I listen to a lot of music – I stream music when I drive or while I travel, and I also listen to vinyl when the mood strikes. And while I love all of it, when I want the best audio quality, nothing sounds as good as a CD.
Do you remember the first time you heard a CD? I do. It was 1986, I was a sophomore in college, and my girlfriend at the time (who’s now my wife) gave me a Sony Discman as a present, along with a Santana CD. When I popped that CD in for the very first time and when I put on the crappy headphones that came with the Discman, I was blown away by how clean and crisp and loud the disc sounded.
Yes, vinyl has that “analog warmth,” but CDs don’t crackle and pop, they don’t skip, they have a much wider dynamic range so they can get louder than vinyl and they can get much quieter than vinyl. Bass, in particular, might need to be attenuated when a track is being mixed and mastered for vinyl to avoid having the needle jump out of a groove on playback, which is not an issue for CDs.
And, frankly, which average listener can really hear and appreciate that analog warmth – especially when listening on a consumer turntable, amp, and speakers?
And then there’s streaming and downloads. These digital files are so highly compressed, you don’t get the full rich sound experience — and they’re prone to distortion.
So if you want your music to sound its best, you have to put it on CD. It sounds so awesome you just have to dance… check out these moves! [Ed note: this is where you have to watch the video to see Tony dancing. I highly recommend it.]
If you’re interested in the technical reasons why CDs sound best, here’s some background:
CDs offer full 44.1kHz uncompressed digital audio. Here’s what that means, according to “What Data Compression Does To Your Music” (Sound On Sound), which offers a very detailed look at the science behind file compression:
The audio is stored digitally on a CD via a technique known as PCM, or Pulse Code Modulation. PCM data consists of snapshots of an audio waveform’s amplitude measured at specific and regular intervals of time. The CD format consists of 44,100 measurements of the waveform’s amplitude per second, so is said to have a sample rate or sampling frequency of 44.1kHz. This is important, because the Nyquist Theorem states that the high-frequency limit of a PCM digital audio system is dictated by the sample rate, and that the sample rate must be at least double the highest frequency that will be recorded. So a 44.1kHz sample rate can theoretically store frequencies up to just above 20kHz, approximating the theoretical upper limit of the best human hearing.
Translation: CDs offer amazing sound quality.
MP3, AAC, WMA, and other compressed file formats employ lossy compression, which basically means a bunch of the digital information in the audio file gets removed in order to shrink the size of the file. For instance, an uncompressed AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) file of The Beatles’ “Fixing A Hole” is 27.9 MB, while its MP3 equivalent is 3.4 MB. You don’t have to be a scientific genius to realize something has been removed from that file.
This compression can result in a loss of bandwidth, the introduction of pre- and post-echoes, loss of detail, the introduction of transients, degradation of the bass, and other issues that were not intended by the artist and recording engineers. So yes, lossy compression makes storage of thousands of songs on a thumb drive and streaming of digital content possible, but the cost is the final quality of the audio file.
And when it comes to physical product — the only way to provide printed cover art, liner notes, lyrics, and credits — CDs are way more affordable than vinyl (or even cassettes, which have seen a bit of a resurgence recently). Granted, vinyl wins the day when it comes to 12″x12″ cover art, but there are so many options for CD packaging that can really make an impression on a music fan (beyond the sheer excellence of the sound).
So there you have it. You make music because you have a passion. You work hard on your recordings, and you want them to sound as good as they possibly can. Well, you’re not going to do better than the sound quality of a CD.
“The Indie Music Minute” is a video series featuring Tony van Veen, CEO of Disc Makers, distributing bite-sized nuggets of information and actionable ideas to help you make the most of your career as an indie music artist. See more on the Disc Makers YouTube Channel.
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76 thoughts on “CDs just sound better”
How insightful, not only the loossy compressions decreased the quality of hearing, but also it takes away the real dynamics in the music. Its like a chef making the best cake with good mix of ingredients, only to deliver the crust of the cake for those who eat. the only way to get it is using the . WAV files again and use a good old cd player. in my opinion the SONY discman and the equivalent Panasonic ones made the best sound.
Music is analog. My ears are analog. Slicing the analog signal up into microscopic “samples” to store it, then re-assembling them into a very jagged analog representation of those samples does not make it music again.
It is the same idea as taking a fine, aged fillet mignon, grinding it up into something that can be stored in a tube of some sort. Then, re-forming it into the shape of a fillet mignon. It’s not steak, people, it’s just a HAMBURGER!!!
Whenever I listen to digital music, I can hear the high-pitched sounds of bees buzzing throughout.
Vinyl does not accurately reproduce the sound of the master mix. It compromises it to fit it onto the record, as Tony said. Re-EQ, dynamic compression to smooth out the peaks, and layers of obfuscation in the duplication process. Digital accurately duplicates the master mix in one step.
CDs are completely analog too, in the sense that the sound that comes out is JUST AS ANALOG AS ANY OTHER MEDIUM. It also completely accurately represents the exact sounds that came in (more accurately than vinyl and usually even tape). The D/A conversion process and the accompanying low-pass filter smooth everything out into the exact analog waveform that went in. There are minor concerns related to jitter etc., but AD/DA converters are pretty darn good these days. Modern digital circuitry can operate in the gigaherz range, whereas analog sound is only in the kiloherz range, on the order of a million times slower. The other concerns are mainly related to the analog filters in use, but often oversampling is used in the hardware with a combination of digital and analog filters to make the analog filters perform better since they don’t have to be as steep.
