A Story: Digital is Better Than Vinyl … Kinda


By – Carmen[Redacted]

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Space Yeti Cafe.

Vinyl- beloved audio format for 70s kids and the modern day hipster. But who could blame them? It does sound better, right? Enough exposition, let’s look into it. As always, I’ll be doing it via math, in under 5 minutes, while wearing a straight jacket.

Vinyl is analog, while mp3s, wav, etc. are digital. So what? Well, analog signals are continuous functions, while digital signals have their time and amplitude discretely sampled. What does that mean? Check it out below-


So, that’s not 100% accurate, but whatever, I’m not getting paid for this, and it portrays the right idea. Look how smooth that analog curve is! Essentially, a series of values are “sampled” from the analog signal to make a rough approximate. This approximate becomes the digital signal. There you have it- case closed- analog is smooth and pure. And better.

Well, except it’s not. CD quality digital formats are sampled at 44.1khz- that’s 44,100 samples per second. Coincedintally, two math dudes, Harry Nyquist and Claude Shannon got this idea called ‘the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem,’ and they proved that as long as you sample greater than 2 times the frequency played, the result would be an accurate replication of the source. Human hearing maxes out at around 20khz, and 2 times that value is 40khz- meaning that a sample rate of 44.1khz meets the criteria to accurately reproduce the sound. As it turns out, vinyl has so much extra information on it, human hearing can’t even detect it all. I’d also like to point out that almost all records now are mastered digitally, even vinyl ones, so that sample stuff we talked about above, it’s still happening on vinyl.

It’s not just sample rate, though. For example, the mp3 encoding algorithm attempts (n. an act of trying to achieve something, typically one that is unsuccessful or not certain to succeed) to identify frequencies that are likely to be covered up by other frequencies, and simply removes them from the file to save space. That’s a pretty difficult thing to do, so it’s no surprise people think digital formats sound bad.

My main point, if there is such a thing, is don’t say vinyl is better just because you ripped the new Carly Rae Jepsen mp3 from limewire at 32khz. I’m looking at you Chaz Lemons.


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