The inconvenient truth about vinyl


Vinyl. Maybe you’re into it because you enjoy the tangibility of a physical format: that large cover art, those lyric sheets. Or maybe you’re into the ceremony of playing a record: dropping the needle, flipping it halfway and then waiting for the next groove run-out. Maybe this process helps you take music listening from the passive to the active.

Or perhaps vinyl keeps your inner collector fit and healthy. You enjoy the thrill of the chase – finding a hidden gem in a bargain bin in a store halfway across town; or on the other side of the world. Buying records, taking them home and playing them reminds you of years gone by. Few forces are as powerful as nostalgia’s emotional tug.

These reasons – and more – are why vinyl is now six years deep into a revival that pretty much no-one would have predicted and more mainstream news outlets, including music magazines, just won’t shut up about stop covering.

My record collection. Yes, I’m into vinyl in a big way.

Most recently, we saw detailing of Nielsen/Soundscan’s half-yearly report for 2016. One highlight: vinyl sales are up 12% for the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last year. Furthermore, vinyl now makes up 12% of all music sales revenue. Last year it was 9%. (A broader context can be seen here)

These upward balance sheet shifts are far too large to be driven by the audiophile world alone. As reported last year, it’s the under 25s – millennials – who are driving vinyl’s revival.

The best selling home audio product on for the Christmas period of 2015 was a turntable. Good news, right?

Not so fast. If the record breaking Jensen turntable-cum-loudspeaker is anything to go by, the average millennial’s audio system is unlikely to reveal any of vinyl’s alleged superiority over MP3.

Cooling our enthusiasm jets further is a recent survey that suggests a large portion of record buyers don’t ever spin their purchases. Could it be that some mainstream (i.e. non-audiophile) record buyers simply see vinyl as just another piece of artist-branded merchandise like a t-shirt or a poster?

I have so far deliberately dodged the matter of vinyl’s sonic prowess. An ankle-deep Google search shows article after article remarking on vinyl’s ‘rich’ and ‘warm’ sound. Rich and warm. Warm and rich. Rich and warm. [See footnote 1].

Laying out the red carpet for a game of vinyl revival-related buzzword bingo is this opening line from a recent FOX News piece: “A tiny needle slips into a groove on a hard vinyl disc and suddenly a rich, warm sound fills the room.”

In quoting a Philadelphia-based DJ, SBS Australia claims, “The sonic quality of the vinyl format is so warm and full compared to all digital mediums.”


UK supermarket chain Tesco are now selling vinyl again. In the Express’s coverage: “the [vinyl] sound has a warmth to it that no megabyte can match”.

Even as far back as 2012, Australia’s ABC asked, “Why do devotees of records describe the tone as ‘warm’ and ‘rich’ and how is digital different?” 

The Philadelphia-based DJ interviewed by SBS continues, “It’s ridiculous. There is no reputable argument for that point [that digital sounds better].”

Oh yeah? How about a digital file’s technical superiority: higher dynamic range, lack of inner-groove distortion and wider bandwidth?

Here the discussion edges into audiophile territory. “Vinyl has a certain unassailable magic”, the wax wavers counter, “Digital is cold and harsh”. Lines are drawn and emotions charged. Someone sounds the alarm for moderation and mediation. Cooling the flames: “If it sounds better to you, then it’s better”.

Diffusing the debate before it reaches full heat is the notion that digital vs. analogue or CD vs vinyl is simply a matter of individual preference.

Wind the tape back a bit though and we find ourselves a long way from the heavy implication consistently found in the mainstream press that digital is fine but if you really want a higher quality listening experience, vinyl is the way to go.

Which is it? A matter of preference or is vinyl really the audibly superior format?

Pity the poor consumer looking to get started with his first turntable when also faced with such mixed messages.


I recently put myself in his shoes and immediately chose to look past the high cost of software when starting a record collection. The average new release LP [see footnote 2] goes out into record store display racks for around US$30. That same cash in the streaming world will buy you six weeks of Tidal Hifi’s “CD quality” tier.

Our newcomer isn’t your average millennial – he’s thirty-something, has a little more disposable income nowadays. Some of his favourite artists include The White Stripes, LCD Soundsystem and Joanna Newsom. His favourite album of all time is Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Our newcomer has already sourced loudspeakers and amplifier, the latter sporting an in-built phono stage. The final piece of the puzzle remains an entry-level turntable. What to buy?

The all-plastic shell of Audio Technica’s LP60-USB US$99 is a bit of a turn off. For thrice that, the metal chassis and direct-drive of the Technics-SL-1200-aping Audio Technica LP120 makes for a more compelling proposition.

However, bringing home more audiophile credibility is the belt-driven Rega RP1 (US$445) [see Footnote 3], which comes with a Rega MM Carbon cartridge pre-installed. Setup could not be easier: slide on the counterweight all the way to the stop position and you’re done. Tracking force and anti-skate are already taken care of.

After fifty hours of run-in, the stage was set for a showdown: CD rip vs. vinyl rip. I could simply tell you how the turntable’s output, shot through the Vinnie Rossi LIO’s phono stage, came up short on dynamics and clarity compared to digital files fired through its DAC.

However, this time out I’m offering evidence so readers might get a taste of what I’m hearing.

KORG’s DS-DAC-10R + AudioGate 4.0 were deployed as ADC – a pairing that offers digital-domain RIAA EQ correction and a choice of hi-res PCM or DSD file encoding. Feeling a little sorry for the RP1, I lent it a yellow Funk Firm Achromat.

Now we needed an album for an A/B. One that offered a range of musical intensity, from heavy guitar grind to more fragile plucks, but also an album whose provenance remained unclouded by remasters or reissues. Preference would be given to an album that pre-dated the loudness wars.


Using the Rega RP1, each side of the vinyl LP was recorded to DSD64 in AudioGate running on an 11” Macbook Air and then exported to a 16bit/44.1kHz PCM file using KORG’s AQUA dither algorithm. The .wav was then converted to FLAC with XLD. Playback took came via a Vinnie Rossi LIO fitted with DAC, its MOSFET stage driving a pair of ELAC Debut B6.

With the DS-DAC-10R sucking on USB power only and therefore easily transported, the same KORG ripping rig was setup across town with the same record meeting with a different turntable and cartridge combination: a Rega P3/24 fitted with a Dynavector 10×5 cartridge, which, like the Rega Carbon MM cartridge, offers a voltage output of 2.5mV.

Why two ‘tables and two carts? To show how a digital file is a more-than-capable container for capturing the ‘magic’ (read: colouration) of vinyl playback…as well as its flaws.

Unbeknownst to be at time of needle dropping side B of this desert rock record with the P3/24, the Dynavector stylus picked up fluff as playback progressed. Clarity took a serious hit and eventually the needle jumped during a macro-dynamic swing during the penultimate cut. In the interests of showing off the KORG ADC’s ability to leave no stone unturned, I elected not to re-rip.

Back to the RP1-derived needle-drop. Perhaps its most obvious audible quality is a full body, which also means more congeal between layers and a lack of separation as heard from a FLAC’d CD rip of the same album (same master, same release date).


We also hear the RP1’s treble roll-off arrive earlier than the CD-sourced version – forgivable – but the lack of presence and immediacy from this Californian band’s lively drum section – one that really pops on the digital take and is pivotal to the some of the rockier moments’ emotional charge – has me wondering about vinyl’s ‘richness’ being a more polite way of saying “lacks resolution”. Is the RP1’s midrange simply too gloopy to allow safe passage for kicks and snares?

On the other hand, one might describe the CD rip as more alert and cleaner. Accusations of sterility might also hold water but it’s the digital take that gets my vote on every single one of this album’s ten cuts, predominantly (but not only) because the digital take clears more space between proximate transients.

Readers wanting to listen for themselves can download of a zip file (here) that contains the RP1 version and the P3/24 take, complete with fluffed side B. However, the digital version won’t come from yours truly – that’s a matter for you and your streaming service provider.

As DAR also caters to electronic music fans, a second piece of vinyl was chosen for the KORG A/D treatment before pitting the results against the CD-ripped equivalent.