The only limits are that you can’t represent frequencies higher than half the sample rate, or sounds quieter than the noise floor based on the bit depth/word length. (But -96dB is REALLY quiet. You almost always hear room noise on the recording, or noise from various analog components, long before you hear the actual digital noise floor, which is to say, most often you CANNOT hear the digital noise floor on a CD no matter how much you turn it up.) But everything within those parameters is EXACTLY the same as what came in.
Once you run it through a low pass filter, all sounds at the frequencies just below the filter frequency become pure smooth curvy sine waves just like you remember from trigonometry in high school (with the lower frequencies being complex waveforms made up of combinations of those sine waves). Not a square wave in sight. There are NO stair steps in the output from a CD or any other digital sound carrier, just a smooth analog waveform. (In order to have stair steps on a 20KHz signal, it would have to be outputting much higher frequencies than 20KHz! Learn about Fourier series, ie, how any waveform other than a pure sine wave is composed of MULTIPLE sine waves of various frequencies, amplitudes, and phases – one at the fundamental, combined with one or more at higher frequencies. Filtering out higher frequencies removes all the sine waves except the fundamental, and transforms any square or other jagged waveform into a smooth sine wave at the fundamental frequency, which is exactly what happens to the output of a CD – a 20KHz tone coming from a CD is a pure sine wave.)
Vinyl is notoriously limited and inaccurate. It has much higher noise levels, much higher distortion, and much more compromised frequency response compared to CD, even at its very best (not to mention pre-echo, wow and flutter, etc.). Even though in theory vinyl can reproduce higher frequencies, in practice they’re largely rolled off long before they get to 20KHz, and much of the content at those higher frequencies is largely surface noise, tape noise, or added overtones from distortion that weren’t in the original sound. Also, the only people who seem to care about those higher frequencies are the middle-aged and older men who absolutely CANNOT HEAR THEM, or anything close to them. Musically important or even acoustically important sounds (including hiss) tend to be a lot lower in frequency than most “audiophiles” seem to realize. Tape has some of the same problems as vinyl to a lesser degree.
The sound of analog media is clearly different from digital, but 99% of the differences are added noises (hum which provides warmth, hiss which provides atmosphere, not to mention clicks and pops which give the ambience of a nice fireplace in the background) or distortions (which means added overtones that didn’t originally exist, and tend to both fatten and brighten the sound with more midrange “presence”), or compression of dynamic range which can make the recording sound fatter, fuller and louder, or alterations of frequency response which can make it sound fuller in the bass due to added resonances, more presence in the midrange due to distortion and added overtones, and less brittle in the high end due to rolloff. In practice, many of those changes can sound good in the sense of filling in things in the sound that weren’t originally there – making the sound thicker, or fatter, or smoother, or more present, or “ringier”, or more atmospheric, or whatever.
Studio engineers and pop/rock musicians and producers are of course well aware of all these effects, since these are all the kinds of effects they add INTENTIONALLY to make rock or pop music sound loud, full, fat, punchy, warm, present, etc. But none of it is more ACCURATE; they’re all added effects which distort the sound in various ways.
If you record a CD to vinyl and play it back, it will now sound like vinyl. If you record vinyl to a CD and play it back, it will sound like the vinyl you recorded it from. The CD accurately reproduces the sound, whereas the vinyl adds to and distorts the sound in various ways, many of which some people consider pleasing. Also, while it is entirely possible to make a digital recording sound like it’s analog using various plugins (of varying accuracy), it is not possible to make an originally-analog recording sound cleanly digital with a plugin; the analog recording process has taken away from, or added to, or changed too much of the original information to reconstruct it accurately.
Studio recordings “back in the day” that were targeting vinyl or at least low-quality tape as their only delivery medium did not have to be intentionally very fat or warm sounding, since the vinyl or tape would make it sound that way automatically. When they first showed up on CD, they might sound thinner than we were used to hearing (or than the musicians and producers might have wanted). But it wasn’t because the CD was losing anything; rather it wasn’t ADDING (or taking away, or distorting) the things that vinyl had been. It took some learning to realize that to get the same sound, some of those processes would have to be added artificially during mastering for CD.
I do not listen to the streamed music because when I want to sit and listen to the music, I want to use my own collection. I have about two hundred AAC downloads of favorite albums, transferred some of them to CD-Rs, and now, they are only for my car CD player. Also, I downloaded some FLACs, and I do not listen to them because they sound a bit dry to my ear. I did also download a dozen of DSD and PCM files in high resolution which I play through very capable DACs; they sound good, and I listen to them from time to time. This is as to say my PC music experience.
Now, I have collected about 1800 LPs and nearly a similar number of CDs. I listen to them more often than PC downloads.
I have several Hi-Fi sets to play both LPs and CDs, not very expensive ones. It is a pleasure to sometimes, put a record on a TT and drop the needle on it. I did it long after the LP hype came back about ten years ago, and I was crazy about hunting for new and used LP albums until recently.
I noted that lately, I listen to CDs more often than LPs. Maybe it is because I became lazy to go through the routine of playing them. Storing, cleaning, and relocating them is not so simple either.
It is much simpler to play CDs, and they sound very good on decent audio components. Many of them provide air and detail at a good dynamic range, and it is without the clicks, pops and hiss of the vinyl.
Yes, some CDs do not sound good if they were mastered wrongly but look how juicy and clear they can sound on modern and even some old equipment!
I admitted this difference: if I want to enjoy purely music, I go for CD, and if I want the nostalgic process of playing an LP, I go for it.
To me, decent CDs sound more bodily than the downloads, and the modern DACs can up-sample them to sound nearly analogue but with higher dynamics.
So, I now, hunt more for CDs than vinyl.
