Why I Don’t Do Hi-Res Vinyl Rips

There’s a growing trend amongst people who blog about their vinyl rips to create high resolution files. Everything I post is “normal” resolution, so I thought I’d say why that is.

The standard (redbook) format for digital music was decided decades ago when the first CDs appeared, and is 16bit/44.1 kHz. I’m not enough of a geek to understand in detail the technical arguments against higher specced files, but in simple terms, this is what they boil down to.

The “bit” part of the equation is a measure of the dynamic range of file, i.e. the difference between the loud bits and the quiet bits. When CDs first appeared, one of the selling points was their greater dynamic range, and this is certainly true. The maximum resolution you can get on a vinyl system is around 6 bit, so if you do a digital recording of a vinyl source, 16 bit is already total overkill. There’s no point at all to resolutions higher than that.

The 44.1 kHz refers to how often the sound is sampled, i.e. 44,100 times per second. The argument is that a higher sampling rate gives a more detailed sound which is closer to the original. In one sense that is of course true, but the problem is human ears can’t hear the difference.

For me though what trumps the technical arguments is the evidence of my ears. I have some very nice sounding 24/96 music files but they sound identical if I downsample them to 16/44. It’s not just me either. This paper describes clever double blind test designed to see if anyone could tell the difference between high res and “normal” res. No-one could.

There are also some really dull practical reasons. I don’t have a lap top, and my turntable isn’t in the same room as my PC. My PC has a really cheap sound card anyway, so the rips would be no good even if I re-arranged my house. However I do have a CD recorder (Pioneer PDR509) which does really superb digital copies – but only in 16/44.1.

I’ll do another rant later about why, despite all I’ve said above, hi-res files often sound better than normal ones. (Clue: it’s not because they’re hi-res).

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