I’ll not say which record for obvious reasons (grab the zip file here – available for 48 hours ONLY) but again, the CD rip pulls ahead of the RP1 on layer separation and digs a fair way deeper into the mix.


For me, the digital file’s higher levels of caffeination really comes into its own with this kind of music. Those who prefer their corners rounded at both ends of the frequency spectrum might put a hand up for the vinyl take. Possible – but doubtful.

What isn’t really in any doubt is the baby Rega’s inability to deliver a superior listening experience to a digital file of the same bit-depth and sample-rate. One could argue that even a Spotify stream maxed out to 320kbps sounds better than this particular slice of entry-level turntablism.

What that means for the record-spinning newcomer is a good deal of expense for very little (if any) gain over what s/he may already hear from digital files, which dollar for dollar, are considerably less costly, especially when sourced from a streaming service. This jives with my earlier experiments with the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

The Rega RP1 isn’t all turntables. I’ve heard FAR better from more luxurious units (as probably have you).

What has a harder time sticking to this scenario is vinyl playback’s alleged warmth, richness and the associated, heavily implied sonic superiority over digital, which is more likely a case of received wisdom being paid forward.

Some might point to the importance of the mainstream covering the vinyl revival, irrespective of whether or not it puts the format’s supposed ‘rich’ and ‘warm’ traits to the test. And they’d have a point. But what if this positive coverage leads to numerous incidences of end-user disappointment? To the mainstream buyer, US$450 for a turntable is some serious wedge.

My own experience correlates with word from more seasoned vinyl-philes: getting records to sound as good as, and then move past, digital’s performance standard takes serious cash. Thousands, not hundreds.

Of course, this doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying records for their tangibility, their cover art, their lyric sheets, the listening ceremony or the hunt-and-kill of building a collection – all of which are sound reasons to look past a somewhat inconvenient truth that, in this entry-level instance, the sound of vinyl isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Further information: Rega | KORG

TL;DR? The above might take several passes to absorb fully. Here’s a dumbed-down summary:

The mainstream press raves endlessly about the warmth and richness of vinyl. Their implication is that vinyl sounds better than any digital format at every level, even the entry level. The mainstream buyer reads this and says, “Hey, I need to get me some of this!”. He scopes out a new turntable at the entry level and pushes his budget to the absolute maximum and buys an RP1. Audio nirvana is just around the corner? Except it isn’t. With record after record, the RP1 sounds rolled off in the top end, lacks separation and overall resolution, even when compared to a 320kbps Spotify stream. Don’t just take my word for it, have a listen for yourself. The RP1 needle-drops were augmented by the same two slabs of wax digitised by the KORG ADC using a Rega P3/24. Neither does entry-level turntablism hold a candle to higher-end vinyl rigs. This matters not a jot to those in it for the ritual, the collecting and the tangibility. But judged purely from a sonic perspective, buying a budget vinyl setup like a Rega RP1 (or Pro-Ject Debut Carbon) is loaded with the very real risk of disappointment. An inconvenient truth because of the furious debate it will no doubt generate. Yet, this is hifi, not climate change.

Footnote 1: Occasionally we also see ‘organic’ and ‘authentic’.

Footnote 2: Used records can be less expensive but, like used hardware, supply levels vary with time and place.

Footnote 3: At time of writing, Australians have it unusually good. One can score a brand new RP1 for around AU$400 (~US$300) down under right now.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Agreed. But here’s a suggestion for further experimenting (and enjoyment).
    Say, you already have a system capable of moving you ‘past digital’ with vinyl-listening. Now, how about instead of ripping those LP’s to digital, you tape them to, say, a ReVox A77? This is the first all-silicon and the last all-discreet model from the Swiss company, not as fancy and pricey as its Studer brethren, but good-sounding enough to be used by the likes of Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd in their more DIY recording sessions. And it can be had for under 1000 USD, with all the tuning included.
    This will not bring you into the realm of tapehead-project master-taping that foregoes some of the limitations of the vinyl format. And still, I suspect, you’ll be surprised.
    (For me personally, the difference, as with the LPs, is not about ‘warmth and richness’, but two other terms, more likely to be found in reviews by seasoned audiophiles, rather than millennial novices: flow and ease. Horizontal vs vertical (measurable) axis, as once put by Ebaen, or ‘syntagmatic vs paradigmatic’, as put by semioticians; and music, unlike sound, is a semiotic system after all.)

    • I did just that with a A77 half track, having a great Ortofon low output moving coil on a quirky Harmon Kardon ST-8 liner tracking nightmare back in 1979. Bought the vinyl, fought to get it to tape and used tape as my medium for a decade+. Now that I have MUCH better tables, the Revox is gone and my LPs are in great shape, decades later. If I recall, I dropped the HK out of a service window down a shaft.

      • my A77 has many improvements over the original 70s version, including quarz-controlled circuit that further improves speed stability. And I am using London Decca Super Gold cartridge renowned not only for its dynamics but also speed. Now, speed matters. This is my main point. The crucial difference between analogue and digital, as far as I can tell, is not in the ‘vertical’ frequency domain (bandwidth, resolution, etc) but in the ‘horizontal’ time domain. Digital may be better in extracting individual sounds. Putting them into motion while keeping them in concert is a different matter.

        • to illustrate my point with some exaggeration, think of the difference between a tv news-presenter and an actor. Both are reproducing someone else’s texts. The former excels in diction, sounding impeccable. The latter’s diction may be flawed – even on purpose sometimes – but there is an extra in her delivery. Where does this extra come from?
          linguists and semioticians will tell you that ‘good diction’ is about combining different sounds perfectly at the same time, so that a t is not confused with a d, for example. But the extra of actor’s delivery comes from how she handles transitions from one letter (already a combination of sounds) to the next; and further, from one word to the next, from one sentence to the next; that is, it is all about timing.
          furthermore, the more complex the system (in this case the utterance) is the more play/freedom there is as you move from a single letter to complex sentence. A small variation in producing a t results in a dialect or an accent. A change in the delivery of words or sentences gives you that true ‘liveliness’ that separates great actors from poor ones and cannot be measured and put into a DR database with which everyone is so obsessed these days. And so it is with music. Many musicians can hit a cool note or even a chord. But their true greatness is measured in riffs at the very least. In phrasing, not diction. And phrasing is about timing, not bandwidth, resolution or even dynamics…
          Now, there is something about turntables and reel-to-reel machines that, in spite of all their imperfections, handles phrasing better. At least better than most of the ‘affordable’ digital equipment I heard. Perhaps, there are DACs with stratospheric price-tags that do it even better. But that’s the point: there are R2R decks around that do not cost fortune and still do it well. That is, of course, if you are fine with all the ritualistic hassle that comes with them (not to mention the current tape prices). And yes, as Radiohead make clear with the special edition of their latest album, tape tends to deteriorate over time, and so do the LPs. But then so do we. Timing again 🙂

  2. You are right on the money, John.

    The vinyl’s warmth and richness is nothing else but reverberations, hiss and artificial harmonics created by the friction of a needle inside a groove and vibrations in the environment. You can even hear your voice transmitted by the cartridge and amplified by your audio system. Add to that skips and crackling caused by even the slightest record wear-and-tear and you’ve got a real richness of sound.

    On top of that, you have to constantly replace your cartridge, clean your records and adjust the speed of your turntable.

    Thanks for the richness. But… no, thanks.

  3. I can’t view the Korg as a serious phono pre amp since I see no critical reviews of it as a phono pre amp by anyone. At the same price you can get a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+… I have one and it sounds terrific with same cartridge you were testing. In my listening experience the phono pre is critical and the place where most LP playback systems fail. I grant you that the Rega is a so so turntable… the AR turntable of the 1960’s slaughters it handily for low bass and dynamics. Now would be the time for “the AR” to be reintroduced and bury all the sub $1000 turntables.

    • Maybe the AR is better (or maybe it isn’t) but it’s not available in the here and now (and in stable supply) for us to know for sure.

  4. Yeah, a really good vinyl sound starts at turntable + cartridge + preamp = $3000-$4000 (I think closer to the upper end). And I don’t think that sounds better than a proper digital setup – player + DAC – at that price. At the lower – medium end no doubt vinyl sounds better.

