Comparing CD’s to vinyl

Since I now have a handful of releases which I own both the LP and the CD, and the new Dual 508 has me hooked on listening to music, I decided to see for myself if I could tell a difference in the sound of the music.

This isn’t scientific, but listening to music is more about how it makes you feel, right?   So here’s the method i decided upon after some messing around:  I’ll play a track or a significant part of a track on one medium, then play the same on the other.  I’ll try to describe any differences I hear, mostly subjectively since I’m not breaking out any measuring equipment to do this comparison.

I started with the Escape Club – Wild, Wild, West.   Unfortunately, I lost my notes, so I went back and re-listened to a few songs.  The audio level is a few decibels higher on the CD, so I make sure I adjust the volume when I switch sources.

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On Wild, Wild, West, the bass is significantly stronger on the LP, and overall the sound is cleaner sounding.  It sounds more like our band playing than a recording.   The guitar and vocals are more balanced, and the sound just fills the room better.  Walking Through Walls is a closer call, but there is definitely a larger presence to the sound of the vinyl; it is less directional and harder to pinpoint the sound coming from the speakers, even with identical setting on the amp other than volume level, which seems to be 6 dB lower output on the vinyl.  Love the sound of the LP on this one.

Led Zeppelin IV

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On Black Dog, the cymbals on the CD sound very harsh, and almost outside the mix, like they were added in later.  The guitars are a little more present and integrated on the vinyl, and I was expecting the hear  that the vocals sounded more buried on the vinyl, but in reality they sound more focused, and also more like part of the sound instead of vocal on top of the instruments.  Finally, there’s a slight ringing noise – almost a liveliness –  to the vocals and guitars on the vinyl that just doesn’t come through on the  CD.

Rock And Roll was similar, but worse for the CD.  It sounded so compressed I just didn’t want to listen to it after listening to the vinyl track.  However, I would give the nod to the CD on the first half of Stairway to Heaven for overall sound quality.  But, I didn’t find myself settling into the music, and once the drums came in around the four minute mark that slightly harsh feeling was there again.  And the final guitar solo was not as much a part of the music on the CD either.

Led Zeppelin IV – vinyl wins.

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Next up was Bon Jovi: New Jersey.  On the opening track Lay Your Hands on Me, the CD did a better job of allowing the guitar to cut through, but the vinyl actually filled the room better by making better use of the stereo imaging.  On Bad Medicine, the drums hit harder on the CD, but the vocals and guitar riffs were much smoother and fuller sounding on the vinyl.  Adjusting for input level variances, at the same listening volume the CD just sounds harsher, colder, and more “noise-like” than musical.

Bon Jovi New Jersey – Vinyl wins – but the CD is still very good.

I figured this was how it was going to be – CD is cleaner,but vinyl just sounds warmer, smoother, and “better”.  Billy Joel 52nd Street followed the same results as the previous 3 albums.

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Then I started listening to some of the Beatles albums.

Rubber Soul was the first.  Other than some of the tracks being different, which came a a huge surprise to me, this was almost a toss-up.  The CD was as good or better than the vinyl on most songs, but on a few the vinyl was clearly different and maybe slightly more appealing.  But songs like Norweigan Wood and Michelle were clearly better on CD.  Throw in Drive My Car and Nowhere Man on the CD which are absent from the LP, and CD wins this one.

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Then it was on to Yellow Submarine.  Same thing – the CD was as good or better on most songs, but Hey Bulldog was so much better on the CD.  The LP was almost lifeless on this song, and the instruments were buried – no bite at all to the guitar.   No pun intended.  CD wins again.

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Thankfully, Abbey Road was more of a pleasant surprise.  In fact, other than the crackling noise of the worn LP, I found the CD and LP to be very similar aside from the 6 or so dB difference in output.  The bass was a little better as well on the CD.  In fact, I think I’ll put the CD in my car.  Slight nod to the CD.

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I wrapped up the session with The Little River Band’s Greatest Hits.   This time it was back to the previous experiences of the vinyl being a little more integrated and warmer.

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Maybe the vinyl mastering just got much better in the 1970’s and 80’s, or maybe the Beatles LP’s are just pretty worn from years of use, but on everything after 1970 or so I preferred vinyl.  And it may have something to do with the CD mastering as well.  Maybe the Beatles CD’s are more critically mastered than others.

Whatever the reason, I know I’ll tend to favor the Vinyl  versions if I can, and I think a clean LP is a good benchmark to evaluate the quality of CD’s.  Now off to find The Dan Reed Network and The Nylons on vinyl….

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