Can’t Beat the Sound!

Audio purists have long claimed that the sound of a good turntable and cartridge combination is superior to the sound of CD.

How can that be? I used to wonder! These people bought a thousand dollar dinosaur and feel bad about it. Then one day I heard it for the very first time on a recording that I was very familiar with.

Here's what's going on: The way that CDs work is that they take a "sample" of one or many sounds every so often (in this case its 44,000 times per second). Each of the 44,000 events per second is called a sample. The data in the CD records the volume (loudness) of the sound or sounds that the recorder is recording. If a recording lasts exactly 10 seconds, then the recorder stores data for the 440,000 samples. If the recording is for exactly one minute, then there are (440,000) X 6 — or 2,640,000 samples. When the sound is replayed, the samples are played back and we hear roughly the same sound that we heard when it recorded. The advantage of CD is that the data does not contain much background noise (the first CD Players had the noise floor about 90 dB below the loudest signal while vinyl has a signal to noise ratio of about 60 dB when things are perfect, but when CD was introduced 50dB was considered about normal). What the CD engineers did not forsee is that the details in the music (the artsy crowd refers to nuances) are generally caused by sounds that last less than 1/44,000 of a second. Its likely that a detail that is that short will not be recorded at all, or perhaps worse, recorded as "instant on" which sounds highly unlike the original sound, because musical sounds almost always quickly change volume when they begin or end! The CD recording makes it all there or all not there, because the size of the sample is too long!!!

Like the guys at Sony when they designed CD as a format, you are probably thinking "I can't hear anything that short!" Check out this experiment: Bilndfold yourself and have a friend drop a quarter on a large hard surface that you are close to. As soon as you possibly can, point to the quarter. If you have two fully functional ears, this was no problem for you. You actually heard the quarter twice! Once was in the left ear and the other time was in the right ear. The reason that you could point to the correct location is that the sound traveled from the hard surface to one of your ears quicker than it did to the other ear. Its a matter of distance and the speed of sound. The speed of sound does not change (significantly). We hear the difference in arrival times and, because of experience, can properly place where the quarter fell. I know you are wondering where I'm going with all of this! Here's the kicker: The amount of time between the two sounds you heard is smaller than 1/44,000 of a second. You can hear sounds that short and do on a regular basis.

Try this: go to a thrift store and buy a $10 turntable. Plug it into your phono input on your stereo and get a copy of an album that you already have on CD. Listen for details, plucks of strings, etc. An acoustic guitar and a good close microphone move faster than the CD sampling rate will allow in order to get a correct recording! You will hear what I am talking about.

Superior Sound vs. Marketing & Technology"
OK, so its an uphill battle! Turntable enthusiasts are never going to convince everyone that the "Old School" technology that we support is better. But, don't laugh! Turntable sales and products are making a come back. Every year, however, people are buying more turntables than the year previous. Every year more new vinyl is sold than in the previous year. In 1980 every decent system had a turntable. Even I doubt that we will ever be able to make a statement like that again. Those of us who know what sounds good and what sounds better can continue spreading the word among those who truly want great sound.

More and more people, however, are returning to vinyl! Some think I am kidding, but these facts are verifiable.


New Vinyl Sales*
*New vinyl is recently manufactured and sold new, not used. A new record can cost around $40.00. It is made with superior vinyl than what was sold in the 60s-80s and sounds much better than its older counterpart.


CD Sales
New Vinyl Sales
Up 89% from 2007 (2.15 million)
Down 13%
Up 14% (2.5 million)
Continued down trend, sources differ
Up 14% (2.8 million)