Out of the sets, which I own, the following combinations revealed especially good sound from CDs:
1. Denon DCD-2500NE CD player + Denon PMA-2500NE amplifier.
2. Teac UD-505 DAC + Cambridge Audio CXC transport + PrimaLuna Prologue Premium valve integrated amplifier.
For LP playback:
3. Turntables: Clearaudio Concept with Maestro V2 head; Technics SL-1210 with Denon-103 head.
Music: mostly jazz, some rock and pop, classics.
Audiophile does not = Vinyl. Not all audiophiles listen to vinyl as their preferred medium. I’m a jazz musician in my late 60’s and grew up through vinyl, 78’s to the current digital mediums, direct to disc LPs, 45 rpm LP masters, etc. For accuracy of sound of the original performance there’s no way in hell LPs sound close. I don’t want to hear ticks, pops, “warm sound” and other distortions that were not present in the original performance. A lot of this bias in favor of vinyl is nostalgia and a need to cradle a damn record jacket as a masturbation exercise like it feels good. The only thing that should be feeling good here is the music itself as it originally sounded live; vinyl can’t do that. Admittedly, there are some CDs that sound pretty bad, but it is not because of CD technology, it is because of mastering engineers that that did a poor job of transferring a perfectly good performance to the CD or digital format.
I have both players and I was recently listening to Lady in Sating (I have LP version and CD version). I started them via 2 sources and switched the same song between them. I’m no biased in any way but after this I can say that I prefer vinyl since on CD all mid-range was just gone (it sounded so empty) 🙁 (Maybe CD DAC is bad;/ ?). I’m 33 so its not nostalgia in my case. I have 2 sets KEF Blade 2, gryphon zena, antileon and my tube set Manley 250 neo classic, 300b and Tannoy (I preffer tube sound in this case but hard to even compare both sets) I play guitar and I know there is nothing like “Sound neutral” you are buying instruments and picking in what kind of wood you want it to mark sound signature (Maple for warm tone, alder for more bright). They all have sound signature and vinyl have different signature than CD (wont call it even neutral). If I recording guitar with microphone it sounds different then in real life (but to be honest old manley is closer then new shure to true sound). Each time when you play for public it also sounds different it mostly depends on room where you plaing so I’m not sure how people are determing neutral since same thing sound different in different rooms. I don’t like cleaning vinyl but since for me it sounds better for instrumental music I have to deal with it.
Agreed, totally, as far as that goes. But you know what sounds better than CDs? Hi-def digital recordings, that’s what, whether downloaded or on disc. The difference from regular CDs (assuming good engineering work) is stunning.
Yet time and time again, I find this to not be true. My most current perfect example is the Wonder Woman 84 soundtrack digital download. It sounds like utter ca-ca. We are still not in a time where the technology allows for the digital storage and mass transfer of the same kind of file that has all of the quality of a CD. Though I am not a computer engineer, my ears tell me that something is happening in the process of transferring the file from a server to my computer that does not exist with a CD.
If your hi-fi is optimized (amp, pre-amp, speakers and TT, not necessarily top of the line) vinyl is the way to go or anything analog. Streaming is a waste of time and I have given up on cd’s years ago because of the harshness and lesser oomph and crashes (more noticeable in home stereo systems). Lately I tried re-sampling my cd’s into mp3’s (through tube pre-amp and 24/96 soundcard with correct EQ) and I’m very happy with the results. They resampled cd’s are comparable to the sound of vinyl. More musical and lively (no harshness either).
Vinyl is certainly capable of sounding good but the cost of entry to quality is far higher than CD. Decent heads capable of catching the entire frequency range get expensive quick and even then you are making compromises with the lower frequencies. Given your example it sounds like you aren’t even taking that approach anyway. You found reducing dynamic range by a lot and removing a good portion of information along with adding distortion to be an improvement in sound. You obviously prefer smooth and level or detailed, punchy and fast. Nothing wrong with that but for those of us who want the music as intended or those who prefer to let their headphones/speakers flavor their music vinyl is just too dynamically smoothed over and warmed.
Dynamic and punchy is what the artist and producer intended and what gives emotion to the music. The warmth of the sound is only incidental to the recording medium.
A properly mastered CD on a good system will sound perfectly awesome. As others have said, if a CD wasn’t mastered right, you will be disappointed. But every vinyl record I have ever heard has left me feeling underwhelmed due to the pops and skips. Maybe I haven’t heard vinyl on a great system, that’s possible. But there is no question that with vinyl comes anxiety. You have to be so careful with them and over time, they will sound increasingly worse.
I own countless CDs released after 1995, whether new releases or remasters ,that sound superb.
This argument about CD having such a dynamic range is so boring as in the vast majority of recordings it’s just not utilised.
I still have 800+ vinyl LPs and love the medium. It was what I grew up with in the ’70s.
That said, while typing this I’m listening to a 1984 Tchaikovsky CD on EMI, and never heard anything on vinyl that sounded this good. For context, I’m using a fairly modest hifi set up, with cheap interconnects and homemade speaker cable. My point? It’s not high end equipment, and in a less than ideal listening room.
So while I can relate to and sympathize with all the vinyl lovers who have posted here, I am convinced CDs are capable of sounding much better than LPs. But here’s is why I think they often sound worse.
In the early days some mastering engineers put little effort into transferring existing recordings to CD. For example, I had a first generation Jethro Tull CD that sounded thin compared to the LP. I later came by a remastered version of the same title and it moved me in the same way the LP did. I’m sure the CD was technically superior, but in this instance listening to both formats brought the same pleasure.