  5. John,

    Thanks for this courageous, sensible, and perhaps unpopular view of the vinyl resurgence.

    There are a handful of people out there acquiring (from where?) and playing high quality (?) analog tapes for use in reel-to-reels. I find it easier to imagine they are onto something special than anyone using even the most expensive turntables, tone arms and cartridges.

  6. thank you for a very inspiring piece. while I would largely agree with the your conclusion, i would like to offer up an alternate perspective to entry level vinyl and it’s relationship with Joe/Jane music lovers.

    In my experience, for many, fidelity to source is often not the end game, but rather something a lot more subjective — even more so that “subjective audio reviews, and it is emotional fulfillment.

    Experientially, it goes further than its “warm sound” but a rather an almost wabi sabi like affinity to imperfection and “authenticity”, something that might not make any rational sense to an audiophile and something that could easily be dismissed as hipsterism, but it’s not.

    This perspective is often shared by musicians, people such as Olafur Arnald’s – whose Chopin Project featured closely miked mechanical artifacts which a performer might hear but overlooked by the audience, – or Nils Frahm. And for many music lovers, the low yet pleasant fidelity of entry level vinyl (and valves, for that matter) is exactly what they are after to increase their connection to music.

    very much the every-person’s version of the single drivers, SET valves of audiophila.

    Incidentally, these music lovers have more in common to the flat earth audio movement of the 80s as espoused by Ivor T. and Julian Vereker, whereby fidelity to musicanship, rhythmic coherence and temporal righteousness are valued over fidelity to sonic attributes (tonality, timbre) or aesthetic visual attributes (soundstage, spatial) and detail oriented approaches.

    Stephen Mejias also touched on another facet of audio consumerism in an article he wrote for Stereophile in regards to the unfathomable popularity of Beats audio. in the said article he suggested that, very much like Bose in the 80s, consumers buy into the myth of Beats because it is a short hand for someone who cares about music. In a lot of ways, that line of thinking also applies current non-audiophile revival of vinyl.

  7. Might it be that vinyl has no pre- and post-ringing issues that make it so popular compared to digital audio via DAC..?

    • Peter – nope. And I politely request that you leave any MQA talk at the door for this post’s comments section.

      • MQA sounds warmer and richer than standard digital. So this is something that both analogue and MQA share…

          • I don’t defend the RP1 because I’ve not heard it or set one up with a decent cartridge. Good anything beats bad anything. However, in my experience decent analog beats just about any digital in the ways that analog is inherently superior. And THAT is why young people even with mediocre set ups are digging it. It is a completely different sonic experience.

  8. Maybe I’m missing the intent here but if the purpose was to test the assertion that vinyl sounds better than digital, why would you convert the vinyl source to a digital file before the listening test? The actual act of converting the vinyl source to digital would theoretically compromise the comparison.

    • “The actual act of converting the vinyl source to digital would theoretically compromise the comparison.” <--- In reality, no. Even if it did, it'd be less than one percent and certainly no way near the magnitude of shortcomings we hear in these vinyl rips. It's why I included the P3/24 rips in the .zip.

  9. Great write-up. “…has me wondering about vinyl’s ‘richness’ being a more polite way of saying “lacks resolution”.” I’ve come to the same conclusion, but I will say two things to that: 1. it matters, IMO, if you are comparing music that is from the pre-digital mixing era (i.e. pre-1983?) and 2. you *do* get used to the vinyl sound and then switching back does sound cold/lifeless, even it’s just lack of resolution.

    I have a vinyl collection from my youth that is mostly pre-digital, with some new releases mixed in. IN particular, I have some original issue discs that I then re-purchased as newly released/re-mastered vinyl (likely for the corresponding high-res release, as well) – the differences are significant and I find myself favoring the original issue’s sound. YMMV.

    • that is the whole point! Thank you for clarifying that mixing and mastering today is mostly rubbish…

      • vinyl has far higher resolution than any digital format. No sampling no digital filters no time domain jitter issues. Not perfect, but in the ways that it is better, it is much better as every fair comparison demonstrates to even the greatest skeptics. I played a Beethoven violin concerto to a digital recording engineer. Afterwards he said “We can’t do that yet”.

        • Unless, of course, the mixing/mastering was done on a digital console prior cutting lacquers. That was my whole point about pre/post-digital era vinyl pressings. You should try this, yourself. I have original issue albums, in great condition, from a number of artists that have since been re-issued on modern vinyl. In all cases, there are matching high-res tracks released on places like HDTracks. I also have early 80s Japanese high-quality pressings of things like the entire Led Zeppelin catalog. You can’t believe the difference between those and the high-res digital releases and/or their vinyl counter-parts. I like both, to be honest, but the differences are not subtle.

  10. Nice article.

    A while back, a noted vinyl fanatic and blogger posted a set of vinyl rips made with different phono cartridges to give insight to his readers on the performance of said cartridges. He used a very expensive turntable, and none of the cartridges were cheap either. The download files were the actual WAVs produced in the rips. The particular track used was picked for its good dynamic range and variety of musical sounds. Indeed, one could hear differences in the files, some sounding better and others worse. But this listener found that the very best sounding version of the track in question was… wait for it… wait for it… the 320 kbps Spotify one I pulled up for comparison. The Spotify version was livelier, more dynamic, and just plain more fun to listen to. Any distortion caused by Spotify’s data compression was overshadowed by the dull, humdrum sound of every one of the vinyl rips (vinyl “warmth”?). The writer had suggested purchasing the digital download version for $0.99 to complete the comparison, but with the obvious superiority of the Spotify version I declined that option. And by then I was really sick of the cut.

  11. Why would you to this level of effort to compare sound from such a low end turntable? You should have used something like an RP 3.

      • I read it quite well. You compared top end digital files to a low end turntable.
        Every vinyl fan will see this and dismiss the article and they should.

        • What are top end files? I compared the CD rip with the vinyl – same master. I then shared that vinyl as a rip so people could get a taste of what I’m hearing. If you’re already a vinyl fan, this article is possibly surplus to your needs and interests. You’ve more than likely moved up to a better turntable. If you haven’t, or you’re thinking about buying an entry level table, then I’d say this piece has some relevance to that decision.

          Most of all, my listening to the Rega RP1 dispels the notion that all vinyl is awesome, always – a message endlessly propagated by the mainstream press.

  12. I listen to both cd’s and vinyl, and in general I prefer the sound of vinyl. My system includes a peachtree nova125se, oppo bdp103, and a music hall mmf2.2. Speakers are Wharfedale Diamond 220’s. In general vinyl playback in my system has more proverbial warmth, and body, while suffering from less glare and loudness. I can turn up the volume louder without harshness when i listen to records. In short, vinyl is just more pleasing and less fatiguing on my ears. I should also mention that 99% of my vinyl records are fully analog remasters; lots of jazz, Beatles in mono, and a few metal records.

