Adventures In Audio

The Vinyl Revival - So wrong on so many levels

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The vinyl revival - So vinyl is becoming popular again. But what about the scratches? The surface noise? The distortion? The rumble? The mistracking? The list of reasons not to listen to vinyl goes on and on. Like a broken record.

More revivals (all so wrong)...

Credits

Automated transcript

The vinyl revival this is just so wrong on so many levels so i made a video called the cassette revival this is just so wrong on so many levels in the video i talked about the several levels of technical issues from which the compact cassette format suffers all of them factual all of them real and all of them easy to hear and find problematic to be clear i didn't say that anyone was wrong for using cassettes i talked about my points of dissatisfaction i'm not interested in telling anyone what to think or what to do what i did get from the comments however was a sense of how a lot of people have an affection for the cassette format despite its technical shortcomings that's fine i have an affection for growing pumpkins in my garden even though i hate the taste please don't comment on pumpkins so to vinyl specifically to the so-called vinyl revival is it pointless shouldn't we all be listening digitally in the third decade of the 21st century as in my cassette video i need to give a sense of my own perspective i had a tape recorder as a kid my parents wouldn't let me get a record player because they thought i would waste money on records that's fine but i persisted and i was able to get one and even set it up in the living room when i was about 16 or 17. and i didn't waste money on records i invested it in my experience of music and my personal growth as a music lover i could have bought one of the early hi-fi cassette decks but i already knew that the cassette sound was inferior to vinyl and in any case i was able to get records of classical music which was my interest at the time sourced from eastern europe for five shillings each rather than the two pounds that a pre-recorded cassette or full price record would have cost but it didn't take me long to realize the problems of vinyl fast forward to 1980 1981-ish when i could afford full price records and had quite a reasonable collection and had started my path in pro audio i attended a demonstration of the forthcoming compact disk format the format at that time was a 10 centimeter disc not 12 and 14 bit not 16. but i loved it right from that moment so i stopped buying records instantly i knew that what was on the horizon was a format which in comparison with cassette and vinyl had zero faults a format that was just the music pure enjoyment without irritation i bought the original philips cd100 as soon as the price came down to 300 pounds from the introductory 800. adjusted for inflation that's nearly 3 000 pounds today or around 4 000 us dollars oh yes i'll be making a video on cd soon the cd revival must be just around the corner so what's wrong with vinyl on so many levels level one come on it's the scratches i might have had my criticisms of the cassette format but it didn't suffer from scratches clicks and pops are a stuck groove vinyl was definitely a monster improvement on sherlock 78s but it isn't the toughest of materials and it's easily damaged i have a 78 player by the way it's in the loft right now but it's one like this a 78 revival maybe if you wanted to hear a record without scratches or without what we used to call surface noise there was a way to do it simple buy a new copy of the record and play it on a pro turntable like an emt a new record hasn't had time to suffer any damage other than its initial mechanical insertion into its inner sleeve and your careful first time extraction and the pro stylus in the pro cartridge of the pro turntable will plow its way through the groove like a tank through a hedge

the downside is in my own experience such a turntable will wear out the record after multiple plays and you'll soon hear distortion that's my experience with a pro turntable so if your experiences differ let me know in the comments i said pro turntable not hi-fi turntable by the way in the real world however you'd buy a record and enjoy it a couple of times then you'd hear surface noise then it'd be a scratch then the dust would settle before long the record would be agony to listen to now there will be some people who will say you should listen to the music not the noise if you can do that fantastic i envy you but i'm trained in pro audio i'm trained to listen for the defects pro audio is different to high-end hi-fi by the way in pro audio a defect is something you can actually hear no i fully agree that the ability to listen to the music and ignore the noise is a great talent to have i just don't have it level two level two for me has got to be distortion for a clean sound the stylus has to follow the movements of the groove precisely any deviation and you get distortion distortion adds frequencies to the signal that were not present in the original recording harmonic distortion where the added frequencies are whole number multiples can sound pleasant in a way but vinyl distortion to me sounds harsh and gritty so how do you get distortion-free playback simple you've spent a lot of money on your cartridge and arm i come from the era when hi-fi meant a sure v15 cartridge in an sme 3009 arm and a lot of setting up with the aid of a protractor yes a protractor but to my ears it wasn't distortion-free but technology moved on and i remember going to a hi-fi show in round about 2002 2003-ish and the sound of vinyl was straights ahead of what i remember from the olden days level three professional reel-to-reel tape normally runs at 15 inches per second it can be 30 for even better quality but never less unless for economy or getting a longer duration from a single reel so how many inches per second is vinyl in the immortal words of lennon and mccartney we can work it out a 12-inch record

