The Sound Of Vinyl

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Johann, Jun 7, 2006.

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  1. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Hello everyone!

    I just discovered this forum by googling (of course) the word "microline" I think it was.

    Anyway, after reading a few posts, I realized it may be a good place to share a topic I posted at a Top40 music on CD forum I'm a member of.

    Maybe you guys have some advice or comments?

    Please note that as you will read below, I'm not a fan, not an enemy of vinyl, just expressing my thoughts from own experience so far.

    Here it goes:


    I realize this is not specific to the forum's main concern, but seems to me it is a place full of quality conscious members with experienced ears, so I thought I'd post this to get some advice.

    First some background (sorry, it ended up being longer than intended):

    I don't love nor hate vinyl. Some vinyls sound incredibly well, some not that well. Clicks and pops are not an issue for me since most of my records play close to or as new.

    But the common factor to every vinyl record seems to be degradation of sound quality as the needle moves towards the center, most noticeable from middle to end of the record (to annoying extents sometimes where there is more saturation than what I can enjoy).

    I have discussed the issue with many vinyl defenders who said they didn't agree, but with a pretty sharp ear and hard head, I kept looking for a source that would discuss this.

    I recently came across this paragraph on the Wikipedia page for vinyl record ( and was relieved to see I'm not completely alone:

    "...A further limitation of the record is that with a constant rotational speed, the quality of the sound may differ across the width of the record because the inner groove modulations are more compressed than those of the outer tracks. The result is that inner tracks have distortion that can be noticeable at higher recording levels.

    7" singles were typically poorer quality for a variety of the reasons mentioned above, and in the 1970s the 12" single, played at 45 rpm, became popular for DJ use and for fans and collectors..."

    As far as I know, a master tape does not have quality degradation problems across its length, nor does compact disc.

    This difference in sound behaviour from start to end is in my opinion enough to leave vinyl out of question when it comes to who's more true, even though compact disc leaves some frequencies out, etc.

    Here is the main reason for this endless post, I have some 7" singles that contain otherwise unavailable 45 versions of some of my all-time childhood favorites, and tried to digitally enhance them somehow.

    What I have tried on the software side is Sound Forge, Cooledit, Diamond Cut. They all take care of clicks and pops, hiss, and others, but I have not found a plugin that takes care of sound degradation across the record.

    What is your experience? Any comments, suggestions, as to what I could do to make these monsters sound halfway decent? (I use a Technics 1210MKII turntable, spherical Ortofon Night Club stylus). In your opinion, worth taking to a professional studio to remaster?

    PS: I read about a Japanese company ELP that produced a laser turntable around 1991, but the device never made it because record companies preferred to support the compact disc (I would have done the same if sitting on their end of the table). The turntable can be ordered for a reasonable US$15,000...

    I contacted them and got a demo CD showing how well it performed with warped, scratched records, but I couldn't really tell if it takes away the sound degradation problem across the record.

    Has anybody by chance contacted them, or confirmed if it does eliminate the problem? Even if it did, it's way out of my budget, but I am curious.

    Sanju Chiba (the President of ELP) offered me to send him two 7" singles of my choice along with a US$100, and he'd return them at his expense along with a CD containing the digitalized recording using the laser turntable.

    Since it was a bit too much for me just to satisfy my curiosity (I live in Argentina and that is 300 Argentine Pesos...) I left it there.

    Here is the company's website if you are interested:

  2. Publius

    Publius Active Member

    Austin, TX
    It's not just that the grooves themselves are smaller near the center of the record. The geometry of a pivoting tonearm dictates that the cartridge itself is not physically lined up perfectly with the groove at every location on the record. (In fact, it is only perfectly lined up at exactly two locations.) From what I understand, this misalignment is responsible for a lot of the reduced perceived quality towards the center. Another factor is anti-skate force which is also more sensitive towards the center.

    Google for Baerwald geometry for more info.
  3. apileocole

    apileocole Lush Life Gort

    Eh? It's like this: if a vinyl has more resolution with respect to the reproduction of musical audio than a CD, it is obviously "more true" despite inner grooves being inferior to outer groves. You could still be ahead at the inner groves, in which case... you're still ahead. If you mean it isn't perfect, well, neither format is. FWIW, my opinion quality analog open reel is the best there is, with very high res digital files offering competition.
  4. Tetrack

    Tetrack Forum Resident

    Scotland, UK.
    I believe this degradation of sound as the stylus gets closer to the centre, a/k/a 'inner groove distortion', is probably inherent to the vinyl format, but is something that can be minimised. Could it be that these 7" records themselves are worn?

    Also, i think a DJ nightclub cartridge is not going to be the best for fidelity in general.
  5. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Thanks for that, I will read about it.

    I remember reading that part of this limitation also comes from the long standard playback system, the "diagonal" way in which the tonearm hits the grooves, which differed from the way the groove is cut, or something like that. The Wikipedia page does mention something pertaining this if I understand correctly:

    "...Another problem arises because of the geometry of the tonearm. Master recordings are cut on a recording lathe, where a diamond cutter moves radially across the blank, suspended on a straight track and driven by a lead screw. Most turntables use a pivoting tonearm, introducing side forces and pitch and azimuth errors, and thus distortion in the playback signal. Various mechanisms were devised in attempts to compensate, with varying degrees of success."

