The vinyl records of font formats

Someone told me a long time ago that Windows PostScript is the vinyl records of font formats. It has PostScript curves which are higher fidelity than TrueType curves for certain shapes the format allows higher resolution than Mac PostScript. There's no Unicode support so I suppose that mimics the inconvenience of vinyl records.

Is there anything to this stretch of an analogy?


  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 28
    This smells like a myth.

    As far as I know, Windows PostScript fonts were identical to Mac PostScript fonts, except for the file structure.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    Also, FWIW, the idea that vinyl records are superior in fidelity to CDs is also a myth. Some people prefer the sound of vinyl, but it's not capable of reproducing sound as accurately as CD.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 624
    Agreed about vinyl audio. But I thought there was a difference in the maximum UPM for Windows Postscript. That was never a thing?
  • How high a UPM do you want? (OpenType allows up to 16384.)
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 28
    But I thought there was a difference in the maximum UPM for Windows Postscript. That was never a thing?

    1000 UPM was the standard for PostScript Type 1, regardless of platform. Remember, the outline files weren't for on-screen display when the format was developed, but for downloading to laser printers and imagesetters. There was only one PostScript interpreter built into such devices (at least at first). 
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    Vinyl may be compared to foundry type, in terms of being analog and accurate. Fred Smeijers calculates a resolution of 2540 dpi, in his book Counterpunch.

    I went to a high end consumer audio show recently, and almost all the exhibitors were demonstrating their equipment using vinyl records as source, not digital. I doubt audiophiles would drop six figures on a second rate sound system.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    However, Smeijer’s philosophy is that “fidelity” (understood as the exactly consistent reproduction of typographic shapes) is a poor measure of the effectiveness of typography.

    In that sense, comparative quality is not something that can be measured. 
  • Ray: Somebody was full of shit as far as singling out Windows PostScript fonts as opposed to PostScript Type 1 in general.

    Mark is right: there was no major functional difference between Mac and Windows flavors of PostScript Type 1 fonts. The outline font file was the same data, packaged differently. Certainly no resolution difference, unless introduced deliberately by some madman.  :P


    Now, there *was* a difference between Mac and Windows as far as platform-specific encoding, which meant that the platform-specific metrics files (Mac suitcase, Windows PFM) could only store kerning pairs where both members of the pair were encoded on the current platform in question.

    The only case I remember ever caring about this was with the fi and fl ligatures, which could be kerned in a Mac PS1 font but not in a Windows one. But InDesign could access these ligatures even on Windows, so in theory one could get different results with Mac and Windows versions of the same font.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 596
    I find Windows Postscript gives a grittier, more bassy outline than the warmer, more natural curves produced by Mac Postscript. You can reproduce some of the warmth by reversing the directions of all the paths, to avoid interference from the computer's power supply frequencies.
    Of course, that's all for naught if you don't upgrade your USB cables to double shielded cables with gold contacts.
  • Enjoying the hell out of this thread.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 28
    I went to a high end consumer audio show recently, and almost all the exhibitors were demonstrating their equipment using vinyl records as source, not digital. I doubt audiophiles would drop six figures on a second rate sound system.

    Essentially, people who prefer vinyl prefer the way it distorts sound, whether they realize that's what it is or not.

    There are also a lot of psychological and subjective factors at work in the high end audio business. When you pay a high price for something, research shows that you will believe it is better than if you paid a much lower price for the exact same thing. The type market is not immune to this, either.

    We human beings are not as rational as we think we are, but we excel at rationalization.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    Essentially, people who prefer vinyl prefer the way it distorts sound, whether they realize that's what it is or not.

    “Distort” is rather a loaded word. By the same token, one might say that the process of letterpress printing “distorts” the shape of type. 

    The crucial thing is that concept, design and production be geared to a particular technology, then whatever the nature of that technology is, the product is true and authentic.

    On the simple basis of quantity of sonic information, vinyl is a lossless system that has more data than MP3s or streamed music, so one might say that such mainstream digital technologies are “low res”, especially when they are compressed to jack up the volume.

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 28
    Vinyl is not lossless. Recording engineers had to boost certain frequencies just to get an LP to sound reasonably close to the original tape recording. Think about it: As the needle follows the groove toward the middle of a record, the frequency response drops substantially because the speed at which the vinyl passes under the needle gets slower (the disc rotates at a constant speed, but the length of the groove for each rotation gets shorter and shorter, the bumps for the same frequencies have to get closer together). People making LPs had to take this into account, so you had to avoid putting music with a lot of high frequencies toward the center of the record.

    In the LP era, serious audiophiles bought reel-to-reel decks.

    That said, low bitrate digital recordings are definitely worse than vinyl. Above a certain bitrate, though, most people can't hear the difference compared to a CD, which is a lossless, uncompressed recording. Definitely not on consumer-grade equipment. It's not unlike JPEG vs uncompressed TIFF.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    edited April 28
    Vinyl is lossless. It is an analog medium that reproduces sound waves continuously, whereas digital media samples those waves, losing information in between the samples. A moot point at higher sampling rates, e.g. FLAC.

    But it could also be argued that the molecular limits of analog represent loss, in tape and vinyl.

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 28
    This idea that analog recordings are superior, because they are continuous whereas digital samples are are discrete, is a misconception. I used to think the same thing. The root of this is probably the typical way that a digitized waveform is represented as a stair step shape. This is not how it actually works.