  13. Of course a big part of the Vinyl fun is that different turntable setups sound different. It is not like an eq, but very different: sound “pressure”, separation of tones, focus, atmosphere, all that is different between different high quality TTs. And one cannot deny that it is much more difficult to get a good TT than just buy a Chord Hugo and a Macbook. But it can prove more rewarding. It is not only the enormous quantity of discs you collect and that you can handle with, but it sounds different. If you are not looking for entry level stuff, but are willing to pay about the same amount you paid for your above mentioned digital frontend, you should go the vintage path: old LP12, good tonearm, Music Maker cartridge and you have a system that really can sound a tad warm, but can also show you how musicians act together and you will be able to understand the concept of rhythm as the pulse of music. Does the LP12 cheat a little? Yes, I think so but I am no mixing engineer. I sit at home and enjoy music and to my mind the complete experience is to get a new record from your record store, talk to the guys there about music, go home, clean (yes you must!) your records, look at the covers and listen to the first album. It can slow you down mentally to see the tonearm move on the record. Given that you have big loudspeakers, you can float on music. A fat headphone can be nearly as good, but for the complete immersion you need big speakers and no RP1. Which is good as a gateway drug, but sooner or later you might want more details and a cleaner sound and then the vicious circle starts. Good Vinyl playback is not warm per se, you can make it that way if you like. The more you listen, the less “warmth” you want and the more sweetness, crispness, rich tone and heaps of details you want. That’s what a good setup gives you and it really is different from most digital, but it is only a matter of taste. Ah – a Vinyl rip normally can’t be compared 100% to a CD. Often you lose something on the way if you rip a file from a record. It really helps if you edit your rips: little bit of click removal, very gentle limiting and some eq can make your Vinyl rips sound beautiful. Yes, yes, that may not be super hifi esoteric when you are not true to the original edit of a recording, but a little seasoning of your aural food can help.
    Vinyl is great when you have friends there for an evening: show them your record collection, enjoy and maybe dance a little. If an old record has a history (been to dozends of parties when I was 16 or so) one can swing back in time. Not so easy with a digital copy of “Everybody to the sun” if you don’t use Traktor. Ok, a crackling string quartet is nerve wrecking, so there is room for digital as there is room for everything. But I do not believe that any of both mediums is better in terms of sound quality. A Rockna DAC is a marvel in terms of sound quality, as well as my old Goldmund turntable. To achieve the sound quality of the TT, digital has to be very, very expensive. So since I can only afford one high quality source, I go for the Vinyl and the associated fun.
    (If you publish the reply, please please correct my worst errors in grammar and spelling. Thank you)

  14. Johnny, Johnny Johnny//Ha ha ha …. fine.

    Enjoy your digits.

    All of you!

    Enjoy you SEEEDEEES. Although you know, most people don’t listen to them. Research shows that they mostly use them for target practice (blah blah blah).

    CDs are going away. Vinyl grows. You don’t understand why, so you feel the need to explain it using this one record? Really?

    Quoting ignorant sources who don’t really know how best to explain vinyl’s allure and who are left to say “rich and warm” is really pathetic.

    Vinyl shouldn’t sound “warm” and it doesn’t unless you use a warm sounding cartridge and/or a warm sounding phono preamplifier. Bright recordings should sound so on vinyl and do (etc.).

    You are welcome to listen to any of my YouTube vinyl rips that make CDs sound awful as they have always sounded. Yes my analog front end is costly but you are writing about “vinyl” in the aggregate so I urge you to check out my videos, with 96/24 rips via a Lynx HiLo. Yes YouTube dumbs them down but the essence still comes through as the comments demonstrate.

    ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.

    CD sound sucks and always has. Worse than the sound is how it makes people “feel”. I realize that doesn’t compute for measurement freaks, but the brain knows what’s wrong with digital, especially with CDs and lower resolution formats that completely mess up the timing).

    Phase shifting filters produce panic in the brain, which is why people don’t really sit down and LISTEN to digital for very long before finding something else to do…whereas with vinyl playback, people find they can sit and listen and listen, which they do.

    That better explains the resurgence than any of your picayune observations…You miss what’s going on.

    That’s fine! Enjoy your digits and those of us who prefer vinyl will enjoy our records.

    We don’t care what you write or think about this.

    We are winning.

    And we don’t care about the hysterical negative comments sure to follow this. Trust me: we don’t care….and you’d be surprised who’s on this vinyl bandwagon….people with tech knowledge equal to or surpassing yours John…

    • Mikey – nice to hear from you.

      If you don’t care what I write, why respond? And why make it personal (with insults)?

      What is “my” technology exactly? I don’t profess being wedded to any particular tech. My message is one of pragmatism, not idealism. Anything else would make me look like a zealot.

      You KNOW I love vinyl. We’ve even spoken about it over dinner, have we not? Remember my enthusiasm for Japanese Bowie pressings in Las Vegas? That’s a photo of my record collection as it currently stands at the top of the article. One of those records – actually TWO – were used here for illustrative purposes only.

      Of course I have played far more records on the RP1 than those specified in the piece. Alas, every single one fails to cut it with layer separation and resolution when compared to the equivalent digital file. That’s the way I hear it.

      However, I am not saying (or even implying) that digital is the be all and end all. Merely showing here how the mainstream press endlessly promotes vinyl with a positive spin (and zero analysis of its shortcomings) and in doing so lays a bear trap for the vinyl newcomer expecting some form of audio nirvana from an *ENTRY-LEVEL* table.

      “We are winning.” Say what now? I just don’t see this battle/war (to which you allude). What I do see is the potential for disappointment with this entry-level table if purchased on the back of exposure to endless positive press about the vinyl revival.

      And as mentioned in the closing remarks, I acknowledge that spending more on a ‘table brings a LOT more performance to the (err) table. No doubt you use better gear for your needle-drops than an RP1? Care to tell us what vinyl newcomers should be spending their cash on?

      PS “ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.” <--- and yes, I agree with you on this but the RP1's shortcoming are more pronounced to my ears than can be counterbalanced by superior time domain performance.

      • Gotta say my experiences mirrors yours on this one. I bought an Rega rP3 last year and sold it after two months because it left me bemused as to what all the fuss about vinyl was about.Certainly wasn’t worth the expense for me.

    • Michael I think you might be way out of touch, and also missed the point. I believe if you purchased a $500 turntable and a $500 CD player and then had to sell one, you would sell the turntable. If your budget was $5k however, it might be a different story.

      I sell hifi for a living. I can’t tell you the number of customers who come in for a different reason but ask to listen to the higher-end turntable setup. They often have an entry-level table and some digital gear. The first thing that happens is they sport a huge grin on their face. Then they ask “where are all the pops and clicks?”. Then they shake their head. They suddenly ‘get it’. They realise the potential. Then one of two things happen; they sell their cheap turntable and realise they’ll never afford to get there and are content with their digital setup, or will start their savings plan. Vinyl can sound better (or not), but there are no guarantees.

      I’ll also mention that out of every 100 customers, I might come across 1 that has a purely analog system. The other 99 will enjoy and appreciate both mediums for their respective merits, as do I. I appreciate John’s ‘live and let live’ attitude. Your ‘us vs them’ attitude doesn’t resonate well with me and your insults somewhat cheapen your pro-vinyl message imo.

    • sigh… how can a writer such as yourself (MF) be such a poor reader and completely miss the point of the piece?

      and then to shit from on high at a colleague? Wtf…

      I just hope that you are a troll and not really stereophile’s fremer… sigh…

      disappointment not hysteria is what this reader is feeling atm.

    • Mr Fremer, anyone would think you invented vinyl the way you carry on here. Your comment reads like that of a spoilt child throwing a tantrum…hats off to John for not reacting to your shameful attempts to denigrate his opinion…

  15. Vinyl’s shortcomings are well documented. As are digital’s. By doing a digital rip of a vinyl album, you’ve saddled that sample with the shortcomings of both. Consider the lengths we digital audiophiles go to to increase sampling frequency, decrease jitter, and mitigate other problems with digital playback. Maybe some people prefer vinyl because it has none of these problems? Maybe “warm and rich” really means “non-fatiguing”? I personally prefer the convenience of digital to the incredible PITA of maintaining a vinyl rig, but I can certainly understand its appeal.

      • That’s not at all what I said. I said “vinyl’s shortcomings are well documented.” I also said that a vinyl rig is a pain in the ass to maintain. In other words, there are lots of things (on top of the well documented technical shortcomings) that can go wrong that make is sound even worse. Darko has pointed out correctly that an entry level turntable isn’t going to lead to instant audio nirvana, and I’ll add that it’s going to sound even worse if the owner has no idea how to set it up and maintain it. However, if the point was to compare the sound of the two media, it’s an utterly flawed experiment design, because the vinyl rip includes the flaws of both media. The only way to do a fair comparison would be to listen in person to a completely analog vinyl playback vs. a playback on a digital system of the same cost. And here’s the kicker: the only opinion that matters is the individual buyer. There doesn’t need to be a consensus. Each person has things that that they like and don’t like (and some of those things don’t manifest themselves in a short listening test).

        • What about this though: is the reason the RP1 rips sounds so murky because of their digitisation?

  16. It simply makes Zero sense to digitally convert an LP. zero. You have introduced all kinds of new variables, such as the type of AtoD conversion, and subsequent dtoA conversion.

