Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘I’m With You” vinyl sounds better than CD

I’m signed up to the Facebook group “End the Loudness War“. Last week Harman Aaron Loučka posted a heads-up that an example of the vinyl release of the new Red Hot Chile Peppers album, “I’m With You”, had been posted on YouTube.

I headed over to check it out, since vinyl releases often show as having better dynamics (“crest factor”, to be strictly correct) than their CD equivalents in the Dynamic Range Database. I don’t have a record deck though, so hadn’t had a chance to check it out, until now.

The results were pretty clear, and I’ve made my own short YouTube clip to demonstrate the difference. Take a listen, and see if you can hear a difference, and which one you prefer.

This is not a vinyl versus CD thing

Whatever you decide, it’s important to know – what you’re hearing is NOT some inherent limitation of the quality of the CD format.

CD and vinyl do sound different, but with identical masters, they should sound very close to each other. Much closer than this.

These are not identical masters – on the CD, the crest factor is about 6 dB less than on the vinyl, and there are some EQ differences too. (And, the vinyl is playing at a slightly higher pitch)

Yup, it’s the loudness war again.

The loudness war is insane

This means that the quality of the CD version, which is theoretically a far superior format technically, is lower (in my opinion) than the vinyl.

This is insane.

At the very least, they should sound similar, so that people who prefer vinyl can choose it for it’s particular characteristics.

As it is, since I prefer the mastering of the vinyl release, the only way for me to hear this version is to buy a record deck or download an illegal rip of the vinyl. Madness !

Why does the vinyl sound different ?

Of course, it’s sadly no surprise that a RHCP CD sounds like this – “Californication” helped kick-start the loudness war in the first place, and producer Rick Rubin is a serial offender, mistakenly believing that people always prefer a more heavily compressed version – they don’t, as research shows.

What’s interesting is to notice that the vinyl was released a couple of months after the CD. Since they were all mastered by Vlado Meller at Masterdisc, the question is, why does the vinyl sound different ?

Was this simply following the ironically perverse trend of “audiophile” vinyl releases ? Or might it be in response to the generally harsh reception of the album’s sound all over the web ?

We can only hope it’s the later…

For more information on the Loudness War, click here.


As an interesting side-note, notice how YouTube’s lossy data-compressed audio sounds worse for the CD version – more artefacts.

This is further proof that higher-quality, more dynamic music actually survives better when mp3-ed, and makes it even more sadly ironic that the CD master was the basis for the so-called “mastered for iTunes” version.

And, a sadly missed opportunity – since there were separate masters for CD and iTunes, the iTunes version could actually have sounded better…


facebook comments:


  1. Matt says

    I am a believer in the vinyl is better than CD argument. I find air, sense of time, depth of sound and richness of tone to be far more convincing on direct mic lines and good LPs, than I do for CD material. 24/96, 24/192 and DSD (especially DSD) get progressively closer to that true analog experience.

    So even if this record was the best thing ever produced, the 44.1/16 (and lossy compression) would be a limiting factor.

    This here is simply about dynamic range. The CD sucks. Period. The vinyl actually has decent mastering. At the very least, they could secure an audiophile release CD/SACD version with Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs or Acoustic Sounds, for the audiophile market (where aforementioned company makes a straight DSD transfer of the master tape to SACD/CD).

  2. ColinG says

    The difference between the formats is typical of modern releases, though maybe a bit more extreme than usual; the CD/download is almost always brickwalled these days, but the vinyl almost always has a decent dynamic range. I reckon it’s just because brickwalling vinyl doesn’t make it any louder so nobody thinks it’s a good idea.

    The loudness war makes sense if you think of it as a collective mental illness on behalf of the recording industry.

  3. says

    And what about CD/vinyl comparision with great mastered sound, such as Nirvana’s Nevermind?
    Is there a difference with non-loudnesswar recording b’tween vinyl & CD? Which’s generally better? Why?

  4. says

    @ Marcin

    For non loudness-war casualties, vinyl and CD are just different. A great CD master and a great vinyl pressing should sound almost identical.

    Personally I would choose CD for the sound quality, but vinyl for the aesthetics of the format itself – I still have a soft spot for dropping a needle on a groove :-)

  5. Robert says

    The cursed loudness war is utter insane! I perceive the so $greed motivated ignorant music industry as a fast sinking ship! I cant stand any of the hyper-compressed-distorted releases at all…just tinny noise. I’m boycotting, as I see no other choice…*sigh*
    I don’t have a record player even (hadn’t found one yet). This RHCP CD sounds like utter garbage, similar to Californication!…Why does one need to resort to vinyl…When its just a sick-insane mastering fault ($greed motivated $loudness war) on the CD? End the cursed ‘loudness war’ for good…I’m sure not the only one who would be relieved!
    There is a freebie ReliFe VST plugin one can try on the over-squashed CD master…Anyone tried it?
    Anyone compared the Florence + The Machine ‘Ceremonials’ album CD and Vinyl?!? The CD version is utter distorted and unlistenable to my ears (more or less the same $loudness war issues as this RHCP CD), just utter awful!

