Angry Metal-Fi is a series of articles that are cross posted on Angry Metal Guy and Metal-Fi as a collaborative effort to evangelize dynamics in metal. In this particularly entry Dave-Fi takes on some myths about vinyl in honor of Record Store Day, explaining why one might want to use it… but why it ain’t perfect.

Angry Metal-FiPerhaps you’ve noticed the increasing popularity of Record Store Day or the multitude of recent news articles talking about how “vinyl is back.” The numbers don’t lie. After cratering following the introduction of the CD, vinyl sales started a meteoric rise beginning around 2007, and it’s showing no signs of stopping. Meanwhile, CD sales continue to decline, and for the first time ever, digital sales at stores like iTunes are flat. So what’s going on?

The CD has been fighting a war on two fronts against both digital stores and streaming services like Bandcamp and Spotify, and it’s losing. It does makes sense, the devices that most people use to listen to music no longer have CD drives. So if your music is just going to end up as a digital file anyway, why not just buy it that way in the first place or just pay a small monthly fee to listen to what you want, when you want?

Of course what you lose by abandoning the CD is tangibility, artwork that you can flip through, exquisite layouts, in-depth liner notes, etc. all of which are yours1 as opposed to some digital files and images. That’s been one of the major arguments as to vinyl’s recent success, people want that physical connection with an album, and a 12” cover is a lot more impressive than a 5” one inside a plastic shell. In fact, I know people with cheap table radios with turntables attached. Clearly audiophile sound quality isn’t a top priority, these radios sound no better playing vinyl than low-bit MP3s. There’s also the collector market, the people who scout ultra limited, 100 copy pressings that can be flipped for a nice profit. While these two groups (along with plenty of hipsters) have helped vinyl make its comeback, that’s not all there is to it. There is another group of people like me, who buy vinyl because it can sound much better than CD. There are loads of misconceptions about that, and the main purpose of this piece is to bust a few myths and explain why vinyl can actually sound better.

Myth 1: Vinyl has an “analog warmth” to it that you just can’t get from CD.

False. Thirty years ago when albums were engineered and recorded on tape, that might’ve been true. And though some of earliest CDs were made from all analog recordings, they were often not very good. But those days are long gone, today everything is done digitally, and album masters are just digital files on hard drives. 99% of the time new vinyl is cut and pressed from one of these files, and the only thing analog about it is the playback.

Myth 2: Vinyl is nonsense for audiophile nutcases to obsess over. It’s noisy and sounds worse than CDs.

False. Badly pressed vinyl or picture discs can often be noisy, but for the most part, if you keep your vinyl clean and in good shape, you can keep surface noise to a minimum. It will never be as quiet as digital of course, but otherwise there’s no reason for it to sound noticeably worse than a CD.

Myth 3: Vinyl can’t be hyper loud like modern CDs because it will damage the cutting lathe.

Half true. A great many CDs released in the current Loudness War are mastered close to or at max volume, and you can’t cut a vinyl record like that. However, you can simply drop the overall level of the recording so it can be safely cut to vinyl without changing the dynamic range compression. Engineers and labels sometimes choose instead though to create a dedicated, uncompressed or less compressed master specifically for the vinyl release, and that’s what makes this whole endeavor worthwhile, and where vinyl’s sound quality advantage stems from.

If you’ve read any of our previous articles, you’re aware that the industry has decided in its collective wisdom to cut the dynamic range of music roughly in half from the the typical levels prior to around 1992. There are rare exceptions like Gazpacho’s Demon, and as AMG astutely wrote in his review: “it’s nice to know that the digital master for the CD is this good, instead of saving that shit for vinyl like somehow only people who buy vinyl like music for real.” What he is referring to is the fact that in many cases, the vinyl master will actually sound noticeably better than the digital one. You see since vinyl is a low volume and still largely niche product, the usual excuses for making a release as loud as possible simply don’t apply. As a result, the vinyl gets mastered with the same high level of dynamics as those classic metal albums from the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

There are loads of downsides to vinyl ownership though. It’s expensive to buy, it can easily warp and scratch, and if the needle hits a speck of dust, you’ll hear it as a click or pop. Worse, some metal albums are limited to as few as 500 copies, and if they are all sold out, you may have to pay hundreds of dollars for a copy, assuming you can find one at all. Labels are also looking to cash in on vinyl’s new found popularity, and so there’s plenty of lazily produced, poor sounding special edition reissues out there. And even with new vinyl, there’s never a guarantee of a dedicated, dynamic master, only the possibility. If the vinyl is sourced from the CD, it will sound every bit as bad.

