This is not going to be a vinyl is better than digital argument. I am a big believer in GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) and how an album is mastered for CD/high-res/vinyl plays a huge part in how one format is perceived as "better" than the other. For me, my belief is that an album using the same master will sound roughly equal on CD and LP. My belief is that any difference between the sounds that CD and LP can reproduce are beyond the reach of most normal humans (and yes most of us cannot hear the full 20hz-20khz, it's just a product of age and the noisy urban exposure most of us live in). And yes, vinyl will have static pops, hiss, and is prone to skipping. I am a big believer in high-resolution audio. I have a smattering of SACDs, DVD-Audio, and high res FLAC from various sources like HD Tracks and direct digital downloads from purchases (like the Led Zeppelin deluxe boxes I just purchased). My experience is that the well-mastered (read: non-brickwalled) SACD/DVD-A/high-res FLAC trumps both CD and vinyl.
That said, records are very rarely brickwalled. I think someone in the Steve Hoffman forums once said if you tried to brickwall a record, the needle will jump the groove, so that's why the mastering on records most often retain the dynamic range of the original recording, and aren't subject to The Loudness Wars (google this if you don't know the term) that CDs are. This is why I believe people think that LPs are better than CDs. If you used the exact same master, I think you wouldn't be able to tell the difference, save for the rare static pops and required side changes for vinyl.
Why vinyl now?
So given that I have an Oppo BDP-103D and a Pioneer SC-79 which plays back all of those high-res sources brilliantly, you may be wondering why I even bothered with a Pro-ject debut carbon turntable and records, especially since most of my initial record collection I have on CD (or better).
The answer for me is simple: I miss the experience of records. I'm 40, so I firmly straddle the analog and digital worlds. My father had a small record collection that I listened to as a latchkey kid between the ages of 7-13. Around when I was 14, he bought a CD player and there was no going back. I joined BMG and Columbia House multiple times (shhh, don't tell them) and quickly amassed a large CD collection. When I bought my first iPod and Mac, I converted all of my CDs to AAC 320kbps and even with great equipment I was hard pressed to differentiate between CD and 320AAC. It wasn't until SACD/DVD-A/HR-FLAC that I really started to gain an appreciation of how a well-mastered high-res digital source could bring you as close as possible to the original recording, surpassing both vinyl and CD.
CD was a poor replicator of album art. It was like Mini-Me...identical to the album art...except one-eighth its size. And let's not even get into replicating cool album art like Led Zeppelin III, Physical Graffiti, etc. Or cool inserts like the mustache and other cutouts of Sgt. Peppers and the fold out poster and glossies included in The Beatles aka "the white album". And of course the digital files only give you jpgs or PDFs of album art, and sometimes not even liner notes or the full booklet.
I missed having something tangible and substantive to hold in my hands. Records are a tactile as well as audio experience, the former being something that 24/96 FLAC files cannot provide.
The Pro-ject Debut Carbon
So being on a budget, I spent about a year researching the best budget turntable. While it's impossible to find a consensus on anything audiophile, the majority of respected professional and audiophile opinions pointed to the Pro-ject Debut Carbon as the "best budget turntable under $500". Given that the local Magnolia-within-a-Best Buy had the glossy black with an Ortofon 2m red cartridge/stylus for $399, it was a no-brainer given my Elite plus rewardzone membership. I could inspect the box (which was in surprisingly perfect condition) and not worry about how UPS would handle it in transport. If for any reason I regretted the purchase I have 45 days to return.
Once I opened up the box I realized I needn't have worried about transportation, Pro-ject boxes and packs their turntables very well. They use strong cardboard, and individually suspend and support the various pieces of the turntable within the box. It would have to be run over in order to be damaged (and yes, I know any of the shippers are capable of doing that).
It took me about ten minutes to unpack and set it up. For anyone contemplating doing this, look at the various videos online about setting up the downforce and anti-skate weight online. They made the job super simple. The manual is seemingly written by engineers for engineers, the Youtube videos are made for common folk like me. Had I relied on the manual I think I still would be working on it.
I've listened to a few songs of Jethro Tull's Aqualung 40th anniversary reissue vinyl, Zeppelin III from their recently released deluxe box set, and Nick Drake's recent repressing of Five Leaves Left (major props to the Drake estate for including a voucher for 24/96 download with the purchase of the regularly-priced vinyl). First of all, getting the turntable level and stable is of utmost priority. Initially I had it placed in my rack above my amp, which I think was slightly inclined, and also prone to floor rumblings of people walking back and forth. The record skipped as I walked around the place (I live in an upper floor of an apartment complex, which normally I prefer since I don't like living on the ground level but for playing records now I kind of wish I did ).
Ironically I moved it from on top of the receiver, to its current resting spot on top of my subwoofer (I don't engage it for record playing, I go pure direct to my stereo tower speakers), and that has provided a much more stable and level surface. It hasn't skipped at all since the move as I walk around the apartment. I'm sure if I jump up and down I can make it skip...
My experience is as I'd hoped: I'm transported back to a time before the digital noise of today. And I'm not talking about CD or FLAC. I'm talking about cell phones, 24-7 connectedness, music as something kids today have on while doing something else. I'm back to listening to the record, to the music. Holding the album cover in my hands while it's playing. Reading the liner notes or lyrics as I'm enveloped by the sound. For a short while, I'm a kid again, discovering a record for the first time, passing the time between when I came home from school, and when my parents came home from work. There is nothing between me and the music.
Yes there are pops and hiss. Yes, if I run around the apartment I can make it skip. All of these things are absent from CD. But nothing I've heard so far is brickwalled, or fatiguing on the ears. And for Five Leaves Left I can tell you it is much better than my original CD pressing of it. There's a liveliness and fullness to the 2012 vinyl that the original CD didn't have. Maybe they were able to go back to the original master tapes. I'm sure it will be there in spades when I download the high res files too.
Going to take a break now and wipe this stupid smile off of my face. Over the next few days I'll sample Zeppelin I-II, Pearl Jam's Ten (which came with Ten and Ten Redux, which were infamously brickwalled on CD/high-res but word is that the dynamic range was more preserved on vinyl), Nick Drake's Bryter Later, and Radiohead's OK Computer.
I'll post more if people are interested, but I can't imagine a better way to start the work week than rediscovering the gift of music.