    This was a rambling article with no real point.

    If the point was that digital sounds better than analog (yawn)… Well, it’s simply not true. I can tell you that there’s no real competition on my Kondo system. And I have a nice PSA Directstream DAC. Only LPs (or tape) makes you feel like the performer is in the room. There’s no real competition.

    Maybe you have to spend more with analog to get this… Now that would be a good article!

    • Per the article, the ADC was introduced to show how the RP1 sounds for anyone curious enough to download the needle-drops. If you don’t see the point so far, allow me to sharpen it: the mainstream press endlessly promotes vinyl with a positive spin (and zero analysis of its shortcomings) and in doing so lays a bear trap for the vinyl newcomer expecting some form of audio nirvana from an *ENTRY-LEVEL* table.

  17. I (46 y/o) was Vinyl before Vinyl was cool — or cool again. Back in the day new releases were $10 or so. At $25 or more nowadays I can hardly do it. Is analog better than digital or vice verse? Who Cares? I’m an Analog man in a Digital world.

  18. Is the mainstream press doing a disservice by talking up vinyl/entry level decks- sure….maybe?. There is engagement there and some sort of traction that cannot be ignored. Its not all about SQ altho that is one of the talking points.

    I see it in my non-audiophile music loving friends. They have invested in ELAC’s and Sprouts and Project Debuts. They are having fun.

    You are probably right that dollar for dollar you get more on the digital side particularly on the low end. The funny thing is try to get them to spend 20 on Tidal is much much harder- we are being subscriptioned- to death right now. The de-bundling of TV, Netflix, Prime, etc, everyone wants their monthly.

    Also the idea of buying a DAC is somewhat foreign to my friends doing the vinyl thing. Perhaps its no wonder the vinyl sounds better than the crappy mp3 they have on their macbook.

    So is it so hard to see the backlash as being I want some tangible objects in my life again that I won’t have to pay for every month? Books, records, they all have a life in them.

    I spent some enjoyable time this afternoon listening and comparing this is what I heard;

    As far as comparing digital sources to vinyl I think all I can say that is “comfortable” and “true” to me is that different sources sound different. The differences are there obviously and yes in this case large enough to matter. But throw another disc on the “bar-bee” and the conclusion might be different I’d wager. That has been my experience. In the absence of the other each had its merits. Now compare Apple Music for example and Tidal Hifi- and I can’t even-. This was not nearly as bad as that.

    I do these kinds of comparisons for myself often because Tidal streams most of what I have on vinyl. My feeling is that on my setup (Halide DAC vs. RP3/10×5/Mani) into Almarro SET/ZuSoulSup in many cases the vinyl has more boogie in many cases. (the self selection of my albums that I have bought precisely bc I think how they sound )

    I think that IS the coloration of vinyl and for some reason the presence/weight of the sound. Other people with good ears have also heard the system and corroborated the conclusion. HOWEVER- different sources sound different. Sometimes the Tidal is really better. Especially on the bleeps and bloops (I can’t compare the AT because Tidal is not streaming it yet here. Pity bc its much more to my liking)

    How that is attributed- I have no idea. The variables are endless. In this case you have two good known sources but in the “real world” the streaming can be from a poor source and the vinyl better or vice versa. Its a crap shoot.

    And I think that is the takeaway, YMMV.

  19. Hey John, legitimate question here. How about Dynamic Range. I heard the biggest thing about going vinyl is that it has better dynamic range compared to other formats due to the needle needing not being able to hand huge loudness spike like you can digitally. I’ve heard things like about the loudness war, that was started when CDs became popular, and that it made recordings of lesser quality and it has just been a trend ever since then to artificially raise the “loudness” of a recording in favor of dynamic range of a recording. There are sites like these which have dynamic range measurements for all different types of formats for any given song:
    Also the Wirecutter/Reference Home Theater writer Chris Heinonen writes about it in his best turntable piece, under the sub-heading “Why buy a turntable?”
    So does the loudness war and dynamic range really have that much of an impact on digital reordings and other formats non-analog? Or is it overhyped?

    Thanks very much, I enjoy many of your articles.

  20. Digital and analog have their own strengths and weaknesses. You touched on it a bit in the article but, frankly, I don’t think you get it. I have a mono mint copy of Billie Holiday’s Body and Soul. I have a high rez download (24/96) of the same album. Side by side, there is no comparison. OK, yes there is. The digital is quieter. More dynamics? Maybe, but this is an old recording. My LP is over 40 years old and mint. It just sounds more right, more real. I don’t agree with your comparison methods, even though I rip much of my vinyl to 24/192 digital using a 5K A/D converter. It gets close, close enough for most of the time and with an Aurender server, no comparison in convenience. However your attitude, your methodology, make me feel that reading anything you write would be a waste of time from my perspective. And I have some freaking great digital that I love listening to! But, I don’t think you get it. The fact that millennials are willing to listen to garbage really doesn’t matter to me. And many aren’t, once they hear “good”.

    • You probably think I don’t get ‘it’ because this piece isn’t about digital vs. analogue. It’s about the mainstream press and their endless favourable coverage of vinyl with nary a mention possible shortcomings with entry-level hardware choices – shortcomings that I have uncovered here.

      And of course, I can’t possibly speak to every reader. And that may well mean you don’t connect with my perspective or train of thought. Or my taste in music – Billie Holiday really isn’t my bag or DAR’s musical angle but it could be that you are not comparing apples with apples – the digital BH files will surely have been remastered; or are they the same master as your mint mono record?

      I appreciate you giving the article a shot though and providing feedback with your comment.

    • Great comment. People need to hear and then it’s all over for whatever reasons. You have written something powerful and truthful and more and more people are “getting” it, which is why record sales grow. This drives crazy those people who don’t get it or who haven’t experienced it, so they come up with wild theories about kids buying records to hang on the wall or they take apart the experience into tiny pieces as John does, and prove point by point that digital is superior but they are missing the forest for the trees. I have received hundreds of thank yous from readers who took the chance and bought a turntable either for the first time or after giving up vinyl for years. I’m telling you I’ve not gotten a single complaint but only thank you’s….well not exactly true. One guy bought his first turntable and now he’s on his fifth and his collection has swelled to 5000 records. He says he hates me…and loves me too!

      • Michael thank you for the patience and forbearance in fighting this fight here.

        I’ve the feeling many here would have been touting digital’s “superiority” in the darkest days of Perfect Sound Forever. The BS numbers and stories have always been there for people who need that to enjoy their music, whether it’s dynamic range, S/N ratio, bandwidth, or whatever else someone is smoking in their digital pipe at the moment. Digital of course does everything it’s supposed to do for me, except provide emotional satisfaction consistently.

        These manufactured melodramas about what sounds better reminds me of the story of the engineer who had such a laugh back in the day pointing out there are no such things as “audiophile 1s and 0s” long before jitter and digital’s other shortcomings were measured and quantified.

        How many new forms of remastering (anyone want to buy some old “super bitmapped” CDs, along with some swamp land in Florida?) , and new formats will it take before digital finally is finally as perfect as these people have always said that it is? SACD and DVD-A. High-res downloads, DSD downloads, Double DSD, Quad DSD and of course now MQA. One of these days they’ll really get it!! And yet every time it’s soon much better sound than what was already allegedly perfect.

        In the meantime, I can pull and play LPs made before I was born (in 1970) and forget all of this crap and just follow the goosebumps. Next time anyone feels like revisiting this “argument” for the sake of someone’s page views, pull an early 80s CD and then listen to any AAA LP of the same release. Tell me how much you love the listening to the S/N, the wide dynamics and how quiet it is … because according to the numbers even those awful early CDs were “technically superior.” And then remember that’s what Perfect digital sounds like. Til the next format. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the one … you get it.

        • Thanks for the joining the discussion, Shane.

          I’ll assume you’ve read the article, as well as the summary post-script, and by now know that my point swirls around an entry-level turntable and how its audible performance might not be consistent with the hooplah generated by the mainstream press’ coverage of vinyl’s superiority? You likely also read that I acknowledge that the whilst the RP1 isn’t all turntables, I find its ‘sound’ rather typical of other entry-level ‘tables, much like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with which I generated needledrops a year ago? And that I also acknowledge that spending several thousand bucks on a vinyl setup gets you a much better result. I’m willing to bet that’s what you use to get your ‘goosebumps’? Care to detail your setup for readers?