    That is why I wondered if this laser turntable eliminated this problem, since it has no tonearm. I also remember reading about these super high end turntables where the tonearm moves across in a different way.

    These are very expensive pieces of equipment I can't afford, so it seems that in order to enjoy constant quality sound from a 7" single or a 12" single that has been recorded up to near to the center I need to have a LOT of extra cash!

    I have had this turntable calibrated by a long time radio DJ, even though it may not be at its best, and I certainly have limited technical knowledge, I did read the manual and there weren't that many variables.

    I'm doubtful as to how perfect calibration really improves this problem, mainly because the quality loss I perceive from start to end has usually been BIG, depending on the record and also on how much the recording extends toward the center.

    But I would love to be get some tips to minimize this problem without having to replace at least the turntable, I could buy another cartridge/stylus. As I said, I have an Ortofon Concorde cartridge with a spherical Night Club stylus.
  6. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Thanks Dave, what cartridge would you suggest?
  7. gregvet

    gregvet Member

    Also, since the RPM is constant whether at the outside or near the spindle, the amount of linear information the stylus sees becomes compressed at the inner groves relative to the outer grooves since the relative linear speed is slower at the inner grooves.. The only way to correct this would be to have a varible RPM turntable but it would be difficult to calibrate it to every record.
  8. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    I do understand that in theory it is more "true" but in real practical life, I play a record, it starts off wonderfully if it's a 12 inch, and then it's gradually downhill from there to the center.

    I would definitely go for the open reel system you mention over compact disc if I could afford it and music would be released on the format.

    From what I have experienced, with more or less quality, all systems that use tape are free of this progressive sound quality loss, so vinyl in this particular problem seems in disadvantage to both tape and compact disc formats, would it be fair to say this?
  9. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Thanks for all this info guys.

    Funny, I think I read somewhere that the compact disc playback speed varies from its start to end for this reason, is this right? I thought about how great it would have been on a turntable, but I see what you mean.
  10. gregvet

    gregvet Member

    You are right. I recall there being some encoding on CDs that allow CD players to spin at the appropriate speeds relative to the position of the laser.
  11. Tetrack

    Tetrack Forum Resident

    Scotland, UK.
    Well, a spherical stylus is generally a safe bet for 7"/45s; for LPs, the Microline type you mentioned are probably the best for fidelity(although i don't have one myself).

    There is a recent positive thread about the Audio Technica AT440mla, which is not too pricey.....

    AT440mla thread.
  12. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    That is amazing. Maybe then this laser turntable does not eliminate the distortion problem as playback progresses, since its speed is constant? I wonder.

    Here is a link to how it works, if it is of interest:
  13. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Thanks much Dave, 98% of my records are 12" singles, very few 7", so I will definitely check out this thread.
  14. keoki82

    keoki82 Active Member

    Different mediums

    Indubitably. Standard CD audio players, as defined by Red Book standards, operate on the CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) principle. I don't remember the exact figures, but a CD spins from between 500 RPM at the TOC (disc's center) to 200 RPM at its outermost edge. This ensures that the data transfer rate is constant by maintaining a standardized linear velocity throughout playback. There is less surface area to cover at the center of a CD, meaning less data stored; ergo, a CD need not rotate as fast near its outer edge to transfer the same amount of digital data to the DAC.

    As for the discussion of reproduction mediums, there is not one "better" than another. All mediums have advantages/disadvantages when compared to others. Nothing sounds "better" or "worse" in audio, just "different."

    Vinyl may suffer from inherent shortcomings such as inner groove distortion; however, living with such transient responses is a labour of love. The aural benefits, such as vinyl's commanding, lifelike warmth and presence, far outweigh any such failings. Mid- to high-end turntables produce such low wow and flutter that it is, in most cases, immeasurable, whereas most CD players still produce enough interference to degrade the reproduction of music. Open-reel tape, for one, suffers from drop-outs, print-through and other anomalies that don't faze CDs or vinyl.

    Johann, as for cartridges, another you may be interested in checking out is the Shure M97xE. It has an essentially flat frequency response, resulting in unbiased, transparent reproduction as intended by the music producer. It is also an excellent tracker and requires very little tracking force to achieve a comfortable sound, resulting in less wear on your vinyl collection. :)
  15. apileocole

    apileocole Lush Life Gort

    Hm... are you sure your cartridge is aligned and mounted precisely, that the stylus isn't worn and that the records don't have groove damage? I don't often notice pronounced degradation from inside to outside of records on either 'table I use. Some cartridges are better "trackers" than others. The Shure Vx15 is famous for great tracking. The Stanton 981 I'm using at the moment tracks very well. The turntable's arm will affect it, and of course settings / geometry has to be quite exacting. Sometimes records are damaged worse at the inside due to prior mistracking. I heard the progressive degradation quite badly on a friend's "DJ" 'table. If all is pretty ideal, though, it really doesn't tend to be noticeable.

