Many people wonder (and debate) about which form of audio sounds the best. The answer will vary from person to person since much of it still boils down to personal preference. Dedicated music collectors will always buy CDs, cassette tapes, digital downloads, and of course – vinyl records.
Although collecting records isn’t the most-popular way to consume your favorite music, many people still swear that the audio quality is absolutely undeniable.
Why does vinyl sound better? Does it sound better? Is it possible that this older technology can outperform wireless streaming and other digital audio formats? Keep reading to find out!
Why Does Vinyl Sound Better?
From a surface level perspective, the answer to this question might seem like a no-brainer. For others, there is a curiosity (and/or obsession) with the LP’s ability to withstand the test of time.
There has to be a reason it survived and was able to remain a favorite among audiophiles, record collector’s, and casual fans of music, right?
There are multiple factors that will greatly affect your overall record-listening experience. Often times, they are overlooked, which can lead to a negative turntable/record-listening experience.
Here are a few of the most important factors that will ultimately shape your opinion about the audio quality of an LP:
- Quality (and Cleanliness) Of Your Equipment
- Quality of The Recording
- Room Acoustics
- Subjectivity and Personal Listening Preference
- Here’s The Best Way To Find Out
Now, let’s take a closer look at each section in detail to see how they affect audio quality, and why they’re so important.
Quality And Cleanliness Of Your Equipment
First and foremost, the actual turntable and other equipment you’re using to spin a record will greatly impact audio quality.
The turntable you choose is made up of multiple components – everything from the turntable itself, to the phono cartridge, stylus, and speakers or headphones you’re listening with.
Consider This Example
For example, let’s say you bought a $50 turntable at a clothing store on an impulse. (Don’t worry, we all have those moments.) You grabbed a record or two just to see what all the hype was about.
When you got home to try it out, you were surprised to find that the built-in turntable speakers sounded worse than the speaker on your smartphone. You were probably wondering why so many people swear by vinyl when your experience was the exact opposite.
Even if this hasn’t happened to you personally, it’s a lot more common than you might think. This isn’t to suggest that you should sell your car and invest your earnings in an uber-expensive turntable either.
Here’s The Main Takeaway
The main takeaway is that most of the time – you usually get what you pay for. This is especially true for audio equipment (and debatably more so for analog audio).
Luckily for us, there are a few well-known companies (like Audio Technica) who make very affordable turntables that also perform extremely well.
Although some record collectors take the importance of a quality turntable to the extreme, it’s not the only way to enjoy your favorite records.
Take a look at the short video below to see what we mean by “extreme”:
Another extremely important practice for maintaining the best audio quality of your records is cleanliness.
Giving them a quick wipe down with an anti-static cleaning brush before (and after) each spin is the most basic step you can take towards preserving their quality.
Since the grooves on a record are a physical representation of the music stored on the disc, keeping dust and other debris away as much as possible is vital.
If you’re interested, here are a few pretty simple methods for how to clean vinyl records by hand. (It really does improve the sonic performance and overall quality.)
Another great way to keep everything squeaky clean and running smoothly is to use a stylus brush for the same purpose. The tip of a stylus is extremely fragile which is why it’s a good idea to use a specialized brush like the one pictured below.
Properly Storing Your Records
Properly storing your records is a more preventative (rather than immediate) measure you can take to preserve the quality of your records.
Once again, cleanliness and proper storage are both super important even if they might seem unnecessary.
Listening to dirty LPs is never as enjoyable as dropping the needle on a freshly-cleaned disc. Cleanliness and how good your records sound go hand in hand.
Without regular cleaning, too much dust or dirt in the grooves will manifest as surface noise on your speakers or headphones.
Quality of The Recording
The quality of the recording also has a pretty big impact on how good an LP or EP will sound. The recording process for vinyl involves an extremely detail-oriented approach that differs from recording digital audio.
Here are a few factors that determine the quality of a recording stored on a record:
- Recording equipment used during the production process
- How well it was mixed and mastered
- How much information is stored on the disc
- The volume of the recording stored on the disc
“Cutting a record” is the term used to describe the actual process of scooping out material (from the disc) to form the grooves that a stylus will drag across as it’s spinning. It’s a complicated process that’s mainly handled by professional audio engineers (so we won’t delve into that too much here).
