  This was especially true during the Miles/Coltrain solos.  Martha, a professional saxophone player, was particularly floored by the difference.  She commented to me that on the Vinyl version, it was as if the sax player was playing live in the room, something she never experienced before on an audio system.  However, with the FLAC version, she said it sounded bottled up or closed in as if it was coming from a speaker.  I very much agreed with her assessment.  Get the Vinyl record if your a fan of this album for sure!

how the recording was made often plays a more dominant role in sound quality over the comparative differences of the formats.

So What was Learned from this Experience?

Wine TastingThat more testing is needed!  More food, more drink, more listening, more friends.  Everyone really enjoyed the experience.  Isn't that what it's all about?  Oh, did I mention we also hosted a wine tasting?  That certainly added to the fun factor :)

It was very clear to me that Vinyl is still a very viable format and I understand why so many audiophiles flock to it.  It appears that more care is often taken when mastering music on Vinyl to avoid excessive compression and damage to the stylus.  The Achilles' heel of the format in this case is actually an advantage.  It's truly sad how much abuse has been done in the digital era of music.  Here we are with virtually limitless dynamic range for digital media, but recordings are being squashed down to oblivion, often making their technically inferior analog counterparts sonically superior.  I've written about the Dumbing Down of Audio in the past that discusses these points in finer detail for anyone interested in reading.  

In the meantime, don't limit yourself to just one playback medium.  Open your horizons to multiple media (ie. CD, streaming from a HDD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, and Vinyl).  Search out the best sounding transfer of your favorite recordings across multiple platforms and enjoy the experience!

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

3db posts on March 09, 2017 06:06
lovinthehd, post: 1176501, member: 61636
Yes, does it take the high end tt, cartridge and 20k phono stage (you forgot that so now we're up to 70k ) plus the many more thousands in pre-amp, amp and speakers? Good lord anything should sound good once you spend that much on it, just the placebo effect must be amazing at that point. I've never been tempted beyond a good tt and cartridge but always wonder if I had someone else paying for it….

You think you need a $500 cd player to compare to a tt setup? LOL, we need to talk….
I think $500 gets one a decent turntable with cartrige. These mega priced tables are more for an autistic. ..erm artistic flair more than anything else. There's no one more gullible than a hard core audiophile.
sterling shoote posts on March 08, 2017 07:49
lovinthehd, post: 1176501, member: 61636
Yes, does it take the high end tt, cartridge and 20k phono stage (you forgot that so now we're up to 70k ) plus the many more thousands in pre-amp, amp and speakers? Good lord anything should sound good once you spend that much on it, just the placebo effect must be amazing at that point. I've never been tempted beyond a good tt and cartridge but always wonder if I had someone else paying for it….

You think you need a $500 cd player to compare to a tt setup? LOL, we need to talk….
I'm actually in the market right now for a universal player, waiting for release of OPPO UDP-205. I have a really nice collection of multi–channel SACD's which I've yet to hear in multi-channel from my stereo only SACD player. I need the OPPO it appears since it may be the only option for playing multi-channel through the analog only multi-channel preamp in my home theatre system.
lovinthehd posts on March 07, 2017 10:21
sterling shoote, post: 1176489, member: 48878
What I'm wondering about is how much money needs to be put out for a turntable, cartridge, and appropriate amplification to get all there is to get from vinyl. When I purchased my Sony PS-4750 turntable and V15V-MR cartridge, I concluded I was getting from these components all that was in the groove; but now, since I believe my cartridge is not performing optimally, I have been shopping for a new cartridge, discovering I could pay upwards to $14,000.00 for one said to be a “reference” product. But wait, that cartridge also requires a turntable in the $35,000.00 vicinity for best results. This is a joke right? Do I really need a $50,000.00 plus investment to enjoy an LP as I would a CD for about $49,500.00 less? For me, this is today's rub regarding vinyl. It's a bottomless money pit, especially for those compulsive, obsessive types like me.

One update, I did purchase a $99.00 Shure 97xE about a week ago, and so far, my listening experiments suggest this cartridge sounds pretty much indistinguishable from the same music I have on CD. This leads me to think the folks at Shure are making an honestly crafted product and selling it for a modest profit. Also, looking at the 5 star consumer ratings and reviews of this cartridge could it be that more expensive offerings are not so honest? After all, if the Shure cartridge retrieves and delivers everything from vinyl what's the point of spending more?

Yes, does it take the high end tt, cartridge and 20k phono stage (you forgot that so now we're up to 70k ) plus the many more thousands in pre-amp, amp and speakers? Good lord anything should sound good once you spend that much on it, just the placebo effect must be amazing at that point. I've never been tempted beyond a good tt and cartridge but always wonder if I had someone else paying for it….

You think you need a $500 cd player to compare to a tt setup? LOL, we need to talk….
sterling shoote posts on March 07, 2017 08:33
What I'm wondering about is how much money needs to be put out for a turntable, cartridge, and appropriate amplification to get all there is to get from vinyl. When I purchased my Sony PS-4750 turntable and V15V-MR cartridge, I concluded I was getting from these components all that was in the groove; but now, since I believe my cartridge is not performing optimally, I have been shopping for a new cartridge, discovering I could pay upwards to $14,000.00 for one said to be a “reference” product. But wait, that cartridge also requires a turntable in the $35,000.00 vicinity for best results. This is a joke right? Do I really need a $50,000.00 plus investment to enjoy an LP as I would a CD for about $49,500.00 less? For me, this is today's rub regarding vinyl. It's a bottomless money pit, especially for those compulsive, obsessive types like me.

One update, I did purchase a $99.00 Shure 97xE about a week ago, and so far, my listening experiments suggest this cartridge sounds pretty much indistinguishable from the same music I have on CD. This leads me to think the folks at Shure are making an honestly crafted product and selling it for a modest profit. Also, looking at the 5 star consumer ratings and reviews of this cartridge could it be that more expensive offerings are not so honest? After all, if the Shure cartridge retrieves and delivers everything from vinyl what's the point of spending more?
Stanton posts on February 26, 2017 11:12
Guess you guys forgot I did a CD review of the 1997 re-issue a few years ago? There was also some good discussion/comments at the time (which can be found at the end of the review).
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