January 23, 2022

Vinyl is more musical than digital

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By Paul McGowan From PS Audio

Fact or fiction?

This fascinating concept has been around since 1982, the year of the Compact Disc’s introduction. And, in 1982, it was true and remained so for nearly two decades before the tides changed course.

To answer the question whether this statement of vinyl’s musicality is fact or fiction, I thought it might be useful to share a relevant portion from my upcoming book, 99% True.

“Today the problems of digital have largely been addressed, but in the early 1980s they were audible in all but a few recordings, those in which artists and mastering engineers had paid extra attention to sound quality. One such recording, Dire Straits’ 1985 Brothers in Arms, was one of the first rock albums released on CD and became the British band’s biggest: it sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, nine million in the US alone. In the UK, it was the biggest-selling album of the 1980s. It was also the first album to sell a million copies on CD. Brothers in Arms was recorded on a new type of machine: a Sony 24-track digital audio recorder. Once recorded, the files were downmixed to two-track stereo, then transferred to CD after running through as many as 20 Neve Modules (a type of analog preamplifier and equalizer) in a row, to reduce what Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler and recording engineer Neil Dorfsman referred to as “digital harshness.” Passing through so many analog “helpers” sweetened digital’s hard sound—each successive Neve reshaped the sound by gently rolling off the ultrasonic frequencies. In the end, Brothers in Arms won three Grammy awards for recording excellence. But the album’s good sound was an anomaly among early digital recordings.

Many of the sonic problems ascribed to the CD were not its fault, but were the products of mastering and recording engineers used to working in analog, many of whom were unfamiliar with digital’s quirks and requirements. For example, overmodulation—driving up a recording’s loudness level into the red zone of a VU meter—is an acceptable practice in analog recording, but in digital recording it results in a nasty sound like the sharp crack of a shattered walnut shell. Afraid to violate such absolute technical limitations but still wanting maximum volume, overcautious mastering engineers used hard audio limiters to compress the sound’s dynamic range: the range of sounds on a recording, from softest to loudest. The result was a homogenization of volume levels—in pop and rock music, a continuous relentless assault at more or less the same volume level throughout a recording, rather than preserving the full range of the loudest to the softest sounds, and the sounds of any and every relative volume level in between. Composers and musicians have used these ranges for millennia to create tension and release, drama and variety.”

So the statement Vinyl is more musical than digital is fiction based on former facts.

For more on this story go to: https://www.psaudio.com/pauls-posts/vinyl-is-more-musical-than-digital/

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