Well, that all depends on what you’re comparing it to. Does it sound better than an MP3? Absolutely – vinyl wins this one hands down.
However, compared to a CD? That’s more tricky. Vinyl fans will argue that as it is an end-to-end analogue format, from the recording and pressing to playback, that it more closely reproduces what the artist originally played in the studio.
Digital music works much differently. As digital kit cannot read analogue soundwaves, they are translated into a digital signal and back into analogue again, meaning some information is lost or approximated in the process. With vinyl, every single part of the analogue wave is captured in those grooves, making it the only true lossless format.
However, there are inconsistencies. Not just the wear and tear of vinyl that will degrade playback quality over time, but the physical limitations. For example, a longer album will require slimmer grooves, creating a quieter sound and more noise as the needle moves through them.
An album is also likely to sound worse at the end than at the beginning as the needle speed changes to compensate for the change in circumference. And that’s before you account for poor pressings and the fact that many modern vinyl records are actually cut from digital masters anyway – so they are no longer a pure analogue signal at all. Will they all of a sudden sound better for being on vinyl? Of course not. But they will sound more ‘vinyl’.
And therein lies the answer. Vinyl has its own, distinctive sound, filled with surface crackle, pops and distortion that people love. Calling it ‘better’ probably isn’t accurate, but there’s certainly nothing else like it.
Read more about the science of sound:
- Do I need to buy expensive wires for good audio quality?
- How does a soundbar simulate three-dimensional sound?
- What’s a bitrate, and what has it got to do with music quality?
- Bluetooth, AirPlay, Chromecast… Does it matter how I connect to my wireless speakers?