          An AAA of the same release? OK sure, I’m keen. Can you please tell me where I might source AAA copies of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver and Four Tet’s Pink? Oh, also Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and The Arctic Monkeys’ AM? While we’re at it, I’d love an AAA copy of Tom Waits’ Bad As Me.

          If you’re not sure on sources for those, how about listing some AAA records that a regular mainstreamer might listen to? Someone who’s not aware of the audio show circuit and its rather niche music diet.

          Oh – as for page views, the Schiit Audio Multibit Modi DAC news piece that followed this one has so far generated more traffic.

  21. this is a good article. I am amused by the replies…especially Mikey’s. To me there is no conversation- s/n, dynamic range, singer in your room, separation, and convenience. I traded what I considered a good entry table- $3,000 Sota back in the early ’90’s in for a new Madrigal Proceed. dumped my japanese pressing and signed on to cds. 25 years later… bought a michel technodec and a Basis 1400…thinking I was missing something based on all the news articles. I still have the vintage madrigal proceed, a theta transport and dac and a rega apollo. What do I use??? I listen to my ipod throught a wadia dock and power dac. I have $800 worth of record cleaning equipment and cartidge alignment equipment. To think I could have had a mojo. To really spend your time listening to music…digital wins on so many levels. To activily engage in the ritual of music…go ahead…buy the new rega planar 3.

    • So you think analog technology stopped improving in the early ’90s? When CDs were UNLISTENABLE? That is silly on both fronts.

      Listen I just wrote the cover story for the current Stereophile. It’s of the latest Sim Moon streaming 850D DAC. And it’s damn good, and I don’t write disparagingly of it but NO ONE who visited here thought it bettered my vinyl playback.

      I let people choose the material–any record versus any CD or hi-rez file and the record always wins—better bass, and yes, subjectively wider dynamic range. Japanese pressings? They sucked! Most were mastered using an 8 bit DDL line instead of a preview head. You didn’t know that?

      I travel around the world visiting people—well off, sophisticated, technologically sophisticated people and they all prefer vinyl. And that includes guys who work for the chip makers.

      Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get an email from a new convert thanking me for my advocacy of vinyl. These are both youngsters (10-15) or older guys who got rid of their records for CDs and are now happily back.

      Go to hi fi shows and you’ll hear my vinyl rips all over the place but never advertised as being vinyl rips….

      I was in Munich in a Harman room with one of their chief engineers. He played an SACD of an Oscar Peterson album. I had the same album digitized at 96/24. Both the LP and SACD were mastered simultaneously from the same tape.

      There wasn’t a person in the room who thought the SACD sounded better or even nearly as good as the 96/24 vinyl rip. The engineer said “I’m not at all surprised”.

      So tommys, enjoy your digital! I never write stories like John’s about the “inconvenient truth about digital”. Both co-exist in today’s open source world. But were you to visit here you’d never leave thinking digital sounds better or more satisfying. No way.

      I met backstage Andrew Litton, the former conductor of the Dallas Symphony. He told me he was a turntable guy. I know others who aren’t. Different strokes pal, but digital does not “win”.

      The reasons why vinyl is resurgent have nothing to do with “hipsterism” etc. That is just bitter ridiculousness. The reasons have to do with long term musical satisfaction.

      I can sit for hours (and do) listening to records long into the night but I cannot do that with digital. I don’t mean hearing music while reading a book or doing other stuff. I mean lights out super-concentrated listening. I get ten or fifteen minutes in, and my brain says “do something else”. Not so with records.

      That’s the experience I have and what I hear. John and you are free to enjoy your digits. I don’t call you misguided or wrong or whatever, and i don’t appreciate being on the receiving end of it because it’s ridiculous.

      • What are you “on the receiving of”, Michael? Why play so wounded? 😉 I have been nothing but courteous and polite to you despite the many veiled (and not so veiled) insults you have lobbed my way in previous comments here and on DAR’s Facebook page.

        The issue at hand is not me, it’s the Rega RP1 and how it has the potential to lead the vinyl newcomer to some level of disappointment. Entry-level hardware is the focus of this piece. But I doubt very much that you use an entry-level table for the rips you use to audition gear at shows. And as mentioned in the closing of this piece and on DAR’s Facebook page, I got spectacular results from a Pro-Ject Xtension 10.

        Would you kindly share what hardware you used to create your vinyl rips that wowed the Harmon room in Munich?

  22. Sounds like something went wrong with your turntable set up John. Entry level decks can sound great. Heck I listened to a friends old JVC stack system’s deck the other day and it sounded fab, way better than 90% of the digital I heard a high end audio show recently.

    • Nothing wrong with the setup and why I also made mention of, and ripped from, the P3/24 rig.

      • As both turntables sound bad then it must be a problem with the ADC or conversion to FLAC process. Perhaps you could redo the vinyl rip at 16/44 or use a different ADC?

        • But here’s the thing. It ISN’T the ADC at fault here. The rips are WHOLLY (like 99.9%) representative of what I hear with the RP1 played back through an analogue phono stage.

          • The other two possibilities are either the vinyl version is a poor master or the fact that you have the digital source connected to the amp at the same time is somehow adversely affecting the vinyl playback.

          • How likely do you think it is that a different master of such low quality was used to press the vinyl of BOTH records here – one in 2016 and one in 1991. I’d suggest almost impossible. Given that I find the needledrop played through a DAC to sound exceedingly close to the RP1 played through an analogue phono stage, I’m certain it’s not the ADC. And as mentioned in the post, these needledrops are rather typical of what I hear from a range of records played on the RP1.

  23. John, although what you are saying is true… you really do come across as arrogant in this article. In a “Hey look how dumb the mainstream masses are” kind of way. Still enjoy the reviews and the subjects of your reviews though 🙂

    • Not at all! I’m not pointing fingers but trying to show not all vinyl rigs will meet with the expectations driven north by the mainstream press — that there are some substantial audible sacrifices to be made when investing in an entry-level TT. Does the TL;DR at the end of the post not read that way to you?

      • I don’t have a horse in this race, as I enjoy both digital and vinyl. The first TT I bought less than a year ago was the Audio Technica LP60 based on very positive reviews on cnet. Well, it sounded plain awful and I almost gave up on the experiment. I decided to try again, and as I mentioned in a prior comment, I bought a Music Hall Mmf2.2. I bought it for $299, but before the price drop it was in the same price range as the rp1. I’m also using a music hall preamp. I’ve been very happy with this setup as it fulfilled what I was looking for from vinyl, which is listening to recordings that aren’t brick walled by DRC. To me DRC is digital’s biggest evil. I have many cd’s that are wonderfully mastered, so I know it’s possible to make great sounding digital.

  24. Wow on the comments.
    MF went off the reservation a bit. It’s ironic too, as even he, the CD hater, likes a lot of hi-res digital releases and writes about how good they can sound (see his recent review of the Simaudio 780).
    So it’s not about vinyl vs digital.
    Don’t worry, John. You wrote very clearly. Some people just want to hear certain things, so they make your article about all sorts of things it wasn’t, and then argue with you about it.
    I’m not really sure why anyone – even MF – would see the need to argue with a piece pointing out that decent digital sounds better than crappy analog (vinyl) and especially better than turntables that output mp3.

  25. Sitting here yet again comparing vinyl and digital…. Same recording on CD and Vinyl. All good quality equipment…. Yep the vinyl sounds warmer and soupier and I tend to turn it up to get more energy into the playback. The CD has a wider sound stage and sounds more detailed and dynamic and I tend to turn it down because the loud passages explode in my living room… Yes more dynamic range…. So I warm to the vinyl but I have become a digital junkie.. I think maybe Mojo has brought me here…..

