AAA LPs Vs. 96/24 AAD LPs: What Can We Hear?

A reader lamented hearing that the new Queen box set will be mastered from 96/24 files instead of from the original analog tapes because of deterioration.

He is skeptical but the truth is, many of the tapes from that era, particularly Ampex 456, shed oxide and ooze binder and even after baking many are unplayable. It's very sad but also very true. In the case of the Queen tapes, if they can get one pass to transfer at 96/24 you can ask, why not use those files to take notes on how to master to lacquer, and then at least try to use the tapes one more time?

It's a good question, right? However, these are not our decisions to make. Our decision is whether or not to buy records cut from digital files.

The question in need of answering is just how much do you lose (if anything) cutting from high resolution files rather than from tape? So here's what I'm proposing we (I) try to do, but with you (and I) funding it:

I get a label (large or small, doesn't matter) to allow the use of one of its analog master tapes in good condition for the following experiment. The tape gets cut to lacquer to produce an AAA master. The tape gets transferred to 96/24 PCM using the best available converter (or alternatively some of it at 96/24 and some of it at DSD or double DSD or quad DSD or whatever).

Then the two lacquers get plated and pressed on a single LP: one side AAA and one side AAD, but which is which is not identified and you have to vote on this website, for which is which (assuming it's not so laughably obvious that there's no point in a vote).

I will get a price for two lacquer cuts and processing, plus plating and pressing. This could be at RTI or at QRP or wherever. To save money the record will come in a plain white jacket with plain white labels.

If the response here is strong, I'll begin looking for a good tape that can be used without paying heavy or at all for the royalties and once the costs have been totaled, start the Kickstarter project.

Who's in? And who's out? (The photo is just for "fun" since a 96/24 file does not quite look like that).

JEB-42's picture

Intrigued enough to go from constant lurker to LogIn status.

Love this idea. Thanks Michael.....

Auric G's picture

might i suggest multiple masters/artists/genres/tracks with 2-3min samples. It might increase the 'scientific integrity' of this test. though I doubt overwhelming evidence would persuade records labels anyway. but, count me in.

Michael Fremer's picture
You can't splice together bits and pieces of various'd have to make a copy and splice second gens together for the AAA but the digital could be done from guess which would be at a disadvantage?
pmatt's picture

This is a question I've often wondered about. I understand the severe problems of de-lamination, etc. That "baking" is supposed to cure, but my question is more about the state of the overall dynamic range and whether there is any loss of extended highs or lows with age.
Does an immaculately stored, 40-year-old two track master sound as good as it did the year it was made?

isaacrivera's picture

Since I claim I can hear the quality of my digital mastered LPs, I am very curious to test my own assumptions.

Ktracho's picture

If this experiment were done, I'd want to know if converting to DSD would be good enough. Otherwise, assuming 96/24 is not quite good enough, we'll be left hanging.

Also, I'd want to know if you can tell the difference on equipment humbler than multithousand dollar, which is unfortunately my price range. (For example, I bought a used Rega P25, and had a Benz Micro Glider installed on it.)

McFaden's picture

Sign me up.

rshak47's picture

. . . and I will participate if the cost isn't too exorbitant.

CarterB's picture

up to $50 or so. Definitely would like a few different didpfital formats just because. :)

Dpoggenburg's picture

That's a great idea and fun too. How about we do Abbey Road? :)
Seriously though, I'm in however much is needed to make it happen. Thanks!

Audio 1's picture

Really hope this becomes a reality.

mraudioguru's picture

Yeah, this sounds kinda fun...

Phaneronic's picture

I'm with JEB-42 here, created an account here to say I would be heavily interested in seeing this done.

Also, for what it's worth, I'll be curious to your review of the Queen box, as a budding fan of theirs. Should it not be - among other things - not compressed, as has been suggested by some amount of speculation, I'll almost certainly be in for it...

jackholexxxx's picture


moosehunt's picture

Great idea!

abelb1's picture

It would also be great to send a few copies around to some recording industry experts for their opinion (vinyl capable mastering shops and the like). I'd pay a few dollars extra for some additional copies to be sent around if it meant additional words on the subject. I don't think DSD is a great idea because correct me if I'm wrong, but most digitally sourced vinyl LP's are from 24/96 PCM rather than DSD, so having the digital side DSD sourced would not be representative of most new vinyl out there.

fje00's picture

Definitely in!