When you listen to an album with a dedicated vinyl master like Amon Amarth’s With Oden on Our Side though, with full dynamic range and all of the glorious Viking thunder that goes along with it, suddenly all of the annoyances become worth it. The cleaning, brushing, side flipping, etc. It’s all worth it to hear Fredrik Andersson’s kick drum shake the very earth. In addition to the higher cost of the records themselves, you’re going to need to spend at least a few hundred dollars on a turntable if you want to do them justice. So if you have the means, give it a try, you may be glad you did.

Show 1 footnote

  1. I wrote about ownership and physical products a while ago here.

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  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    One more thing to say about vynil: being a progressive rock / 70’s classic rock fan, as well as a metal fan, I often stumble upon shitty CD remasters of classic albums, the remaster concept being “pump the volume up to 11 and to hell the dynamics”. Van Der Graaf Generator remasters are by far the worst offenders by the dubious virtue of being fucking unlistenable, but there’s plenty out there (Genesis are not so good either, and that’s a big name…). As long as Steven Wilson delays his much-needed mastering wizardry, having access to a digitalized version of the vynil lets me enjoy those records in the meantime.

    • Dave

      Yup, when you’re talking about albums from the ’70s, at least 9 times out of 10, the first press vinyl is the best sounding version.

  • RagE

    I moved 3 times the last year, and it is a real pain in the ass hauling this shit 2000km corss country. some hundred records, 500ish CDs, cabling, amps, speakers, turntable, Shelves to store em in.. Just moving my music is an entire car load!

    • Wow, excellent point! Yet another reason why owning vinyl records can be a royal pain in the arse.

  • Dog

    I don’t have a vinyl player and have no interest in one, for various reasons (the cumbersome size of vinyls, their susceptibility to degradation, etc), so I really do wish labels would stop discriminating against CDs by giving them an inferior mix.

    • Dave

      Absolutely! That’s pretty much the whole reason Alex and I started Metal-Fi. CD listeners don’t deserve to get the shaft, but that’s what happens. The way to make it happen is to tell the bands you love that you want dynamics, not loudness.

      Avenged Sevenfold hit #1 with an album that has double the dynamic range of the typical metal release. It *can* be done and people *will* still buy the album, clearly.

    • I’m no expert in the music industry, but I am in the game industry, and that would lead me to the conclusion that It’s often about the money.

      If you make a generalization that people who listen to vinyls will care more about the sound quality for whatever reason, it becomes one of the selling points for a Vinyl version. You may even be able to sell the same person a Vinyl and a CD.

      That’s how they get ya.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    I own plenty of CDs and in many cases I also buy vinyl of the records I truly love. Leaving technicisms beside, listening to vinyl it’s some sort of ritual, a musical lover ceremony one may say. You don’t pop up a vinyl just to play a few songs, you only do it if you have the amount of sparse time needed to fully enjoy the art offered to you. For that reason I only buy LPs of records I really really dig into, and mostly first press and never remasters.

    Now, in terms of technical aspects, sometimes it’s hard for me to notice differences between vinyl and CD (volume is of course noticeable). Just to mention one random album….The Gathering’s beautiful “How to Measure a Planet?” 1st press vinyl to me sounds as good as the CD. Tehere might be differences in the DR that I’m not able to listen yet. I’m new in this world of DR and I’m still trying to train my ears to it (in fact, I’m usually surprised when albums that I really like are turned down here by their mastering….say Elvenking’s “Era” for example).

    There’s no doubt vinyl has become a trend that appeals more for it’s “vintage” fashion than for it’s physical or audiophile advantages. Nevertheless, since what I really love it’s the music, as long as my wallet allows me I’ll still be buying both CDs (whose editions sometimes are magnificently crafted) and vinyl copies.

