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With the releases of Time On Earth and Intriguer, I remember within the applicable threads for those albums someone was touting the superior sound quality of the vinyl releases over the CD. Sorry, I can't remember who, precisely, was saying that and I'm too lazy to dig through those threads to find out. (Put up your hand if it was you.) But I remember thinking at the time that perhaps I should dust off the old turntable and pick up a vinyl copy of those albums and give them a spin to judge for myself. Alas, my inherent apathy also nipped that plan in the bud.

With the recent release of the deluxe editions of the CD discography and the accompanying vinyl editions, I reluctantly overcame my natural slothliness and stumped up the not inconsiderable cash to buy all the vinyl albums - with the exception of Time On Earth, which has yet to be released.

So I dusted off the turntable and, wouldn't you know it, it had a broken stylus! So I ordered a replacement Ortofon cartridge from Germany and waited for it to arrive while my brand spanking new vinyl sat on the shelf, impatiently waiting for the opportunity to impress me with its glory.

In the meantime, I hit the Sydney Opera House and had a fabulous time with many of you fine people! When I arrived back home, the stylus was waiting for me. Sweet!

Given that I now had copies of all the CDs, a DVD-Audio copy of the debut and vinyl copies of all but one album, I thought it would be fun to pit all the formats against each other to see which one was superior. The only album for which I possessed all three formats was the debut album, so that would be the test case. It's my favourite album anyway so all the better.

Now for those who care about these sorts of things, I'm using an old Sony PS-2350 turntable with an Ortofon NF15XE MkII stylus hooked into an old Pioneer SA-7500 used as a preamp to a modern Onkyo TX-NR545 AV receiver. The AV receiver allows me to switch almost instantly between sources allowing for direct, side-by-side comparisons of each format.

The DVD-Audio disc is playing on a Sony PS3. The "CD" is actually a lossless FLAC rip streamed from Kodi on a Raspberry Pi. I did compare the FLACs to the native CD beforehand and there was no discernible difference to my ear. I also directly compared the CD to the vinyl and came to exactly the same conclusions below.

5.1 DOLBY DIGITAL - is king?

Now before I started, I kind of expected the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix to blow everything else away. It's been my favourite CH recording for some years now and I still occasionally pester Gryphon about plans of future 5.1 releases of the remaining albums - of which there are none.

The 5.1DD mix of the album must be heard to be believed. If you know someone who has a copy of this disk, you should have sex with them immediately, or at least become very good friends because this is the album you have been searching for your entire life.

Remember the feeling when you listened to your first CH album? Well, you will when you listen to this! It's like listening to it the first time all over again. The six channels of audio available to this format opens up the sound stage like you've never heard it before. Hole In The River, in particular, is exquisite. You can actually hear the wailing woman clearly in this mix - I didn't even realise it was a woman singing, prior to this; I always thought it was a woodwind instrument! It really makes you realise just how much is lost when all that sound is compressed into two stereo channels. Even just isolating Neil's vocal to the centre speaker makes the mix so much clearer.

The bass in the 5.1 mix is also superb. Floor-shakingly superb, in fact, owing to the use of a dedicated sub-woofer channel which neither of the other formats have.

VINYL - HOLY COW!

Now here's the surprise - to me, anyhow: the vinyl copy is almost as good as the 5.1 mix!

Naturally the soundscape is not as wide as the 5.1DD - it just doesn't have the channels at its disposal to compete with that - but it is still mighty wide! There's a lot of space in this stereo mix and most details can be heard clearly if you're listening to them - they just don't punch out like in the 5.1.

To my ear the dynamic range of the vinyl sounds identical to the 5.1DD, just less spread out, for obvious reasons. By comparison, the CD audio almost sounds mono, limp and tinny.

The vinyl also sounds brighter than the 5.1DD - a little too bright, perhaps? -  but this may just be a characteristic of my turntable.

CD - meh.

Listened to on its own the CD sounds pretty good. Compared side-by-side to the two other sources it is clearly the inferior format.

It has the narrowest sound field of the three and, as noted above, it is nearly mono by comparison!

The bass is also nearly non-existent compared to the other two formats. Overall it sounds slightly muddy and muted. Clearly the dynamic range of CD is poor compared to vinyl and DD.

CONCLUSION

So, in conclusion, the formats of choice are 5.1 Dolby Digital and vinyl, with DD just edging out vinyl only because of its greater sound stage width and its subsequent dedicated sub-woofer and voice channels. Otherwise, vinyl is pretty damn good and, for most intents and purposes, the equal of DD.

CD? Well, wow, it's quite crap really. I don't know enough about the CD tech specs to know if it is not capable of more or if it is just popularly subject to brick walling to suit the iPod generation. In any case, it's a disgrace to modern music that albums sounded better 30 years ago than they do today.