Engelsstaub's picture

This would be very cool. My equipment is rather humble but I *believe* the outcome (for me, at least) would be the same as if I had kickass stuff like you and some of your readers have.

VirginVinyl's picture

Isn't this already been proven. Just purchase a vinyl record now that is reissue form a major label for example Pink Floyd (or what ever you're into) and get the original copy release from the 70's pre digital ere and sit back and listen. It's that easy.
I would participate but I'm converted.
Plus I'm trying to find ways to hot rod my table and squeeze every little sub sonic sound out of it.

rakalm's picture

I never get to vote on those comparisons with the online files because I lack both the equipment and the knowledge to do so. My computer playback system is rudimentary. I would love it if I could actually get the LP to compare. I am guessing that would be cost prohibitive? Love the idea.

Bigrasshopper's picture

I've really been hoping you would do a kickstarter for a couple years now. If we could get a label that's willing and a title that's capable of generating interest, a challenging combination, I didn't see why we couldn't generate MORE funds than the usual suspects reissue labels - for a very special rock release. But this is a tantalizing beginning. I'd like to see DSD included because of what I heard on the black vinyl ABKO Rolling Stones reissues which sounded different and significantly better than the later clear vinyl PCM.
Like Virgin Vinyl I'm a member of the choir, I'll do what I can to raise the sound of our voice. An unambiguous comparison can only help.
Thanks for asking

alholio71's picture


Rekkid's picture

Long time lurker but this pushed me to become a member. Hope we can make this happen.

kozy814's picture

I am in

Zardoz's picture

some of his Blues artists. If so I would definitely be in, but probably in with whatever can be done.


jfortun's picture

Sounds like a fun experiment.

Kurt's picture

In, unless it's too pricey.

Superfuzz's picture

Since you asked.. Seems like a big waste of time to me.

Devil Doc's picture

for $50 or so

Chris F's picture

I do a lot of LP rips so this sort of experiment involving A/D conversion is very interesting to me.

dhyman's picture

isn't there a unique mastering process for both the digital and vinyl? i think one masters to the medium to compensate for each mediums inherent flaws. they even master for low res apple now....

Michael Fremer's picture
Whether mastering from tape or files the process is the same...
MrRom92's picture

The recent Beatles reissues ended up providing an oddly unique situation where a similar comparison could be made. The stereo issues had mono-only tracks cut as mono, but from digital transfers. The mono records were cut on the same gear by the same engineers, but directly from analog sources. For the few songs which overlap, that's about as direct a comparison as you could get - and with music which most of us are already familiar as well. You couldn't ask for much more.
I'm not aware of any other set of releases which present this situation. If this project falls through, it is at least possible to conduct a very similar experiment to what you have proposed with records that many of us already have, or can obtain easily and inexpensively.

Snorker's picture

Has anybody ever compared the mono tracks from the stereo Please Please Me and Past Masters with the AAA versions in the mono box? While I have the mono box I can't make a comparison because I didn't buy the stereo reissues. I have a mint Blue Box so it seemed superfulous, plus Michael's reviews of most of the stereo reissues were less than stellar...

pbnaudio's picture

So I'm definitely in :-)

Good Listening

Peter Noerbaek
PBN Audio

MrRom92's picture

I do have first gen masters for which the rights may be a non-issue, or cheap. Is there a preferred contact I should use to get in touch with you?

readargos's picture

Also for about $50. Even running a Rega P3-24 at home (with some of the popular mods - though it is the least expensive electronic component of the system), I can hear what analog does that something like the dCS Vivaldi (heard at shows) does not.

I wonder what the future holds with the rise of qubit quantum computing, forecasting a time when digital can have, essentially, infinite resolution. Right now, such are very expensive, experimental, super-cooled computers that take up giant rooms, much like the early computers of the 20th Century, but one day they will probably be small and portable. And much like early electromechanical computers of the WWII era, these can be used to break unbreakable code. For now, however, I think vinyl remains the highest resolution playback medium for home use that is widely available and reasonably priced.

