Everyone seems to be getting into the vinyl craze now, but for years purists and music lovers of all sorts have been faithfully extolling the virtues of this now ancient medium. People seem to finally be listening to what they’ve had to say, but we still have to ask the question: Why should people listen to music on vinyl?
That’s a tough question to answer and many very long online fights have been conducted on that very topic, but here I’m just going to outline the motivations many people have when it comes to vinyl records.
Let’s get the big one out of the way first: No, vinyls do not have better audio than CDs.
There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Many aficionados of vinyl may find this fact hard to hear, but 44Khz CD audio and especially lossless digital formats are far superior when it comes to faithfully reproducing the original sound. They are better in every conceivable way you can measure audio quality. If what you want is simply the best, scientifically-proven sound experience you have no real choice but to accept high-end digital audio.
The sampling rate and bit-depth of CD audio has been modeled around the limits of human hearing, and a blind test of audio quality quickly shows that the vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between CD audio and technically higher quality audio.
Just the signal-to-noise ratio CD audio has, which is in the 90% and up range, is noticeable above and beyond even the best home vinyl setups.
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how technically superior digital audio may be, what matters in the end is what our perception of that quality is. The fact is that lots of people simply prefer the character and sound of vinyl. The whole defense about how vinyls are actually “better” is just the rationalization of an emotionally-driven choice. Vinyls make people feel good and they sound nice. There is no need to make up excuses for it.
We see the same thing in film. Sixty frames-per-second digital video is technically superior to 23 frames-per-second celluloid, but people of this generation at least resoundingly prefer films shot in “cinematic” 23 frames-per-second. It’s all about perception and the beliefs and expectations that go with them. Use your ears to decide if you like the sound of vinyl more; don’t make excuses because you think there is a “right” way to listen to music.
The other reason that vinyls are worth using as a musical medium is that they turn the act of listening to music into an event. Digital music has basically made music into a throwaway commodity. People can listen to music whenever they want while they are doing anything. Music becomes something in the background of your life. That’s fine, but the process of preparing and listening to a vinyl focuses you on the music in the way that hitting play in Itunes just doesn’t.
Think of it this way: A shower is a quick and efficient way to get clean, but drawing a bubble bath is a luxury that’s almost meditative. Listening to vinyls require a dedicated space, some alone time, and mindfulness on your part. It’s no wonder people enjoy them so much – they don’t realize that they are also giving them an excuse just to be kinder to themselves.
In a world where physical media is on its way to extinction and no one really has physical media in their homes anymore, vinyls remind us that they are beautiful and worthy objects in their own right. The large covers especially have lead to some of the most beautiful and detailed album artwork ever. You simply cannot decorate a CD cover in the way you can a vinyl album cover.
Having physical records also means you can trade, resell, and generally do what you want with them. No one will delete them or take them away from you. Well, unless you get mugged or robbed, I guess.
The other reason that you want to listen to music on vinyl is that there may be nowhere else to do so.
Have you noticed that lots of movies that were on VHS never made it to DVD? Lots of DVDs also don’t make it to newer formats either. The same thing happens with vinyls. There is a mass of music that was published on vinyl and most of it will never be put on a any digital medium, physical or otherwise.
Most of this music is, admittedly, terrible. It’s the joy of discovery that really makes this aspect of vinyl music so much fun.
Somewhere out there is an artist that has made your favorite music, possibly before you were born, and you can still find it.
Cool as Ice
Apple made us all think that the iPod was cool and for a while we believed them, but in this day of smartphone music what’s really cool is taking the time to get into music so much that you’ll build a shrine to it. That’s what vinyl ultimately is – an expression of love for music as a whole.
If you listen to your music on the vinyl format you are telling the world that you take your music seriously and want it to be more gourmet cuisine than fast food emptiness.
The best part of listening to music on vinyl is that you don’t have to treat it as an either/or choice. You can listen to digital music and keep vinyls for those special occasions. The fact that new vinyl releases often include voucher codes for the MP3s, you really have nothing to lose. In fact, it may be better just to buy the vinyl since you get the best of both worlds.
Vinyl is the warmth that’s often missing from modern digital music. It’s a very human way to listen to music and I personally can’t think of anything better from an experience point of view.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.