Today, we are seeing endless CD remasters and enhanced editions, all touted to be the latest and greatest versions ever released. It’s all (or at least mostly) marketing hype. In truth, most popular CDs released from 1995 and later have been deliberately compressed in the final mastering. This trend, which appears to have begun around 1990, has become progressively worse over time. This is ironic given the outstanding technical capabilities of the CD medium. This must be truly demoralizing for the competent mastering engineers who care, who know they are squeezing the life out of the music, but are under strict orders to keep it compressed. Another, somewhat telling irony, is that the vinyl editions are almost always mastered to have a 3 decibel higher dynamic range than their CD counterparts. This is enough to make the vinyl sound superior.
So why does this matter? I suppose it matters quite a lot to the entertainment industry when a vinyl copy of a title retails for $30-$40, compared to a CD of the same title retailing for $12. And if I buy both, the vinyl will be demonstrably better than the CD due to its wider dynamic range. But this is high-level smoke and mirrors.
It matters to me because I prefer music over noise. It doesn’t have to be piano, flute, guitar, violin, and oboe. It can be synthesized music. But whatever form of music it is, the listening experience should be worthwhile. An important part of what makes it so is the contrast between quiet and loud passages – dynamic range. If you doubt the importance of dynamic range, compare the CD of Metallica’s Death Magnetic to the CD of their black album (the original release). If your stereo system is competent you will immediately hear the difference. If Metallica is not your cup of tea, try doing the same with Sade, or R.E.M., or whoever. Just compare a pre-1995 album (or better still, a pre-1990 album) to a post-2000 album.
It matters to me because when I play a compressed CD it starts out loud and impressive, but becomes fatiguing very quickly. I used to turn up the volume for more of a good thing. Now, I often turn the volume down so I can stand to listen to it.
It matters to me because the music industry clearly knows what it is doing, but seems to be putting profits above providing their customers with a good product. (Don’t even get me started on them happily selling the rights to play the same title to the same customer multiple times by offering new and improved audio or visual formats, while rendering the old format obsolete.)
I suspect streamed music is as compressed as the CDs. If I’m right, everyone is adversely affected by this. Sadly, many who grew on MP3 with cheap-but-expensive ear buds won’t mind, because they don’t know what good well-recorded music can and should sound like.
Until the music industry sees the error of its ways, music lovers can still take positive steps. They can use social media to spread the word about how bad most music is being made to sound. They can discover great recordings, be they vinyl or CD, at yard sales and thrift stores. Current recordings in genres other than popular music, and those on independent labels are often well recorded also.
In summary, I wholeheartedly agree with those who argue that CDs sound better, but I wouldn’t if post-1995 CDs were all I had to listen to.
Now I think I will listen to the 1994 Definitive Edition CD Remaster of “Selling England by the Pound.” (I suggest avoiding some of the earliest Genesis CD editions, as they can sound thin, and also the the 2007 and later editions, as they are compressed to varying degrees, and on some tracks the mix just sounds wrong.)
I still bought and listened to CDs up until a few years ago, and I noticed that music just didn’t have the same appeal that it once was. I didn’t know anything about the Loudness War, I just knew that music kind of wore on me.
Then I learned about the Loudness War. Then I heard the “Death Magnetic” debacle and downloaded the Guitar Hero tracks and the difference was staggering.
But when I bought a used copy of Berlin’s “Pleasure Victim”. It was an early pressing, so I’m assuming it was just kind of a direct rip from the analog master. When I put it in my CD player, I had to increase the volume about 30 percent. Once I got it loud enough, it sounded amazing.
And that’s when the Loudness War really clicked for me. Then I went back and tried listening to my old CDs and the result was the same across the board. I had to turn the volume up vx new CDs or streaming.
It’s not the medium, it’s the mastering.
Perfectly stated! Thanks.
CD for stereo. Vinyl for mono.
To each their own. I grew up in the 70s (born in 69) and records were like a parent to me. I still prefer the complete experience of vinyl. For digital playback and delivery I prefer lossless FLAC. I have a box of old CD cases in the garage and a CD holder in the closet, but unless you count my sons PS4, I haven’t even seen a CD player in 10+ years.
Believe it or not the PS4 won’t play cd’s. My son and I tried it the other day and I couldn’t believe it. Truth is I think these massive media companies like Sony and Disney have gone all in with streaming and are trying to kill physical media. They won’t get vinyl though, because for true music lovers it’s the only format. I do not agree that cd’s sound better. I cannot listen to them after listening to records for so long. I do have a $3,000 set-up though.
CD vs. Vinyl : there’s no clear winner. I remember that awesome feel of hearing my first CD, no pops or crackles and lots of high end clarity.
But I got that same wow feeling a few years back when I cracked out the vinyl gear again and realised how much CDs crush the dynamic range. It’s not so much about sampling rate as bit depth. Although I contest that sampling rate needs to be higher than 44.1khz for reasons that have already been expounded above around harmonics.
Music seems to have so much more ‘space’ on vinyl recordings with quiet instruments maintaining their detail and precision when louder instruments kick in which just gets lost in CD (and more so in compressed digital media) on the flip-Side the noise floor is audible and the high end has less clarity -especially towards the end of the vinyl (CAV vs CLV and all that).
I figure that since that wow factor can still be heard on recent vinyl releases (e.g. Yello -point) then that detail is being captured in the digital recording/mastering phases (presumably at 48bit 96khz or more these days) then it’s getting lost as it’s ‘crushed’ into CD format 44.1 16-bit (which most of the time is actually only 14 bit) – then consider soundwaves are generally symmetric around 0 X axis – that means a CD can only really produce 4096 different levels of ‘ loudness’ at any instant.
