I use my studio monitors to listen to vinyl (analog) and digital recordings. I never thought of how vinyl could impact the quality of studio monitors or the playback of the audio they produce, so I decided to learn what exactly is vinyl, how its made, and what impact it has on audio.
Studio monitors are built for high-quality critical listening of sound. That includes vinyl (analog) and digital sound. The human ear and brain can’t perceive the difference between analog and digital recordings. Because studio monitors are built of exceptional quality for listening, they are good to use for vinyl.
There are several factors regarding the storage of audio quality on a vinyl record, and you would think that that would have an impact on the sound played back through your studio monitors. You would also think that perhaps there would be an audible difference when listening through studio monitors. Let’s look at all the factors that could play a factor in the sound quality of a vinyl record and if it would impact listening on your studio monitors.
Are studio monitors good for vinyl?
We need some sort of comparison when looking at vinyl, and the most obvious way to compare vinyl (analog) sound is to compare it to its digital counterpart. By looking at the two and determining what vinyl is, how it is made, and what quality it produces, we can deduce if studio monitors are equipped to handle vinyl recordings.
Lets start with what is vinyl records and dive into how they are made.
What is vinyl?
A vinyl record (also known as an LP, which stands for Long Play) is a round disc made of vinyl plastic that stores analog recordings of sound waves. It is used to playback audio, and the encoding is based on analog groove modulation. It was introduced in 1948 and remained the standard and main source of sound playback until the compact disk gradually replaced it by the 21st century.
How does vinyl work?
Once the music that has been recorded, mixed, and produced is ready to be put onto a vinyl record, it is played into a record cutting lathe in real-time. The sound waves then move a needle head that cuts grooves into a thin lacquer disk. The depth of the grooves that are etched by the needle represents the sound waves.
The lacquer copy is then used to make a stamper (made of metal), which is a perfect negative image of the record. The stamper is put into a hydraulic press, which is pressed into the plastic vinyl, and that then becomes the vinyl record.
To play the record back, you need a record player (phonograph is the technical term). The record player has a needle that has a tip made of hard material (sometimes diamond). The needle is attached to an arm that rests on the record, and the record is spun round and round by a turntable. The tip of the needle rests in the grooves of the record, which contain the image of the sound waves.
As the record starts to spin, the needle moves along the grooves of the record. The needle that is attached to the arm physically moves a magnet that is attached to the end of the arm inside a coil of wire. This, in turn, produces a fluctuating electric current. The current then travels to a speaker, which changes the electric current back into sound waves.
Watch BBC Earth Lab explain what a vinyl record is.
What is the difference between vinyl and digital?
Let’s have a look at some similarities before we get into the differences between analog and digital.
- Both require audio data to be created by a recording device
However the frequencies produced by analog and digital are different.
High-quality digital sound data is sampled at 44.1khz per second. If we have to look at the sound waves produced by digital sound data, we will find that, from point to point, the data is actually jagged and not smooth as we would expect it to be.
The maximum perceivable frequency a human ear can detect is that of 20khz. Thus the sound produced from a speaker utilizing digital sound is effectively the same as that of an analog recording. Therefore the sound perceived from an analog recording or digital recording should be perceived the same when played back on the same equipment.
The main difference between digital and analog sound data is that digitally recorded data can store a ton more data than that of an analog recording.
In terms of a 12-inch record, we know now that the sound is cut into the record. Low frequencies and high amplitude waves take up a lot of “real estate” on a vinyl recording. This means if your sound is loud and bassy like most contemporary music is, there will not be a lot of space on the record. Hence, you will be able to fit less audio onto a vinyl record.
Another factor that can contribute to poorer audio quality is that if your audio is bassy and loud, then the needle may jump and bounce between the grooves of the record, not picking up all the necessary audio information.
High frequencies on a vinyl record can also be problematic because the high-frequency grooves are cut tight and thin into the record, and if the stylus (needle) is larger then the grooves, the needle will simply run over the grooves without reading them correctly. This can cause distortion and sibilance.
There is a way to combat these effects and the industry coined and created an equalization schemed termed the RIAA. This equalization curve is applied to the sound before the master lacquer is cut. In essence, this reduces bass content and boosts treble. If this curve was not applied, the bass frequencies would only allow for 5 minutes of audio on a vinyl record.
Watch Real Engineering explains the differences between vinyl and digital recordings.
Which is better? Vinyl or digital?
There is no functional difference in the audio quality between analog and digital recordings.
Studies have shown that the human ear and brain are not sufficient to differentiate between the sound produced from analog and that of a digital recording. So, in essence, neither are better when looking at them from a scientific standpoint in terms of what the ears and brain can perceive.
With this information, we can deduce and debunk the myth that analog recordings are of a lesser quality than that of their digital counterparts.
Watch MicTheSnare discuss which is better, vinyl or digital.
What speakers should you use for vinyl?
All in all, when mixing, recording, or mastering your audio in a studio or even in your home studio, the best speakers to use are studio monitors, no matter what your playback audio device is (digital or analog).
Studio monitors are best because of their flat response and ability to play audio back at an exceptional and critical level.
You do get different types of studio monitors, which include active and passive monitors. Then there are also other qualities that studio monitors possess that we will not get into in this article.
Read my article here on more in-depth information and an overview of studio monitors.
Watch Ezvid Wiki and see the top 10 speakers to use with vinyl records. Note – these speakers are for the year 2019.
Are studio monitors better for digital or vinyl?
Studio monitors are better overall in terms of anything, whether you are using analog or digital recording or playback devices. As we discussed, studio monitors are the be-all and end-all of audio playback regarding critical listening when recording, mixing, and mastering your audio.
Watch briansredd explain why listening to music through studio monitors is great with vinyl and digital.
In conclusion, we arrive at the fact that studio monitors are best overall when listening to any form of audio, whether it is digital or analog.
Studio monitors are built for high-quality critical sound listening and we discovered that whether you are playing analog or digital sound, the human ear can’t perceive the difference between the two. This is true even though analog recordings fall a little short in “build” quality compared to that of digital recordings.
So in conclusion, studio monitors are great for listening to vinyl.
If you are just starting to get set up, you can learn about the cables you need for studio monitors here.