Can a vinyl’s warm, natural sound be beaten? We listened to the Beatles’ recently remastered White Album to find out.
If you listen to music regularly in digital formats then suddenly switch to a vinyl, you’ll really notice the unique sound of a good turntable.
There’s a warmth to vinyl – and it’s not just a placebo effect – it’s what happens when the bass is at just the right level to be fully integrated with the rest of the sound.
The imperfections of turntables, such as crackling and varying pitch, are ‘analogue’ in nature – they can even be charming. But get a digital copy with faults and the music can end up sounding horribly synthetic.
That being said, CDs can claim to have more ‘detailed’ sound – turntable needles will pick up a lot of noise, including ticks and bangs as dust and static is encountered on the record’s surface.
So which offers a better all-round listening experience?
The White Album remastered
We revisited the recently remastered White Album across CD, MP3 and vinyl to see if we could settle the debate, and every format did the 1968 classic justice.
The vinyl version sounded clear and clean with a lack of ticks and pops – about as good as a vinyl can be.
The CD was equally good, delivering more detailed sound than the MP3. This was to be expected, given that the CD can store a great deal more data.
But that doesn’t automatically mean it’s the better option. As you can imagine, source material from the 1960s can end up sounding slightly sterile when listened via a CD’s digital cleanliness.
It’s for that reason that our lab marginally preferred the vinyl. But it’s worth bearing in mind that this might not be the case for other albums.
The evolution of music tech
CD tech has come a long way since the 80s, when sound could be flat and boring with no tunefulness and shrill treble that was tiring on the ears.
Breakthroughs mainly occured around 1990, when engineers solved many of the technical challenges.
But there’s a limit to the scientific debate. Music has never just been about the sound itself – it’s a sense of occasion evoking memories of moseying around old record shops or taking a vinyl from its sleeve.
Careful handling and respect is required, which appeals to the purists and has rejuvenated the vinyl market.
With streaming and digital formats it can be easy to ‘track hop’ – changing songs before the end amid a wealth of distractions. The very inconvenience of adjusting a turntable preserves the ‘performance’ element, meaning you tend to take the experience in.
And then there’s the full-size artwork of a record – timeless designs that just aren’t the same when viewed on a screen. As you can tell, I’m a big vinyl fan.
But what about you? Which format do you think is the best way to enjoy an album? And what are your favourite albums and accompanying artworks? Let us know and share some of your photos with us.