It’s time we moved on up from CD -it’s a really outdated format
I’ll agree with this.
Compared to vinyl, CD offers a much higher-fidelity and more accurate reproduction of the sound. The differences between vinyl and CD are almost entirely the very significant distortions, compressions of dynamic range, EQ boosts and cuts, and added noise that vinyl imposes on the sound. Many of these things sound good to many listeners, particularly in certain kinds of music: in pop music, pretty much every instrument and voice already goes through heavy EQ, compression, even distortion, added reverb, etc. during the production process. To make them sound better, right? Nobody wants to hear the raw, natural sound that was first recorded, it sounds scrawny and thin and uninteresting. So if vinyl adds its own patina, compresses the sound even more, warms it up and adds some presence, gives it a little crunch from distortion, produces a fake airiness and echo from adjacent-groove effects and noise floor, who’s to say that doesn’t sound better? It’s an enhancement. Vinyl in theory can reproduce some sounds above 20KHz, maybe up to 25KHz or so, which few if any people can actually hear, but it’s usually pretty distorted and attenuated, especially the farther into the record it gets. I doubt this contributes to any audible difference from CD. (There is certainly vinyl noise even higher than that which will show up on a spectrum, but it’s just noise from the stylus grinding on the vinyl, not musical content.)
Digital compression, nobody argues that that can mess up the sound, though at a decent bit rate, few people can really tell any difference. (It’s more problematic if previously-compressed digital audio is ever re-compressed, then the artifacts start to multiply.)
Even HD audio is useless for final delivery to a listener. The only difference between 16 and 24 bit is the noise floor. But even at 96db down, the 16-bit noise floor is almost always going to be below any background noise in the room, environmental noise when the recording was made, analog electronic hiss, etc., unless the playback is so loud as to be deafening. 24 bits is useful for making original recordings and during production, to ensure that generational losses won’t increase the noise floor above this, but its inherent 144db dynamic range means you’d be breaking glass, destroying your speakers, and literally going completely deaf at volumes where you STILL couldn’t detect any digital noise in silent moments.
And 44.1KHz is also plenty for playback. You’d think the higher sample frequency would make it sound smoother or something, but it really doesn’t. (Some people even argue that 96KHz or 192KHz are actually worse for various technical reasons, which I’m unconvinced of so far, but at least I’m convinced they’re no better for playback.)
The theory behind digital audio sampling is well-founded and has held up, and the engineering decisions that went into the choice of 16/44.1 for optimal playback given human hearing limitations were also well-founded and have held up. It’s proven mathematically that given a good filter etc., there should be no measurable difference between the original sound and the result after going through 16/44.1 A-D-A conversion that would be detectable by a human ear.
This is borne out by properly-run blind A/B listening tests, where inserting a properly level-balanced 16/44.1 conversion stage after some other source (whether analog or high-res digital) was undetectable by any listeners compared to the original, unconverted source itself.
i went to my pcs audio settings right clicked my speaker icon wenrt to audio mixer settings n put my rate to to 192khz pushed saved …then played a audio n at 192 khz i couldnt here most of the audio i can here it but surtan instruments was hard to here in the song so there u go at standerd 44.1 khzs is best wich is weird
It’s not the CD that crushes the dynamic range, it’s the mastering for radio loudness that crushes the dynamic range. If the recording was separately mastered for vinyl, no doubt many different choices were made. So you may be right: in a given recording, you may well prefer the LP over the CD, and you may be right that one reason is the LP has wider dynamic range, but that’s not the fault of 16-bit 44KHz digital audio or a benefit of vinyl, it’s the fault of the mastering engineer that worked on the CD release (or whoever ordered them to make those choices). Similarly, mastering choices could kill detail, etc.
Vinyl has much, much lower dynamic range than CD. Even given the same exact mastering choices (with appropriate adjustments for vinyl’s limitations of course), vinyl could subjectively sound better to some people in some music, but the differences are entirely due to the artificial coloration, distortion, compression, and noise that vinyl is adding, not any inaccuracies in the CD. This should be unsurprising: pop music production is all about heavy use of multiple layers of EQ, compression, reverb, distortion etc., in order to make the music sound better. Nobody would want to hear the scrawny, thin, uninteresting sound that was initially recorded with no processing, though that would be a far, far more accurate representation of what the mic picked up.
Everyone loves to mention vinyls lower dynamic range but forgets to mention that it’s very much enough to cover 99.9% of music?
A CD can produce 65,536 different levels of loudness, not 4096, and the analog components (including speakers) certainly smooth those out into a continuous variation of sound level. Its dynamic range is such that it would be highly unusual to ever hear the digital noise floor over the background noise in your listening room, background noise in the space the audio was recorded in, and electronic noise from analog components used in recording and playback. What is being “lost” when dithering down from 24 to 16 bit is an even much, much lower noise floor that would be impossible to ever hear even if you set the level high enough blow out your speakers, break your windows, and cause permanent deafness.
As for 96KHz or 192KHz vs 44KHz, so long as the low-pass filter isn’t causing any artifacts or distortions, and so long as the listener can’t hear much above 20KHz (and very few people can), there’s no audible difference. It’s all ultrasonics that only a dog can hear (if there even was any in the original recording: sometimes the audio at those levels is more a matter of tape hiss or stylus noise, not actual musical content), and makes no difference to the music. About the only reasonable justification is to be able to use a low-pass filter with a gentler slope, and even going to 48Khz should accomplish that.
There may be reasons to initially record and do production work in higher-res audio so that noise from generational losses or processing is still completely inaudible, but there is no justification for worrying about it in playback, even with an audiophile sound system.