CD still has it's place, of course; for mobile music it is so much easier than vinyl. You could digitally download everything, I suppose, but, personally, I prefer to hold some tangible art in my hand rather than possess it virtually. I suppose from here on in, I shall be purchasing music on vinyl and CD.

 

Oh, and if you made it this far - CONGRATULATIONS! That was quite a slog, wasn't it?

__________________________ We're all God's children, and God is a woman, But we still don't know who the father is.

Original Post

You say you used the deluxe edition of the vinyl, but did you use the deluxe version of the CD as well? I can't quite tell.

If you used an old, non-deluxe copy of the CD, it's an unfair comparison because the 5.1 and deluxe vinyl were made from different transfers than the original CD. The new deluxe reissues were made from newer transfers, and the older albums have good bottom end compared to the original issues.

And I can't help but point out: technically, CD has significantly greater dynamic range than vinyl. Admittedly it doesn't always sound that way because of brickwall limiting and such.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...ording#Dynamic_range

Last edited by slowpogo

There's actually 4 formats in total on the DVD-Audio disc if you access the setup menu:

  1. Dolby Digital 5.1
  2. DTS Digital 5.1
  3. Advanced Resolution 5.1 (ie DVD-Audio native surround mode in 24bit/96KHz)
  4. Advanced Resolution Stereo (24bit/96KHz)

 

Only 1&2 are playable on a normal DVD player or PS3 or PS4 etc. You need a dedicated DVD-Audio player or a DVD drive in a computer with the appropriate sound card and software to get to the advanced resolution modes (3&4) which are fantastic, *much* better than the Dolby or DTS modes. They did a stunning job with the advanced resolution stereo versions.

I always wished they'd given Together Alone the same treatment on DVD-Audio, but I guess it's a bit of a dead format now, unless the record companies involved want to release high-res files for purchase....

Last edited by Black_and_White
slowpogo posted:

You say you used the deluxe edition of the vinyl, but did you use the deluxe version of the CD as well? I can't quite tell.

Yes, I did compare the deluxe CD with the deluxe vinyl. Before I started I compared my old CD with the new deluxe version and, as you say, the deluxe CD is indeed superior to the old CD. But it is still inferior to the deluxe vinyl. I should root through my record collection to see if I have any old vinyls. It would be an interesting exercise to see how old/new vinyl compares.

Black_and_White posted:

There's actually 4 formats in total on the DVD-Audio disc if you access the setup menu:

  1. Dolby Digital 5.1
  2. DTS Digital 5.1
  3. Advanced Resolution 5.1 (ie DVD-Audio native surround mode in 24bit/96KHz)
  4. Advanced Resolution Stereo (24bit/96KHz)

 

Only 1&2 are playable on a normal DVD player or PS3 or PS4 etc. You need a dedicated DVD-Audio player or a DVD drive in a computer with the appropriate sound card and software to get to the advanced resolution modes (3&4) which are fantastic, *much* better than the Dolby or DTS modes. They did a stunning job with the advanced resolution stereo versions.

I always wished they'd given Together Alone the same treatment on DVD-Audio, but I guess it's a bit of a dead format now, unless the record companies involved want to release high-res files for purchase....

I'd clean forgotten about the DTS track on this disk. I'll give it a spin tomorrow and see how it compares. I don't have the hardware to play the advanced resolution track.

I'd like to see all the albums get a DVD-Audio release but, as you say, it never really caught on, so little chance of that happening now. I guess when the general populace is satisfied with brickwalled CDs there's little motivation to spend resources on something better.

Have you guys auditioned the new releases side-by-side? What did you think?

There's every chance that the Vinyl and DVD-A are inherently better quality than the CDs. I'd expect the mastering and transfer to have far greater quality because the target audience is likely to be more discerning and the purchase price is higher. I'd hope that those doing the sound engineering would be working to far higher standards.

However, you aren't really comparing like for like in as equal a way as possible. Admittedly, this is nigh on impossible to do in a domestic setting. For a start, your different sources are highly likely to be offering up slightly different line levels to your amplifier. That's before you get more technical with the impedance of the output from each device and how that can impact on sound quality. Then there are the levels of the media itself to consider.

I now have five different CD versions of Woodface, original, Special Edition Die Cut, The Originals Box Set, EMI Centenary and Deluxe Edition.  Some are at slightly different levels, that I can discern relatively easily with my hi-fi kit. The most obvious difference is when comparing Deluxe Edition to original. The differing levels can give a different perception of relative quality if uncorrected. Just turning the volume up or down may not actually help. I can make a stab at correcting for these discrepancies by ripping to FLAC and adjusting the levels accordingly. Doing so reduces any perceived quality gaps somewhat. Louder seeming better is something that hi-fi salesmen and advertisers have been using to their advantage for years.

