Music Monday: Vinyl, Cassette, CD, MP3, or Streaming – What Format Offers the Best Sound Quality?

Some of you may already know the answer to this question, but I did not.

But I started thinking about it after I got my new headphones, which made listening to music much more enjoyable than hearing it come out of my laptop speakers.

So I started searching the web, and the consensus was pretty clear: vinyl wins. This is because the vinyl can pick up every single part of the sound wave. No information is lost. The records will hold the scale of the sound and you will get everything.

Next comes the CD. The sound quality is better than cassettes, but it doesn’t compare to the quality of vinyl records. This is because a digital file only captures some of the data.

Next is an MP3. MP3 files sacrifice the range and quality in exchange for the convenience of small file sizes. This means reduced audio quality when compared with something like vinyl.

Streaming services like Spotify: Spotify has a bit rate of 160 kpbs which is less than the standard of mp3 files, while Spotify Premium comes in at 360 kpbs which makes it just equal to mp3. Both offer less quality than a CD, indeed, only Tidal offers a lossless compression audio, making it the only streaming service to offer CD quality.

Cassettes: the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Obviously, there are some advantages to the lesser quality audio formats, such as convenience (CDs and cassettes are much smaller than vinyl) and access to a large library of music (an iPod can store thousands of songs, while Spotify gives you access to seemingly every song you might want to hear.

It is up to each individual to decide if they are willing to sacrifice sound quality for convenience, and if so, how much.

For my untrained ear, Spotify sounds terrific, especially through my headphones.

But I am sure there are some people who have never given up on vinyl.

I might have to check to see if there is a way to hook up my wireless headphones to my record player.

Seems like that may be the best solution. But then I would wonder if I lose any quality by being wireless as opposed to wired.

Hmmmm…. decisions, decisions…

Sources: Top Ten Reviews, Audio Affair

Fun fact from the Top Ten Reviews article: some older cars had record players in them!

30 thoughts on “Music Monday: Vinyl, Cassette, CD, MP3, or Streaming – What Format Offers the Best Sound Quality?

  1. I saw this on Twitter and had to pop over because I was certain the best sound would be vinyl. I wasn’t disappointed. 🙂 They’re bringing back record players! I still have 2 boxes packed away, I’ve toted with me in at least half a dozen moves, filled with vinyls in their jackets. I couldn’t part with them, lol. Now I wonder if they’d even work or be warped from decades of basements. Fun post. 🙂

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    1. I used to have quite a few vinyl albums but those are long gone. I have bout a few in the past couple of years, as well as a record player. I have trouble discerning the difference in quality, but it does bring back good memories. I hope your albums are still in good shape!

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  2. I read about this years ago and was actually shocked to see that Vinyl was superior. I believe I read that the type of tip you use plays a big part in sound quality also. Its been awhile though so I’m not sure about that. I really thought digital would reign if left uncompressed, but Vinyl is the winner by quite a bit even.

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  3. not surprising i guess, we sacrifice quality for ease of use. my daughters prefer vinyl, and records have made a huge comeback. i’ve always listened to music delivered in all forms, and have gone for ease myself, but i do notice the difference when experiencing quality.

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  4. One of the considerations here, that was not mentioned, is the degradation of sound quality over time. Although vinyl has the best sound quality to start with, the quality can degrade over time from poor handling and storage, or even from being listened to on a turntable. Each time we put the needle to the record it embeds small particles of dust into the track. Over a long period of time and playing, the sound quality falls off. Digital, although falling short initially, will remain the same quality forever, regardless of how many times it is played. Just something else to consider as your drag your turntable to the beach, Jim!

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  5. Vinyl may have the best sound but it doesn’t always have the convenience. It would be difficult to listen to vinyl in the car. Cassettes were great for the car before CDs and CDs before Spotify. We take our music how and where we can get it.

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    1. Yes, Spotify is quite convenient. And it plays on so many devices. I’ve got it on my phone, my Amazon Echo, my laptop, my TV, and can play it in my car through my phone.

      But cassettes were such an improvement over 8-tracks!

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  6. Jim – one other thing that should be noted regarding audio quality in vinyl versus cd. Most cd’s are compressed to allow them to be louder overall – this is referred to as lack of dynamic range. Play a vinyl recording of an album and then pay the same album on cd and you will notice that the vinyl has higher highs and lower lows – both in terms of volume and frequency range. this can be compensated with bit rate – – on cd’s – but most don’t. Recording studios however do use the higher rates and if you don’t compress the recordings cd’s are really pretty good

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  7. Vinyl, Cassette, CD, MP3, or Streaming – What Format Offers the Best Sound Quality? —

    Also see How Stuff Works —

    There are diehards who prefer vinyl to digital to a point where there’s are growing market for vinyl recordings —

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    1. vinyl does seem to be growing in popularity. I’m guessing part of that is the better quality, and part of it may be a desire to return to the good old days…


  8. Be careful. If you start down this track you might become a full-fledged audiophile. 😃 That can be very enjoyable, but it can also be very expensive. I like vinyl but haven’t bought records lately. My son bought a new turntable and listens to the old records from time to time. One medium that was very popular back in the day was reel-to-reel tape. Some think it is the best.

    Of course to get the best sound you also need the best speakers (or headphones) and amplifiers. Some audiophiles swear by old-tech, vacuum-tube amplifiers.

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  9. I’ve always thought that those who swear by vinyl were pseuds! I haven’t played a vinyl album for longer than I care to remember, and don’t have the space for them now, anyway. I use Apple Music and the quality is fine for my needs. And streaming services don’t get scratched, warped or chewed by the dog…

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  10. Recently vinyl is making a huge comeback and I know a lot of people who are spending hundreds of dollars to buy records because apparently they sound much better. I use Spotify too but I’m sure for people who are super into music vinyls probably sound way superior.

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