Vinyl, CD, MP3 - Sound Differences a Topic for Discussion Once Again.
In the early 1980s, a war of words was raging between supporters of CD and vinyl:
was the analogue LP better, was the digital CD superior? It was difficult to tell
the difference on a "normal" hi-fi system, and thus the CD, as a result of various
"practical" advantages, has dominated the past 25 years. But with the
introduction of various compression processes (MP3, MP4, etc.) two things have
changed. First of all, CDs are losing market share. And second, it is
becoming all too clear that there is a difference in sound between MP3s and vinyl
- and that the difference is considerable. Somehow a lot of music gets "lost"
when heard on an MP3 player. But what is it exactly, and why?
" A Vinyl LP Has 12 Gigabytes"
Of course it doesn't really. But the key words in understanding the difference
in sound (audible, and perceptible otherwise as well!) are " data reduction". The
expression can be explained in terms of the respective storage space required:
If a piece of music requires 5 MB of storage space in MP3 format, for example,
it would perhaps need 50 MB to be stored on a CD without compression. But how
much on an LP? Someone once calculated that you would have to sample
an LP at rate of 800 kHz to fully capture all the nuances (for the purposes of
comparison: the figure for CDs is 44.1 kHz). The result: it would take
around 1 GB to store a single hit on vinyl. If that were true of iPods, they
wouldn't hold a lot of tunes. So of necessity, there is a loss of sound quality.
There is no way that 5 MB can come even close to sounding like 1 GB.
A comparison with photography will perhaps make things clearer: take a high-resolution photo with a modern digital camera (perhaps 5 MB) and store it at a resolution that reduces it to 25 KB.
Well? What can you see? What happened to the details?
The Human Ear Cannot Be Fooled
There is a similar phenomenon in music as a result of data reduction, although it is not as immediately obvious. Here are two examples of how the data can be reduced:
Loud sounds drown out soft sounds, so you can simply leave out the soft sounds.
You can reduce the dynamic differences, making everything more or less the same volume. If you reduce the dynamics sharply, you don't need as much storage space.
It should be obvious that degrading the music in this manner will be audible and otherwise perceptible as well. The question is: how much degradation are you prepared to accept?
Soft sounds at the threshold of hearing, for example, transmit
information about room ambience: if these sounds are missing, the
overall impression is flat and undifferentiated.
The soft sounds of breathing or a wind player starting to blow are important
for authenticity and emotional content in the music.
Dynamic differences are an important element, especially in classical music. Here the music also sounds "flat" if these differences are artificially reduced.
But listeners can decide for
themselves: Preiser Records offers many historical recordings in up to four different
versions: as an MP3 that can be downloaded, as a sonically superior CD (mail order),
in many cases as a NOS vinyl (NOS = new old stock) that was produced in a completely analogue process (see the Preiser LP Catalogue) and even as an analogue MC (= music cassette, on request).
Preiser still has a lot of analogue recordings on Vinyl.
Numerous NOS vinyl records that were produced in the 1960s and 1970s with
state-of-the-art analogue technology are still available. The main focus: historical
portraits of more than 250 singers of the past century who were " brought back to
life " in the now-legendary series "Lebendige Vergangenheit" (The Living
The audio-engineering and artistic pillar as well as fellow partner of
Preiser Records is Prof. Jrgen Schmidt. As one of Austria's most respected
recording managers of the past 50 years he has not only personally known the giants
of musical life - singers, composers, conductors, musicians - but also been responsible
for the high quality of new recordings and the remastering of older ones.
Legendary Voices: Remastered from Original Shellac Records
Over a period of decades, under the direction of Prof. Schmidt, thousands of unique recordings were transferred from original shellac records to master tapes. They provided the basis for the series "Legendary Voices " - which is probably the last and only "catalogue" of this size in the world to present the great singers of the past century in a sound quality that is extremely close to the original. These recordings may have a bit of surface noise - old 78-rpm records simply did - but after listening for only a few minutes you forget that: the voices soon have you under their spell.
Shellac Records: A Half Century of Music History
Shellac records are the heavy, extremely fragile discs that spin at 78 revolutions per minute (78 rpm). They are mostly associated with the old gramophones that were fitted with a horn or bell and had a correspondingly "frightful" sound.
That's a pity, because it's not that way at all: for more than half a century, shellac records were the classic recording medium, and by the 1950s they had almost achieved hi-fi quality. By the way, the last commercially available 78-rpm records were made in 1965 (!).
