Hire Tom
Mostly Mozart


LP and CD
Posted October 14, 2001

You're listening to CJLY 93.5fm in Nelson, Kootenay Coop Radio. My name is Tom Clegg. This show is called Mostly Mozart, and that means that today, and every week at this time, you get to hear a minimum of two Mozart compositions. And, if there's any time left, I might say something about science, or math, or technology, or the ceramic rooster. Mostly Mozart is sponsored by Tom Clegg.

Today I'd like to settle a long standing question in the world of Hi-Fi technology. I'm going to decide for you, once and for all, which is better: CDs or records.

I'm going to do this by giving you some examples of records that sound good, records that sound bad, CDs that sound good, and CDs that sound bad. I probably won't play you any examples of CDs that won't play at all, because they won't play. But I'll do the best I can.

Since records were invented first, I'll start off with a record. This is a piano sonata in C major, played by Christoph Eschenbach. I'll play the first movement from the record, then I'll play the second and third movements from the CD.


That was Christoph Eschenbach on CD, preceded by Christoph Eschenbach on LP.

You're listening to Mostly Mozart, sponsored by Tom Clegg. Today I'm comparing CDs and records, so we can decide once and for all which one sounds better.

Technologically speaking, the biggest difference between records and CDs is that records are analogue, while CDs are digital.

A CD stores a sequence of zeroes and ones; a CD player either reads the sequence correctly or it reads it incorrectly. In practice, a brand new CD is read correctly, while an old CD has a few bits that can't be read reliably. If you handle your CDs carefully, you can expect your CD player to read them correctly for quite a few years.

A record doesn't have ones and zeroes. It has a spiral groove that goes up and down, and left and right; the distance it moves is proportional to the distance the speaker cones are supposed to move. There is no single "correct" signal on a record; the encoded signal is inseparable from the physical medium itself. The signal you get from the record changes over time, right from the start.

As the signal changes, it might sound OK, it might sound better, and it might sound worse. In the case of damaged CDs, it usually sounds worse.

--- Blue piece of paper

In the case of damaged records, it depends on the damage. One really nice feature of records is that they always keep a beat, as long as they aren't badly warped and they don't skip. Some recordings sound really good with lots of extra record noises thrown in. My favourite example of this is JJ Cale, whose records always seem to sound better when they get lots of dirt and mud in them.

--- JJ Cale

An unfortunate aspect of records is that cheap and broken turntables have a tendency to alter the frequency response of a record in a really bad way. Here's a record with messed up frequency response. It's not intolerable, so I'll play a whole song, but you'll notice that it sounds a little muddy.

--- Paul Simon

You're listening to Mostly Mozart on CJLY 93.5 fm in Nelson. Mostly Mozart is sponsored by Tom Clegg -- that's me. Today I'm having a debate with myself about the relative merits of CDs and records.

One weakness of records is that they don't seem to do very well with large dynamic range and large numbers of instruments playing at once. Like symphony orchestras. Here's the overture to Cosi Fan Tutte, from a Deutsche Grammophon record. Afterwards, I'll play a CD version of the overture to the Magic Flute, so you can compare.

--- Cosi Fan Tutte

--- Magic Flute

Well, if records don't stack up to CDs for stuff like symphony orchestras, they still do a pretty good job with other types of recordings. Here's a CD of Glenn Gould playing Bach, followed by a different track from an LP of the same recording.

--- Well-Tempered Clavier

My name is Tom Clegg and I'm happy to sponsor Mostly Mozart. I just have a few more examples of how records and CDs sound before I conclude my debate by disappearing into thin air.

Here's a new pop record that sounds pretty good. It's a US pressing, which is an important thing to look for in that it's not Canadian. Canada has notoriously low LP manufacturing standards. Apparently if you want a good record you should get one made in England, and if you want a really good record you should go to Germany. But failing that, at least American records are made of a nice thick piece of vinyl, compared to the skinny Canadian ones that seem like they were meant to be mailed to you in a National Geographic magazine.

--- Pavement

If you want your CDs to sound good, it doesn't matter much where you buy them, as long as they're not censored. Just make a perfect digital copy when you get a new CD, and listen to the copy. When the copy starts to skip, or you lose it or step on it or leave it in the sun too long, just make a fresh copy from the original. The copy will sound exactly the same as the original in any given CD player.

Here's a copy of a CD of Chick Corea and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra playing a Mozart piano concerto. Well, part of it, anyway.