will it sound warm or cold?
February 16, 2013 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I think it's possible to put digital music onto vinyl albums at home with some device I saw advertised somewhere. But will doing this produce an anologue sound or a digital sound? Will it sound as rich as if the album had originally been on vinyl or will it sound emptier the way digital music does? I guess I'm basically asking if it's worth doing. I don't know technical stuff about stuff, so I hope my question makes sense!
posted by windykites to Media & Arts (15 answers total)
Digital music is usually compressed, whereas music recorded on vinyl is not. Putting digital music onto vinyl will merely record the compressed track on vinyl. It will sound different from music originally pressed onto vinyl. Whether that is bad depends in part on your ears and in part on the degree of compression used for the digital file.
posted by dfriedman at 7:07 AM on February 16, 2013

Oh, and to answer the question about analog versus digital: pressing a digital file onto vinyl will make an analog track. Tracks recorded on vinyl are analog by definition. But, still, you have the compression issue to deal with, so the mere fact that the vinyl track is analog is not a guarantee of its higher fidelity.

Wikipedia seems to have a decent discussion of the differences between analog and digital recordings.
posted by dfriedman at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2013

You know that a lot of vinyl is cut from CD masters, yeah? So warm/cold/whatever is you listening to your gear, not the music.
posted by scruss at 7:27 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plus, it will depend on your source. If you're taking it from MP3s then the characteristic "sizzle" hi-hat and cymbal artifact from that format won't go away just because you put it into wax. If you're using a better compression format, or a lossless format, then you won't have compression artifacts, but the vinyl won't really do anything for you one way or the other.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:34 AM on February 16, 2013

"Digital music is usually compressed, whereas music recorded on vinyl is not. ..."

Eh, I know of a lot of music distributed on vinyl that had compression applied during mastering, to "fix" hot tape mastering, or to squeeze a long duration piece onto a single side by slightly reducing groove pitch. And all music recorded to vinyl records has RIAA pre-emphasis applied (bass reduction), that is supposed to be inversely applied by the pre-amp during playback, to minimize the deflection demanded of the cutting and playback styli by big bass sound waves, and to asymmetrically reduce surface noise hiss from the vinyl. Whether you think of pre-emphasis as compression is a matter of semantics, I think, but as it is an inherent part of the medium, as it also is for normal FM radio, it bears keeping in mind.

In theory, it is possible to process a digital signal through the audio chain without introducing many kinds of distortion products that subsequent stages of an analog signal chain inevitably produce. Once a signal is digitized, it can be amplified, stored, read back from storage, amplified again, and sent to loud speakers, with about a zero practical chance of distortion other than that created by the speakers themselves, which was never really possible in the old analog systems.

You can like vinyl records, analog amplification and signal processing, better than you do digital, for whatever qualities including "warmth," without reservation and as a matter of personal taste, the way some of us like a '53 Buick Roadmaster over nearly any new front wheel drive wonder wagon. But if you want to hear what the artists and producers put down in modern digital DDD recordings, stay digital.
posted by paulsc at 7:40 AM on February 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Digital music is usually compressed, whereas music recorded on vinyl is not.

Unless you're talking about a microphone into a disc cutter, the above is false.

Anyway, OP, the way a gramophone plays back sound is 100% analogue, because the needle vibrating from point A to point B has to pass through all the space in between; it's a fluid motion. The same is true of speakers.

Third, digital music does not inherently sound "empty." The way it's recorded, encoded, or played back can contribute to it sounding like that, but if all three of those elements are decent, it should sound much fuller than vinyl (especially the inner grooves of the record, which have much lower fidelity than the outer ones.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 AM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and to answer the question: If it's just to convert your personal music collection, nope, not worth doing. For one thing, making copies in an analogue format always results in loss of quality. And it would cost money for materials.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2013

Analog recordings use compression too. Listen to a Led Zeppelin record.

Lots of new recordings are released on vinyl. Most of them were probably recorded on a computer. Try picking up your favorite new album on vinyl and compare it to the digital version.
posted by scose at 8:05 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

What you're talking about is essentially the same thing as printing a low-resolution digital image onto paper, expecting that the quality of the image will improve... simply because it's on paper. It doesn't make any sense. The image on paper will technically be "analog" but it won't have any more detail than the original image.
posted by aparrish at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2013

Best answer: Fascinating question. The simple answer is No, vinyl transcription, in itself, will probably not make music sound significantly more analogish (smoother and warmer). It would probably just introduce 'character' as noise and imperfection into the signal.

Portishead recorded their second album 'Portishead' in 1997 with some tracks recorded digitally, then cut to vinyl, used and distressed, then transcibed from vinyl back to digital for the final mix. I think they were doing this ironically, to add pops and hisses, which actually did fit into the retro spirit of the music they were making.

The implied question you might be asking is simply "How to make music sound warmer?"

For home listening, the solution is using old vintage amplifier/receivers and speakers. You sacrifice clarity (a lot) but you will get a warmer sound.

For home recording, you add more analog devices and digital devices with higher sampling rates. This can get expensive...
posted by ovvl at 10:23 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I think there's some confusion above re data compression and dynamic compression, which are different things.

MP3 files, for instance, use data compression to make smaller file sizes. Most recorded music uses some amount of dynamic compression during recording, mixing, and/or mastering in order to keep consistent levels or to create an artistic effect.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, to address the original question: the movement of a speaker cone is analog, so your digital music is already being converted to analog every time you listen to it. Engraving your digital music to vinyl could possibly introduce some distortion to the signal which you might find pleasant, but it's not possible for it to increase the fidelity -- there won't be any more information in the signal than there was before. So in terms of trying to increase the quality of the sound, no, I don't think this would be worth doing.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:32 PM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It will sound exactly the way it sounds when you play it over speakers.
posted by empath at 7:45 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I think there's some confusion above re data compression and dynamic compression, which are different things.

Yes. People are talking about two different things here. You have likely never heard music without some dynamic compression, even when you see a live band most of the time, and most recorded music has an huge amount of it.

If you put it on vinyl it will sound different. Any different medium you put it on, and any different system you play it on, will sound different.
posted by bongo_x at 11:31 AM on February 17, 2013

Best answer: I think it's possible to put digital music onto vinyl albums at home with some device I saw advertised somewhere. [. . . .] I guess I'm basically asking if it's worth doing.

The chances are high that the device you saw is more "gimmick" than not - commercially released vinyl records aren't cut directly into the vinyl, they're stamped out, and there's a whole process to get to the stamping point. This recent AskMe has some useful answers & links that may give you a better picture of how records are made. If you browse through the "Lathe Trolls" forum linked in that thread, you'll see that there are a few remaining semi-pro "direct-to-vinyl" cutting lathes out in the wild, but (IMO) the people who like them are really just as interested in the "hobby" aspect of spending time, energy, and money hunting down, rebuilding, and restoring a piece of rare vintage technology as they are in producing records to listen to because they "sound better."

Or to put it another way, there are "USB turntables" out there that are marketed as an easy way to transfer your vinyl to computer, but the turntables themselves (as mechanical objects) are pretty much lightweight junk. Anyone really serious about high-quality transfers isn't gonna want to play their records on that turntable. In the same sense, unless what you saw advertised was a rebuilt, restored vintage record cutter for several hundred or even thousands of dollars, it's very likely that whatever you saw advertised (and I'm not really finding anything on the Googles) is not really intended or built for making high-quality vinyl pressings.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:47 AM on February 18, 2013

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