There are 32768 levels possible. In the 16-bit output 1 bit is reserved for sign as the signal being converted is a bipolar signal as pointed out above. The remaining 15 bits encode the audio signal and hence can yield 32768 levels. Of course what you would get out of this depends the DAC and the amplifier used to convert the data back into an audio signal for the speakers.
I think it’s just the mastering. The engineers brickwall everything and it sounds like crap.
It’s the mastering, not the format. An older, uncompressed CD sounds more dynamic when played at a higher volume.
CDs, provided they are handled and stored with reasonable care, will last a long long time. My first CD, dire straits ‘brothers in arms’ that I bought in 1986 still plays like the day I bought it. My ‘brothers in arms’ LP bought a few months earlier still plays well too, but despite very careful handling, and playing only on good equipment, there are clicks and pops.
CD rot ? I have over 600 CDs that I collected over the years, and exactly 1 disc succumbed to CD rot. (Fleetwood Macs Mirage)
Speaking of fleetwood mac, I remember being disappointed with the original CD release of ‘Rumours’ the sound was muddy and hissy. The original LP was far better, so much so, that I even transferred the LP to CD when the technology became available in order to have a decent copy to play in the car. The original CD was just that bad. A remastered CD of rumours released years later fixed the problem, and sounds great. My point here ? A lot of it is down to the mastering/recording and not just the technology itself. It can go the other way too though where some remasters sound worse…I’m looking at you Genesis;
Finally, remember, a lot newly issued or reissued LPs now are from digital masters anyway. Anyone buy the 50th anniversary LP of the beatles seargant pepper ? …it was digitally remastered of course, then transferred to LP. I bought the CD of this one, it was half the price for one thing, and I already have and older reissue on vinyl. The CD is better.
Wow so biased lol
CD can skip and stick is compressed mercilessly and it’s now just old digital tech that makes no sense with streaming or files now available. Vinyl has a character that surpasses the sound quality. It also has the historical chops to boot.
CDs skip if they acquire wear and tear from improper handling. The compression is due to the Loudness War. Older CDs sound dynamic when played at high volumes because they weren’t mastered as such. The quality of streaming is low-quality. Vinyl compromises the master mix. Historical chops are subjective. Who’s biased?
I just bought Led Zeppelin III on Vinyl. Played it through a nice Project Turntable on Adam Studio Monitors. I also listened to the album on Spotify. I heard a huge difference on the high end spectrum of the record. Strummed guitars and cymbals sound so much detailed on vinyl. I want to do the same comparison with CDs.
That being said, I think there’s a presence on vinyl that gets cut out on digital emulation. Also, bass is bigger on digital, but nothing a great amplifier and EQ couldn’t compensate.
What you guys think?
Well if you buy a love doll it will be made out of vinyl not zeros and ones
32 bit high res is as good on good equipment and unlike vinyl does not have any crackle hiss or pop sorry but that spoils enjoyment
. Most CD ayers and amps have a dac so most streamed music can be in glorious high res.
Mp3 is pretty poor in comparison. Once you get a dac CD player like the marantz guy said as every ounce is taken off that master the
Sound is superb.
The kit used to make the sound also makes a difference. You can’t make great sound out of cheap so called hi-fi I have had separates since 1982 then listening to music on cheap systems just ain’t the same. After having an amstrad tower system that got destroyed I never have gone back.
Sorry I ditched vinyl and I ain’t going back anytime soon, gone on to qobuz as the music is high res and CD quality not mp3 still listen to my cds and they still sound great after most being purchased 30 years ago. The other thing often overlooked is a poorly engineered piece of music can sound awful.
It’s that simple now with superfast Broadband
Vinyl captures the complete tone color of the frequency (i.e. the distortions of the sine curve that makes A440 on a violin sound like a violin and not like a synthesizer). This is what gives vinyl its “Warmth.”
That said, I remember looking at the recording process when making a buying decision. (AAD / ADD / DDD). This was especially important when buying Classical music. The ADD (Analog recording/Digital mastering/Digital playback) was the preferred format with the warmest sound. With analog recording, the entire curve was captured.
True that’s how the first cds were cut
It captures the full frequencies of the compromised master mixes. Peaks and transients must be compromised with compression, and deep bass must be removed to prevent the stylus from jumping the grooves. The RIAA curve is thus applied to the compromised recording, not at all what the engineer and producer intended.
I’m still partial to analog. When I do a mix in analog, there are harmonics created that we used to call the god effect. You would hear a sound and not know where it was coming from and realize it’s the harmonics. Digital would clean them out of a mix, making the mix sound tighter and give it a bit more headroom, but it definitely takes away a good amount of the feel. Those harmonics create a certain amount of energy that they musician feels and plays a certain way because of them. When you clean them out of a mix, you lose that energy when your listening to it. I’m a big fan of recording with waves over numbers. Also as an example, Pink Floyd has always been my favorite band, but when I started listening to them digitally I just didn’t have the love for it anymore. The drums sounded thin, the bass was way to clean and tight, I couldn’t feel it the way I normally would. Then I bought a used Fishman setup with a turntable. I put some Floyd on and it was like I was listening to them again for the first time. The warmth, you could feel the drums hit your chest. Analog pushed air into your soul, digital was kind of injected into your ear. That said, CD’s would be my second choice. But mostly because as a musician buying music was a full experience. You open the Album or CD, and look at the liner notes, look at the artwork while you listened it created a full experience. You still had all that with CD’s and allot of the times CD’s even came with a poster or stickers. People were truly vested in the artist. Cd’s and digital, is much more convenient. Recording is much cheaper and you could fix mistakes much easier, and you don’t have to flip a CD after 5 songs. Speaker size means nothing when listening to a CD. If you had to use a tiny digital speaker for analog it sounds thin, but a nice 10″ or 12″ or if you have the room 15″ speaker gives you a nice fat bottom while your mids and highs sit in the tweeter and 4″ or 6″ speakers. Throw an EQ on that with an album and ugh it’s so good. All feel. Anyway interesting article.