  6. ColinG says

    I’ve tried using ReLife and I’ve had mixed results. Sometimes it improves the sound, sometimes it doesn’t make much of a difference, sometimes it makes it worse. It’s worth trying out if music you love is brickwalled to the point of pain, but don’ expect miracles. Usuallly you’re better off with a decent vinyl rip if such a thing exists.

  7. Robert says

    I intend to boycott new releases outright…Due to the continued ignorance regarding complaints of rotten bad mastering! Not all artists release on Vinyl…Particular $Sony doesn’t do vinyl apparently (who knows why?!?..Lazyness?…Ignorance too…Who knows?)…And the squashing continues…I have tapes that sound better than this so distorted crap! *sigh* :(
    If coincidence or not, retro formats seem real IN now…Not just Vinyl, tapes too.

  8. says

    Hi there Ian,

    I’m pretty late to this, I know, just felt the need to comment after discovering this. The IwY vinyl is only marginally better than the CD, and that’s only in terms of EQ. In terms of brickwalling/limiting, it’s EXACTLY THE SAME. All the peaks you can see are just digital clipping reproduced on an analogue medium. It’s still straight lines, just that they’re not horizontal but rather a little diagonal. It doesn’t sound one iota different than CD clipping, though. Really, the only reason to get the vinyl is for improved EQ, but this sounds very very far from what a straight tape-to-vinyl (or tape-to-CD!) master would have sounded like. Here’s a little screenshot from a part of the vinyl that clips (and this happens all over the record, just as with the CD):

    Which is why the waveform comparisons are misleading. The vinyl waveform would look about 6 dB more dynamic even if it was the same exact master as the CD, just because digital clipping looks different (but does not sound different) when reproduced on an analogue medium.

    By the way, a reissue of Californication just came out two days ago on vinyl – mastered by Bernie Grundman, and it’s lightyears better than the CD release, probably as close to the mastertapes as it gets!

  9. says

    Interesting – zooming in on the waveform I do see the “horizontal clipping” you’re talking about.

    I’m not convinced, though – mainly because I hear more distortion on the CD, even though the sound is duller overall. If the vinyl were a brightened-up version of a clipped CD master, I would expect to hear more distortion as a result. In theory we might be seeing a compressor kick in with a slow attack time, but another explanation could be that this effect was caused in the mix, and additional clipping was then added at the CD mastering stage, to the whole signal.

    Of course we can’t know about for certain about the exact process used to make this vinyl master, but I’ve tried myself to “revitalise” clipped signals and never got anything close to an extra 6dB. Also there are pretty effective ways to de-clip signals – I don’t see any evidence of that here.

    Lastly, this isn’t really a waveform analysis – I made the video because the vinyl SOUNDS so much better to me than the CD – the waveforms just hit the point home visually.

    Great to hear about the Californication re-master, though – would you be prepared to send me a short example to listen to ?

  10. says

    Hmm maybe you’re right. Traditionally, a clipped CD mastering will have an additional 3dB dynamic range from my experience. I haven’t actually compared the two to each other directly. It might well be that the CD is even more heavily clipped, if that 6dB difference is true. (I’ve never listened through the entire CD, I just downloaded a lossless version of Monarchy of Roses for a quick comparison.) My judgment was based just on that quick comparison and that I know for a fact that CD masters WERE used for the vinyl versions of Californication and By the Way. The difference in EQ for I’m with You does suggest that it might have less dynamics processing. I’m convinced though that someone else than Vlado Meller would have made a much more stellar job. Check out the vinyl version of Stadium Arcadium, it’s 100 times better than the CD version.

    I am prepared to, and will! :) Do not expect sonic nirvana, because Californication was mixed loud; but keeping that in mind, this new version is WORLDS apart from the CD.

  11. says

    Thanks Ian, in your comparison of Daft Punk I preferred the vinyl too. I like needle drops in general, I don’t like CD, both are digital so it can’t be that digital is bad per say can it?

  12. says

    Maybe not the mastering either, given that your own mastered track by Artemis sounds similar on both vinyl and CD versions. Maybe the recording/mixing process is more key?


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