Vinyl and digital - let's get down to cases

There is once again a ‘Vinyl vs Digital’ thread on the hardware page, with a lot of categorical statements. Clearly, some ‘know’ that A is vastly superior to B for all recordings of all music, and that anyone who disagrees is (as so often on that page) delusional, dishonest or deaf.

At least some of us have failed to reach such a simple, universal and categorical conclusion. For people in that equivocal camp, it might be good to share views on which versions of which famous & great music we favour.

To take a few easy examples, while recognising that YMMV: -

Ziggy Stardust - If you haven’t got/ can’t afford the 6E/ 4E vinyl that so many regard as definitively best, don’t panic! The Discogs descriptions are pretty fair and several orange label or green label RCA cuts have most or all of the drumming subtlety, loud morse code (on Starman) and swinging Moonage Daydream that the various digital versions may appear not to have. Of course, some may not want Ziggy at all, but there is probably no hope for you…

Tres Hombres - please don’t get the expensive 180g vinyl with (for example) 08122799699 on the label. I did and tried to like it, really I did. If you want an ‘everything louder than everything else’ version, just buy the CD or stream it. If you want the original sound, get an old US pressing or the purple London label version.

Hot Rats - FZ may have been a genius, but apparently not at digitisation. Get the yellow label Reprise UK vinyl or just about any 1970s US or German or Japanese vinyl for proper drums and an even balance. If you can get the Bizarre label first press, bathe in the smug feeling as well as the unsurpassed (imho) sound. Or get the post 1987 digital version, which has extended solos as Frank spanks his plank. Please don’t get the early digital versions or anything based on them and imagine that you will really hear what all the fuss was about.

Pieces of a Man - you don’t have to buy a tatty original except for the cred! The 180g Flying Dutchman vinyl has all the uncompressed subtlety that my old CD hasn’t. There are good CD versions of this (and most worthwhile GSH music) but the streams I can find are not those versions.

Red - my 200g vinyl says ‘newly cut from masters approved by Robert Fripp’. It’s more vigorous than my old copy and the cello has not been hidden, or worn down by time. However, the Expanded and Remastered stream and the KC50 versions are more than good enough to impress my old ears too - and cheaper.

Back to Black - I don’t understand why the heavy vinyl with LC00407 on the cover can sound more involving or convey her distress better than the excellent digital versions, but multiple listeners who couldn’t see which input button I pressed on the preamp have agreed that it does.

Fool’s Gold - you know you really want the 9:53 long version for the extra Squire-ing thereon. I have the 12 inch on Silvertone. It’s great of course, and a good deal more pleasing than other vinyl cuts I have heard, but is it any better than the Remastered version on the 20th Anniversary stream on Tidal with its fractionally more intelligible vocals, marginally reduced high hat and more subterranean bass? I think that’s a YES, but I just had to play both to check - it’s a fine line.

That’s enough to get us started surely? Any takers for which version of Kind Of Blue we should all be playing?


Hi Nick very interesting and balanced. I shouldn’t be replying as it was years ago that I sold my record player. According to my CD of Kind of Blue, three of the original vinyl tracks were in the wrong key because the tape recorder was running slightly slow. So presumably if you want to hear all the music as played you either need to hear the digitally re-mastered CD or vinyl record!

1 Like

Thanks @RWC, this is just the sort of thing I was hoping to see.

Sadly, you are 100% right about Kind Of Blue, but that is the problem. It drives anyone with perfect pitch to drink of course, but I have been hearing the ‘wrong’ version dozens of times a year for 45 years and adjusting to the corrected CD will probably take longer than I have left.

1 Like

Love this kind of thing. I’ve got a fair few variations of Beatles albums and can only say each one sounds different.

As for preferences, it’s all highly subjective, but I’ll throw a few suggestions into the thread: off the top of my head. . .

Abbey Road (matrix numbers ending -1/-2 and cut by Malcom Davies).

Of the multiple vinyl versions I have this one has everything in its seemingly right place: balanced, good but not exaggerated soundstage, superb instrumentation placement. A truly great cut and if you can track down a good pressing it’s a must have.

Rubber Soul (matrixes ending -5/-5)

Cut by EMI’s classical engineer Hazel Yarwood, this mono recording showcases the albums fantastic tones and warmly vigorous playing. As with all great Beatles mono albums, it sounds big and captures their energy in full bloom.

More to add when I’ve given it a bit more thought and time.


Thanks. If I could add that my CD is a Sony 20 bit SBM of the Columbia recording. I have a number of Sony SBM and they are all very good especially piano. As the co-inventor of the CD, Sony seem to really know what they are doing. Equally, Philips the other co-inventor produce excellent cd’s. Their early 16 bit recordings always seem to have better sound quality than their sister company, DG!

It’s funny you should say that…

My old Abbey Road is worn thin. It says YEX749-4 and -1 in the run-off groove. I wish it were mint because it’s right to me.

