Monday, November 26, 2012

Vinyl vs. Digital - THE TRUTH (?)

With the recent release of the Beatles Stereo Catalogue on Remastered, Audiophile 180gm vinyl, the whole issue of analogue vs. digital has surfaced.  Based on more information I've culled from the internet, I may be changing my opinion here.

I think the whole situation boils down to what you PERSONALLY can hear.  As we all know, everyone hears things differently (or at all).  As one gets older, one loses the ability to hear the high end of the audio spectrum.  Typically, a human being should be able to hear tones in the range of 20hZ to 18,000hZ.  Ideally that is.

With advancing age and exposure to daily sounds (jack hammers, traffic noise, etc), that 18,000hZ can quickly erode to 14,000hZ or worse.

The point I'm making here initially, is that those of us who thing perhaps their hearing is special, might be in for a surprise.  Your hearing might not be as discerning as you might think.   

Let's take a look again at how an analogue signal is converted to a digital signal.  Current red book standards for CDs uses 16-bit/44.1khZ sampling rate.  That means that for every second of analogue signal, it is sampled 44,100 times PER SECOND.  This allows the digital signal to capture up to a 22khZ tone.  Remember I said that an average person can probably not hear much above14khZ, so this sampling rate should suffice.

I don't think sampling at 96khZ or even 192khZ (192,000 slices PER SECOND) is REALLY  going to make much difference.    Especially to a "tired" ear.

16-bit allows you to set a level for the each slice of sample.  It assigns a digital number, if you will, for that slice at that particular part of the analogue wave form.  Remember that bits are all part of the binary code, which only allows 1's or 0's.  So a typical value for a slice of the signal includes 16 bits:  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx .  It could be something like 0110011110001110.  The next slice might be 0110011110001111.  Now, we have 16 spaces that can be filled by either 1 or 0, and the total number of possibilities is 2 to the 16th power, or roughly 65,000 possible values. 

24-bit then, means 24 spaces or (2 to the 24th power), which then puts the number of possibilities at over 4 MILLION (compared to 65,000).

Better sound?  hang on.  Let's remember that we are still taking about the same dynamic range (the difference between absolute quiet and the noisiest passage in your analogue signal).  Whether you express this dynamic range in 65,000 or 4,000,000 possibilities still doesn't change your DYNAMIC RANGE.  It just refines your digitization process while making your digital file HUGE.

Folks, the average ear just isn't going to hear the difference between a 16bit and a 24bit sample.  SuperEars might, but that is a limited group of people.

Now I find out that most of the newer 180gm vinyl records out there are likely sourced from a digitized form of the master tapes.  DIGITIZED!!  Not analogue!  How many of you are now thinking, "Geez, I've been listening to that audiophile Partridge Family LP and it sounded great!" 

Going back to the Beatles audiophile vinyl reissues, the source is from the Digital Remasters from 2009 (except for "Help!" and "Rubber Soul", which are taken from the George Martin remasters done in 1986).  The digital remaster is 24bit, and had to be "converted" to 16bit for CD production.  CD's must also be processed using limitation, which essentially boosts the sound levels.

The vinyl, on the other hand, doesn't have the 16bit restriction OR the limiting, hence the vinyl is the "purer" signal despite the fact that it's from a digitization of the original analogue tapes.  And if you think you are going to see remasters from analogue tapes in the future, I wouldn't hold my breathe, as most studios have gotten rid of their reel-to-reel tape machines.

So to conclude, trust your ears!!!  If the format you're listening to sounds great, then no worries!!  With the slow degradation of our hearing as we get older, there ain't much we can do about it.  Might as well slap a platter or a CD into your sound system AND JUST ENJOY THE MUSIC!!

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