    • Dave

      I have both Mandylion and Nighttime Birds on vinyl. They sound close enough to the CDs that it’s very likely the source master was the same. That happens at least a fair amount of the time, exactly how often I’m not sure. Now if you take an album like Vader’s Welcome To The Morbid Reich, it’s blatantly obvious there that they did a separate master for the vinyl release, it sounds completely different than the CD.

      Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. Hypocrisy albums tend to sound a little better on vinyl, but it’s nowhere close to the night/day difference of Vader.

      Yet another issue that I didn’t get in to in the article is that DR measurements for vinyl are very imprecise. You can have a CD that measures DR5 and vinyl that measures DR9, and they may sound exactly the same, so unfortunately you can’t use DR scores to judge whether the vinyl master is dedicated in the way that you can with say, HDTracks files which are an apples-to-apples comparison with CDs in terms of DR scores.

      The only way to know whether its a dedicated vinyl master is to ask the band or label, or listen and compare it to the CD at identical listening volume.

    • Realkman666

      If you want an easy comparison, try listening to Hail to the King by Avenged Sevenfold vs Sonata Arctica The Wolves die Young. Listen to the drums only at first, then try to make out each instrument. Should cost you 2 or 3 bucks max.

      Then crank the volume. I dare you to listen to the whole Sonata song full blast.

      • Juan Muilwijk

        I thought it did’nt sound to bad, turns out the youtube version has a dr of 7

  • sweetooth0

    Vinyl these days is definitely hit or miss. I’d guess that the majority of new vinyl, along with re-presses, are simply using the CD master, and differences people are hearing are inherent to the technology and emotion. That said, there are definitely some massively way better sounding vinyl versions of analogue recorded albums out there. For example, any of the FDR remaster series Earache has been putting out is a night and day difference. Also, any of the classic rock I’ve picked up used (so original, or near original press) all sound much better than the CD versions that were put out.

    One thing that sucks is it seems like what color the record is tends to have more importance these days than the actual craftmanship of the record. For example any of those “half and half” colored vinyl limited mailorder edition things sound like garbage compared to just the standard black versions. And Iron Maiden reissuing their whole catalogue as picture discs using the clipped remasters is a travesty.

  • sweetooth0

    Vinyl these days is definitely hit or miss. I’d guess that the majority of new vinyl, along with re-presses, are simply using the CD master, and differences people are hearing are inherent to the technology and emotion. That said, there are definitely some massively way better sounding vinyl versions of analogue recorded albums out there. For example, any of the FDR remaster series Earache has been putting out is a night and day difference. Also, any of the classic rock I’ve picked up used (so original, or near original press) all sound much better than the CD versions that were put out.

    One thing that sucks is it seems like what color the record is tends to have more importance these days than the actual craftmanship of the record. For example any of those “half and half” colored vinyl limited mailorder edition things sound like garbage compared to just the standard black versions. And Iron Maiden reissuing their whole catalogue as picture discs using the clipped remasters is a travesty.

    • sweetooth0

      About the CD master, Digby had a pretty interesting article about it on their “ask Earache” column. The label may be a shadow of their former selves, but I do like the honesty about how the records are made.

      • Dave

        Funny that you mention that, I’ve compared some of Earache’s FDR releases on CD and vinyl and they sound pretty much identical. Summerville is doing the remastering, and then I think Earache is just putting them out both ways, which is frankly how it should be done. If you’re CD master is dynamic and high quality like the FDR reissues, there’s no reason not to also cut your vinyl from it. The only reason you need to do a special version for vinyl is if your CD sucks.

        Friends don’t let friends buy picture discs.

        • sweetooth0

          To clarify, I meant the FDR remastered vinyl vs the recent CD versions (not FDR versions). I would hope both the CD FDR and Vinyl FDR would sound the same at least in terms of dynamics, but you might get the slight edge with having one analogue to analogue vs analogue to digital (since apparently they did go back to the actual physical tapes to do them).

          • sweetooth0

            My Symphonies of Sickness FDR destroys the Digipack remaster they came out with just before.

