Do Colored Vinyl Records Sound Worse? [Answered]

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Do you often find yourself wondering about the precise differences between colored vinyl and black vinyl? Does colored vinyl sound worse? There seems to be an awful lot of it around these days; surely if it sounded worse there would not be so much of it being sold, right?

Well, that is precisely what we are here to answer today, for we will be exploring the various minutiae of colored vinyl, and why it can sometimes sound worse in comparison with its black vinyl counterparts, delving deep into the manufacturing process to see what we can glean about it together.

Manufacture

If we are to answer does colored vinyl sound worse, we must at least have a basic understanding of how vinyl records are made and what they are made of.

The process of pressing a disc involves heating up the polymer polyvinyl chloride and then pressing it into the disc shape with an already created master disc which is the perfect impression of the release being pressed.

Though the actual color of polyvinyl chloride is clear, the black vinyl carbon is added to the concoction before it is pressed, perhaps to make quality inspection a little easier, as well as to make the experience of the user easier when attempting to actually find where they want to place the needle on the record.

The process of pressing both black and colored vinyl is more or less the same, though will differ in the chemistry ever so slightly. Depending on which dyes are introduced to the polyvinyl chloride, the mixture will need to be heated up ever so slightly more, which can result in certain undesirable deficiencies in the concoction, which can likewise result in dips in sound quality.

At a certain time, colored records (much like picture discs) was considerably ridiculed for simply not being able to offer as high a fidelity as its black vinyl counterparts, manufacturers and factories not yet equipped to deal with all the different types alongside black vinyl.

Nowadays, these factories are far better equipped. Color vinyl holds particular sway in a vinyl era where the visuals and aesthetics of a release tend to matter far more than the actual sound, with a listening public buying these records that might be listening on the best record player for beginners and that will not even notice the surface noise present throughout the listening experience.

Audio quality seems no longer to matter, even though studies have shown that it has improved somewhat.

Appearance

In an era where the appearance of nostalgia is everything, the sound seems to matter not. And yet, when even the best records on vinyl are being pressed onto colored vinyl or picture disc – despite audiophiles purporting that picture discs sound worse – then we must prick our ears aloft and pay attention.

It makes sense, though, why a newer listening public who grew up never even having owned a physical copy of their favorite albums would become so enamored with this visual and physical aspect as cross pollinated through the vinyl record production of colored albums.

Black records certainly look the part and are likely to resuscitate ailing memories of the idea of how vinyl records are made and how they made several generations of listeners move and groove. It is undeniably classic. And yet, there is such a yearning for colored records, like those that mimic the various shades on the album art, despite many claims that they sound worse than black vinyl.

Those who might glean a look at a pressing plant would likely be shocked at the mechanical nature of the whole enterprise, pure black carbon distilled into vats of polyvinyl chloride and then pressed into the shape of one’s favorite record with a center label to boot all in the space of 30 or so seconds.

Appearances all what they seem, though, and the sheer neon of a multi colored vinyl record are not the only thing that might affect the overall quality of the sound. Those folks who invented the Spin Clean record washer would, in fact, encourage anyone who has bought a new record straight out of the packaging to wash it immediately.

They believe that the pressing produces inherently introduces a thin plastic layer on the surface of a record that can be potentially damaging to the stylus, not only affecting sound quality now but also in the future.

Sound

The all important subject of sound, finally.

In the experience of professionals who literally press records in their daily job as part of the manufacturing process – and thus hear the differences between color vinyl records and black vinyl records on the daily – the former tend to have a higher noise floor, meaning they are noisier even when no sound is being emitted from them.

Metallic and pastel / opaque coloring tends to be some of the noisiest, for seemingly obvious reasons pertaining to the different temperatures at which the varying colors melt and the slightly differing textures of them in comparison with a black record.

This is doubly the case for multi colored vinyl that record companies produce in an effort to catch the ever waning gaze of the millennial. The different colors, as aforementioned, have different melting temperatures, and no matter how minute the difference might be, this can make a real difference in the audio fidelity.

It stands to reason that if we are to take these differing temperatures seriously, then we should see that the splatter textures would make an audible difference to the fidelity where the different colors and thus differing temperatures meet.

