Vinyl records have a characteristic sound that you can’t get with digital formats like CDs and MP3s. In the ongoing debate on whether vinyl or digital formats are better, many pro-vinyl enthusiasts cite “warmth” as a leading reason why LPs are better. Still, what does that mean?
Here are the reasons why vinyl sounds warmer:
- Vinyl is recorded in analog format.
- High frequencies are minimized.
- Bass and low frequencies sound soft and clear.
- Vinyl sounds richer.
- Vinyl has more distortion.
- Playing vinyl is a sensory experience.
- Mechanical hum adds warmth.
- Dust and imperfections on vinyl create a warm sound.
So, let’s look at the facts and discuss why vinyl records might sound warmer than other music formats. I’ll explain what it all means so that you can understand why so many people love the warm, rich, mid-range sounds of LPs.
1. Vinyl Is Recorded in Analog Format
As opposed to digitally recorded music, most vinyl albums are recorded in analog format.
Recording artists directly connect all microphones and amplifiers to a recording machine that cuts the sound wavelengths into a vinyl record when recording in analog. Analog captures background noise and errors that make vinyl-listening more like hearing a live performance.
Another machine then uses the first vinyl album as a template to make a large metal stamp with duplicate sound waves on it. This stamp will cut the same sound waves into hundreds and thousands of other records.
With no room for digital after-editing, you get the raw sound of a song on a vinyl album.
Whatever sounds that occurred in the recording studio are preserved, including any coughs, remarks, and movements that the musicians or singers made by accident.
Making vinyl LPs can be challenging because the analog method records sound directly on a vinyl album. If someone makes a mistake in the studio, the band either has to accept it and keep it on the album or throw away the vinyl disc and start over again.
That’s why many vintage albums include pre-song count-offs, dialogue, and laughter on the album.
The small mistakes preserved on vinyl generally make the sound much more human since they record the live performance without any interference from editors.
So, think of analog as closer to a live performance recording, while digital formats such as CDs and MP3s are usually heavily edited to eliminate accidents and background noise.
2. High Frequencies Are Minimized on Vinyl
If you have ever looked closely at a vinyl record, you will have noticed that the disc is cut into one long, spiraling channel full of tiny impressions and grooves.
The long channel, where your stylus goes when you play a vinyl album, is where the sound waves come from.
When studios cut a vinyl album, the sound waves of the performance are directly carved into the groove, preserving most of the sound signature.
However, these channels are incredibly narrow, and some higher or lower sounds can’t make it in between the boundaries of the groove.
Because of the limitations of sound grooves in a vinyl album, many high-frequency sounds are minimized and lowered in pitch during recording. Otherwise, they don’t make it onto the album at all.
The range of loud and soft sounds that a vinyl record can play is 70 decibels.
This means that only the mid-range of sounds will make it onto the album.
Since records can’t fully record high-frequency sounds such as ringing from cymbals, guitar string squeaks, and very high-pitched vocals, vinyl records often sound softer and subtler than CDs.
That’s because CDs have a range of 90 decibels, allowing for more deep and high-pitched sounds.
For example, one high-frequency sound that suffers from vinyl recording techniques is sibilance. Sibilance is the hissing sound that occurs when you pronounce sharp “s,” “z,” and “c” sounds in a forceful way.
In vinyl, these high-frequency sounds interfere with the playback, causing distortion and skipping.
These sharp sounds are edited to play at a lower volume or eliminated to preserve the rest of the music.
Without these sharp, high-pitched, and aggressive sounds, vinyl becomes much more mellow-sounding, giving it that signature “warmth” that everyone’s talking about.
3. Bass and Low Frequencies Sound Soft and Clear on Vinyl
Just like with high frequencies, low frequencies don’t always make the cut on vinyl records. The lack of deep bass sounds can either be a pro or con, depending on what kind of music you like to listen to.
Low-frequency sounds can take up too much room on a vinyl record and cause vibrations that interfere with playback.
So, they are often modified to play at a lower volume, making them sound softer and less impactful.
Bass sounds take up more room on a vinyl record than other sounds since they usually have a high vibration that resonates well.
Recording artists often struggle to find enough space for the full soundwave of a song on vinyl since the bass can quite literally take over the rest of a track.
Left unedited, the low pitches will create a fuzzy, ringing sound that is far from pleasant.
Also, when recording a heavy bass sound on a record, the needle can easily skip under the vibration created by playing back deep tones. That’s called “low-frequency rumble.”
To avoid this rumble, vinyl recording artists usually reduce the impact and volume of the bass to keep the needle on track.
The effect of this bass-sound minimization usually preserves the higher end of the bass sound. However, it eliminates the deep, vibrational pop of low notes found in genres such as hip-hop and electronic dance music.
That said, some styles of music, such as fuzzy-sounding rock, acoustic, jazz, blues, can sound better on vinyl since you only hear the mid-range notes.
Because vinyl records can’t feasibly play many low-frequency sounds at a high volume without skipping over them, vinyl records lack the punchiness that CDs and radios often emphasize.
So, because of low bass volumes and fewer low-frequency notes, some might say that vinyl is softer, warmer, and more relaxing to listen to.
4. Vinyl Sounds Richer
Many audiophiles claim that vinyl albums provide more definition and richness than other formats. For the most part, they’re right.
Because vinyl preserves more mid-range sounds and captures the entire sound wave of a musical performance without any breaks, it often sounds richer than other music-listening platforms.
Richness describes the amount of definition between different instruments, microphones, and sounds in a piece of music.
The analog format of vinyl records allows for more richness than digitally recorded music, which is usually compressed to take up less storage space.
Unlike these compressed files, analog-recorded albums contain all of the production sounds, including echoes, breath sounds, and other components that give a song more auditory perspective.
In addition, digital files do not preserve the whole wavelength of a sound. Instead, they record the wavelength’s amplitude about 44,000 times per second. That means that, during playback, your file reader or CD player has to connect the dots to complete the audio file’s whole wavelength.
On the other hand, analog always preserves a fluid, complete wavelength, resulting in a smoother, warmer sound with less interruption.
5. Vinyl Has More Distortion
Another feature of vinyl that adds to the warmth of the sound is distortion.
Distortion is when a sound is slightly off-pitch during playback. Vinyl records often have some distortion, even when they’re brand-new.
That’s because, as the stylus of a record player makes it closer to the center of a vinyl disc, it moves faster – that’s just physics.
Some recording artists compensate for this difference in speed by spacing out the soundwaves differently and adjusting volumes depending on where they fall on the vinyl disc, but some distortion is largely unavoidable.
However, this “sonically pleasing” distortion can add to that warm, human experience of listening to vinyl, and many audiophiles appreciate it.
So, although vinyl records may never preserve the pitch perfectly, there are plenty of people who look for that in their music.
6. Playing Vinyl Records Is a Sensory Experience
There’s nothing like listening to a vinyl album, and that’s why people love them.
Part of the “warmth” of listening to vinyl records is the sensory experience of looking at the vinyl, pulling out the album by hand, carefully putting it on the player, and flipping it when it’s time. The process involves you in the music more, adding an emotional richness that’s hard to beat.
One feature of vinyl that you can’t get from other media is the visual appeal.
Records often come in stunning sleeves with exclusive artwork, notes, and photographs that you won’t see anywhere else.
In addition, vinyl records are iconic, and looking at one often gives people a sense of nostalgia, no matter how old you are. Many modern vinyl records also come in a wide array of colors and patterns, from marbled hues to transparent glow-in-the-dark, making the record itself a stunning piece of visual art.
So, while enjoying your favorite musical artists, you can also appreciate the visual appeal of vinyl. However, that’s not the only sensory appeal to LPs.
Unlike MP3 files and CDs, to play a vinyl album, you have to take some time to set it up, which may force you to take a break from your daily responsibilities.
Before the music starts, you need to remove the album from the sleeve, set up your record player, place the stylus on the vinyl, and start the player. Handling the sleeve, album, and record player adds a touch of warmth to the experience since you become more involved in your music choices.
Playing a vinyl record is a slow process that encourages you to relax and enjoy your music to the fullest.
It also enables you to value your favorite music more and focus on listening to it in many ways.
So, if you want to be a part of the music you enjoy, you may want to choose vinyl over other listening formats. This is also one of the reasons vinyl records are coming back nowadays.
7. The Mechanical Hum of a Record Player Adds to the Warmth
Record players aren’t silent, even when you’re not listening to music.
Turntables and record players run using electricity, a motor, and gears. These mechanical parts create a warm humming sound when you turn them on. This sound will be louder if dust or rust is inside the record player, a feature common in older models.
Usually, your music will drown out the humming of your record player, but even then, in moments of silence on your vinyl album, you might hear the humming sound.
Although some people count this humming as a drawback to vinyl, it can add more warmth and richness to your listening experience.
Think of this humming as a comforting white noise machine – some people love it, and some people hate it.
However, the people who love it feel comforted by the sound, as if they’re getting wrapped up in a warm blanket.
So, although the mechanical noise of a record machine isn’t for everyone, it can be a significant factor in adding warmth and resonance to your music.
8. Dust and Imperfections Create a Warm, Antiquated Sound
The needle that rests on the record when it is played is known as a stylus. It works by reading the soundwaves on vinyl albums. Since turntables read vinyl albums, any warps, scratches, or dust embedded in the vinyl might change the speed or pitch, which can make your listening experience more unique.
Also Read: This is How Vinyl Records Work
Many people think that the imperfections in a vinyl album can make it sound warmer. That’s because the crackling sound of dust, cracks, and warps in the vinyl can make it sound more old-fashioned and unique.
One significant aspect of vinyl that adds warmth to the listening experience is dust. When dust settles in between the grooves of your vinyl record, it can quickly get stuck there.
During playback, your record player’s stylus will pick up on these dust particles, reading them as extra notes on your record. As the stylus moves over the dust, a one-of-a-kind crackling sound occurs, and often, this sounds a lot like a crackling fire – hence, the warmth.
Although it is generally bad practice to leave dust on your vinyl albums, there is nothing like the popping sound of some dust on the vinyl, and many people, me included, love the antique-sounding crackling that occurs.
Scratches and warps also change the sound of your vinyl record, adding distortion and popping sounds to the music.
Although these sounds are primarily the product of an imperfect album, there’s nothing in the world like them, and they often add a warm, human component to your listening experience.
The Bottom Line: Do Vinyl Records Actually Sound Better?
Vinyl records have unique qualities that give the music some slight imperfections, which is why so many people love them.
Vinyl records sound better because they sound warmer than digital music. Music played on vinyl has a more mellow, mid-range sound. The flaws, distortion, and pops of records can also make them more appealing since they add uniqueness and warmth to your listening experience.
However, does the fact that vinyl records sound warmer mean that they are definitively better than digital formats?
In the argument over whether vinyl records are better than digital formats, what matters is what sounds better to you.
Vinyl is not inherently better than digital media. Each format has pros and cons, so you should only pick your position based on what you want from your music-listening platform.
Vinyl’s warmth is primarily a result of the imperfections of the vinyl-recording and pressing process, and anyone could argue that vinyl is a flawed media.
However, some people love the human touch that the unique sound and feel of vinyl records offer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.