is 12 inches in diameter i know i'm stating the obvious but sometimes the obvious is worth stating the circumference of a circle is pi times the diameter so the circumference of the first groove is around 38 inches in whole numbers give or take a 33 and a third record rotates 1.8 times a second so with my trusty casio i calculate the stylus to groove speed as 21 inches per second somewhat in advance of pro tape but that's not the end of the story the circumference of the groove decreases as the record plays through at the extreme inner groove the diameter is four and three quarter inches so again with the calculator the stylus to groove speed is just over eight inches per second actually that doesn't seem too bad compared to tape which i said earlier could be run at 7.5 inches per second if there was a pressing reason but magnetic tape seems to cope better with squashed up waveforms than vinyl vinyl is mechanical so there's stuff moving rubbing and grinding and the stylus struggles to follow the undulations of the groove causing distortion add to that the problem of geometry the cutting head in the lathe that cuts the original master runs parallel to the groove there's probably a better way of saying that tangential to the circumference or something like that suggestions in the comments but you know what i mean with a conventional pickup arm the cantilever of the stylus is only parallel to the groove at one point during playback at all other points of the record it isn't we call this tracking error this is one reason why mastering for vinyl is such an art to get all the necessary compromises in perfect balance for optimum listening digital mastering engineers only have to worry about getting the track so loud that it blows your head off that's sarcasm by the way no need to comment level four for level four i choose noise actually apart from clicks caused by damage or surface noise caused by dust or wear vinyl is an amazingly quiet medium but i can't let its shortcomings go unchallenged 18 minutes per side i don't remember exactly who it was who said that but he was a famous producer he reckoned that for optimum sound quality there should be no more than 18 minutes of music on each side of an album actually i'd say that's a good thing i'd prefer 36 minutes of good music on vinyl to an hour and 10 minutes of mostly filler on cd the reason for this is that the groove moves from side to side taking up space to optimize the noise the groove has to swing widely to get more duration on the side the groove needs to be constrained cutting lathes however can be clever and some can kind of nest the groove so that the maximum amplitude of swing can occupy the minimum of space however the fact remains that there has to be a compromise between noise and duration it's part and parcel of the vinyl medium i'll circle back to what i said at the start of this level coming from its roots in sherlock 78s back in the 1940s vinyl is an amazingly quiet medium but what about rumble i'll cover that in a moment level five record players or record decks if you want to call them that don't like vibration so if you like to walk around the room while listening and some people do then your footfall vibrations will travel up through the floor up into whatever your record player sits on through the plinth and platter and into the stylus your thump thump thump will be faithfully reproduced through your loudspeakers it can get worse do you want to listen really loud well pump up the volume and pump it up a bit more you'll get feedback just like in a pa system except in a record player it's normally a much lower frequency the solution to footfall and other vibrations in the floor perhaps from traffic outside is to suspend the turntable this should help with feedback too so between the plinth and the turntable are springs to even out any vibration this in itself isn't a total solution because as you might know from your car springs also need shock absorbers to dampen out the resonance that otherwise occurs when a mass is supported by or dangled from a spring okay this isn't rocket science and the suspension normally works well enough to reduce any problems of vibration into insignificance but it's worth a mention also worth a mention just because i wanted to mention it is that your turntable doesn't actually need springs there's an alternative that some would say is better and that's to make the plinth out of a great big heavy concrete block if the concrete or granite or marble or diamond encrusted ruby depending on the severity of your vinyl addiction if it's heavy enough it will resist any vibration you care to throw at it no springs required level six yes as i said the vinyl record is amazingly quiet but what about the turntable i used to have what is now considered a classic turntable the garage 401. oh the rumble the garad 401 is an idler wheel design the spindle of the motor card is a rubber disc that presses against the inside of the turntable and the turntable goes round but even very small irregularities in the idler cause low frequency vibrations in the turntable which are picked up by the stylus rumble is unfortunately amplified by up to 20 decibels by the riaa equalization in the preamp fortunately direct drive and belt drive turntables don't suffer rumble to the same extent although there still can be audible rumble from the turntable's bearing in a direct drive turntable the plot is attached directly to the motor so there's no idler wheel involved high-end hi-fi enthusiasts however have beef cogging is the issue cogging is where the motor has a number of poles and there's a kind of stop start effect the more poles the better the fewer poles the worse as much respect as i have for high-end hi-fi enthusiasts i'm not one i honestly can't say i've ever been aware of cogging if it exists as a real thing then surely a test record playing a simple sine wave could be analyzed with a spectrograph if the spectrogram shows multiple frequency components other than a little harmonic distortion which we expect then there's cogging if it shows only the sine wave frequency and a few low-level harmonics then cogging doesn't exist i have no data nor experience on this so i'm open to persuasion but for now i suspect that cogging there's no such thing so what about belt drive turntables surely they must be the ultimate in hi-fi with zero defects

