I have a growing collection of vinyl records. Three things make me love the collection and make me want to add to it: The cover art is cool, it is the true sign that you appreciate an artists work, and, for some reason, it sounds better to me.
For most of my infatuation with vinyl, I figured I was just tricking myself into believing that it sounded better. The argument had been made by many so I figured that it could be a proper justification for the steep price of records.
However, the argument may have some truth to it.
The argument that vinyl is better than digital audio starts with the origin of the music. When someone streams something on Spotify, the music has gone from the artist to the digital audio recording system, compressed so it can stream without taking up too much storage, and to the listener. According to a report from the Oregonian’s David Greenwald, the vinyl sound follows a much more pure transformation from artist to listener. The sound travels from the artist to the physical tape recording, to the record making device (shown in this video), to the record, to the listener. This process involves no compression and mirrors the exact depth and pitch that the original artist intended.
According to Correy Binns of Popular Science, compressed audio in the form of an MP3 file can take away almost 90% of the sound from the original recording. This is because the digital download strips the music of its subtleties. Binns goes on to explain that this process occurs because of advanced machines that see what sounds the human ear requires to hear the song. The rest of the recording is deemed unnecessary and cut from the original piece to save storage.
Although, it can be hard to differentiate between the two unless you are a true audiophile. Here is a recording a DMX song played on MP3 and record. Try to see if you can differentiate between the two.
The previous test is anecdotal because a well-developed study with sizable data of how people perceive the music has not been sufficiently performed. All in all, it’s a matter of preference. It may be hard to tell the difference, but listening to vinyl is the equivalent of eating organic, non-processed foods: You may not feel very different, but you know it’s better for you.
Side note: Here is a great microscopic view of what the grooves of the record look like, as well as the movement of the needle (plot twist/spoiler: the needle primarily moves side to side to create the sound).
Sources: hyperlinked in the text.