          • Dave

            Gotcha. Yes most of the CD reissues that Earache released in the mid 2000s are terrible, but I’m really glad that they’ve seen the light.

            In the early days of CD production, A-D conversion was pretty terrible, which is I think at least partially why those early to mid ’80s CDs mostly suck so bad. Today though A-D conversion is VERY good, so assuming the label puts in the effort and is using high quality conversion, the negative effects from converting from old master tapes should be pretty minimal.

          • Almost none of those FDR releases are cut from “analogue” tape. Most of the masters were put to DAT tape originally which doesn’t usually contain frequencies above Nyquist (ie: no “better” than CD.)

          • sweetooth0

            interesting, didn’t realize there was a difference from one tape format to the next (I mean obviously a reel to reel is gonna be better than a cassette tape, but at the “pro” level).

            I haven’t compared FDR CD to LP so I only have the FDR vinly vs the smashed remastered CD’s to compare.

      • Note, we also had an interview with Digby direct talking about it too! I would check that out as well if you are interested.

  • SuperBakaKing

    I read along in the booklet that came with the newest Behemoth album as it played. Between the artwork and the “behind the scenes” writings from the band it really fleshed out the experience. Convenience of downloading is nice for some albums, but for bands I know put more effort into their physical releases it’s worth it.

    • Behemoth is a poster child in my book of terrible production. At least with Satanist, people could actually hear the bass!

      But even so, it’s compressed to hell and it’s a darn shame. Many MFi’ers have reported the vinyl edition sounds better, but I have my doubts that it’s a dedicated master. Probably the cutting engineer saw the insane amount of compression applied and just backed it off a bit for the press (pure speculation on my part).

  • Realkman666

    I think I will simply pass on most metal albums instead. Makes me discover new sounds just by looking for better sounding artists and labels. If Nuclear Blast wants to charge me more for a vinyl just so I can have an acceptable level of listening pleasure, they can fuck themselves.

    • Hate to break the news to you, but unless you are going all classical or jazz, this problem is pervasive across almost all genres.

      • Realkman666

        I’m going where the quality is. I don’t care. Can’t listen to that shit anymore.

        • You know it’s comments like these that I always make me curse my genetic makeup which has somehow caused me to be both a metal fanatic AND audiophile.

          I love, love classical music. But my heart belongs to metal.

          • Realkman666

            I’m not even a purist, to be honest (200$ speakers and USB sound card), and I listen to way more power metal than opera, but having to turn down the volume because the sound is too bad doesn’t make me want to spend a dime.

            It would be like having PC games run at 480p resolution in 2014. Why? Fuck that.

          • There is dynamic metal out there! And Metal-Fi will hopefully be over time a resource for folks just like you as a reference in order to cherry pick the releases that make sense for you.

          • Realkman666

            I was surprised that it isn’t right now, and HD Tracks has genuine high quality (and overpriced) albums, but they also have shady rereleases as well, so I don’t know.

          • HDTracks and their elk is another story entirely…watch this space.

  • I think one other reason to buy vinyl is pure and unadulterated nostalgia. I just started a new collection to supplement the switch I’m slowly making towards an entirely legal FLAC collection. As you said, tangibility is a huge motivator behind this, and the physical manipulation needed to spin these relics is quite filled with emotional reminiscence, at least for those among us old enough to have been around the time these were the norm.

    I’m glad you also made the point of being cautious when buying these. I have found I have to do even more research to make sure I’m not being shafted with a brickwalled mix for a quick cash-grab.

  • Felipe Mendes Tacla

    Which turntable should I buy for a start? I have no clue!

    • Watch this space. Dave is far from done.

  • Great article!

    Speaking as someone who creates art, and as a fan of art I find that Metal and Hard rock have always cared more about the album cover. This was the silly reason I picked up a few of my favorite albums on vinyl (With Oden on Our Side being one of these).

    I invested some money and time into a proper setup and I found that I really enjoyed the sound. There is also something nice about the ritual of it too. Your not just clicking a button your handling and object, it just feels more real to me.

  • Joe Gocella

    I’ve been collecting and listening to vinyl for 40 plus years. I did not jump on any bandwagon; I never left it.