The main point is that cutting and mastering records require a different skillset and overall process from start to finish then it’s the digital counterpart. In this way, it also directly relates to the digital vs. analog audio debate and which one sounds better.
The bottom line here is that if an LP isn’t properly recorded or cut – the quality of the playback will suffer.
Room acoustics also play an important role in this discussion. Although this is a bit of a deep dive, we think that it’s definitely worth mentioning. There are all kinds of expensive soundproofing materials that are usually geared towards owners of recording studios or the more extreme audiophile.
In most cases, there are a few pretty simple steps you can take to minimize things like an obnoxious echo or too much reverberation.
Listening Room Setup Tips
Any time you’re listening to music out loud on speakers – how that room is set up, the flooring material, and any glass on the walls will effect the way your music sounds.
Tile and/or hardwood flooring isn’t the best for preserving sound quality. Carpet, for example, usually works better for absorbing (rather than reflecting) audio waves.
If your turntable is in a room that has multiple mirrors or huge glass windows, that can also cause a similar “reflection” effect. Most setups won’t be absolutely perfect and in most cases, a record will sound pretty good with the right speakers and turntable.
Basic Steps You Can Take To Minimize Issues
Just like we mentioned earlier, expensive soundproofing and/or building a listening room isn’t absolutely necessary. Will a fully-soundproofed, acoustically-tuned listening room that’s been built from the ground up to sound better? Absolutely, but most of us can’t afford that (otherwise we would build one ourselves).
As long as you’re aware of some of the things that can alter the sound of your music – you can take whatever steps you deem necessary towards fixing some of those issues. This brings us to the last (and arguably) most important piece of the puzzle – personal preference.
Subjectivity and Personal Listening Preference
Many fans of music, audiophiles, and other casual listeners consider personal preference to be the ultimate test for discovering what you like or don’t like.
After all, if you’re someone who loves the feeling you get when you listen to music (in any form), the way you consume it might be less important than the act of listening.
For some people, music is more important than the equipment used to listen to. For others, the equipment can become more important than the music itself.
Both have valid arguments and both will shape the way you view and hear the sound quality of a record vs. CD, MP3, or other audio formats.
Do You Enjoy The Process?
In certain situations, bringing your turntable with you isn’t always possible. It’s a lot easier to carry a phone or portable MP3 player when you’re out and about.
Once you’ve “caught the bug” – the process of searching, cleaning, organizing, collecting, and listening to the music as it crackles into existence becomes irresistible.
If you read that last sentence and think it sounds more like a chore than an enjoyable activity – you might not enjoy everything that vinyl has to offer. Then again, until you try it for yourself, there’s no way to say for sure!
Here’s The Best Way To Find Out!
Usually, the best way to find out whether or not you think records sound as good as people claim they do is to give it a spin!
If you’ve had a negative experience in the past, we recommend trying a few of our suggestions to see the night-and-day difference that they can make.
Why does vinyl sound better? Most of the time, people who prefer the quality of records over digital generally love to have a physical copy of an album. They also realize the importance of using quality audio gear and are huge fans of music, to begin with.
If you’ve never tried listening to music this way, but you’re curious to see if the hype is real – here are a few turntables and speaker suggestions.
If you’re just starting out and want to learn the ropes, we recommend you take a look at our Ion Audio Max LP Review. It’s an above-average, entry-level turntable that usually retails for less than $100.
If you’d rather use a turntable that’s easy to use for beginners but still performs at a high level, take a look at our Audio Techinca LP60BT Review here.
To see a few of our speaker recommendations, take a look at the 10 Best Bookshelf Speakers here.
We hope you enjoyed learning about a few of the most important aspects of sound quality when listening to records! If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered here, feel free to leave them below.
Have you had any experiences you’d like to share? Were they good or bad? Whether positive or negative, we’d like to hear your thoughts and opinions. If there’s anything you want to share, drop a comment below and we’ll be sure to respond!
Thanks for taking the time to stop by and learn about records, we hope to see you here again!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.