I have been pleased with what I've heard of the Led Zeppelin reissue project, but, for whatever reason, less satisfied with the Beatles Stereo Box and Pink Floyd reissues. I believe these were all cut from 96/24? Lady Gaga on vinyl crushes the CD, and I presume her albums are also from digital masters.

OldschoolE's picture

This is very interesting and sounds like a good experiment. However, I'm already a convert (leave the digital files off my vinyl please) and I don't have extra money lying around anyway to help out. If I did, I would would have signed on the minute you posted this.

HalSF's picture

A very cool experiment if all variables can be eliminated. I’d love to audition a shoot-oout like this.

E.R.Price's picture

...for my money, so long as it doesn't break the bank.

sdecker's picture

This is what I've been looking to find, an accurate "A/B" comparison from known sources for as long as most albums have been recorded digitally and then optionally pressed to vinyl. 24/96 is not 16/44 so there's a theoretical advantage to the higher res being passed on through vinyl despite all the additional stages to press a record and play it back.

I too would like to hear DSD as well as 24/96, but that would corrupt the 'digital' side of the LP, changing formats midstream. Wish there was a way to accommodate both without shortchanging the whole project.

Finally, it's probably most effective to have one longer piece, or at least songs from the same session. We know it's much harder to compare sound snippets than to take in a whole album side with one sound, then repeat again with a different sonic.

If it's all well transferred my bet is the sonics will be very close, but still discernable even on moderate priced systems...

jmoray's picture

Not like you needed my vote.......I'M IN!
I think this would be very telling...And at the same time, it would be a great way to corner a record label and say "digital CAN sound almost as good as analogue. WHY DO YOU PURPOSELY CONTINUE TO PRODUCE SHIT WITH DIGITAL?"

Rudy Merz's picture

This sounds like an awesome project.

Catcher10's picture

as the content is NOT the Beatles!! There is no detail in their music, typical 4/4 beat patterns, yuck!
I would suggest something more complex...Maybe Yes Close To the Edge Side I or Genesis Selling England By the Pound Side I. Songs that have texture both loud and quiet passages, keys, strings, percussion.....

Or something in jazz genre.....To me this is the harder decision than PCM or DSD, which PCM is the only logical choice.

Whether you spent $200 or $2000 on your TT I don't think matters, a better source material should sound better.

Sounds like a good project..

JoeESP9's picture

I say do it. I'll definitely buy a copy.

michaelwcole's picture

I'd love to see/hear the results. I'm in.

Paully's picture

Just would want to know the price of entry.

Marc Lemaire's picture

if only to find if I am able to "hear" the difference.

In browsing your blog, I have discovered so many great records that I have to believe...

Marc "Abbey Road" Lemaire

vinyl_lady's picture

Count me in.

teachscience's picture

Have to know what the music is first though.

annalog's picture

The CD version of my SheffieldLabs direct-to-master-disc record 'I've got the music in me' simply sounds dull and dead. Serious research has proven that we are able to hear transients that correspond sine-frequencies far above 20 kHz (40 to 60 kHz). Further our ears are most sensitive to phase-shifts that are immanently introduced by each step/ component in the reproduction and production chain. Thus there must be audible differences unless the overall noise and distortions have passed a threshold that allows no differentiation at all.

Bruggles's picture

Everyone knows life happens in perfect sine waves, so if we can't consciously notice a particular fundamental, surely nothing else can exist - at least meaningfully. I mean, apart from distorted guitars, percussion hits, string plucks, etc., it it's basically all sine waves that are prominently in the "audible region."

Back to serious: I happen to really enjoy guitars that take on some wacky waveforms like squares and sawtooth. How is a 20kHz side wave supposed to capture an 8kHz square wave? Who listens to only softly plucked harp music?

AdamL's picture

Love it--count me in!

english pete's picture

Why do my posts not show???

english pete's picture

one worked. I'm in for <$50 as long as it's a AAA - 96/24 to AAA comparison a sfirst discussed. No fancy DSD.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have both the SACD and the 180 gram LP that also did transfers from tape and the SACD files...I believe.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I would think that any important work should be moved to 24/192 for archiving purposes.

