Sunday, December 4, 2011

Red Hot Chile Peppers – ‘I’m With You” vinyl sounds better than CD

Last week Harman Aaron Loučka posted a heads-up that an example of the vinyl release of the new Red Hot Chile Peppers album, “I’m With You”, had been posted on YouTube.

Since vinyl releases often show as having better dynamics (“crest factor”, to be strictly correct) than their CD equivalents in the Dynamic Range Database.

The results were pretty clear, and this is a short YouTube clip to demonstrate the difference. Take a listen, and see if you can hear a difference, and which one you prefer.

This is not a vinyl versus CD thing

Whatever you decide, it’s important to know – what you’re hearing is NOT some inherent limitation of the quality of the CD format.

CD and vinyl do sound different, but with identical masters, they should sound very close to each other. Much closer than this.

These are not identical masters – on the CD, the crest factor is about 6 dB less than on the vinyl, and there are some EQ differences too. (And, the vinyl is playing at a slightly higher pitch)

It’s the loudness war again.

The loudness war is insane

This means that the quality of the CD version, which is theoretically a far superior format technically, is lower (in my opinion) than the vinyl.

This is insane.

At the very least, they should sound similar, so that people who prefer vinyl can choose it for it’s particular characteristics.

As it is, since I prefer the mastering of the vinyl release, the only way for me to hear this version is to buy a record deck or download an illegal rip of the vinyl. Madness !

Why does the vinyl sound different ?

Of course, it’s sadly no surprise that a RHCP CD sounds like this – “Californication” helped kick-start the loudness war in the first place, and producer Rick Rubin is a serial offender, mistakenly believing that people always prefer a more heavily compressed version – they don’t, as research shows.

What’s interesting is to notice that the vinyl was released a couple of months after the CD. Since they were all mastered by Vlado Meller at Masterdisc, the question is, why does the vinyl sound different ?

Was this simply following the ironically perverse trend of “audiophile” vinyl releases ? Or might it be in response to the generally harsh reception of the album’s sound all over the web ?

We can only hope it’s the later…

As an interesting side-note, notice how YouTube’s lossy data-compressed audio sounds worse for the CD version – more artefacts.

This is further proof that higher-quality, more dynamic music actually survives better when mp3-ed, and makes it even more sadly ironic that the CD master was the basis for the so-called “mastered for iTunes” version.

And, a sadly missed opportunity – since there were separate masters for CD and iTunes, the iTunes version could actually have sounded better…