24 Jan

Records Are Not as Good as CD’s?

I recently came across a post on ViP2 about how the whole idea behind vinyl being better than CD is myth and sentimentality. The author says that CD are superior to vinyl in every way. These are not my thoughts, so don’t get mad at me.

It’s not often you write something knowing full well that the majority of the readers are going to disagree with you, but when it comes to vinyl I think it’s important that someone keeps a little clarity amidst the urban myths, half truths and downright fibs that are sustaining a technology that has served its purpose, had its day and should be allowed to sail dramatically into the sunset.

Because, when it comes down to it, there are only two things that are keeping vinyl alive, sentimentality and misconception.

Let’s start with the first and thorniest issue, sentimentality. I can fully understand why people have an affinity for vinyl; I collect paperback books even though I am well aware it would be easier to acquire novels in electronic form. I like the look and feel of the books, and the fact that each represents something special in my mind.

So it’s not rocket science to extrapolate those feelings onto the average audiophile and their vinyl collections. People have been assembling their collections for years, harking back to those halcyon days when they slid the latest offering from the bands of their youth almost reverently from the paper sleeve and carefully placed it on their turntable for the first time.
I understand that collector’s frenzy, what I don’t agree with is people justifying their sentimentality by suggesting that this ageing technology is somehow better than the digital audio that has surpassed and, largely, replaced it.

Let’s take a quick look at the vinyl record and its flaws. It’s fragile, prone to warping, pitting, scratching; it clogs up with dust that spoils the quality; the record player needs to be kept still meaning that it is largely useless for music on the move and, believe it or not, the sound quality is better on the outside of the record than it is towards the centre.

“Nobody in their right mind mourns the demise of the cassette tape any more than they do the Skoda Estelle. But the vinyl record, well, it’s the E Type Jaguar of audio reproduction. It may not be perfect but it’s a beautiful thing.”

Vinyl advocates talk about the warmness of the sound; the imperfections of the recording somehow improving the experience for the listener, but this, it seems it a matter of taste, the listener disliking the accuracy of digital recordings and preferring the imperfections of the lo-fi vinyl record.

But that doesn’t mean vinyl sounds better; if you played someone who had never heard recordings before a vinyl version and a digital recording; the chances are they would plump for the clean, crisp and balanced latter rather than the hissing former.

Back at the inception of the CD, there was very much a case for digital recordings having an inferior sound quality to vinyl, but digital recordings have moved on, and you would be hard pushed to prove that a vinyl recording has captured anything extra at all. If you want to get technical, the lower frequencies that can be found on vinyl are below the range of human hearing.

CDs and, perhaps more importantly, digital downloads, do not have the imperfections that even the newest pristine vinyl records contain, and the latter technology does not degrade at all when you play it. It seems vaguely archaic to me that people genuinely want a collection of their favourite music that gets steadily worse every single time it’s played.

DJs still use vinyl because it’s easier to mix properly between vinyl – and although technology has made it much easier to ‘match’ beats on CD to mimic the effect, I accept that for many the old way remains the best way. But I’m talking about listening to music; and I cannot get away from the fact that digital technology is simply the better option.

It seems to be that, for whatever reason, it has become cool to suggest that vinyl is better, but the truth of the matter is that, once the sentimentality is taken out of the equation the more appropriate response would be to talk fondly of the ‘olden days’ when vinyl truly was the king, rather than pretending it has not been deposed in the meantime.

The part I like best is “Let’s take a quick look at the vinyl record and its flaws. It’s fragile, prone to warping, pitting, scratching; it clogs up with dust that spoils the quality;” Well, yeah, and CD’s are indestructible? I remember when CD’s first came out, and my brother had brought some home from college. He said they were indestructible, but when I dropped one, he freaked out because it would get scratched.

I have had many CD’s that have either gotten dropped, or mishandled (not by me) and been scratched. I even had a CD player that for some reason, horribly scratched the CD’s beyond playability as they were playing. So CD’s are fragile too. Everything is fragile. Everything needs to be taken care of.

As for sound quality, I would agree that many of my records do not sound as good as CD’s, but many of them sound better. Yes, you have to take care of them, but taking care of something makes you appreciate it more, and it also makes it much more valuable.

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