TheThing72's picture

I'm in for sure. Another good test that is already available would be the Music Matter Blue Notes VS. the current run of 75th Anniversary vinyl put out by Universal. I think they both have their merits.. but obviously that is up for debate, system setup and personal taste. For me the MM win hands down.. but a few of the 75th's pressed at United sound pretty damn good. Either way the test is valid. I think what we are all searching for here is the best quality sound.. and that is really the end game regardless of source.

stephenup's picture

Yes, AAA and 96/24 please!

bhjazz's picture

I'm in. This is one of those things that keeps me up at night.

Jon's picture

I don't want to dampen what sounds like a fun, interesting and educational project, but I have reservations. In my experience, the difference between an original analogue source and a digital equivalent is that the "sound" of the analogue to digital converter (ADC) is evident in the latter. This might seem an obvious thing to say, however what I mean is this: both versions can actually sound equally nice, only that they are different. For example, one converter might have a slightly dry, crisp and damped tonality, which in some circumstances might even make the result sound better than the relatively soggy and reverberant original. Or a very smooth and laid back converter might make a slightly dry and strident source suddenly sound "better". I've heard both of these things happen in my experience.

Bottom line is that I have never heard any ADC in ANY price range that did not have it's own sound, though nearly all high quality models I have heard have a "nice" sound. Infact I've found this whole thing very sobering. Digital is - unfortunately - not authentic at all to an original analogue source unless you get into the absolute best of the best and use ultra expensive equipment with external clocks worth as much as a family car.

What I am trying to say is that on this record, it is quite possible we simply going to hear two different types of sound, one of which may be more appealing than the other. But the more appealing one could well be the digital version, even though it is not the accurate one. The only true test is to compare both sides of the record to the original master tape, something which obviously cannot happen for most of us.

J. Carter's picture

And I suppose anything cut to vinyl is going to be more accurate than anything going through a good DAC??? Come on, really?!?!? Cartridges, arms, pre amps etc. color the sound way more than a DAC does.

Your point about the two sides sounding different is legit however but to say that the digital side won't be as accurate is just plain silly.

Jon's picture

The "analogue" side of the vinyl record is going to be the analogue source to the cutting amplifier to the cutting head. The "digital" side of the vinyl record is going to be the analogue source to ADC to DAC to the cutting amplifier to the cutting head. So yes, the "digital" side is going to be less accurate (less true to the original source) than the "analogue" side because there is an additional analogue to digital step involved followed by a corresponding digital to analogue step. Bear in mind that the proposed recording is an original analogue one. Your comments would only make any sense if the original recording session where the source material was produced involved the creation of both analogue and digital masters concurrently from the same console feed. In which case I would agree with you. However my understanding is that this is not the case in this instance and the purpose behind it inter alia is to see if the interpolation of additional analogue to digital to analogue steps are ostensibly audible in a vinyl recording where all other production values and procedures are equal.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes, cartridges, arms, etc. do color the sound, especially in terms of response linearity, but A/D converters and DACs produce a fundamental change. I don't find digitization to be "transparent" and the filters used have profound effects on sonics. Otherwise we'd only need one DAC and one A/D converter. There are hundreds and they all sound different from one another because of the filters, the A/D, D/A chips and the analog circuitry.
MAda19's picture

I'm in! I think it is important to remember the primary question that is being asked - how much do you lose (if anything)cutting from high resolution files rather than from tape?

Looking forward to more details, and saving for my contribution to this project.

Ben Nordine's picture

In for sure.

Bruggles's picture

Consider using Mapleshade as Pierre's recordings are so good, and he already rips his tape to high-resolution digital - well beyond even DXD. Also, his label is small enough that you can talk to him this afternoon, if you wish.

Bruggles's picture

Consider a very short piece say a minute or two, and put the different masters consecutively on the same side. Also, consider doing different sample rates, and possibly mp3, all on a single side, and do the same for another piece on side two. In a different order.

I think it would be neat with CD (14/44.1), 24/48, 24/96, 24/192, 32/384, 128 kbps mp3, 256 kbps mp3, 96 kbps mp3 and 320 kbps mp3.

Ooh - what about the mp3 or AAC directly off an iPod to the lathe. Interesting, right!

Bruggles's picture

Since I'm sure people could naturally respond to that.

DGRogers's picture

I am in!

bramdg's picture

count me in :-)

Paul Boudreau's picture


marcel_kyrie's picture

I've had to replace some of my Stones albums, and kinda groan when I see they're cut from digital. I understand the problem, but can't help wondering about the quality. Did it always sound like this? I'd love to know for sure.

sandyu's picture

Yes, I’d contribute. Sure!!

