Vinyl records and how to improve enjoying music

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For over 15 years I couldn’t listen any music outside the control room of our studio. I thought as my passion, music, had become my profession it had lost its once so wonderful effect on me. When I was re-introduced to vinyl records the joy was immediately there again! Ever since I have spread the vinyl side of the gospel of analog sound and helped hundreds of people to find the joy of music again. This post is all about vinyl records and how to improve enjoying music.

Foreword

Everybody knows the feeling when music was something that touched them on a very deep level. Nowadays it has become background noise as no-one seems to sit down and concentrate on music anymore. That is understandable especially if you have compared any streaming service to vinyl records. Once you know what to focus on, the difference is so obvious that you cannot comprehend how you haven’t noticed it before. You literally feel the difference.

I recently started collecting my favorite music on vinyl and it is awesome to find all those cool albums again. It almost feels like hearing them for the first time as there is so much to discover compared to digital audio and a small thumbnail of an album cover. Yet, music itself is the most important thing. I have found pretty interesting phenomenon about analogue sound and will now share my findings with you. So please continue reading as everything will be thoroughly explained.

Sometimes analog recording seems to deliver the emotion of the artist. It may partly be due imagined mysticism, yet I do not feel so with digital recordings.
Matti Hovi / Ghost Of Youth, Matti Hovi Collective, The Siissidös

How To Improve Drum Sound guide

A/B comparison

To demonstrate why music no longer has the magic, my favourite example is to play Madonna‘s Like A Prayer song from original vinyl and Spotify to compare what both platforms deliver. In a nutshell; from vinyl record on which the audio has never been converted to digital, facial expression and articulation of the vocalist is much more alive delivering also the emotion. The energy of the snare translates and both the band and especially the vocalist seem to be in the same room with the listener. The strangest sensation is that sound comes out of the speakers all the way to the listener filling the whole room. You can actually feel the music pulsating when you put your hand on the sofa you sit on.

After the A/B comparison while waiting for new RIAA preamp to arrive, I made a comparison using CD’s as I thought comparing vinyl records to streaming service was a bit unfair. I was baffled how to hear the same differences Anssi showed also between CD’s. On some the music was present, on some clearly inside the speaker. The phenomenon is also found within the format. On the 2nd comparison Anssi brought this up by comparing vinyls produced in different ways.
-Tony Vesterinen, music enthusiast

When listening the same song from digital platform the facial expression and articulation is next to none and snare sounds like a dead limb is just dropping the stick on the drum without any power. Vocalist seems to be singing from behind the wall and the sound is not coming out of the speakers at all. You cannot feel sound waves pulsating on the sofa. Sounds impossible? Please do the comparison or better yet, come visit us to experience how great music can sound even on a regular home system. I have amazed the local university professors with this phenomenon and they have no explanation for it.

Anssi, you should get a doctorate degree on the topic!
Kassu Halonen, multi-platinum selling composer / music producer

Madonna Like a Prayer on vinyl and on Spotify

Inspired by Anssi’s demonstration I played a cassette to my class. I’ve used the same sound system countless times with laptop. Yet now from the first note the snare in front of the speakers started resonating and we had to switch the snare wires off to hear the song. This was the first time snare was reacting to music played from the sound system. The phenomenon seems to be repeatable.
Hanna Hyvärinen, music teacher / choirmaster

Vinyl becomes more popular

Vinyl sales are on the rise. This Forbes article offers very interesting numbers as they now have  recent data not only about new but the used vinyl sales as well. It seems that the amount of vinyl records sold annually is growing exponentially. For example in 2016 vinyl record sale hits 25 year high. Most bands release new music on this once almost obsolete format. So why is vinyl becoming more popular?

It definitely isn’t about the platform being simple and easy to use. Naturally there are always those who only follow trends and buy vinyl records because others are doing so too. I would put my money on the fact that people enjoy the music itself a lot more when listening it from vinyl records and even cassettes. Analog formats deliver something that the digital counterparts do not. Deliver what and how? I know people who say they feel mentally better and more stable after listening to vinyls and cassettes for a week or two. Vinyl seems to deliver something that’s missing on digital format.

