If you're a record collector, you know the difference between good vinyl and bad vinyl is everything. But what about CDs? Aside from the size and structure, what's the difference between CDs and their vinyl counterparts? Do they really sound any different?
While vinyl records and CDs are similar in that they both contain audio information in digital format, there are significant differences between the two. These differences can completely transform the experience of listening to music, which is why people favor one over the other.
The information below will explore more about vinyl record vs. cd differences so you can decide which one you prefer. Is the authenticity and “warmth” of vinyl really worth it? You’ll see for yourself.
In terms of physical structure, the main difference between vinyl records and CDs lies in their materials. Both formats are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic polymer that's flexible and durable enough to hold your favorite songs on it. However, vinyl records are thicker than CDs (about 1/2" thick compared with 0.1" thick), so they weigh more: about 2 pounds per 12-inch disc versus just 3 ounces for a CD4!
The reason for this is simple – the grooves in a record need space to move back and forth as you play them. Without any extra space around them, it would be impossible for records to spin! For you to hear these grooves moving around under your stylus needle or laser beam reader head, respectively (remember those?), there must be enough room inside each groove.
Additionally, the artwork on vinyl tends to be larger and more colorful. The grooves that carry the music also carry information about how to reproduce the record, so it's possible to have much more detail than on CDs (with only one layer). Keep in mind that if you’re creating your own custom vinyl record, you can also customize the back jacket with your own artwork.
The quality of sound is one of the most significant differences. CDs have a higher bitrate than vinyl records, but this doesn't necessarily mean they'll sound better. A CD's sampling frequency is 44 kHz, while a vinyl record has a lower sampling frequency at 33 1/3 RPM (rotations per minute). The higher sampling rate means that more information about the music can be captured, which gives you more clarity when listening to music through headphones or speakers.
As for the listening experience of vinyl records, this will depend on the method of creation. Lathe-cut records differ from mass-pressed vinyl. Lathe-cut records may have a gentle “hum” between tracks. Additionally, the start and end points of the groove may not line up to pre-set turntable settings. All this means for you is that you’ll either need to manually set the stylus onto the groove to start the record or turn off the settings that automatically lift or stop the tone arm at the end of the record.
The size of a vinyl record is more significant than that of a CD. The diameter of the vinyl record is 12 inches, which means it's about 30% larger than a CD's diameter (about 3.14 inches). This makes sense when you consider how much information needs to be stored on these two types of media: CDs store less than half as much data as vinyl records, but they're also smaller.
Durability is another area where vinyl records and CDs differ. Heat, scratches, and other external forces can damage a vinyl record. The grooves on a record are easily distorted by dust or dirt that gets into them, affecting how well you can hear your music when you play it back. CDs are much more durable than their analog counterparts due to their digital format. They're also less susceptible to damage because they don't have moving parts like turntables do (which means there's nothing for dust or dirt to get stuck in). The good news is that you can preserve the longevity of your vinyl with fewer listens and careful handling.
The dynamic range of a recording is the difference between its loudest and quietest sounds. It's measured in decibels (dB), with a higher number indicating a more dynamic range. A vinyl record has a much greater dynamic range than a CD because it can reproduce low-level details lost when you compress an audio file for digital distribution.
The best way to really tell the difference between a vinyl record vs. a cd is to create your own custom vinyl record with Freestyle Vinyl. Take your old CDs and turn them into memorable timepieces. Learn more about the upload process and get started with vinyl when you reach out to Freestyle Vinyl today!