Does Vinyl Really Sound Better?


Pitchfork recently added a blog feature, The Pitch, where the staff can open up and write about topics they want, without worrying about its relevance or journalistic balance. So far I’m a fan of the interesting topics it has produced.

One post by Editor-in-Chief Mark Richardson is titled, “Does Vinyl Really Sound Better?

While my vinyl fetish is a year-round interest, this question seemed particularly apropos after just moving out of my apartment. Moving my 400+ record library gave me a pound-for-pound appreciation for the size of my collection since I began it six years ago. It also begged the question, is this really worth it?

While I don’t think Richardson goes far enough with his piece, he enters serious music nerd territory when discussing the technical science of sound and how the importance of format in musical consumption.

Richardson begins with the story of the CD and how it phased out vinyl records. At the time there was no question that CDs sounded better, and could you not think that. CDs sounded clearer and crisper, and without the cracks and pops that collect on a well-loved LP. (Pitchfork also did a feature on the life and death of the CD this year. Check it out.)

CDs began to be phased out by MP3s, and Richardson notes how digital audio began to be treated as a “monolith”, meaning we assume that all digitally formatted music sounds as crappy and shallow as an MP3. This point is a worthy point because, while not widely utilized (Neil Young is trying to change this), we have digital audio that surpasses the fidelity of vinyl by a long shot, probably to a degree our hearing can’t even appreciate.

Richardson writes, “One of the often overlooked facts about LP reproduction is that some people prefer it because it introduces distortion. The ‘warmth’ that many people associate with LPs can generally be described as a bass sound that is less accurate.” On top of that, recent vinyl has long been accused of mastering many newly printed wax from CD sources rather than the original master tapes. (I could name a few in my collection where I’m sure this is the case.)

So vinyl is not the highest quality recording, not to mention it’s expensive, delicate and not exactly a space saver – why do we love it? If I might speak for vinyl crusaders, it’s ultimately more than an aural experience.

I love vinyl for the way it grants me intimacy with the music. I’m forced to give the record my attention, as well as my care. It makes me appreciate the album, both as a beautiful, tactile object and as a work of art.

My collection.

My collection.

Richardson agrees. “…the experience of listening to an LP involves a lot more than remastering and sound sources,” he says. “There’s the act of putting a record on, there is the comforting surface noise, there is the fact that LPs are beautiful objects and CDs have always looked like plastic office supplies.” 

It needs to be clarified that vinyl does sound awesome – clearer than digital files, deeper and more alive than a CD – and the stubborn fools who held onto their records through the ’90s have a right to say I told you so.

Sometimes I feel crazy for having all my records, especially as I carried box after box of up and down stairs this weekend, but in reality there are few possessions I value and enjoy more.

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