The son­ics of vinyl

Computer Music - - Make Music Now / Virtual 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”

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