The Great Debate: Vinyl vs. CD

Wired article on the difference between vinyl and cd audio. [Link, scroll down]


Among great technological squabbles, vinyl versus compact disc has almost the same cachet as PC versus Mac. The superiority of one over the other is a matter of preference, but there are differences. Fundamentally, audio reproduction is about physics, and optical, binary CDs diverge pretty far from analog LPs. For each vinyl purist’s argument, there is a digital rebel’s rebuttal. Here’s the basic science. – David Goldenberg

VINYL: The irregular, analog grooves of an LP produce a smooth, continuous sound wave.To make a record, a microphone’s diaphragm transduces sound into back-and-forth motions that are encoded as grooves in a vinyl platter. As a needle plows through the groove, its movements are converted into analog electrical impulses that drive a speaker, producing sound. Those smooth, continuous vibrations yield sleek sound waves. But as the needle traces the groove, dust and other debris can get in the way, degrading the sound. And over time, the needle wears out the record, slathering the music in a layer of noise.

CD: Tiny pores of a CD represent minuscule increments of sound.Going digital means converting a continuous sound wave into a string of 1s and 0s. This is done by measuring, or sampling, the audio signal thousands of times per second; when played back at the same rate, the samples reconstitute the original sound. For CDs, that rate is too slow to capture subtle nuances, critics say. The new DVD-A and SACD formats pack in much more information per second of audio. Nonetheless, vinylheads claim that chopping audio into pieces, no matter how small, corrupts the music.