Here is a link to interesting numbers on both vinyl record and cassette sales in the UK.

While CD sales are getting lower every year, vinyl record sales on the rise. There is lots of cool info on this article by Engadget.com along with the great point how artists get a lot better income from vinyl sales. This could be one of the things that will save the music business.

…the average independent artist needed 2.5 million YouTube views or 368,000 Spotify streams to make the same amount as selling 100 vinyl records.
Caren Kelleher, founder and president of Gold Rush Vinyl

Also the cover art is much more enjoyable on vinyl. Some like the fact that the media and sleeve are something physical instead of immaterial files on server or on your mobile phone screen. Still, what vinyl record delivers to the listener is the main thing. Not everyone can pinpoint the exact sound difference, but most seem to feel there’s something there that appeals to them.

Few years ago Jack White from The White Stripes opened Third Man Pressing vinyl pressing plant. He bought eight new pressing machines, first ones made for some 30+ years. Check out this cool video about their facility here.

“This is analog, you know?” A pencil goes on a paper and it drags. “This is analog, whether it’s tape or vinyl.” he says. Then he resets the pen atop the paper and draws a parallel dotted line. “And this is digital. No matter how good your sample rate, you’ve got breaks.” He looks at the two lines. “And this here”—he points at the solid line, and stutters out a laugh—”This is, kind of: real life. No breaks. No empty spaces in between.”
-Jack White, interview on Popular Mechanics

Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon and Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion I & II

Does every vinyl sound great?

Unfortunately the answer is no. This, like most things in life, is easy to solve with a simple A/B comparison. Listen to an old vinyl, the non-digitally-remastered version and compare the sound to a new digitally made music that’s on vinyl. Or you can compare the original full analog vinyl to a digitally re-mastered version and the difference even to an untrained ear is obvious once you know what to focus on. When audio is converted from analog to digital information is lost. This information is not restored when audio is converted back to analog.

There are huge differences in vinyl records and what they deliver. You can easily hear the same difference between vinyl records as described under the A/B comparison heading about vinyl and Spotify. Some might ask what about albums recorded or mixed on digital tape? This is something we’ll leave out on this post due to the vastness of the topic, but we’ll definitely return to this on posts to come.

Digital seems to lose all energy and then again from tape recording the energy is delivered on a whole new level. Vocals are alive along with a mystic side to them. When listening to vinyls the difference between computer and tape recording is very clear.
Juho Koski / Spell Of Torment

Any vinyl can sound equally dead as streaming service version when it’s played on a USB turntable. There are also those who connect turntable to computer sound card and that’s another great way to lose the good information that analog ear vinyls deliver. You should keep the signal path analogue. If my words sound confusing, we offer a demonstration service to help you spot the unbelievably huge difference and start enjoying music on a whole new level. Reserve a demonstration here.

Please ask about this from the bands we recorded on tape and they will tell you exactly the same. The facial expression and articulation, energy of snare, how present the band and vocalist are and if the sound is coming out of the speakers or not.

On our previous session we compared tape and computer recording. Sound lost the beefiness and seemed to become a lot more narrow. It’s difficult to put in words, but tape seems to capture more.
Petri Lindroos / Ensiferum

I was totally blown away by the difference when I first made this discovery. As there are huge opportunities especially on the field of music therapy, I am starting an official study with local university professors. Music seems to have health benefits that were left unnoticed due digital music formats. Many people have contacted me telling that after listening vinyl records on a daily basis their ADHD symptoms have decreased and they sleep much better. How cool it would be if in future instead of pills the doctor would prescribe certain vinyl records to cure depression!

Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland

We have three cats. When listening music from digital source none of the cats stay in the room. After getting a turntable every time I drop the needle on a vinyl record at least one of the cats immediately appears, usually all three of them. When sound source is changed to digital they all leave the room.
-Anssi Salokannel, vocalist

Animal and child behavior

Animals and toddlers seem to react very strongly to music played from vinyl records. Cats for example tend to stay in the room where vinyl is rolling and once you switch the music to digital source they’ll run out of the room. The phenomenon is verified by numerous people and the feedback keeps coming in. Dogs behave alike not only with vinyl vs. digital music, but also with tube vs. digital guitar amplifier. Pretty interesting, huh?

Our cat fortified in front of the speaker to enjoy vinyl music until he got too hungry. While on his way to kitchen a harmonica solo started and he immediately ran back in front of the speaker. After the solo ended he finally had the patience to go eat in kitchen.
Mariina Niittymäki, vocalist

Toddlers seem to react very similar to animals. While playing music from digital source they tend to yank around and when music source switches to analog they tend to freeze. How interesting it would be to study this phenomenon?

It’s true! Today I got the turntable and my dog tends to be close to the sound. The opposite happens when playing music from the new (digital) system 😇
-Steppipaja project client

How to get started once the vinyl bug bites?

You will need a turntable, a stereo amplifier with RIAA preamp (phono input) and speakers. I do not recommend USB turntables as then you’ll have Spotify quality with a lot more work as you have to put the record on and turn the side etc. without the sound benefit. Bluetooth is another great way to loose a lot of information. If your amp has digital circuitry, I recommend bypassing it like I do on my cheap Yamaha amp that has a “pure direct” button. If your amp lacks the phono input, you’ll need an external RIAA preamp to connect your turntable via it to any line input (CD in, tape in, MD in…) of the amplifier.

The acoustics of the listening room is important, yet it’s not related to vinyl and naturally apply to all music from all platforms. A leather couch reflects sound and is not recommended. A textile version is much better as it acts as a bass trap improving how the room itself sounds. Wood is a great surface material. Gyproc and stone walls reflect sound creating unwanted reverb and harshness in high middle frequencies. A thick carpet usually improves the room sound.

Old speakers seem to sound better compared to new. On my opinion the reason is the same as with old guitar and bass cabinets; during the years sound waves affect the wooden frame shaping it and sound becomes more pleasant.

My ears get tired after listening just a song or two from digital source and I don’t want to continue listening. The same happens after one CD. Then again from vinyl and cassette I can listen music many hours without my ears getting tired.
Mikko Huopainen, guitar player

How To Improve Drum Sound guide

My equipment

I have a Dual 435 turntable from 90’s that blew my mind when we first did the A/B comparison some three years ago. My main system is Pro-Ject 2Xperience SB Ortofon 2M to Pro-Ject Tube Box SE preamp. Some might say that the comparison between this setup and Spotify is unfair and I totally agree. This will make the difference easier to spot at first and once we start comparing analog era vinyls to digital era vinyls using the same turntable reveals the final truth. Once you know what to focus on, it no longer makes you wonder why music nowadays sounds and especially feels so lame.

It’s pretty sad that the youth nowadays, the children of streaming service, have never experienced music in its full dimension. Our teen who’s about to leave the nest announced after the A/B comparison that a turntable is the first thing she’ll buy to her new home. To me it was the first item to get out of storage.
-Tony Vesterinen, music enthusiast

The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band & Abbey Road

Maintenance

When I started collecting vinyl records I hadn’t heard about a vinyl brush. To my disappointment over the course of few months the audio slowly became full of distortion no matter which album I was listening. Daily use of a quality vinyl brush solved the problem. Cheap brush is not recommended as it only removes dust and not the static. I use vinyl brush every time I put a vinyl record on and separately for both sides.