The replacement says ‘Miles Abbey Road 1/2 Speed Room 30’ in the run-off. It sounds super-dynamic but Ringo is farther away (how is that possible?) and the high hat touches are much quieter, so I Want You sounds a bit slow and, well, leaden, to my ear.

I think it started life as the Giles Martin remix but I may be wrong. In any event, I wish I had looked at this site and seen your wise words before getting it.

1 Like

There are whole threads full of some of us bitching about DG’s early digital output. Ask people what they think about HvK’s later recordings…

1 Like

Interesting thread - thanks @NickofWimbledon .

I have never chased different versions of recordings myself - but can admire those who have the energy - and budget, to do so.

I have roughly 200 LP’s bought new in the 70’s, either when they came out first - or not long after. I transitioned to buying CD’s around 1990 (I was living in Japan - and they were a lot cheaper there, than in the UK - but were often the US version). I have always just bought what I could get, really. I do have some re-masters/re-issues (such as all the King Crimson studio albums).

My exception would be Led Zeppelin, where I have original LP’s, the 90’s Remasters sets and the 2015 re-issues.


Yes, I have one of those too. It’s the “Anniversary Edition”, and a new mix by Giles and Sam Okell. I like it a lot, though the instrument placement, as you mention, can be disorientating. Beyond that its just got a really different tonal feel to it, is it the digitisation, the half speed mastering of this mix or other factors? Who knows.

Its clearly very different to the Malcolm Davies -2/-1 cut, and the others I have. The -2/-1 is the one I can play and enjoy most at decent to loud volume!

As mentioned in other threads at other times, I really like all of the Giles and Sam mixes, because not in spite of the fact they don’t sound the same as the originals. They are very different things, made in different times, and mostly designed for different quality playback equipment.

1 Like

Some will say that with Led Zeppelin and Crimson you have a lot of bases covered musically.

Zeppelin divides opinion and not just because of Page’s, er, relationship issues. A friend with many hundreds of hours in recording studios behind him (and a huge Zeppelin fan and Knebworth attendee) used them for years as an example that, once a recording had been squished and limited, there was nothing to be done to make an audiophile recording out of it - compare (say) Pretzel Logic and LZ2 for detail and stereo image.

We all know what he meant, but the 2015 reissues in particular present a compelling counter - there really was more music on the tape after all.


My record then CD buying was largely as @IanRobertM described, though about 500 LPs from late 60s through to late 80s, and I have never had the inclination or budget to seek multiple versions of anything. I have compared vinyl with CD, and latterly downloads mainly as not through the same recording, but general impressions of vinyl vs digital are distinctly that once it came of age (very late 1980s), digital sounded better, across different systems over the years, and my dabble with the recent crop of Chord DACs - Hugo then Dave - made a friend of mine, who is a lifelong vinyl devotee, admit that actually digital can sound better than vinyl.

The fact that many vinyl lovers seem to prefer vinyl versions of music that was actually recorded digitally is proof to me that what they like is what vinyl does to change the sound, not what digital does to the sound. The same applies where anyone using the Uniti range pf players (Atom, Star or Nova) to play vinyl, as those devices digitise the vinyl input.

Vinyl has very obvious sound characteristics that I find distract from the music, most obviously surface noise, whereas digital done well just sounds like music, at least to me. Any direct comparison of a recording of course is only meaningful where the same mastering is used for both the vinyl and digital copies, which I am led to believe is not common, at least so for older material. This was brought home to me once when a friend came round with some CDs to play, one of which I had as well. When we played whichever it was, one of us thought there was something odd about the sound, so we played the other - and sure enough the two CDs sounded different. We scrutinised the disks and the inserts, and the only evident difference was that one said made in Germany the other said made in UK. That rather said to me that any comparison between CD and vinyl is immediately flawed unless one can be certain that they are isentical masterings.

As for which Kind of blue, the answer is none!! (I can’t stand jazz.)

1 Like

Very fair. There is so much to like that I wish the obvious tempo conveyers had not been moved back on I Want You and even Carry That Weight - ‘leaden’ may be over harsh, but you know what I mean.

Had I known what I was doing, I would have gone for the -2/-1 or stuck with my tired original.

While I remember, another apparently un-improvable LP is the original Wild Wood. I am not so sure about my Blue and Sticky Fingers copies.

1 Like

Another great point or two - thanks. As the friend from a studio keeps saying, getting music onto a CD is managed with choices and compromises just as much as getting music onto vinyl ever was. Mind you, I hope I didn’t suggest that digital cannot ever sound better than vinyl - I certainly didn’t intend to say anything of the sort.

A kind and patient soul also provided this link, which I found very interesting: -

One thing that I would add as a quibble to your first point is that vinyl replay changes the sound exactly as you say, but so does every single digital replay. To put it at its most trivial, if that were not true, the use of any competently designed A to D and D to A hardware into a standard system and room would deliver identical sound experiences every time.