      • Ah, well do I know my Thorens TD160 turntable, SME tone arm with Sure V15 MkIV cartridge is a little dated as a combination, but they were certainly well above average in thier time and the setup has been well maintained by me and with help from a good quality substitute elliptical stylus. In short, my hearing may not be quite what it was, but I don’t think the player has deteriorated horribly and I suspect it still sounds better than many of the average players sold today! In fact it sounds quite good, but I stand by my statement that the sound from my digital set up is more involving and dynamic. How do I know this? It simply makes me smile more often!

  26. John, I always find your pieces entertaining and find the comments to be just as entertaining. I am reminded of the saying that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” and think that Australia could be included in that too! I have no difficulty in getting the gist of your piece but am amused by you having to tell various commentators to re-read the article so they can understand where you are coming from. It seems that their initial comprehension of your piece is something they made up in their own minds as they were reading! Cheers!

    • I’ve no problem with my people disagreeing with my opinion as long as they understand what it is I am saying. I added a TL;DR to the end of the post to make it harder for folk to infer their own narrative. :/

  27. yep…current day “inexpensive” tables matched with crappy phono stages are likely to disappoint and thats something that should be pointed out more often. But my take on the mainstream press is that they rarely do a lot of independent thinking and rewrite the marketing ads from the audio companies ad nauseam …and ergo all vinyl is great! This attitude has extended to the second hand market and I see a lot of junk turntables going for prices that are unjustifiable based on performance.

  28. I suggest the noob contact his/her favorite reputable electronics online store and see if they have a used or demo pro-ject debut carbon dc and if there’s a 30 day return policy. Listen to it extensively in the trial period. Return it if you’re unhappy. For those with no pro-ject nor return options, consider a technics 1200 from craigslist or ebay. If you don’t like it, the resale value on the technics should get you about what you paid.

    • I will. Eventually. I have Devialet and PS Audio pieces to write first. I might take the rips on a DAP to Hong Kong next week.

      In the meantime, would you care to share what hardware you used to create those rips, Michael?

      • Rips: used Lyra Atlas cartridge, Swedish Analog Technologies arm, Continuum Caliburn turntable on a Minus-K fitted Castellon stand, a Ypsilon MC-16L step up transformer into a Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamplifier into a darTzeel NHB-18NS preamplifier into a Lynx HiLo A/D converter.

        Your readers can also listen to degraded but still remarkably revealing files on the analog planet YouTube channel. These are 96/24 files with video uploaded to YouTube. The comments tell me some of the “goodness” makes it through the compression meat grinder….

        • Thanks – that’s quite the setup you have there!

          Actually, this reminds of another issue. Perhaps you could shed some light on it, Michael, if you have the time/inclination?

          Often touted as one of vinyl’s key advantages at ANY level is its time domain accuracy, which as we know, in the digital space is damaged by digital filters. OK – but what about the many thousands of modern day records that are pressed from digital masters e.g. Bowie Five Years box set? Being digital files, those masters have imperfect time domain accuracy. So is that imperfect time domain accuracy not then simply transferred to the vinyl when pressed, therefore giving us a record that has lost one of the format’s key advantages?

      • if you need someone to assist in navigating HK, feel free to email me, I’m on sabbatical next week.

  29. Hi John, thanks for the article. I totally get it and you are right that you can get a lot more music pleasure and bang for the buck from digital than the vinyl alternative. I am approaching 60, love music and grew up listening to LP’s, back then you could by one for $8 to $12, but for a Sheffield/ MoFi you would have to fork $17-20 quite expensive back then, now worst at $30 for a quality pressing, no returns and hit and miss content per album. The problem was and still is that there is too many variables, expense and aggravation involved with obtaining good sound from vinyl. To start with there can be issues with the pressing, centering, warpage, scratches, etc. and this is just out of the cover, from there the table, rotational speed accuracy, feedback, static, vibration, grounding issues, cartridge type MM or MC and type of phono amp/impedance matching, needle wear/record wear/cleaning and inspection, critical alignments of all types. In summary, it takes lots of money to get it right at least some of the time with ever diminishing returns the more you spend! To me all this fussing takes from the pleasure of sitting down and enjoying good music, which is always compromised. At least digital is more constant with less frustration $. Otherwise spend your money to attend a live concert, because nothing else is the same, no matter how expensive the rig! No wonder arrogant MF is upset, his racket (Analog Planet/seminars on table/cartridge setup) is at stake and that of the megabuck snake oil audio business he represents (Stereophile/TAS). Keep up the good work and continue showing us music lovers, the equipment that will provide the most bang for OUR hard earned buck. Congratulations!!!

    • Ha! I’m winning this war because vinyl sales, turntable sales, and accessory sales continue their growth so I’m not “upset”. I’m not “arrogant” either.

      I just don’t like being attacked. Do you?

      If so here you go:

      You are correct: digital is more “consistent”: consistently bad and not very pleasant to listen to.
      And frozen processed food is also more “consistent”. Always the same, you can count on it! And always bad.

      Calling what I do a racket? “Snake oil”. You’ve gone off the rails.

      So go f…k yourself. Don’t like that, then don’t come here and INSULT me and call what I’ve spent 30 years building a “racket”. Now it’s your turn to call me “unprofessional” for not sitting back and letting you insult me. I’ve dealt many times with assholes like you.

      • …..aaaaaaaaaaaaand with expletives thrown and personal insults being traded we reach the end of this discussion as it stands – this post’s comments section is now CLOSED.

  30. I’m 100% digital (TIDAL or local ALAC) but I’ve heard a few $10,000+ vinyl centric systems at friends’ homes so I get both sides. However, I’m one of those high strung people who let a single pop or click disrupt my listening so I’m sticking with digital.

    I really like these in-depth pieces. They are less formal than Stereophile and Absolute Sound which I think is important and maybe more valuable in my opinion.

    • Better not attend a classical music concert! I had a subscription to Avery Fisher Hall and The New York Philharmonic and guess what? The folks who attend tend to be old so there’s lots of coughing and choking, an occasional stroke. If you concentrate on that, you can never enjoy the music but because what you hear from the stage is so compelling, that stuff is easily tuned out.

      The alternative is staying home and listening to “perfect” sound with no live interruptions. Whatever are the minor and not very often pops and clicks, what’s also there, to my ears, is far more compelling. But each to his own of course.

  31. John – here’s the thing. Everything is relative. The RP1 stinks, it’s barely better (if ANY better) than the Hanpin built “DJ” turntables that audiophiles turn their noses up at. Cheap belt drives are every bit as bad as cheap direct drives, despite what the audio mags that give 5 stars to such tables would have you believe.

    Once you get past the $0.50 Realtek audio chip built into a computer, $200-300 gets you a fairly decent DAC, $800-1200 gets you an excellent DAC, and $2-4K gets you superb sound approaching SOTA. You can certainly spend an order of magnitude beyond that on digital if you want, but you’re way into diminishing returns at that point.

    A $200-300 turntable is still very much bargain basement territory. $800-1200 is where you approach fairly decent, $2-4K will get you a very good table, and $8-12K is where you finally get to that “superb sound” level where you’re going to have to spend WAY more to continue to eke out smaller and smaller performance gains.

    Everything involved with vinyl is far more expensive than digital. The music itself costs more, the tables costs more, and things that don’t even have an equivalent on the digital side like record cleaning machines and such cost a bundle as well if you want a good one.

    If it weren’t for the loudness war, I’d completely wash my hands of it. I don’t care about big artwork or the other touchy feely aspects of vinyl, I’m annoyed by having to wash and vacuum my records, I’m annoyed by stylus cleaning, annoyed that my cartridge is wearing itself out every time I use it, etc etc etc.

    The problem is that at least as of this moment, the loudness war is still alive and well. “Competitive” mastering means junk mastering, and so in many cases, if you want to listen to an album and not have it be instantly exhausting and make you want to turn it off after 10 minutes, it’s the vinyl or nothing.

    • Does that approach not presume the use of different masters for vinyl and digital channels for each album you buy?

      • Oh for sure it does. Not everyone agrees with me, but as far as I’m concerned, a vinyl record cut straight from the standard CD master has no reason to exist. I do my best to find out whether a record has a dedicated master or not before I buy it, and if the label and/or engineers don’t know or can’t say, and it turns out to be identical to the CD, I’ll sell it.