What does sound better is full spectrum sound:
Many kids are missing full spectrum sound as a stimulation tool I believe. They close down (selected hearing) from frequency ranges that they feel threatened by in such cases of abuse and war sounds. Through stimulation they often open up and release trauma but don’t actually know where it is coming from.
As Nicola Tesla once said: “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
Because we are made up of frequencies, research has shown that when we are missing a certain range of light frequencies, it can lead to “Seasonal Affective Disorder” SAD and is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year.
Sunlight stimulates the release of the brain’s happy chemicals and hormones. The theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep. In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight creates a problem with the release of certain brain chemicals which stops the hypothalamus working correctly.
The lack of these light frequencies is shown to have an affect upon:
Production of the hormone melatonin that helps you to sleep
Production of serotonin with its nickname “the HAPPY hormone”
Body’s circadian rhythm (which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period)
Now, what is interesting is that the same thing happens with sound as with light because it’s all frequency.
When we are missing certain tones and frequencies within our energetic system, then we don’t feel as healthy as we naturally should do.
“Sound and light frequencies act like vitamins and minerals in the body, so the body needs a full spectrum of frequencies to stay fit and healthy”.
The future of healing is in sound
Have to agree with you there. I have a decent setup and have had subscriptions to Tidal for a while, Qobuz for the past two months and Apple music for over year. Today I decided to listen to CDs after quite some time on my Oppo UDP-205 player. While streaming has the advantage of access to a lot of music, it has been my experience so far that it does not compare favorably in sound resolution to my CDs. Just to validate, I stream from my MAC to very good DACs both costing around 2 grand each. The CD is clearly much better resolved (especially dimension and spacial info. Imaging is more clearly defined and sound from my cd player playing CDs is much more dynamic. Qobuz does have hi-res, but my ears it still does not sound as good as the 16bit/44.1 CD, to say nothing of SACD or DVD-A.
Am I missing something with the streaming method? Anyone care to chime in?
Adam – if you can hear the difference between the same recording on a CD vs lossless streaming on Tidal, there’s probably something more wrong with your equipment than anything else. Those should be bit-perfect by the time they get to your DAC.
I think it depends on the person’s source hardware. I listen to my many cds on an old Pioneer PDRW739, connected to an old Technics SA 400 receiver. The speakers I use are Sonus Faber Chameleon Ts. The cd sound great to me. For nostalgia purposes I Lao have an old Sony Discman D-2/20 coming, but of course cannot move around like you are, it would skip:) Anyway, I wont be getting rid of my cds anytime soon.
I wish CD sounded better or even as good…..would’ve saved me a lot of money.
A cd has never made me feel like I was in the same room as the musicians, the way vinyl does.
And, think about the waveshape as you approach the Nyquist limit. it no longer has enough sampled points to make an accurate reproduction. At all. This is why when mastering for cd, you have to use a low pass filter to make sure that nothing gets close to that upper frequency limit. (real) cymbals, harmonics of acoustic piano or acoustic guitar, etc. Without that LPF, frequencies above 22KHz reflect off that “wall” and create artifacts in the upper treble range.
On the plus side, music made by digital instruments can generally be accurately reproduced, and there’s more than enough sampled points at 44.1KHz to reproduce bass. Perhaps this explains why pop music changed so much in the 80’s and 90’s to digital instruments, so that it would still sound good at club levels.
And what is the upper limit of a vinyl record?
You will be hard pressed (sorry) to find anything above 15kHz.
That is because a low pass filter is applied in vinyl mastering to prevent the cutter head from burning up. Only half speed masters have anything above that.
The resurgence in vinyl records is due to a lot of factors, but frequency response isn’t one of them.
but nobody buys ’em or has a CD player anymore….it’s almost like having a rotary phone
Certainly, the popularity of the CD depends to an extent on your genre and your audience, and in some markets it’s hard to sell CDs. But many genres – rock, jazz, classical, soul, and so on – continue to sell physical products, and CDs specifically. They become especially useful when an artist offers to autograph them at a gig. And for every $10 CD you sell, you’d need to get 4,000 Spotify streams at $.0025 per stream!
Why not just download lossless audio? Its not like mp3 is your only option…
I do lossless for anything i love, be it a movie, tv show or music. If i love something i want to be the way it was intended.
Alltho lossless movies can set you back many hundred gigs.
Lossless audio takes about 11mb/min. So a 60 minute CD will only set you back 660mb. Like my 10 terrabyte drive can fit 909909 minutes of lossless music on it. Thats almost 2 years of music on a hard drive.
The library system in my area lets you borrow 15 cds at a time. You order them from their website which covers the database of thirty libraries and the CDs are ready for pickup at the library you choose. You can keep them for three weeks and rip a lossless copy on your computer. Plus you can order brand new cds and they will buy them and put them in their catalog for you to borrow. You can’t beat that.
I still have a Hifi system with a CD player, and still buy CD’s, a lot of my collection are from the 80’s before they started to damp the sound, from what i recall CD was invented to improve the sound quality, and the sound on those CD’s is still as good today as when i first played them over 30 years ago. The only thing i honestly miss about vinyl was the bigger sleeve artwork on a lot of the Rock and Heavy metal albums.