I should also say that the chum who bought the Merging NADAC nearly bought a DAVE. He was fairly astonished to discover how much better a lot of music sounded to him when played on the NADAC (or an LP12) than on the DAVE. YMMV as they say.

Finally, I have noticed that the classical musicians I know/ have known all abandoned vinyl many years ago. By contrast, none of the jazz players, drummers or guitarists have ditched vinyl. You may think of that as supporting your prejudice about jazz of course…

1 Like

On the first point, I can’t disagree - the only way of knowing would be to hear an analogue recording, then digitise it and play it through a digital system and see if it sounds different. That of course happens when anyone plays a vinyl album through a Uniti player (also, I believe, some Linn systems). A key question is: Is the digital character more or less noticeable than the vinyl? Where people prefer vinyl even when played through such a system, or where the original recording was digital, I suggest that the vinyl character is the more significant.

On the second point, perhaps it depends on what constitutes “competently designed”, especially when it comes to DACs…

Your observation about the preference of musicians you know is interesting, and possibly worth exploring more widely.

1 Like

Every CD and stream is a recording of analogue music. Agreed.

Using Linn’s Urika II phono stage means converting from analogue to digital and back again. Agreed.

Playing vinyl through (say) a Naim Nova also means converting A to D and D to A. Agreed.

I am not sure that these points support your other statements, but that may show that I have just missed the point - not too unusual.

I don’t think your suggestion at the end of para 1 can easily be tested for accuracy, not least because I doubt that even 1% of those on this site would be interested in a debate on the definition of words like ‘significant’.

I am slightly more confident that I would be among the many people whose ears would not reliably tell them whether music that we have never heard before was being played wholly digitally, partly digitally or wholly non-digitally.

Where actual experiment has produced actual results, it has not supported the idea that there is (beyond scratches and warps) a big and persistently recognisable vinyl ‘character’ at all. Skilled musicians have ‘got it wrong’ when played music they did not know. However, as the Youtube item reminds us, that does not mean that there are no differences, - over time, preferences can be noted and plenty of people have been very surprised to find that a wholly analogue version sounds more ‘real’ or more 'accurate to them when blind testing or (on different bits of music) that the reverse is true.

I am also curious about your saying: ‘The fact that many vinyl lovers seem to prefer vinyl versions of music that was actually recorded digitally is proof to me that what they like is what vinyl does to change the sound’. To take an obvious quibble, could that not show that their turntable is considerably more accurate (and probably much more expensive) than their digital replay chain, and that the failings of the latter explain the result?

In any event, if you believe that all or almost all digital replays of almost all music will always be more accurate than any analogue (or partly analogue) replays of the same music, and that accurate/ inaccurate in that context involves one sort of variable, then I suspect that you will regard almost everything written on this thread as proof of deafness, delusion, dishonesty or more than one of the above. After all, most here are highlighting individual examples that fall into one category of the other. That would hardly be useful if the early advertisements saying the CD offered ‘perfect sound forever’ had been even vaguely true.

On the point about preferences and hi-fis of musicians I know or have known, can I suggest roping in a much bigger sample? I think several people on the Folk and Classical threads here who know a large number of candidates may be able to help if you want to explore this.

Finally, if you really want to get into the details of good and DAC design, we will hit my ignorance threshold almost immediately - sorry. What little I know is limited to the results and what I infer about the design from there.


@Isca_Dumnoniorum has pointed out that, if I thought that that version of Pieces of a Man was good, it is only because I have not heard an even better one. I am miffed of course, but pleased to be better informed.

Apparently I (and anyone) would be even happier if I owned the new 50th anniversary remaster by Frank Merritt. I stand corrected!

Mine’s still much better than what I can find on Tidal and Qobuz or my boom-&-tizz 30+ year old CDs.


Great thread!


We’ve been discussing a few over on the “show us your record player” thread. I have a re-born 80’s Rega Planar 3 playing through a 552/300 :flushed:, versus the Core/NDX2/555 :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:. I could swear some of my 80’s original vinyl has a better engagement/groove and punch over the ripped CDs. Examples being Rush, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Eloy and Marillion, but I’ve still a 300 odd collection to test…. Not always better in objective hi-fi terms, but there is no doubt the likes of “Power Windows” or “Moving Pictures’ by Rush on vinyl would now be my go to for a good work out, the punch of vinyl takes the edge for that style of music. Odd really, considering the relative costs of the sources, but a nice problem to have.


Very interesting. I’ve been a tad underwhelmed by some of the Rush reissued vinyl LPs of recent years, preferring some of the CDs I purchased back in the 80s. ‘Power Windows’ sounded awesome on CD first time around.

Must say all reissued Floyd / Marillion I have on vinyl is superb. Played the remastered ‘Meddle’ on vinyl yesterday and was struck by its SQ.


I agree on the Marillion. I have the box sets from the Fish era (and Afraid Of Sunlight) and they are all superb, especially Script For A Jesters Tear