Shellac Records: Direct to Disc
Highly interesting as far as sound quality is concerned: until the arrival of the tape recorder (in the early 1940s), shellac recordings were "recorded directly" - a feature that is highly valued by fans of vinyl today, because the musical performance was cut directly into a master disc. Thus there was no need for a circuitous route involving other media and thus hardly any "studio technology" to get in the way of the performance.
The result was a fascinating acoustical directness, an immediacy and an unbelievable reality (especially in the case of voices!) that was hardly ever achieved again in any other medium. While this may appear to be a bold assertion, almost no one was in a position at the time - in the post-war years - to listen to a 78-rpm record on optimal equipment, and over the past decades this has also been true for technological reasons: these days it is difficult to get the "right" equipment, from needles to turntables to preamps with the proper equalisation, and only "freaks" are aware that the trouble is well worth going to . If you should have the opportunity of listening to a swing - or even better rock and roll - shellac recording at 78 rpm on optimal equipment, do it: the sound is guaranteed to knock you off your feet!
If this has whetted your curiosity: just look up "78 rpm" on the
Shellac Records: Surface Noise is Part of the Sound.
One shortcoming of shellac records cannot be denied: the material - originally
"shellac", made from the secretions of an Indian scale insect - has a larger grain
than vinyl. That limited the upper frequencies, and the structure of the material is
audible, creating surface noise. In "modern" remastering to digital media, sound
engineers do everything they can to eliminate this noise, but at the same time
they are eliminating essentials components of the sound. That's the main reason
why many of these recordings sound dull at best, and usually catastrophically
Legendary Voices from Preiser: It's All There!
The recordings in the series "Lebendige Vergangenheit" are up to 100 years
old, and the surface noise is audible ? but that is simply a guarantee that nothing is
missing: everything was transferred in keeping with the original technology:
a stylus of the proper diameter (65 m was not the end of the story), the right
speed (78 rpm discs were rarely recorded at exactly 78 rpm!) and the
suitable equalisation (a book could be written on that subject alone). In transfers
to vinyl, only analogue technology is used, and Sonic Solutions equipment helps
create an optimal transfer to CD, eliminating scratches and all serious defects.
As the Viennese cabaret artist Karl Farkas used to say: Just listen!
The Preiser Recording Studios
"Classic" recordings for more than 40 years
Preiser Records operates several studios where recordings are made or transferred. One of the studios, called Casino Baumgarten, has not been altered since 1965 and is practically in its original condition with the original equipment. As one of the last classical recording studios in the world still using vintage vacuum-tube technology, it is available at any time and is still used to make analogue recordings of the highest quality.
The studios themselves have impressive acoustics and can accommodate even large productions. In this respect they are comparable to Vienna's Sofiens�e, which were destroyed by fire in 2001.
Recording Boom in 1950s Vienna
In the 1950s Vienna experienced a real recording boom: American record
companies were constantly on the lookout for suitable halls, the finest musicians,
studios and recording engineers. Money was no object - the dollar at the time was
worth about 25 schillings (today almost two euros), the musicians were cheap, and
everyone was excited about exploring the new high-fidelity technology, which in
1958 was complemented by stereo recording techniques. In those years, DECCA
London secured the rights to record in Vienna's d Sofiens�e, where the company
recorded numerous milestones of classical music.
Preiser's Vintage Studio of 1965
The studio opened in 1965, equipped with the finest technology that was available at the time (have a look at the list further down the page: the equipment is still state of the art today). Into the 1970s the large studio and the smaller studio next door were a rendezvous for the most important musicians and revue performers in Austria. This is where Friedrich Gulda made recordings with the Eurojazz Orchestra, Paul Badura-Skoda and J�g Demus sat down at the B�endorfer Imperial Grand, and Gilbert Schuchter recorded his Schubert discs and the complete Mozart repertoire for solo piano. Fatty George was also here, as were Karl Farkas, Helmut Qualtinger and many other famous actors. Their recording sessions with engineer Josef Kamykowski have become legendary.
Our Recording Engineers: Decades of Experience
Many of the artists we have mentioned have become legends in their own right, but the artists at the controls are also still available in their "original condition":
Josef Kamykowsky has been in the "business" for almost 60 years and from the very beginning has designed, used and "lived" our analogue studio technology.
Helmut Leistner is in charge of Preiser's Studio Wassergasse. It is used in
particular for recordings of speech, plays and for restorations ("Legendary Voices").