The sonics of vinyl
Unlike digital playback formats, vinyl has a more ‘rounded’, ‘warm’ sound that’s in part dictated by the physical limitations of the format. As well as having less dynamic range compared to CD-quality audio, the mechanics of vinyl as a playback medium means that things we take for granted in the digital domain will not necessarily translate well to vinyl.
For example, it’s difficult to cut out-of-phase material such as stereo bass onto vinyl, as the lathe’s cutting head will try and cut the groove both laterally and vertically at the same time, leading to skipping when the record is played back. This is why the common consensus when mixing has always been to keep low-frequency instruments such as kick drum and bass centered in the mix.
It’s also a struggle to press audio with excessive sibilance or high-frequency energy onto vinyl for two reasons. First, excess sibilance can blow up the cutting stylus, so vinyl cutting systems feature in-built high frequency limiting, protecting the stylus by aggressively reducing excessive high-mid and treble energy. Second, treble frequencies on vinyl distort before bass on playback, as the stylus has problems tracking extreme high-frequency content.
Additionally, the further a record is played towards the label, the more the sound quality decreases. This is because the distance around the record is longer for the outside grooves than it is for the inside ones, while the record plays at a fixed speed throughout, meaning the outside grooves offer better resolution and highfrequency reproduction than the inside grooves. Combine these restrictions with the surface noise, pops, crackle and hiss that even a welllooked after piece of wax can exhibit, and you end up with a more lo-fi, characterful overall sound compared to digital formats.
“Things we take for granted in digital won’t necessarily translate well to vinyl”