How many times have you taken a look at a record and wondered how such a humble piece of audio gear is capable of producing perhaps the best sound than anything else?
Vinyl records have been predominant in the recording industry ever since the 1930s. This older medium, however, was considered to be one of the dead formats about a decade ago, just like cassettes, and was believed that only a few vinyl fanatics still kept it alive. But, the fact is that the sales of vinyl records have seen a great increase since 2008 and still continue to hit record numbers is several parts of the world.
Why? Because of the sound produced by vinyl records, they say. As a matter of fact, many music lovers swear by them and guarantee that vinyl sounds better and warmer.
What makes the sound of a vinyl record unique? Is it something related to the playback technique that changes the sound, or does it have to do with the recording itself? Does vinyl really sound warmer?
Before proceeding further with the reasons that make a vinyl record sound better, it is important that you understand what the term “warmer” means when it comes to music. It basically refers to rich, high quality, and highly immersive sound, which makes it impossible for you to miss even the smallest nuances. On the other hand, with digital sound, you do not get to experience the same level of warmth and depth because some vital elements of the sound get compressed and removed.
Vinyl’s Unique Sound
Try listening to a song from a vinyl record and a regular digital recording format with your eyes closed and you are sure to notice the difference within the first few seconds. What makes the sound of a vinyl record so different? They are only a few important reasons why vinyl records deliver a unique sound than digital recordings and why they have their own way of recording sounds.
When it comes to music recordings, vinyl LP (long play) is a format that hasn’t seen a lot of changes or improvements over the last several decades. As a result, vinyl records come with their own sets of positives and downfalls.
Perhaps the most important reason why vinyl records record music differently when compared to CDs, MP3s, and other audio formats is that with all the modern developments in the digital world, artists are able to create typically any sound they desire, which can be easily and accurately reproduced with modern gear and techniques. Records, however, do not have this luxury and therefore tend to maintain the originality of a recording at the highest level possible.
Vinyl records are the only playback format available for consumers that is completely lossless, which means it retains even the most minute detail from the original recording, while still reducing the size of a file significantly, without compromising on sound quality. As a result, by just investing in a decent turntable, you get to enjoy an amazingly immersive listening experience without having to deal with all the technical aspects of more modern sound or recording formats. With the analog format, musicians get to easily transport their music to vinyl LP to your headphones or speakers without the many complexities of digital conversion. Hence, this music is actually the closest you can get to what the musician originally wanted and delivered.
When music is engineered into a digital format, it is highly compressed and damaged, causing the original recording to lose all its dynamics, depth, and textures. On the other hand, music made specifically for the vinyl format comes out unstrained, which gets reflected even in the volume, with a noticeable decibel difference. It is this mid-range, organic music that makes people love vinyl records more than any other format or audio gear.
The analog recording format used in vinyl records plays a major role in the warmth of music you enjoy from them. Music in the form of analog recording is stored as a continuous signal in a vinyl record, the grooves of which reflect the original music’s waveforms. In digital sound recording, as discussed earlier, parts of the original analog music format are used at a specific rate to come up with the resulting music. The use of samples to produce digital music can thus make the music differ a lot from the original as a result of aliasing.
The warmth you experience from a vinyl record audio is also an impact of these analog recordings, which are physically inscribed on the surface of the record. When you play these sounds on your turntable, overtones are produced, thanks to the hormonic distortion, which in turn makes the sound feel warmer than any digital audio. Yes, vinyl records are prone to catching dust and scratches; however, this in no way reduces their charm and character.
Vinyl at Its Best
Listening to vinyl can be compared to using film camera to take pictures rather than the modern digital or DSLR ones; what you get is instant gratification. The overall experience with listening to vinyl will be highly involved, immersive, and versatile. Without a doubt, vinyl is as straightforward as it gets when it comes to enjoying analog audio format with its utmost preciseness.
The realization that almost all digital audio formats require the use of high-quality equipment to enjoy the music to the fullest is probably one of the key reasons for the revival of vinyl records. The richness, warmth, completeness, and immersive experience you get from vinyl audio is absolutely out of this world, and people who prefer listening to high quality music without missing out on even the tiniest of details and nuances certainly understand this difference.
The combination of a decent turntable, amazing sounding speakers, and a quality phono preamp kit to listen to your favorite record will make you notice even the low-level sounds you did not realize were present till then, all thanks to the additional information held by vinyl, and your overall listening experience will be significantly improved.
In addition, you are likely to notice the difference that with vinyl, you tend to listen to your choice of music more actively than before. Eventually, you will start paying more attention to your music and become more curious about the same, because you hear every auditory detail.
Yes, subscribing to a music streaming service like Pandora gives you access to millions of songs at any given time; and yes, having a huge music collection on your iPod is great. But, remember that these are just digital files with no physicality and moreover, they do not retain the minute sonic details that actually matter and add to the whole listening experience. For most individuals, music is something that gives them joy. With vinyl, the level of joy you experience increases considerably, encouraging you to explore music more than you otherwise would. No wonder vinyl records are regaining their popularity and their sales hit record numbers!
Whether you are a newcomer or an audiophile, the sound of a vinyl record is something you shouldn’t miss experiencing, at least once in your lifetime, and there is every chance you will stick to it for the rest of your life.