does vinyl sound better than spotify record players

Spotify seems to prioritize convenience over audio quality, for example by compression which loses detail in the audio. On the other hand, vinyl records keep most detail intended by the artist, but sacrifice convenience. This means that vinyl will generally sound better than Spotify.


Introduction – Does Vinyl Sound Better Than Spotify

Vinyl records are great. I personally love them for the nostalgia, but they also make music feel so personal. Because I dug them out of crates, I’ve maintained them for years & they have their own spot in our collections. But music streaming services like Spotify definitely offer some advantages, like the immense variation of options they provide. I love both for their own advantages so it’s hard to compare, but I can compare on something that’s important for both… Audio quality.

Obviously, the main difference between the two is that vinyl records are analog and Spotify is digital. The quality of Spotify music is mainly determined by its streaming bit rate and compression technique and then ofcourse your speaker quality. Where vinyl record audio quality is determined by the physical quality of the record and its grooves, your record player components, and your stereo setup.

Since your speaker quality, record player components & stereo setup are so variable I’ll focus on Spotify Bit Rate & Vinyl Quality in this article. Let’s dive in now.


Spotify Bit Rate

A bit is the most basic for of data we have. A bit is either 0 or 1. We have created a system of bits for creating every datastructure we know. From numbers to videos. Bit rate, in this case, is how many bits of audio data is transferred over time. So for example 1kbit/s is 1000 bits per second being transferred. In this stream of bits we can encode audio data.

Audio streaming services, like Spotify, send these streams of audio data to your device, which knows how to play this, continually. This is done continually so you can start listening right away, without having to download the entire audio file onto your device first. Generally, the higher a bit rate is, the higher the audio quality can be. Since more detail can be transferred in the same amount of time. So this is why I’m looking at bit rate for audio quality.

In the table below an overview is given about Spotify’s plans for several device types and their respective bit rates. As you can see their premium plan pretty much doubles the provided bit rate. Their highest possible bit rate is 320kbit/s. Now this sounds pretty high compared to the free plan bit rates, but is it really that good? It’s pretty good, relatively speaking, but there’s something inherently wrong. Let’s get into that.

 FreePremium
Web playerAAC 128kbit/sAAC 256kbit/s
Desktop, mobile and tabletAutomatic – Dependent on your network connection 
Low* – Equivalent to approximately 24kbit/s
Normal – Equivalent to approximately 96kbit/s
High – Equivalent to approximately 160kbit/s
Automatic – Dependent on your network connection 
Low* – Equivalent to approximately 24kbit/s
Normal – Equivalent to approximately 96kbit/s
High – Equivalent to approximately 160kbit/s
Very high (Premium only) – Equivalent to approximately 320kbit/s
from https://support.spotify.com

*The low quality option isn’t available on the Windows desktop app.

Something has been off for a long time now. During the digital era we have seen so many improvements, even for music. But the digitalization of music has partly stagnated, mainly regarding compression. The short film documentary The Distortion of Sound, starring Mike Shinoda, Slash, Snoop Dogg, Hans Zimmer & a lot more, goes deeply into this. I’ve linked the 22 minute documentary below this paragraph.

I’ve quickly summarized it for you if you don’t have to the time to watch it:

  1. Compression removes up to 90% of the original song.
  2. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the purpose of compression is removing unnecessary data for smaller file sizes while maintaining the same quality.
  3. But quality is being lost, a lot of it actually. Portions of the original signal just aren’t there any more. Nuances and details are missing. Compression takes the emotion and life out of music. It’s watered down, it’s diluted, it sounds thinner. It get’s rid of high frequency information which creates that clear vocal or guitar. Transcience is lost.
  4. The loss of quality was supposed to be temporary and it was supposed to be improved, but we got stuck.
  5. It has actually started going into the wrong direction. Namely, the direction of convenience. People will sacrifice anything for convenience.
  6. Convenience leads to more sales. This leads to worse quality control.
  7. Most people don’t know or don’t care. Their ears are tuned to this dilution.

Vinyl Quality

Vinyl is the only consumer playback format we have that’s fully analog and fully lossless. You just need a decent turntable with a decent needle on it and you’re going to enjoy a full-fidelity listening experience. It’s a little bit more idiot-proof and a little bit less technical.” Said Adam Gonsalves of Portland’s Telegraph Mastering.

Vinyl’s analogicity leaves the artists without the detail loss of digital conversions. This is should probably make vinyl records the closest thing to what the artist intended. A song on a vinyl record contains much more musical detail than the same song in MP3 format. This sounds perfect right? Surely vinyl is the obvious winner. Well it’s not that easy actually, since there are some downsides.

There’s basically nothing you can do to make an hour-long album on one record sound good.” Said Adam Gonsalves. Volume on vinyl records depends on the depth of its grooves and the length of its sides. This means the longer an album on a records becomes, the quieter it will become.

Sometimes vinyl records will struggle with conveying very high-pitched and very low-pitched frequencies. These highs can cause ugly distortions and these lows can bump around the stylus.

Another issue is that often the end of a record sounds worse than its beginning. This is because as the circumference of the grooves shrink towards the middle the stylus speed increases and it can’t always keep up perfectly.

All of these mentioned downsides can be somewhat solved by getting a good quality record player, but it’ll never be the same as live music.


Conclusion – Does Vinyl Sound Better Than Spotify

With compression techniques of Spotify’s audio streaming quality is lost. Spotify seems to prioritize convenience over audio quality, which must be their best option economically speaking. On the other hand vinyl records keep most detail intended by the artist, but sacrifice convenience. So it’s up to you what you prioritize, audio quality or convenience.

Personally I’d say using both is the best option. When you’re in the train, listen to the convenient tune you enjoy, using Spotify or alternatives. When you’re at home, listen to the high fidelity vinyl records to experience the actual emotion intended by the artist.

Hopefully this answered your question. I’d love it if you checked out my other educational articles. Or if you’re interested in buying a new record player maybe check out my reviews & top lists.


Sources

  1. Spotify, High Quality Streaming, from: https://support.spotify.com/us/using_spotify/system_settings/high-quality-streaming/
  2.  Gupta, Prakash, 2006, Data Communications and Computer Networks, from: https://books.google.com/books?id=-kNn_p6WA38C&pg=PA21&dq=bit+%22rate+R%22#v=onepage&q=bit%20%22rate%20R%22&f=false
  3. International Electrotechnical Commission, 2007, Prefixes for binary multiples, from”: https://www.iec.ch/si/binary.htm
  4. Adam Gonsalves, from https://telegraphmastering.com/

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