    If you take a pure sine wave analog signal, run it through an analog to digital converter, then take the output and run it through a digital to analog converter, the original wave and the reconstructed wave, at a normal CD sample rate, will be virtually indistinguishable on an oscilloscope, and indistinguishable to human ears.

    You can see a very nerdy demo of this here: 

    With type, it's different, especially when we view it on screens, which are digital devices. At lower resolutions or close up, you do see the stair steps.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    Here is the technical reference I followed about “lossless”:
    "Vinyl is the only consumer playback format we have that's fully analog and fully lossless,"
    Your expert may be nerdier, but check out this guy’s lathe!
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    edited April 29
    That's interesting, Nick, but that article actually makes some of my points about the limitations of vinyl.

    The part where it quotes someone saying "...lossless" doesn't elaborate on what they mean by that. Any time you make an analog copy, there is generational loss. A vinyl LP is at least two generations away from the master tape, and the master tape is at least one generation away from the session recordings. The engineers take this into account and try to compensate, but there's no getting away from it, only disguising it. CDs, on the other hand, really are a lossless format. It's uncompressed, which is why you can't put more than 70 minutes on a CD. The data encoded on a CD is an exact copy, bit by bit, of the master digital file.

    The article makes some good points about the evils of audio compression, but that's not the same as MP3 compression, which is simply throwing away more or less inaudible parts to make the file smaller. Audio compression is an engineering technique that makes the music sound "louder". It's possible to do this with analog recordings, too, but to a lesser extent. Because digital audio has much greater dynamic range, it's easier to do with digital recordings.

    It's like cranking up the saturation and contrast on a digital photo. Just because many digital photos are abused in this way doesn't mean the format is inferior to film. It's the same with digital audio. It's a terrible idea and the only reason it's done is because if you don't your recordings will not sound as loud as recordings that do use it. It's like how they crank up the color on the tvs at Best Buy. So everybody does it.

    This lack of audio compression is one of the advantages of vinyl, and I think it's a legitimate reason to prefer it. But, ironically, it's because of a limitation of vinyl, not because it's a superior audio format as such. Digital audio is capable of greater fidelity than vinyl, but it is true that that capability is routinely compromised for the sake of loudness, at least with pop music. High end audiophile CDs are another matter.
  • The emoji above was completely unintentional! I meant to type "A and B."
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 962
    Nick,  Comparing vinyl to streaming is not the issue-- compare vinyl to CD quality.  I assure you, CD is better.  You are talking about the "printing device" comparing a 300 dpi Laser printer to a 1200 dpi imagesetter.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 814
    Scott-Martin: Sorry, I overstated things when I said that vinyl lacked audio compression. What I should have said was that it has less audio compression.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,139
    edited April 29
    Taking all things into consideration, I don’t believe any sound technology since 1959 is “better” than any other. Fidelity to source is not the determining factor of merit, it’s the listener’s experience.

    As typographers with so much love for letterpress printing, shouldn’t we be appreciative of vinyl? After all, merely reproducing a source perfectly, as high res offset printing from digital files does, with every instance of a glyph identical, is a cold fish.  

    It’s not absolute, but a matter of taste. As Bodoni said, there was something wonderful in the skill and technical perfection which could render every serif identically—at least there was, 200 years ago.

    So to answer your OP Ray, it’s a poor analogy. Comparing one font format to another, within the digital medium, in terms of vinyl vs. digital, doesn’t make as much sense as the obvious comparison involving vinyl— between analogue and digital. 

    However, the analogy might have meant that Windows PostScript was a loser format, because prior to OpenType, it was TrueType for Windows and PostScript for Mac that were the dominant formats. But even that doesn’t support the analogy, because vinyl has never become obsolete and is currently bouncing back.

    Therefore, Windows PostScript was the Betamax of font formats.

  • Michael VokitsMichael Vokits Posts: 184
    Analogue, shmanalogue... the universe is digital, not analogue — after all, we couldn’t be having this conversation without technologies based upon tunneling electrons. It’s just a matter of how many bits of data we need and at what frequency we need them to happen before things seem continuous. (Beware the shadow of Harry Nyquist!) Actually, I’d say that vinyl and tape are far more quantum than CDs or MP3s, because they change as we play (i.e., observe) them.
  • Josh_FinkleaJosh_Finklea Posts: 20
    Everyone gets wrapped up in comparing the formats themselves, when the real difference should be the focus on the mastering technique of each format.

    If someone cuts a vinyl record from a CD source, then there is really no point in purchasing that album as an LP. But, bands and labels that care about making a decent sounding record often (and should) have separate masters made for CD/MP3 and vinyl. There is much more care taken in mastering for vinyl because the parameters to some extent dictate the dynamic range. Mastering for vinyl has more variables that require more skill, which often creates better sounding albums.

    Also, beware of "newly remastered" CD's, as they can be a huge rip off. The majority of these pre mp3 era albums had good to great dynamics, but now have the life sucked out of them (overly compressed and/or brickwalled) just like lots of contemporary releases.

    If you want to read more about this, Google "The Loudness War", or look for A/B examples of poorly mastered CD's versus well done vinyl.
  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 269
    One other thing: CFF-flavored OpenType is a complete superset of Windows Type 1. Conversion from Type 1 to OTF is lossless. 
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 170
    Some Type 1 operators are deprecated in CFF and might not be supported everywhere.
  • Adam TwardochAdam Twardoch Posts: 269
    Ah, true. Nearly (99.999%) lossless. 
Sign In or Register to comment.