I really don’t get why anyone from that era would want to go back to vinyl, surely it’s for the youngsters who are curious about the old analogue stuff including cassette tapes.
i Just brought a new Marantz HD CD-1 and it has brought new life to my CD collection. I’m even buying new CD’s to replace my vinyl collection from the 70’s and 80’s I lost due to flooding. I do miss the ritual of playing vinyl.
What are you 12?
Of course people still own CD players and buy CDs but teenagers and younger adults moved on to streaming music and think it’s as good.
I still buy CDs. I also digitize them in .WAV format. I have close to 1.5 Terabytes of uncompressed music. I have no desire to pay 1,411 bit rate prices for 256 quality. Now if the iTunes store had an audiophile area where we could download music at CD or higher quality, then I would stop buying CDs.
Lossless compression FLAC files will give the same audio quality as uncompressed WAV but at about a 5th of the storage space.
When I got my first iPod back in 2005, I scanned every CD I had at the time. I didn’t really know anything about compression and sound quality then, and my iPod was a 1st Gen Shuffle, so 512 MB means smaller files was better.
Once I learned about ALAC, every CD I bought got put into iTunes in ALAC, and when “sailing the seas” was a thing, I looked for FLAC rips from vinyl or SACD, then converted those to ALAC.
The difference is staggering.
I figure that Apple HAS to enter the high resolution streaming market. Amazon has it. Spotify has it. Then there’s Tidal and Qoboz.
Once Apple makes the move, it will be the standard
I think you’re forgetting FLAC and high res wav files. I record in 96K/24bit format and this format allows significantly higher sound quality than the 44.1K/16bit of CDs. FLAC can handle up to 192K/24bit.
When I render a mix down to CD quality from 96/24 tracks, and listen to the rendered mix, I end up wishing that 96/24 was the typical resolution for music delivery.
Fortunately HDTracks is now delivering more and more high res files – I hope it catches on to become a mainstream norm…
Certainly not forgetting them. Well aware of other higher res digital formats. However, most listeners don’t know them. For my money, the CD is the best sounding MASS audio format.
I don’t know what you guys are listening to. There is a reason audiophiles listen to vinyl and so much work has been done on portable listening devices (Neil Young for example). It is because all digital delivery systems compress everything. I know you want to sell CDs and they certainly have a place. They are cost effective and durable. But they do not in any way sound better. Come on, you guys are better than this.
“I don’t know what you guys are listening to.”
We’re clearly listening to CDs! LOL
Look, vinyl is great. I listen to vinyl, as well as streams. I love the vinyl ritual of dropping the needle, and especially the artwork. And tastes are subjective. This is my personal opinion. Many vinyl lovers will disagree. And that’s perfectly ok.
Ok, what flavor of kool-aid you’ve been drinking?
Vinyl sure has that ‘analogue warmth’. Record the vinyl to CD and the resulting CD will also have that same ‘analogue warmth’. Or just listen to the vinyl straight off – with the treble turned down.
I’m disheartened by how many people will settle for quantity over quality! Reminds me of VHS: fit 4 movies on one tape that look like boiling bees (SLP mode) or one sharp, clear movie (SP mode). All of these compressed-file-listening music fans are growing a tin ear and don’t seem to know or care. AUDIOPHILES MUST SURVIVE!!!
I remember the first time I listened to a CD. It was sometime in the ’80s, and a bunch of us guys crammed into my cousin’s basement to listen to his new CD player and a disc of Sgt Pepper.
“Disappointment” was the key reaction that afternoon. The sound was brittle and harsh. All my favorite parts of that iconic album were somehow sterilized almost beyond recognition.
As a musician and studio owner, I learned a lot about digital sound/recording over the next couple of decades as I gradually upgraded my analog studio to digital. I encountered terms such as “jitter” and “sample rate” on the road to digital audio refinement.
Now in 2019, I would tend to agree with the author of this article – CDs do sound great – that is well-recorded CDs! And I would challenge any audiophile to a blindfold, A/B listening session between vinyl and high-end digital. Whoops . . . I forgot – vinyl crackles and pops!
Hey, some people love those crackles and pops!
These crackles and pops drove me to distraction back in the day. It’s a strange logic that any music playback system that involves friction and wear and tear and degradation with every play.
Still remember the guy who only ever played his album once recording it onto cassette! I mean “cassette” seriously!!
I was one of those guys. I paid big bucks for the higher quality Japanese pressings and recorded them on TDK SA-X chrome tapes. I wore out the tapes instead of the LPs. Most of my vinyl at most has been played two times.
Funny you say that. The ear actually does get used to them. Sure microphones the 57 and 58 actually have a horrible sound but they were the industry standard for live performance for decades because people were used to the sound. I happen to like the crackle also.
There is still something magical about listening to good analog, no sampling rate.
Tin ears, nothing compares to analog because it’s analog; the air is not removed in the recording process, so space is still perceptible, unlike digital.
Totally do not agreed cd sounds better.
Interesting article. I grew up in the 70s listening to vinyl and still have my vinyl and I still think it’s superior to CD. CD for sure is better than MP3 and streaming due to compression and is no comparison to a vinyl record. CD audio is compressed in comparison to vinyl that was originally recorded in analog. It’s more apparent if you listen to an album original released on vinyl verses re-released on CD.
Having said that i’ve released my own work with DiscMaker CD and been very satisfied as has my clients that I’ve produced and recorded in my studio.
Thank you so much for everything, l always thought CDs were the best sound quality and still do. I did my music project with Discmakers and was very satisfied looking forward to working with you on all my projects.
In case you’re curious, here’s the oldie but goodie I was dancing to: