Friday, May 10, 2013

Why modern vinyl sounds better than old vinyl

Chris Topham flies jumbos for Virgin Atlantic for a living,  runs the vinyl label Plane Groovy for a hobby and is spinning the records at our next Word In Your Ear show on May 20th for nothing.

Plane Groovy has put out records by Chris Difford, My Darling Clementine, Henry Priestman and Francis Dunnery plus lots of progressive rock, which is Chris's particular taste.

These are proper records. Hefty things, often doubles, packaged in thick card covers and tightly shrink-wrapped so that they feel special and worth £19.99. To unpeel one is to be re-acquainted with the feeling of anticipation that vanished from recorded music thirty years ago.

They sound strangely good as well. Chris says the reason the vinyl records of the 70s and 80s popped and clicked was because in those post-fuel crisis days they had to be pressed on some recycled materials. "Modern vinyl," he reckons "sounds much better."

So few pressing plants are still open that it costs £3,000 to produce 500 copies of one of Plane Groovy's vinyl double albums. He does deals with artists on a handshake. Once the records, most of which are sold mail order, have earned back their manufacturing costs he splits things 50/50 with the act.

It's not a business that would provide anyone with a living but it takes more time than a standard hobby. He's trying to do a bit less flying so that he can spend more time with his records.

Chris will be spinning all kinds of vinyl inbetween the acts at our next Word In Your Ear gig at the Old Queen's Head on May 20th, a show which features My Darling Clementine and David Ford. You can book tickets here.


  1. In my experience modern vinyl records don't sound better. Granted, they don't have the surface noise, but all too ofren I spend a fortune on a modern vinyl album and it sounds flat. I have assumed this reflects the production, which is designed to make things sound good on CD or MP3

    I also have a number of expensive re-issues which sound flat compared to the 70s originals, albeit without the odd scratch, etc.

    All too often I feel I have spent top dollar for something I could have got secondhand for a few quid.

  2. Have to agree with Julian. I don't believe modern vinyl is better and if you checkout most of the audiophile music forums (Steve Hoffman's site in the US being the main one,) you'll find that most audiophiles disagree that new vinyl is better. Most new vinyl being straight copies of the the CD/MP3 equivalent transferred straight onto vinyl. New vinyl is also too expensive.

  3. Some old vinyl sounds better than new vinyl.

    Some new vinyl sounds better than old vinyl (example: many audiophiles think that the pressings currently coming out of QRP in Kansas are the finest ever produced).

    It all depends on the quality of the vinyl, the abilities of the engineers involved in mastering and pressing, the equipment used and so on. Just as it did in 1972. It's a lottery, and it always has been.

    New vinyl is expensive because it it's produced in short runs and doesn't benefit from the enormous economies of scale it used to. Even with that taken into account, modern vinyl is selling at about the price that inflation suggests it should be: the £3.99 album released in 1979 would cost £17.02 today.

  4. What Fraser said! One of the first things I ask of bands is to record at 24 bit/48kHz; this gives a wider dynamic range than available from CD and although you'd think that all of that musical information above about 15KHz is outside the audible spectrum, what is forgotten is that sounds at (for example) 20KHZ and 22KHz will produce a beat frequency at 2KHz which *is* in the audio spectrum. I'm firmly of the belief that it's these missing beat frequencies which cause lack of warmth and feel from CD/MP3. Regarding reissues, some firms are simply in it for the money and take no trouble to produce the best possible product. At Plane Groovy this is very much not the case; we use the best quality vinyl and carefully/correctly master for vinyl. Try one of our releases - you'll be pleasantly surprised ;-)

    1. Will certainly try one as what you say about the initial recording makes sense.

  5. Not too sure about this assertion. The fact that records are pressed in much smaller quantities means the quality control can be appalling. I have had many new records that have had to be returned because they are basically unplayable.

    Also they are mainly digitally sourced often from the same lo-res sources that the CD comes from. So you may as well just listen to the CD all other things being equal.

    They can sound better, but in my experience it's a crapshoot.

  6. Surely the technology and materials for recording vinyl have improved down the decades? I'm currently listening to the new Leonard Cohen album on vinyl and the sound quality is superb. Truly amazing. The disc itself is thicker and heavier than old vinyl. No crackles at all. The CD that's packaged with the vinyl sounds massively inferior (on my very average player). No comparison. I'm back in hi fi heaven. Looking forward to trying out Neil Young's new invention for high quality portable audio.