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CDs are improving, but digital vinyl records can't compete with analog

I’ve compared many vinyl records with their digital counterparts, and mostly, the digital sound is a clean, but watered-down shadow of its analog original.

By Lyndon McCavitt
Goldmine reader, Russellville, Ala.

I’ve been listening to records a long time, since I was 3 years old (1955), when I used to play the four or five 45s my parents bought for me on my father’s suitcase record player.
I bought my first records 10 years later, when I was 13 — “This Diamond Ring” (Gary Lewis) and “Having A Rave Up” (Yardbirds); first cassette recorder-phono-radio (J.C. Penney) in 1975; first CD record (Yamaha Natural Sound) in 2002. Bought my first digital vinyl record in 1987 (Beatles), and it started my displeasure with the sound of digital recordings on vinyl.

I compare it to the difference between ice cream and ice milk. One is rich; the other is watered down and lacking flavor. I guess for lack of better adjectives, we compare our hearing experience to the sense of taste — hence, the expression, “Your taste in music,” because we lack sonically descriptive adjectives with which most people can identify.

Through the years, I’ve compared many vinyl records with their digital counterparts. For the most part, the digital sound is a clean, filtered, watered-down version of the old analog recording. Even cassettes, since they are analog recordings made from analog sources, are more enjoyable to listen to than the early digital discs. And the Beatles recordings in the digital format are by far the most disappointing. I even have The Beatles mono (and stereo) box set of CDs, beautifully and artfully done on the outside, but the same just not-quite-right sound quality when compared with the vinyl that they aspire to duplicate or transcend.

I’ve noticed, however, a tremendous improvement in CD sound quality since 2005 as computers became more powerful and less and less of the original sound is lost in the digitizing process.

Theoretically, with the increasing power of today’s and future computers, digital recording should become like the second-string running back who gains 5.9 or 5.95 yards per carry, compared to the older first-string back who gets 6.0 yards per try. Even though the difference is slight, we still play the first string when we can, but fall back on the second string for convenience or when the older equipment becomes harder to maintain or replace due to its age.

I’m in the process of digitizing my record collection, but definitely will buy a factory copy CD when a well-known company such as Sony, Capitol, EMI, etc., puts power into duplicating the analog source. But as far as putting new digital on vinyl, I think all you’re going to get is a digital duplicate, which is not what a vinyl record is supposed to do. You don’t fully realize the perfection of the first-string back if you have him duplicate the second-string player’s imperfections. But that’s just one man’s opinion, one who still enjoys the well-tuned, racing-engine sound of The Beatles “when they was fab,” without any loss of resonance or harmony due to digitizing.