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I came into the record business in 1957 and I worked for a Jewish fella named Benjamin who owned Birdel’s. I’ve gotten phone calls as far as Africa, calls from Seattle, Washington, Portland…all over the United States. Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new articles by email. In principle, there’s no reason a digital file should produce lower-quality sound than a vinyl record. The waveform on the left represents a low-pitch note, while the waveform on the right represents a high-pitch note. As more complicated sound is made (for instance if I speak), the strength of the pressure changes to control the volume and make a pattern (like a word).
Now that we understand a little bit about how sound works, we can talk about how it’s stored on a computer. The original sound wave (left) is discretized with a low sampling rate (middle) and a high sampling rate (right). Sound is recorded on a vinyl record by copying the shape of the sound wave onto a groove on the record.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, complaints, or insults, please let us know in the comments!
It seems I’ve made some serious errors when discussing the technicalities of music recording, both digital and vinyl. There is actually a big difference between lossy formats and lossless digital audio formats (which may be in fact compressed; see FLAC).
The MP3 codec, for instance, is a lossy format that relies on a model of the human auditory system to estimate portions of the waveform that are difficult for the human ear to notice. As an experiment, try converting a WAV or other lossless format into pairs of files of similar sampling sampling rates (be sure to disable VBR — how to do this depends on your encoder). The sound information is actually recorded by motion on the other axis, wiggling the groove to the left and right (that is, radial motion relative to the center of the record).
I do a lot of work involving signal processing and the relationship between sampling rates and signal bandwidth. I intentionally glossed over the trade-off between frequency and time resolution given by Fourier transform. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Desktop users: right click on the image and choose "save image as" or "set as desktop background". As the owner of Birdel’s Record Shop in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn for more than 50 years, Long has witnessed the evolution of music from the Motown-era in the 1960s to the oversexed R&B currently on heavy rotation.

I told him that I would work with him for 10 years and if he didn’t sell me the store at the end of those 10 years, I would go out on my own. In the 50’s and 60’s radio was very instrumental in breaking an artist’s record and you had personalities and disc jockeys that went to school and learned the business of radio. It made me wonder if there’s a younger entrepreneur who could convert the shop into an online presence. In a real song, there will be many notes at once, and the note will change as the song goes on, so the change of the higher-frequency wiggles will change. Because the computer can only hold a finite amount of information, some of the waveform is necessarily lost. The large blue dots indicate that the computer is not quite sure what the strength of the sound wave is.
The shape of the groove mimics the shape of the pressure wave, just like the plots I’ve shown you above.
By not recording those notes, we can reduce the size of an audio file without any obvious change in audio quality. However, to conserve space on hard drives, we often compromise between audio quality and memory usage. The groove actually looks like a tiny graph of the sound waveform, big enough to be seen with minimal magnification (well known to oldsters like me who have handled a lot of vinyl records). But over the years, they got rid of real disc jockeys and went to personalities like Steve Harvey who didn’t know anything about the record business.
Why this is the case has to do with how sound works, and how sound is stored on a computer file.
I apologize to everyone I misinformed earlier this week, I should have corrected the erroneous information now. Lossy compression makes use of interpolation and other tricks to approximate the original lossless digital signal, whereas lossless compression makes use of inherent redundancy of the digital information. It turns out that formulating accurate models of psychoacoustics is difficult, and people vary, which makes this process imperfect.
On monaural records that’s all there is, but on stereo recordings the depth of the groove actually records stereo information, specifically it represents the difference between the two channels. I think many might be interested in your explanation, so please do correct me on sampling rate and signal bandwidth. He took a moment to talk to me and say his final goodbye to the vinyl shop that has become legendary from the streets of Brooklyn to the bright lights of Tokyo. All of these people have been through this store to buy vinyl because vinyl is a big business in other countries. The first time was back in 2007, but the community was so upset about it that I kept it open.

Imagine that I hold a string between my two hands, and I move my hands so that the string wiggles. The computer also doesn’t have perfect ability to keep track of the strength of the pressure of the wave at any given time. Once the sampling rate is high enough, and the resolution good enough, we can’t tell the difference if the sampling rate is higher or the resolution is better. In the end, whether or not a digital file has a lower-quality sound than a vinyl record depends on the person who produced the file.
So there’s no surprise that many people hear significant difference with such codecs.
Listen to the sea-alien sounds that start to happen when you start cranking down the MP3 bitrate. What pursued him to sell it quicker were the riots in predominately minority communities after Martin Luther King got killed.
Vinyl has always been a big business, but here in the States, they downsized vinyl and went from 8-tracks to cassettes from cassettes to CDs.
Similarly, the sampling rate is determined by the width of the needle that cuts the groove. The whole town, not just here in New York, but Chicago and Detroit and Los Angeles…it all went up in smoke.
The needle tip cuts a groove the same width as the tip, and we lose all information about how things change under the needle. I will do my research more thoroughly the next time I explore a subject I don’t know well. They burned up a lot of businesses in those communities and he decided to get out and he sold it to me. It was like letting a horse out the barn and trying to get it back in after you let it out.
The number of times the computer measures the strength of the pressure wave is the sampling rate. You could take an inventory throughout the United States and you could find out of all the record shops in the 70’s and 80’s, you probably have one percent of independent record stores left…that’s all.

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