Music/Popular Culture

Vinyl satisfies in ways CDs cannot

by Zack Witzel

The soft hiss. The quick static pop. The unmistakable crackle. The rich, almost palpable tone.

The needle drops on your favorite record, and nostalgia surrounds you. Something about that vinyl LP — no matter your age — transports you to some past memory.

Maybe you remember your dad’s old collection. Maybe you secretly listened to records in your room past dark. Or maybe the music itself reminds you of another time.

CDs just don’t have the same feel.

The world of vinyl, as some refer to it, has many aspects that benefit both listeners and collectors.

There’s the sound.

Vinyl LPs, short for “long-playing,” when played through a proper stereo, produce a crisp, warm tone that CDs can’t match.

Manufacturing plants originally crafted records to cater to the human ear; how the music sounds replicates just what the musician intended.

The digital conversion to CD erodes the sonic quality of the music.

There’s the hunt.

Finding an original copy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or The Beatles’ Revolver on vinyl doesn’t just happen. Scouring the Internet doesn’t always work. Seekers must often venture to one or more record stores, make several phone calls or enlist the help of friends to track down a desired LP.

Even the hunt for a record store can exhilarate. Locating a shop by way of phone book, Internet or word of mouth can frequently result in a mini-road trip—an adventure.

Not true with CDs.

Any average Joe can go into a chain music store at his local mall and find the CD he desires. Even if the store doesn’t have it in stock, it can put in a special order, and the disc will arrive within a week.

There’s the physical presence.

A record just looks substantial. A 12-inch LP, measured by diameter, has a distinct aura. Just looking at it feels meaningful: The jumbo-sized artwork, liner notes and other special inserts all add to the rich flavor. And a collection appears even more impressive.

CDs look inferior by comparison.

Nearly a third of the size of an LP, a CD might seem more convenient. And it does satisfy a portability niche. But the appearance and tangibility of a record collection remains unrivaled.

There’s the nostalgia.

Something a bit inexplicable encircles vinyl LPs. Collectors can’t exactly place it. Record store owners can’t exactly place it.

They say it could be a combination of the sound, the hunt, the physical presence and the nostalgia, but many things could play a role. For some, the desire to try something different led them to favor vinyl. For others, the mystique got them.

Regardless, vinyl pleases in ways digital media cannot. A record allows for the truest experience of music. And isn’t that the point of listening: to enjoy?

Zack Witzel studies journalism and mass communication and English at St. Bonaventure University. He writes in his free time, in his not-so-free time, and probably in his sleep.

9 replies »

  1. I still have my complete vinyl collection–all 400 of them. I’ve been lugging them around for decades. Can’t bear to part with them.

  2. You forgot the smell. Opening that album, and get a whiff of that vinyl, it’s like magic.

    I have started to weed out some of my 1000 albums. One thing I noticed is all the stuff that sometimes came with the album. My Beatles White Album had individual photos of the band along with a fold-out poster collage. You don’t get that with a CD, and much less a download.

    You talk about CDs, but for some of my friends, even those are passe’ (however you do that with typing.)

    Liner sleeves had lyrics you could read without a magnifying glass.

    You are so right about the cover art. Back when I first started buying CDs and I really only messed with them for quite a while I was so impressed with the art work when I pulled out a 12″ album again.

    • I think a lot of this is generational, as people who grew up with vinyl generally seem to be the ones who bemoan the loss of “warmth” et al in the music. I also think that it’s become a way to create cliques and perform some ego masturbation with regard to how “serious” someone is about their music. You’re not a “real” audiophile if you don’t like vinyl, or you don’t use a high-end vacuum tube system, and so on.

      I’m old enough to have owned some vinyl LPs myself, but because I wanted portability and lower cost, I bought all my music on cassettes instead. So I love my CDs and, now, my downloaded music. Sure, the music isn’t exactly what you’d hear with your ears if you were in the studio or concert hall with the performer(s), but no recording mechanism gives you that, not even vinyl with a $500 turntable, custom-built vacuum tube amplifier, and a set of $1000 dollar speakers.

      And digital music sounds a hell of a lot better than cassettes after they’ve started to stretch out.

  3. There’s been quite a resurgence in the production of Vinyl LP’s and it isn’t my generation (48 yrs old) buying them. It is the teens and twenty-somethings buying. I doubt its nostalgia for them. You typically get credit for a downloadable version of the album if you buy a new release on vinyl. Why vinyl? Cited by the youth who buy vinyl are the very things mentioned in this article in addition to the tangible nature of vinyl (quite the novelty these days).