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The Pros and Cons of Vinyl Records
Few debates in the audio world create such a large divide as the analog vs digital question. Vinyl vs CD/Digital is the classic battleground, where passionate enthusiasts on both sides of the argument often partake in heated exchanges with no real conclusion.
The question itself is undoubtedly oversimplified – there are far too many variables to draw a line under such a broad debate, and at the end of the day, audio quality is such a subjective and personal thing. There’s no doubt digital audio comes out on top across most specifications on paper, but there’s also no denying that many listeners still prefer vinyl. For me, it’s less about making a choice between digital and vinyl, and more about understanding the pros and cons of each format.
In fact, when you look at recent consumer statistics released by the BPI, it would appear the ongoing surge in vinyl sales could be less about choosing vinyl over digital and more about adding something tangible to our digital lives. This concept, was perhaps summed up best by BPI Council member, Vanessa Higgins in her comments accompanying the BPI’s 2016’s report:
“Fans are listening to music in so many ways now – we’ve definitely entered a multi-channel era. Millennials, who’ve grown up digital, are increasingly choosing to experience both current and heritage artists on vinyl also. Meanwhile older baby-boomers are embracing streaming alongside their record collections. And, impressively, in between all that, there is still more than enough space for the CD, which remains popular both with upcoming artists, who need an attractive physical product, and consumers, who still like to gift, collect and own the recordings they love.”
Very often, we see the vinyl vs digital debate as a binary choice, yet the figures published by the BPI, and the supporting comments above would appear to suggest consumers simply don’t see it this way. Music fans are investing in multiple formats to draw from the pros and cons of each experience. But what exactly are the pros and cons of vinyl? Every format has them, some of it is subjective, here’s my take on it:
The Benefits of Vinyl Records
The Ultimate Physical Format
For me, if you’re going to own a physical copy of your favorite records, there’s just nothing quite like vinyl. I grew up collecting CD’s, but I was always drawn to my parents vinyl record collection. There’s just something about the presence of vinyl: the large artwork, the musty smell, the ritual of flipping a disc from one side to the other – it has a tangible quality that just can’t be replicated in the digital realm.
The Sound of Vinyl
It’s a cliché, but those who love vinyl often talk about the warmth of sound. There’s a lot of debate about this aspect of the vinyl sound, with many factors at play – far too many to cover within the scope of this article. What I can say is this, there’s a lot of emotive factors at play when people talk about the supposed superior sound of vinyl. When it comes to the “warm” factor, it’s most likely that people are describing the inherent distortions in the vinyl format that result in a unique, characterful sound some people prefer. I liken it to the sound of overdriven guitars through a real tube amp; as good as digital amp simulators get, there’s just something organic and comforting about the real sound of an all tube amp run hot.
Some Vinyl Records are Mastered with Better Dynamics
Do a little digging on the web, and you’ll quickly encounter many forums debating the proposal that many vinyl releases of certain albums are mastered with more dynamics than their digital or CD counterparts. And it’s true, some records are, which is horribly ironic given digital music is capable of much greater dynamic range (96dB for CD vs 55-65dB for vinyl). It’s difficult to measure the dynamics of vinyl accurately, but there are notable examples of major releases with better dynamics on vinyl if you dig around the web.
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