Granted, not all black vinyl is equally quiet, nor all transparent vinyl for that matter (even despite this being polyvinyl chloride’s natural color).

The mixture is still a work in progress, which is not exactly the most comforting thing for an audiophile to hear, but colored vinyl makes many of the other quality checks that might be performed within pressing plants a lot more difficult and ineffective.

Which Should You Buy?

This is largely a matter of personal taste and will vary depending on the individual circumstances of each user. Those who are looking for an easy answer that fits all sizes will therefore be disappointed.

On the one hand, we have the modern day millennial aesthete, one who is far more into the idea of record collecting:

  • Someone who is more into putting their records on display than actually spinning them on their record player, not caring much about how long they last for listening to.
  • A collector who is far more concerned with the novelty aspect of record collecting and the idea of reenacting an imagined past that is a welcome escape from the complexity of the present moment.
  • Someone who is looking for a record that can both be listened to (albeit with a sometimes considerable dip in audio fidelity) and appreciated visually on a wall.

Inversely, we have those who are less concerned with these visual aspects are who are instead more concerned with a classic look, feel, and sound experience:

  • They tend to be inclined towards audiophilia, often to a worrying degree that causes tension between themselves and a marital partner.
  • They might even prefer the nostalgic appeal of black vinyl, something that enables them to more fully and more accurately inhabit the passed moment of the original vinyl era.
  • They might even simply want to keep their already black vinyl collection entirely black, preferring a monotone mode of expression.
  • Above all, they will tend to prefer actually listening to and spinning the record in question as opposed to simply holding up to the wall and displaying it for all to see, a resting place that can make frequent listening a real inconvenience.

There is always a middle ground, of course, but this is clearly something that does not interest you.

Final Tones

So, there you have it!

Hopefully, your curiosity about the world of colored vinyl has been satiated and you are feeling much better about the whole thing to begin with.

Colored vinyl is by no means a downgrade from black vinyl – these days in fact it tends to stand toe to toe with many of its black vinyl counterparts. Colored vinyl even tends to cost slightly more than these counterparts, despite a long and storied history of not sounding quite as good.

If aesthetics are your thing and you are purely floored by the color of a new release, do not hesitate to cop it up!

FAQs Does Colored Vinyl Sound Worse?

Is clear vinyl better than black?

Despite the fact that polyvinyl chloride in its purest form is actually transparent, it is still believed that black vinyl sounds better, however marginally. Though there are other reasons at play, a large factor is because black is simply the norm, it is the color that pressing plants are most used to pressing, the mixture that they are most comfortable with formulating. Thus, it stands to reason that any other color than black would not sound quite as good, no matter how slight the difference.

Do vinyl records lose sound quality?

Certainly, yes, they age just like any other object. This is a concept that will no doubt be unfamiliar to those who have grown up only listening to music via digital means like streaming and file sharing. A record that is played will inherently age and wear away owing to the very nature of the technology. The stylus is essentially being scraped against the surface of the disc, the vibrational data imbibed within the grooves transmitted through it to the amp and then the speakers. Anyone ought to expect the grooves and the music imbibed within to wear away over time.

Is there a difference in sound quality between vinyl?

Unless a particularly exemplary job was done on a whole pressing or batch, then there are likely to be differences in sound within the same batch of records, no matter how slight. Hopefully, you do not need me to remind you how imperfect the entire vinyl process is in the first place. I am all for preserving it and for preserving records within the grooves via sensitive vibrational data, but I would be the first to admit that the entire format is antiquated. It would be incredibly difficult to perfect the process of pressing to such a point that each record in a batch sounded identical, especially seeing as most users will be listening on very different stereo setups.

Does clear vinyl sound worse Reddit?

Despite the fact that polyvinyl chloride in its purest form is actually transparent, it is still believed that black vinyl sounds better, however marginally. Though there are other reasons at play, a large factor is because black is simply the norm, it is the color that pressing plants are most used to pressing, the mixture that they are most comfortable with formulating. Thus, it stands to reason that any other color than black would not sound quite as good, no matter how slight the difference.

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By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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