    It would be fair to say that is a disadvantage, yes. Likewise the CD has inherent disadvantages, for instance in how its resolution progressively falters in lower levels, compared to tape, vinyl and even DSD digital for that matter, which don't have that disadvantage. How relevant the limitations are would then be the issue. All mediums present us with trade offs :)

    As a side curiousity, some early disc experiments included discs which recorded from the inside out (the disc sources for some early sound movies worked in that way) and iirc, some with variable speed to play inner grooves faster than outer (proved impractical, especially back then when most turntables weren't electrical). Also for our geeky goodness, laserdiscs played in either CAV or CLV form, the latter spinning faster for inner area...
  16. Another Side

    Another Side Forum Resident

    San Francisco
    Inner groove distortion (at least some) is a fact of life. Here is what Kevin Gray says on the topic at this site.
  17. OcdMan

    OcdMan Forum Resident

    Yes, technically, there is degradation in sound as you come closer to the label. But, in my experience, audible degradation of sound quality should be virtually non-existent. Proper cartridge alignment and setup are absolutely critical. You also need a stylus that can handle inner grooves accurately, such as the Microline stylus offered by Audio-Technica on their AT440MLa cartridge. Spherical and conical stylus usually won't fit the bill. Once all of that is in place, and assuming your records are not damaged and the LP pressings are not substandard, audible distortion should essentially disappear.
  18. Uncle Ants

    Uncle Ants New Member

    Absolutely. That's where I'd go first. On a properly setup system with a half decent cartridge it shouldn't really be noticable except on records where the fools have crammed far to much onto a side (cheap K-Tel type compilations spring to mind) or that have been worn in the past by worn and misaligned styli. Check the alignment.
  19. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Very interesting posts guys, thank you so much for your insights.

    On the subject how worn my records are, I bought most of them brandnew, quite a few are collectable promo 12" singles which I rarely ever listen to.

    So the problem must lie on allignment and switching to another cartridge. I will try to contact a specialist here who can calibrate my current setup, and I will start looking into the alternative cartridges you suggested.
  20. Graham Start

    Graham Start New Member

    Toronto, Canada
    Getting a fine-line/micro-ridge/shibata/etc stylus will eliminate (or at least, greatly reduce) the distortion, but the high-end roll-off will still be there... it's in the mastering, after all.

    When I record vinyl to hard disk, I run the file through a 10KHz high pass filter to get a visual idea of how much treble roll-off there is. Then I undo that (obviously) and run it through a gradual 10K boost to compensate. The amount depends on the record, usually 3db for LPs, sometimes much more for 12" singles as they are cut louder and need more roll-off.
  21. Johann

    Johann Member Thread Starter

    Could you please explain what "treble roll-off" means? Is it what I hear on several vinyl records that causes "S sounds" in words and say sharp hi hats to sound distorted, like dusty?
  22. Tomster330

    Tomster330 New Member

    Austin, TX
    This thread has been most helpful. I thought for sure that my tonearm setup must be off as I definitely hear some distortion towards the center of some LP's. My equipment should be pretty top notch.......Shelter 501 Cartridge mounted to a SME 309 Tonearm mounted to a Thorens 2030 Turntable.

    Hear's a shot in the dark. Does anyone own Eva Cassidy's Songbird LP? I've noticed that while the first few songs per side are acoutically phenominal, the final songs per side are not nearly so impressive. Specifically, songs ending in "s" are hissy. If anyone owns this LP, can you concur or do I need to fine tune my tonearm/cartridge?

  23. Buzzcat

    Buzzcat New Member

    Madison, WI
    Keoki said. "you may be interested in checking out is the Shure M97xE".

    I will second that. I had a Music Hall MMF 2.1 with the factory cart on it and had terrible inner groove problems. I put the mentioned Shure on it and it reduced it by 75%.

    THEN, I did the best thing I could do. I bought a VPI Scout. Personally, I think the uni-pivot tonearm design is excellent. I put the Shure cart on that. That reduced the inner groove problem to next to non-existent. Unless it's a worn out record of course. Nothing in the world can get past groove damage from previous mistracking.

    I know the VPI Scout may be out of the question $$$ wise, but, ohhhh is it worth saving up for.
  24. Tetrack

    Tetrack Forum Resident

    Scotland, UK.
    These 'sssss' sounds are called sibilance.

    Again, this sounds like sibilance. In fact there is a post about it here.
  25. Graham Start

    Graham Start New Member

    Toronto, Canada
    That's mistracking. Treble roll-off is mastering compromise intended to reduce that. Basically, the closer the groove is to the center of the disc, the slower the speed, and the less headroom there is for treble. On many albums, it's a matter of making each song less bright as the side goes by. Sometimes this can be avoided by arranging songs so that those with less high-frequency energy are last, or just lowering the overall volume instead. If the album is cut quietly enough, it may not be necessary at all. From what I've seen, decreasing the highs is the most common method of dealing with the problem.

    It's most obvious with dance records where one song takes up the entire side. Drop the needle near the beginning, and then quickly put it near the end... the difference is night and day. If you've spent a lot of time in nightclubs that spin vinyl, this is the reason why it often seems that each new track that the DJ mixes in is brighter than the last.
    octavius likes this.
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