Vinyl, Cassette or Digital – Is it Déjà Vu All Over Again?

I’m going to open a can of worms here…

The big, wormy can of ‘music format choice’.

Yeah, sorry. But it’s something that I think about quite a lot – being a musician and also teaching a music technology class – the issue constantly raises its head, and always creates a big stink. But it’s a big stink that I quite enjoy smelling…

Anyway, I should say from the start that I’ve already gone completely digital. Over the years I’ve got rid of all my vinyl and CDs and now store all my music on my MacBook Pro and have it backed up on several external drives secreted about the house. All my music is in AIFF and not mp3. Sorry, I can’t dumb down there. But to my credit, I’m not into the Hi-Res scene as there really is no need to buy things all over again… again.

But what about this resurgence of vinyl? Have I indulged? Well, I tried a while back, but the pops and clicks made my OCD flare up summat chronic, so I gave up. It also raised ‘collecting’ issues, which for me are, similarly, very dangerous to my mental health. Still, there are a lot of people my age (and over) who have kept their vinyl from 30/40 years ago and will no doubt feel very superior with several walls full of first pressings of Gentle Giant and ELP LPs. And quite right. Nice to have. I got rid of my main collection of vinyl when I left home, or at least very soon afterwards. Rather, it was my CD collection that was lugged around from station to station only to be completely sold off about 10 years ago. And I’ve no regrets about that. As a person, I have no real connection with ‘stuff’, so the fact that I had no vinyl or cds was really of no concern. I much prefer scrolling through my iTunes (Version 10! No later!), that is organised to within an inch of it’s life, and played through (for those that give a flying four-track) a pair of Q Acoustic floorstanders out of my NAD 3020 amp.

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And relax…

Oddly, vinyl is not an ‘immediate’ format. Something that you wouldn’t expect the order on Amazon, ‘get it now’ generation to be particularly fond of. I mean, it takes a certain amount of effort to get up off your ass and turn the record over ;). The whole resurgence is kind of like a hipster riding a pennyfarthing to work knowing full well that a 20-speed Trek is going to get him there safer and quicker but he does it anyway, because, as we all know, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. And while I agree with that maxim to a certain degree, I’m not prepared to be so perverse when it comes to music and its sound quality.

And OK, I’ll admit that I do have an inner guffaw when I hear someone say ‘vinyl sounds so much better than CD’. In such a conversation I will usually then ask them: ‘Well, what turntable are you using? What speakers? What amp?’ This is usually met with a blank look, as if the recording being ‘vinyl’ is in itself enough. A kind of: ‘But these go up to 11’ response. Just because you have a copy of the Ramones first album on 180g vinyl won’t make it sound better. NOTHING is going to make that album sound good, because it was so badly recorded in the first place! But to each their own… and I’ve always felt that a good amp and speakers will do a lot for any source inadequacies.

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Worth it’s weight in… well, vinyl.

But most people aren’t really concerned with sound quality. And look, we certainly weren’t when we were young. I mean, we actually played the scratched vinyl and mangled cassettes in the first place!


Good times…

But let’s look back for a sec…

With music purchasing there has always been the culture of ownership at stake: You go to Virgin and buy an ‘music object’. Something you can see and hold, and enables you to say to your mates: “Look, I’m a Motorhead fan”, or facilitates your impressive walk down the high street, with your Cocteau Twins 12″ under your arm (or in see-through plastic bag). Whatever, the ‘music object’ allows you a strong statement of your intent and forthright declaration of ‘YOU-ness’. Just as much as your shoes and your hairstyle 😉

Yep, people want something else, rightly or wrongly, than those invisible air waves that make us feel strangely more than human. People want more than the sounds. Or, at least, they think they do…

Listening takes many forms. But when was the last time you sat and listened all the way through an album without doing something else? Without doing the ironing, or answering emails or simultaneously playing Black Ops. Maybe you’ve never done that; concentrated solely on the music. On the flip side (see what I did?), maybe you do get out your first Japan pressing of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, whack on the headphones and turn out the lights. Lovely, isn’t it? Well, it would be if you liked the Floyd.

And THAT is the point: what you get out of your listening experience. Everything else is secondary.

So, do what you want with your formatting…


Alright, if you must…

BUT remember…

The quality of the experience might be related to the quality of the sound.

So no more crappy earbuds, no more mp3s at 256 kbps.

Sell your car. Sell your kids. Go upgrade your stereo.


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