I used to get really pissed off when I heard people talking about how vinyl sounds better than digital recordings, independently of physical support (CDs, SACDs, audio files and so on). I won’t get into this matter in depth here; suffice to say, there is a mountain of technical evidence proving otherwise. If you want the most accurate reproduction, digital is the way to go. This is such an irrefutable fact that even if you buy the latest album from your favorite band on vinyl to enjoy that good ol’ analog sound, all the recording, mixing and mastering was certainly done using computers, plugins and ProTools.
Digital won, hands down. Deal with it.
So why are people still buying vinyl? Why go for such an ancient, impractical and mostly retired medium?
Besides the physical fetish - the album art really shines with more space, doesn’t it? - I only realized the real reason a few weeks ago, after Andrew Huang (of Songs To Wear Pants To and Team Andrew) replied me on twitter.
How could I have missed this? It’s not about the medium, but the act of listening to music. It took me a while to figure this out because I’m relatively old (36, thakyouverymuch).
You see, I grew up in an era when everybody had at least a half-decent stereo at home. I remember when CDs came out and everybody bought them, bragging about how the sound was amazingly clear, that you didn’t have to flip the damn thing to hear the B-side, that you could program the track order without having to drop the needle (causing that loud POP when you didn’t lay it down just right), and that scratches and crackling noises were a thing of the past. Yes, CDs were once the format praised by audiophiles! It’s funny how things change.
Anyway, fast-forward to 2012 and everybody consumes music in some sort of digital format. But where do you listen to it?
Crappy laptop speakers. Cheap headphones.
On the way to work, in a crowded subway or bus. During office hours, while thinking about something else. While you’re jogging, with an iPod or cellphone strapped to your arm.
So, again, why vinyl?
Because you’ll need a half-decent stereo to listen to it. Because you’ll have to stop what you’re doing, walk to the turntable, remove that big round thing from the sleeve and place the needle carefully. Because once you do that, you can’t really change the order of the songs easily without having to get up again.
Because you’ll have to STOP and LISTEN. Vinyl demands attention. It needs manual intervention. It comes with a long-forgotten ritual that a whole new generation is beginning to understand and appreciate.
Nevermind that it doesn’t sound as accurate as a digital recording, that you’ll need to replace the needle regularly and the record itself will wear down and eventually begin to crackle and pop. Years from now, when all music in the world fits into a super-dense nano-SD card, it will still make you stop and listen.
Vinyl carves a slice of attention span, pushing music back to the foreground - just like before iPods and computers slowly shoved and blended it with background noise, a collateral victim of multitasking. Since nobody came up with a technology with a built-in excuse to stop for a moment and enjoy music, vinyl sneakily stole back its place. Sweet karma.