        My record collection is actually relatively small, because I only keep records that have dedicated, dynamic vinyl masters, or are from the pre-digital days like my ’70s Sabbath and ’80s Metallica records.

        • My concern would be that the vast majority of modern pop/rock/alternative/dance/electronic records are pressed from the same digital master that appears in hi-res download stores.

        • vinyl from CDs? Of course that’s not a great way to go, but if the D/A converter in the studio is far superior to what you have at home and the record is well made, it can sound better than the CD. You should sit down and listen to Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night” on CD and on LP cut from CD.

          There’s one thing digital “purists” fail to take into account: when digital recording first began, what did recording studios do first when they heard the sound? Right!

          They bought vacuum tube microphones and vintage vacuum tube compressors and equalizers to warm up the cold sound (microphones generally are not all that linear and A/D converters then and now have many technical and very audible flaws, particularly in the time domain). Now, those tube pieces DEFINITELY have higher levels of noise, and even order distortion than do solid state products that do the same thing, but the end result SOUNDS BETTER to the producers so they make use of them.

          When a mastering engineer produces a CD or a record, he’s EQ-ing to his or the artist’s taste using his own preferred loudspeakers. Unlike video, there are no monitor “standards”.

          So if taking a digital file-regardless of resolution-and cutting it to lacquer and producing a record from it makes it sound more like “live” and subjectively “better”, what is wrong with that?

          It’s not as “accurate”? “Accurate” to what? There’s no standard. In fact if you’ve ever listened to a top shelf DAC like a DCS Vivaldi, you can select among a few digital filters and each produces a different sound! You pick the one you like. Just as the designers of lesser gear do but they don’t offer a choice.

          The people who think digital is “perfect” or “more pure” are really misguided.

          In the end it’s what it sounds like and what you think sounds more convincing of “real” and THAT is a very personal choice….

  32. Great article John.
    Personally, I think it boils down to a discussion of accuracy over appeal. From a technical standpoint, digital has always had the capability to surpass vinyl over all the important metrics, resolution, dynamics, longevity, etc. All things being equal, it can and often does sound more accurate than vinyl. But when it comes down to it, what sounds more “appealing” to us, there is a lot to like about a good vinyl set up. Same sort of arguments as tube versus solid state amplifiers in my mind. I also agree that you typically have to “pay-to-play” to get the best results from the shiny black frisbees. More so than with a comparative digital set up. Any millennial going to a Walmart or Target to by a Crosley record player to spin their disks on is not getting into vinyl for the sake of fidelity.

  33. Interesting article and discussion. As a “newcomer” to the world of hifi, my first purchases were pretty much exactly as described by you: Speakers, a CD-Player, an amplifier with a Phono stage (all “entry-level” equipment) and the obligatory Rega RP1. I never expected “Audio Nirvana”, I just wanted a more enjoyable listening experience than off a bluetooth speaker and was curios to know what vinyl sounds like.

    What can I say? Listening to some of my music from vinyl for the first time, I was blown away. The sound quality was significantly better than anything I had ever heard. Admittedly, today I know that this was not so much because of the RP1, but because of the absolutely inferior DACs I had been using up to this point. The problem was: I didn’t know anything about DACs and their importance in today’s hifi equipment.

    And here’s the point I would like to make: To the average (= “non-audiophile”) music listener, i.e. the person who uses the headphone output of their mobile phone or laptop, the RP1 is a significant sonic upgrade (even though you could probably have a similar upgrade by spending the same amount of money on a better DAC). To me, the RP1 was more than that: It was an “eye-opener” that really taught me how to enjoy music again, and I’m thankful for that – even though in the future I’ll probably be spending more money on digital equipment than on vinyl LPs and/or vinyl-related equipment.

  34. This was an interesting article, and I respect your views and reviews. I can’t say which is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, only express my own experience, as I have, in the last few weeks, added vinyl to a very high-end digital system and the result has, frankly, shocked me.

    My musical background, for what it’s worth, was as a classically trained singer, percussionist in orchestras and drummer in bands and now as an avid classical and opera-goer. I’m used to hearing real instruments in real spaces, a lot. Over the years, I’ve built up to a fantastic sounding digital system (Meridian 818v2 into DSP6000 speakers) about as warm, musical, dynamic, and natural sounding as I’ve ever managed to hear in digital source-to-speaker, although I’ve never been totally happy with any system. I just figured that was a limitation in hifi playback, end of.

    Then, about a month or so ago, I invested in a properly refurbished Linn LP12 (nothing fancy by Linn standards – pre-Cirkus/Valhalla/low-cost MM cartridge) and an Audionote Kits M3 valve phono stage, originally for the purpose of picking up old recordings never released on digital, etc. This I play direct into the Meridian system, which A/D’s it, so it’s as close to playing the two different sources (one internal digital, one vinyl) through the same gear as one is likely to get.

    Frankly, it’s been a revelation. I honestly didn’t give much credence to the vinyl is warmer stuff, but in my system, in my room, the vinyl front end has all the body and depth of tone (OK the warmth, if you will) that I’ve always been striving for in digital reproduction, fully there. Just like that. It sounds realistic, musical, it has groove and it keeps you listening without any fatigue at all. All the meaningful detail is there, yet, for example, strings sound like they’re attached to instruments made of wood instead of tin cans; like the real thing. I’ve never managed that with digital, ever, at least not this fully.

    I was wary lest this was simply different mastering, etc. and I’ve since sourced, as best I can, two or three recordings which I believe, as close as can be, were made from the same masters on CD/vinyl/Hi-Res. I do agree that, in technical terms, the digital files do most of the technical ‘hi-fi’ attributes better, as you rightly report, but the vinyl just makes it easier for me to enjoy the music. The reason for this? I can only speculate. Do mastering engineers go and listen to enough music; real acoustic instruments and voices in real spaces? Who knows. Is it brickwall filtering/ringing in DACs and recording? Maybe. Certainly Meridian’s MQA has promise, if it’s properly adopted and becomes widespread. Is it just a taste/trend in the way music is recorded/played back? Have we all got used to the, frankly, poor efforts of early digital to a degree that we have come to accept that’s how recorded music should sound? Also possible.

    My girlfriend, who’s not into the technicalities of any of this at all, said when we listened to a couple of familiar recordings on vinyl for the first time ‘Well, it’s much easier to listen to.’ Think about that for a moment. The digital front end cost nearly eight times that of the old LP12. Eight times. The recording technology is significantly newer, I have hi-res files which get closer, but still don’t match. So now I’m left wondering how far back we went to come forwards – we seem to have gained detail, detail and more detail, lower noise floor, a bit of dynamic range, but perhaps, to some ears, at the expense of everything that makes real instruments sound real and compelling.

    Me? It sound so much better to my ears that I’m reluctantly spending a fortune on vinyl old and new, cleaning the damn stuff, sending back recordings which have printed duff or warped, considering my own cleaning machine at god knows how much money, getting the damn LP12 ‘fettled’ every two years… Do I want to do any of that? Hell no! Will I bitch and moan but ultimately put up with all of that because it sounds bloody sublime and better than the best of digital I’ve heard so far? Yes. I have to. Now I’ve heard it, I can’t un-hear it. Until digital recording truly comes of age and gives me something better (and roll on that day) I’ll be buying mouldy old bits of wax and new, expensive bits of vinyl and treating my ears to glorious colour, rhythm and tone.

    As a post-script, I had bought a couple of new pressings which sounded, frankly, shocking – hard, flat, brittle, no dynamic range, just horrible. After some research, it turns out this particular ‘audiophile label’ actually ‘remasters’ their vinyl from… CD. I have no words. The absolute worst of both worlds. So, if you do get into vinyl, a word of caution – make sure you source your records carefully.

  35. Commenter: Yep the vinyl sounds warmer and soupier
    Michael Fremer: You need a better cartridge set up or perhaps some inexpensive accessories

    Also note that Fremer does not mention/defend the RP1 once in his comments.

    Thank you, Michael Fremer, for proving the points that John made in his article… good digital beats bad analog, just like good analog beats bad digital.

  36. With expletives thrown and personal insults traded (see above), this post’s comments section is now CLOSED.