But I have a suggestion on the Lp: “For Lp Fans Only,” which was issued while Elvis Presley was in Germany for the Army, and used songs recorded by Sam Phillips at the great old Sun studio in Memphis.

Of course, the recording was mono. (A “stereo reprocessed” version was later available, but nobody would be interested in that.)

Not only is the title eminently suitable -- really, Mikey, “For LP Fans Only”? Isn’t that absolutely perfect? Even better than “Analog Planet,” if possible!! -- but there have been more than a few attempts since the Fifties to capture that great old Sun studio sound -- the latest by T-Bone Walker, who carefully measured the Sun studio in Memphis, then flew back to LA to have his new studio built to those dimensions.

So, we can consider the Sun Sound our Gold Standard for this experiment.

Also, the original tapes might still be in okay condition, too, and carefully stored by RCA (who originally acquired them from Sun) since they were used not that long ago to create the “Fifties Masters” box for RCA under the direction of Priscilla Presley, who would know (a.) where the original tapes are and (b.) who to see about obtaining them.

Finally, unlike some others Priscilla might be initially receptive to your idea, as there was a high-priced special audiophile version of some of Elvis’ work released as “24 Karat Gold” (or a similar name) on LP just a few years back.

Good luck!! See ya soon on Kickstarter!!

Logansport Berry's picture

The Elvis Sun masters are mostly not first generation/original master tapes - here's a good summation of what's in the vaults (a big tip of the hat to Kevan Budd, unsung hero of working tirelessly to make Elvis' earliest works sound as good as possible for the Elvis at Sun comp, as well as producing great results on Elvis' 50s work at RCA as well):

Kirby's picture

In, let the truth be told.(or heard)

Pacomo's picture


Aronson's picture

I'm in.

theboogeydown's picture

Where can I send my $50?

teachscience's picture

We'll see, we will see.

Madad00's picture

If the experiment is to determine if there really is an audible difference cutting a record from analog or digital. Why not just go all in and cut a bunch of 7" 45 singles instead of one 12' LP.

Cut One side from analog and the rest from different versions of digital; 24/192, 24/96, 16/44.1, DSD, Mp3 to see if once and for all if anybody can really tell the difference between any of these.

just my 2 cents, either way I'm in. this project is a great idea!

mats@nobox's picture

Count me in

Jim Tavegia's picture

There is so much music out there on tape that needs to be transferred today to at least 24/192 for archiving purposes just to save it for future use. I use 2496 and even at 68 with reduced hearing can hear the difference in my own recordings in first take it makes no sense to do anything less. I know as a math teacher that 24192 is much better, but many, and I, can't always hear it, but with HD space so cheap why would one not so at least 24/192 for important music. I would even consider using a Tascam DA3000 and store individual tapes on SDHC cards which would be easy to file away for future use.

My only problem with DSD is that not everone is willing to buy a Sanoma work station, but enough mastering houses have so that work can still be done, just not as easily.

I just bought a "consumer" tascam DR-680 MK2 that is a 6 track SDHC recorder that can do 2 tracks of 24/192 or 6 @ 2496 and is a darn steam at $599 and cheaper if you shop...the perfect needle drop recorder. with a great TT and phono stage great recordings can be made.

If the labels were creative enough they could market the 2496 files on DVD-Vs that anyone could play on a current DVD player as wav files (as I do) and they could hear so much more of what the artists intended their music to be, especially for those who still want physical media. Other wise 24/192 downloads are a great option.

To sit and wait for the tapes to get worse makes no sense, but it will happen as the industry is always to slow to react. Sad, but true. It may sound nuts, but that would be a job I would relish in being in a room tranfering tapes all day long. Call me crazy, but I teach math in middle school so exactly WHAT IS CRAZY? This would be like the best job ever.

Jim Tavegia's picture

See above.

robertaich's picture

It's one of our fundamental questions. Who wouldn't want to do the test?

darkhorse's picture

although I'd place money on the fact that better than 50% of us couldn't tell the difference

carja's picture

For a reasonable price ($50 or less), I will enjoy the challenge.

khenegar's picture

Where can I get the recording?