I listen exclusively to 128 kbps MP3s, so I'm eminently qualified to crap on people raving about vinyl "sounding" better.
Like you said though, it takes a top sound system to even get the most out of vinyl - most people (even those buying vinyl) listen to music through their laptops and iPhones now so it's irrelevant.
This was the article I was after:
Ludwig's colleague Bob Clearmountain is one of the industry's most respected mixing engineers, responsible for setting the levels of a band's performance before it's sent to the mastering engineer. He has worked with everyone from The Rolling Stones and David Bowie to Ricky Martin and Lenny Kravitz.
When Clearmountain mixed vinyl albums for Columbia Records, he says the label required the test pressing of each LP to play on an old, cheap turntable without skipping, or it would have to be mixed again. Too much bass in one speaker could make the needle skip out of the groove, as would too much sibilance — a harsh "s" — in a singer's voice.
Clearmountain, who now works out of Mix This! in Pacific Palisades, says that when he heard the vinyl test pressings of the albums he'd worked on in the studio, he always felt the same way: depressed.
"I'd just listen and go: 'Jesus, after all that work, that's all I get?' It was sort of a percentage of what we did in the studio," he says. "All that work and trying to make everything sound so good, and the vinyl just wasn't as good."
Scott Metcalfe, director of recording arts and sciences at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, says the move to CDs was especially beneficial for reproducing classical recordings.
"Really in every way measurable, the digital formats are going to exceed analog in dynamic range, meaning the distance between how loud and how soft," he says. "In the classical world, [that means] getting really quiet music that isn't obscured by the pops and clicks of vinyl or just the noise floor of the friction of the stylus against the [LP] itself."
That said, every audio engineer L.A. Weekly spoke to said it's not hard to find LPs that sound better than CDs. Mastering, production and manufacturing variables can drastically tilt the scale either way.
Even before the advent of the CD, there had been a "loudness war" in the music industry — the desire to make an album louder than its competitors, so it would catch the attention of listeners and radio programmers. But when CDs made it possible to increase the volume exponentially — no more skipping needles — nuance and dynamics often suffered.
Because vinyl's restrictions do not permit the same abuse of audio levels as the CD, Mayo says that listeners might hear a wider dynamic range in an album mixed separately for vinyl over a compact disc version optimized for loudness — even though vinyl, as a format, has a narrower range than CD.
"It's not just the format," Mayo says. "It's what you do with it."
On the physicality:
It's also clear that the vinyl experience is about more than just sound. Pete Lyman, co-owner and chief mastering technician at Infrasonic Sound, an audio and vinyl mastering studio in Echo Park, says he believes listeners are gravitating toward vinyl for the physical experience of owning, holding and flipping an LP.
"I don't think that [sound is] really the appeal for people right now," Lyman says. "They like the collectability factor. They like the whole ritual and process of listening to it. They're more engaged with the music that way."
Final paragraph (it's a long piece, well worth the read):
"Every way you can measure it, digital is going to be superior," Metcalfe says. "It really does come down to the preference of the end user."
Or, as Kees Immink says: "Some people like marmalade and some people like mustard. If people like to listen to vinyl, do so, enjoy life. But don't say that the sound is better."