    With the right gear and so on, if you can’t hear the difference (an improvement) between a WELL MASTERED record and it’s digital counterpart, you might be deaf.

    Maybe this doesn’t apply to metal, I don’t know, but I can clearly hear the “warmth” of vinyl playback, digital source or not.

    • neverbull llbnerver

      I hear it. but ITS DARK SOUNDING WHEN ITS DDD. however, its like I say, some1 might prefer LP’s when its DDD. I honestly likes both equally when DDD. thanks.

  • neverbull llbnerver

    when using AAD/ADD source, the genuine Tape and genuine LP sounds the best Only If not remastered. when using AAD/ADD source, On the non-remastered version on genuine CD, It’s sounds great but not as good as the 2 other formats. AAD/ADD using remastering sounds like absolute bullshit whatever the format you are using. When using DDD, the genuine CD sounds just a TINY superior to the genuine tape or genuine LP when non-remastered, or sounds equal depending on you here. when using DDD using remastering, same thing, the genuine CD is just a tiny superior to the genuine tape or genuine LP, or depending on you, equal. also, the copy of the copy of the copy of a non-remastered AAD/ADD source (fake, illegal record) will sounds BETTER than the genuine remastered record from AAD/ADD. Last point, a remastered DDD genuine record will sounds TINY bits better or equal to the non-remastered DDD genuine records or equal depending on you. When using the good format for the sound, THE TAPE IS THE BEST FORMAT for heavy metal, FOLLOWED SLIGHTLY BY THE VINYL, or the vinyl is better depending of the instruments that are playing, the CD comes just after. Note, the SACD and the DVDA might equal the tape and the vinyl or be superior, as long as you do not use SACD/DVDA been AAD/ADD studio source and been remastered. (sounds like shit). the texts above or under mine have no meaning after reading mine. that’s kick ass, as simple as that. true audiophiles like me own a tape deck, a turntable and a CD player and have inevitably a seller account for selling discontinued albums been copied in full uncompressed data. Using Balanced cables provide better sound. Genuine cd’s have high chances of lasting 100+ years, Bootlegs CD’s last between 2 to 60 years, with 25 been the middle because they use quality silver CD-R. the Genuine Tape last about 60 years+ and the Vinyl last at least 100 years to 300, might be 1000. Only an original record sounds awesome. If you copy in full uncompressed data a genuine CD, genuine LP or Genuine tape, you will lose about 25% of the original genuine quality. On ebay, discogs, and musicstack, almost every CD, every tape and every LP they sells there are FAKES, meaning you’ve lost 25% of the original quality. They are immitations with fake shinning matrix numbers, fake print, fake silver CD-R. Hope you you get your ass kicked and I hope you didn’t lost $ 10000 now that you know how the system works.

  • neverbull llbnerver

    also, Flac is around 1000k, and youve lost 35%-38% of the quality of the genuine record. Wav is 1411k and youve lost 25% of the quality of the genuine record. They just did publicity for years around the flac, lying the full uncompressed format, and it pleased people to find that it showed a smaller file than the .Wav. It’s fake publicity by repeating to the mass that the Flac doesn’t lose quality. After doing the test many many times among the years, the Wav always sounds better than the Flac after ripping the same record. ( You’ve lost here too because I can have only 25% lost and you have 38% lost )

    • Zaparter

      Placebo is a strong one. .flac files are not called lossless for no reason. They decompress into bit-identical audio to the source files on playback. People do null tests to check if a converter is worth using. You can just go throw around some misinformation spiced up with random percentages, but I can call you a fucking retard for it just as well.
      Also, ripping records at 16 bit/44.1 kHz is not doing them justice.

      • neverbull llbnerver

        yep, you dont have a 10 000 dollars sound system and you are unaware how to kill a placebo effect by comparing for at least 30 minutes to an hour, a same album side by side. flac is inferior to wav. Well, Your ears are crap and probably all your other senses too. Very typical with human kind. There’s just no hope for humans.

        • Zaparter

          Anyone who actualy knows how digital formats work has to believe you are trolling.