Needle brush is also highly recommended. Before I bought it the needle had gathered a dust ball size of a pepper and sound was full of distortion. I use it daily too as dust from the surface of the vinyl gathers on the needle. More dust there is, more distorted the sound. Please note that you shouldn’t use vinyl brush on the needle or vice versa. Use back and forth motion only as sideways brushing will damage your needle and that is why you should not do so. This cleaning-kit includes the brushes a beginning vinyl enthusiatic needs.

I also have Pro-Ject Vinyl Clean Record & Stylus Cleaner that I sometimes use on the needle and on a very dirty record. When you use it on the needle, let the needle dry properly before putting another record on. If you start listening immediately after using the cleaner, the dust gathers on the needle and gets stuck there pretty intense and then removing the dust can be both tricky and time consuming. This works with any needle brand and model.

I listen a lot of music while working and from vinyl it’s like 3D, if such term can be used. Music becomes alive and touches you. Listening vinyls takes some effort so recently I’ve started to prefer cassettes.
Ivary Vimm, visual artist / researcher (LUT university)

Disco-antistat

One of the best purchases for me was a Knosti Disco-antistat vinyl-washing kit that many had recommended that has a great quality-price-ratio. I always wash every vinyl record, even the new ones, as it removes not only dust but also the static. That crackling sound we all know is that static. To clean my record collection I’ve already used few extra bottles, that you too can easily order here.

Some time ago I found a UK original Led Zeppelin II album for just 10€! Even though the media was in pretty bad condition I just couldn’t pass the opportunity. At home I washed the vinyl and to my very pleasant surprise the media looked brand new! No scratches of any kind. The seller thought it was in very bad shape hence the price. Thanks to Disco-antistat this 50 year old disc now sounds as good as it did 50 years ago. Check my short advent calendar video on Instagram about the album here. And check this demonstration video on how to wash vinyl records here.

Disco-Antistat vinyl washing kit

…after listening music from analogue format you wouldn’t want anyone to choose the easy digital option that sounds more like a demo. I appreciate that you reminded me about the importance of vinyl records both as a composer and as a huge music enthusiastic. The power of music is the reason why I originally chose this path. Rock vinylist!
Kassu Halonen, multi-platinum selling composer / music producer

Conclusion

Jack White invested a huge amount of money on something he believes will be the future of music industry. My hat’s off to mr White and I think he is 110% spot on. For almost two years I have done all studio sessions on tape and there’s no going back to computer recording. The comparison shows that vinyl records made from tape sound as good as when listening the mixes in control room. Vinyl record made from wav-files is only a shadow compared to full analog counter part.

I was born into the world of vinyl records. I deviated to digital only to understand why vinyl as a format is superior. The gap between consumable and pleasure is huge.
Erno Salmela, “Doctor who also studied Metallica” (LUT university)

In today’s world nothing is real and nothing seems to last as everything is fake, including music. Let’s make music sound great again and deliver more emotion to listeners as in the end isn’t that what music is all about: emotion. Analog sound delivers that emotion and this is why the popularity of cassettes and vinyl records is growing. This we hope to prove on the official study with the university people. As the animal and toddler behavior is so remarkable, it should also be thoroughly studied.

Thank you for reading my findings about vinyl records, how to do an A/B comparison and how to get started with a listening experience that delivers so much more compared to the cold and hollow sound of digital. Contact us for a demonstration here. Please leave your questions and comment below. Thank you once again. I wish you pleasant music listening moments with vinyl records!

** Some of the links on this post are affiliate links. If you buy a product thru the link we get a small comission that will not affect the price. Clicking the link is free and you can check out the product details without the pressure of buying. I only recommend products that I have found to work best and use myself. To learn more about ordering, please read Step-by-step Guide to Ordering **

Astia-studio is a full analog recording studio located in eastern Finland with 25 years of experience. Bands and artists from all over the world including USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok have arrived to us for tape recording sessions.

The writer started his studio career in -93 using tape machines, then recorded on computer for 15 years out of which 8 years using digital mixing consoles. Now Anssi has gone back to analog as he has a vast understanding of both analog and digital sound and how they differ.

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