In the early days of compact discs, vinyl records were still prized by audiophiles because of better reproduction of analog recordings; however, the drawback was greater sensitivity to scratches and dust. Early compact discs were perceived by some as screechy, distorting sounds on the high end, and not as "warm" as vinyl especially in recordings that require a wide dynamic range (e.g. classical recordings). In most cases, this was the result of record companies hastily issuing CDs produced from master recordings that were compressed and equalized for vinyl. In addition the higher fidelity of compact discs revealed technical and production flaws that had been masked by the limitations of vinyl media. The poor sound quality resulted in a slower acceptance of digital music in its early years by some listeners.
Though digital audio technology has improved over the years, some audiophiles still prefer what they perceive as the warmer and more natural sound of vinyl over the harsher sound of digitals. "Natural" stated as keeping the spatial origins, sensitivity to detail, tone, clarity, richness, fullness, phase, body, timbre and dynamic range. Some listeners were also disappointed by what they considered to be unfaithful remastering of analog recordings as evidenced by low peak amplitudes, and rms power.
Proponents of digital audio state that these differences are generally inaudible to normal human hearing, and the lack of clicks, hiss and pops from digital recordings greatly improved sound fidelity. They also state that more modern anti-aliasing filters and oversampling systems used in modern digital recordings greatly reduce the problems observed with early CDs.
Most of the damage to any of the media occurs during handling: scratches, gouges, dirt, poor storage, incompatible solvents applied during cleaning or of label glue. Optical discs are not subject to physical wear during playing, whereas even a high quality pickup will wear the surface of a record and cause noticeable degradation over time. However this depends on the wear-resistance of the record itself, which is subject to the quality of the surface material used. Though neither medium is immune from damage, optical discs are more robust and modern players can play discs without noticeable problems even when scratched (Reed-Solomon error correction); a vinyl record suffering the same treatment could well be unplayable. Early on, poorly made optical disks however, are subject to a form of "wear" known as disc rot, laser rot or CD rot. This is due to the oxidation of the aluminium layer, degrading reflective properties and thus increasing the read error rate. Medical grade optical discs are estimated to have a life of 50 years for CDs, 100 years for DVDs, but they cost 10 times more than the standard grade CD | DVD. However, digital audio is increasingly stored in media-independent formats (on hard disks in flac format for example), and has a potentially infinite lifetime if regular backups are made.
The "warmer" sound of analog records is generally believed on both sides of the argument to be an artifact of harmonic distortion and signal compression by the analog system. This phenomenon of a preference for the sound of a beloved lower-fidelity technology is not new; a 1963 review of RCA Dynagroove recordings notes that "some listeners object to the ultra-smooth sound as … sterile … such distortion-forming sounds as those produced by loud brasses are eliminated at the expense of fidelity. They prefer for a climactic fortissimo to blast their machines …"