          • neverbull llbnerver

            I feel sorry for you. oh, because I realized some people don’t know how it works in music, I know this from years ago. Decrypt a genuine CD to the uncompressed format of your choice, then, re-encrypt it into a CD-R and then, Decrypt that CD-R into the same uncompressed format you choose then Re-encrypt the given format into another CD-R and process to follow this for quite a time until the final file burned on CD-R. I wish you dont go suicide.
            That means that all those non-remastered bootlegs you bought on discogs contains a degraded sound because no 1 is selling the real one here, they are only fakes, and that oftenly, they are the copy of the copy of the copy of the copy of the copy of the copy, because every1 wants a cut of cash out of it. and well, you know what!? yea, go suicide!

          • Zaparter

            There is a close similarity of people who contracted audiophile-nervosa and conspiracy theorists. They both refuse any information, no matter how factual it might be, if it doesn’t fit their preconception. And they put words into their opponents mouths; I made no claim that you can make an identical copy of an analogue medium.

            Sure, it’s all marketing BS. ‘They’ are trying to sell a free codec to the sheeple. But you sniffed ‘them’ out. You discovered that .flac has a lower bitrate than the source file. Here is a hint that might save you (who am I kdding?): By your logic, uncompressed files of any kind would lose information after being compressed into a .rar archive and decompressed again.

            Also, I loved your initial unedited reply, before you replaced that part with the usual internet fight belittlement meme. The one about ‘no hope for humans’. That was supreme.

          • neverbull llbnerver

            oh and of course, you bought your cds and lps on websites that aren’t the original genuine website. NO S. I can’t say whats next, its too shocking for you.
            they are all fakes. oh well, life continues you know. you might have lost all your money by now.

          • Zaparter

            At least we established now that you are either trolling or are an actual maniac. No music maniac, mind you. You are a full blown conspiracy theorist. So what is the shocking next? Aryans inside our hollow earth?

            I haven’t bought any music on any website, take away digital album downloads on artist’s bandcamps. Just stop. All I hope is you don’t actually feed 16 bit 44.1 kHz vinyl rips to your ‘10,000 dollars sound system’. A proper high resolution A/D converter would have been a relatively cheap investment.

          • neverbull llbnerver

            hahaha, If only everything that I said was wrong. I actually liked to pass for a maniac or some conspiracy freak. I think Its the way I might talk or because I act like crazy in real life. I heard a lot about the hollow earth and some crazy things like that.

  • neverbull llbnerver

    I agree, + the difficulties of the bad quality presses they are putting out these days, using for example, ADD source, not remastered pressed in 1986 will sounds better than the 2015 press in non-remastered format of the same ADD record. got to open you ears, and then buy the Fake record in 1986 to copy it in full wav 1411k that might have a strong chance that this uncompressed illegal copy might sounds better than the original 2015 press. If warner bros pressed it in 1986, and some rhino no name pressed the 2015 version, this have the high chance of not sounding as powerful and pure.

  • neverbull llbnerver

    DDD vinyls remastered or not could sounds better than the CD’s, but that”s your choice. I really enjoy the dynamics of the CD’s. Other subject: the world is f**ked because in a perfect world, they should have stayed with AAD/ADD ONLY and presses in non-remastered LP, non-remastered DVDA and non-remastered Tape, ONLY. If they want to use DDD, then in DVDA only.
    this whole CD mess is a real shame. 2015 and still not all in DVDA Its a real mess.

  • HerBrother

    I just A-B-ed Agalloch’s remastered CDs vs originals and remastered vinyl, no I don’t have the original vinyl, and turns out the CDs sound so much better. Even when they are brickwalled it sounds better on headphones. Now I play the CDs on a high end stereo super loud and both sound like a misshy mess. The vinyl I ripped digitally and found it sounds just as bas it did on headphones. This is even after computer programs say vinyl is has less loudness and is unbrickwalled making it akin to a CD pre-1999. Other vinyl from other bands I find sounds better than their CDs because they went through true remastering and didn’t just normalize the volume. In any case, it appears the original mastering and production of the album is all that matters and then if a true remastering was done and not some super cheap volume raising job.

    Something like DVD-Audio or HDTracks or even those Mobile Fidelity MSFL Gold CDs (remember those?) I see a hear a huge difference. But any other medium seems to not matter at all.