i'm not sure whether belt drive turntables are supposed to suffer from this more than idler wheel or direct drive but i'm guessing that any turntable with a lightweight platter would stylist drag if you start up your turntable and press your finger on the platter you'll see it slow down because of friction it's the same with the stylus even though the stylus presses down with a force of only a couple of grams there will still be some friction and a tendency to drag the turntable in the opposite direction to its rotation now i'd say that any competently designed turntable would be powerful enough so that any drag would have no effect whatsoever but high-end hi-fi enthusiasts would also worry about the elasticity of the record stylus drag could deform the record temporarily as the stylus passes but he's the killer according to some high-end hi-fi enthusiasts the amount of force created by the drug varies according to the complexity of the signal so it isn't just a match of a slight and consistent slowing down of the turntable it's an active cause of distortion but as with cocking i've never been aware of any ill effects of stylus drag or maybe it just gets mixed up with the other distortions of the vinyl medium as with cogging i'm open to persuasion and i'd love to hear effective demonstrations of both or either level seven and this will be the last for now miss tracking the extreme case of mistracking is when the stylist leaves the groove it might skip forward or it might skip back in which case you'll hear the same groove over and over the proverbial broken record this can be caused by the stylus force being too low the turntable not being level or the bias not being set correctly or the record might just be difficult to track which is down to the compromises made in the vinyl mastering process one cure for mistracking that i have seen is is to tape a coin to the head shell oh dear but miss tracking occurs at a lower level too particularly towards the end of the side it's heard as distortion particularly in the high frequencies and can come across as shrillness or sibilance or just plain distortion and as the stylist mistracks it gouges the groove baking in more and more distortion again this is something for the vinyl mastering engineer to deal with who may be fortunate enough to work with a neumann lathe with an acceleration limiter the acceleration limiter however introduces its own kind of character into the sound some people like it i think i should probably stop now there's a lot more i could say about vinyl and in this video i've only just scratched the surface just to see what i did there my opinion though is that vinyl has so many problems that simply do not exist in digital audio i understand that some people have a love for vinyl and in some ways i do too but if i want to listen to music and enjoy it to the max for me digital is the way to go i would appreciate your comments because they add to my personal perspective i have another video planned on what's good about vinyl and what we miss out on when we listen digitally i'm david mellor course director of audio masterclass thank you for listening.

Thursday March 10, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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