However, I can still hear slight differences. As a general trend, the newer CDs have greater bass at the slight expense of dynamic range. I guess that's just the modern way of things, what's become known as stonewalling. Hardly the audiophile path to nirvana, but I guess that the vast majority just aren't remotely bothered. They are listening on headphones, soundbars, PCs and tablets. Most won't notice a thing. There's not a huge amount of difference in the new CH releases to my ears. They seem to have trodden a fairly fine line and balanced things pretty well. They are by no means flat and homogenous, but the bass is better at the expense of a little in the way of dynamics.

Personally, I'd love a top notch vinyl set up. Unfortunately, I don't have the small fortune that would be necessary to significantly exceed the performance of a relatively modest CD/FLAC set up. I also don't have the space required for decent storage of the big black disks. I've never quite understood 5.1 mixes for music. As far as I'm concerned home listening is meant to be a representation of what would happen in real life. Unless you are in a band, sitting amongst them isn't what most folks do. I'm also not convinced that recording artists have much input into most 5.1 mixes. I'm not really interested in where a faceless sound engineer thinks a certain instrument should be placed in 5.1. No matter how impressive they may be, such mixes might end up being a long way away from what the artist(s) intended.

What I can definitely tell you is that I have no problem whatsoever in hearing the wailing woman on Hole In The River with my hi-fi. That remains the case for all three versions of the CD album I own, or any FLAC file that I rip from them. It is worth bearing in mind that they all go through the exact same DAC. Still not exactly lab conditions or decent blind testing conditions, but a touch better than using multiple sources and blaming any perceived flaws entirely on the media.

I'd still be rather impressed with even better quality digital audio sources. The music industry, particularly the mainstream, seems to be fairly resistant to it so far. I wouldn't even be particularly concerned if such quality audio sources weren't available in a physical form. As much as I still love collecting physical media, I'd be delighted if buying a physical form of music allowed me access to an even higher resolution download.

 

Sam Vimes posted:

There's every chance that the Vinyl and DVD-A are inherently better quality than the CDs. I'd expect the mastering and transfer to have far greater quality because the target audience is likely to be more discerning and the purchase price is higher. I'd hope that those doing the sound engineering would be working to far higher standards......

 

Thanks for the detailed reply, Sam.

It's true that it's difficult to accurately compare like for like but the best we can do is try to eliminate as many variables as possible and live with that. In the end, all that matters is the sound which hits my ears with the gear I have and that's what I've reported on above. I would be interested to hear what others think based on their own benchmarking with their own gear. If any of you guys happen to be in SE Qld then you're welcome to come over to my place and have a play around.

The advantage in the 5.1 mixes is not in the enveloping surround mix so much as the increased numbers of channels the format offers and the distinct spatial separation of sound this allows. It simple means each speaker is tasked with doing less work - kind of like each speaker reproduces its own sound rather rather than cramming the whole damn lot through a couple of cones and a tweeter in one speaker box like stereo does. I suppose if you wanted to go to the trouble, you could shift your rear speakers to the front and get a kind of super stereo effect and negate the surround aspects of the mix. This would sound pretty awesome, actually!

Regarding the wailing woman in Hole In The River, I've long known that it was there. I'd read about it, and knowing about it I could pick it out. But the truth is unless I was told, I wouldn't know that's what it was. There's a little flute or clarinet (or something) melismatic flourish right at the end of the song which kind of apes the woman's voice so maybe that is why it always just sounded like more of that to me. But I can say that until I heard the 5.1 mix, I couldn't definitively identify it as a woman's voice. Maybe it's just years of hearing damage from loud music in my youth which hindered me from hearing it clearly in the stereo mix. In any case, in relative terms, it is much clearer on the DVD-A.

I too own the DVD-A of the debut album and love the way it is an actual remix rather than a representation of the stereo mix in a 5.1 format. (ie. they totally started from scratch and mix the songs all opver again paying little attention to the sound and levels of the two channel mix)

It would be great if an album as dense as Together Alone could be mixed in a surround format but that's a point I've been labouring over for the last ten years. I doubt it will happen now (at the same time I would love to be proved wrong).

Is vinyl surperior to a hi-resolution format (eg. SACD, DVD-A, Bu Ray Audio)? Technically no. A good hi-res master can easily reproduce the "warmth" of vinyl if mastered with care. Vinyl only sounds as good as the equipment one has.

Have to laugh when some young hipster boasts how good the sound quality of vinyl compared to other formats but plays their records on a modern cheap department store turntable or an old stereo from the early 1970s (without modifications). Hate to burst your bubble mate but a bluetooth speaker sounds much better than that equipment!

Used to be a vinyl snob in the 90s but I'm over that affliction now. Letr's not forget vinyl detoriates over time no matter how well you store the record. Soon as the needle scraps away onm first play the deterioation starts (which is why collectors will pay good money for unplayed mint copies). Not to mention surface noise which I just cannot stand these days.

However I know there are vnyl junkies on this forum which will howl me down and so be it. Whatever format you hear your music on, make sure it's loud.

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