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Saturday, July 26, 2008

An ode to vinyl

or about being an audio-nerd...

The most recent event of my nerdiness: a guy of Music Buy Mail found a topic in the progulus forum and felt the need to send out his comment to a couple of people who ordered the Koyaanisquatsy album. I felt the need to answer it and, as I am, asked if they consider offering 320 kb/s mp3s. He replied and promised to do so.
The normal metal guy may like those 192 kb/s mp3s, I don't, a 'lossy' compressed audio format doesn't sound as clear as a lossless one. The one's who love metal because of it's noisyness may like the 192 kb/s version even better. And on most home stereos, people even may not hear the difference.
I did spend quite some money for my stereo and I love using it.
Having some hundreds of vinyl discs in my shelf, there had to be a good old-fashioned turntable, too. Equipped with a modern high class needle, I started to listen to those old black monsters again, and I was quite surprised!
Yes, most of them crackle, some more some less, some even don't at all.
I purchased a couple of cds though having the vinyl version in the shelf in the last 20 years. Now, in the meantime, I rather listen to the vinyl version because they simply sound better than the cds.

Some weeks ago I stumbled over the leak that enabled me to download the new Opeth cd "Watershed" even before it got released. I couldn't resist. But it was clear to me that I need to buy the album now, and I indeed wanted to.
Well, in this case, I decided to buy it as 2lp (when you remember that abbreviation, you're old... ) vinyl.

The sound of the vinyl is quite different. Not worse or better, but different.
All in all it sounds a tad smoother. The guitars for example are less earbleeding; not less aggressive, just a bit nicer to the ears. Therefore, more room is left for Ackerfeld's vocals. The vocals are more intense on the vinyl version, which is rather good, because he does some real great work on this recording. All in all it is like comparing guitar amps. The cd would be the transistor amp, vinyl the tube amp.
The only big issue is the sound of the drums. As vinyl doesn't have the same dynamic range, the drums sound really old fashioned and don't fit the metal genre somehow. but I like them hearing this way as well as I like the mellotron they play on the disc.

Well, despite the drum problem, I think the vinyl still sounds more natural to me.

Allow me to talk techincally, just a bit.
They sample audio at a frequency of 44,1 kHz. They say the human ear doesn't hear a sine higher than 20 kHz. that is true, but we do recognize higher frequencies, not every noise we hear is a sine. And music does not consist of sines only. for example you discern a trumpet from a violin not because of the sine they play but because of the different harmonics they produce. That is ignored, when deciding to not sample high frequencies.

If we consider the Nyquist an Shannon theorem of scanning, the formula is even worse. The theorem says that the scanning frequency must be 3x as high a the original for an accurate result. So 44,1 kHz divided by 3 makes a frequency of 14,7 kHz. Any higher frequency will be scanned erroneous. Distorted guitars and vocals produce those frequencies.

I agree that the analog world is imperfect, but the digital techniques that are offered to us are nothing more than a lame compromise.

I shall listen more to knackles and rumbles....


BG said...

Normally I am fine with the lower (192 kb/s) quality...but maybe that's because I always listen with head phones. If I was listening on a stereo I might think differently.

BTW. I was one of those who got the email from "Music Buy Mail". I was a little surprised at the language used, but I somehow understand them. And I didn't have any problems ordering. 15 minutes after I made my decision I was listening to Koyaanisquatsy.

stringray said...

Uh oh, computers and audio setups....real good soundcards are expensive.
If you don't hear the sound degradation in the end of LTE's Three Minutes Warning, you should desperately search for a better one.

I think the Music Buy Mail dude was just angry after reading that forum topic and went right ahead instead of thinking first.
i had no problem with them either. I used paypal and therefore was aware that I'll have to wait until the money is transferred.

and when he updates the KOYAANISQATSY cd to 320 kb/s, I'll have to get that version.

guitarsean said...

I do miss the experience of vinyl. Much of my youth was spent listening to Yes, Deep Purple, Planet P and Neil Young on my parent's stereo. Dropping the needle, looking at the dust jacket... I miss the big artwork. In later years I've purchased many of those records on cd but the feeling isn't the same. Listening to vinyl can be like a tea ceremony or food with great presentation. CDs and mp3s are convenient and I'm fine with the way they sound, but there is no 'experience' outside or in addition to the music.

mucisobsession said...

It is is pretty much of a nostalgia to think of vinyl records.