Archive for December 5th, 2008

5 Reasons Vinyl Still Rules

5 December 2008

Vinyl Rules!

While I was in college a group of friends and I decided – out of sheer economic necessity – to start buying LP records. This was 1990/91, and vinyl was at its all-time low point in terms of value and demand. Many stores in the Eugene area at that time were selling records for 25 cents apiece – a ridiculous bargain compared to a $10 used disc. Since most of us were making roughly $3.25 per hour, the LP option allowed us to squeeze much more music from our hard-earned dollars.

Bobby, Matt, Jonesy and I pooled our records at Bobby and Matt’s house in “the record room”. This was a wood-paneled den that contained the stereo, and we slowly covered every inch of wall space with the covers from some of our favorite LP finds. It seemed like every day one of us would show up with a new handful of waxy goodness, and many an evening was idled away listening to all kinds of new music (at 25 cents a pop, it was pretty easy to roll the dice on stuff we hadn’t heard of).

The more time we spent around our four-for-a-buck treasures, the more we realized that the world was giving up on a great musical medium. We used to openly discuss all the reasons that vinyl was superior to compact discs, and it really felt like we were in a tiny cult of true-believers just hanging on to a piece of the old world.

Funny thing is, over time I’ve come to believe that we were exactly right in our thinking. Here are some of the reasons why we believed (and I still believe) that vinyl wins over CD in an easy five round knockout…

1) Full-sized album art – Before roughly 1985, all album art was created with a 12-inch by 12-inch canvas in mind. That’s significantly more real estate than the 4.75 x 4.75 inch cocktail napkin that fronts every compact disc. It’s no accident that most really memorable cover art was created before the advent of CDs. And it’s also no accident that many retail outlets now offer picture frames sized specifically for LP covers – enough people think of them as works of art to make it a viable product line. The idea of framed CD covers doesn’t inspire in quite the same way…

If you can't read the artist's name, it's probably a compact disc.

If you can't read the artist's name, you're probably looking at the cover of a compact disc.

2) Readable liner notes – Perusing liner notes and album credits in the LP format is a welcome alternative to the microscopic font sizes used for compact discs. All I want to know is who played pedal steel guitar on a particular track, but finding that information within CD liner notes is like reading the ingredients on the back of an aspirin bottle. Do your eyes a favor, put away those bifocals, and buy a record instead…

Scienistists in Budapest work around the clock to determine who played tambourine on the last U2 album.

Scienistists in Budapest work around the clock to determine who played tambourine on the last U2 album.

3) Album side engagement – I have to tip my cap to Bobby on this point. He believed that the album side was the perfect amount of music to commit oneself to, and I can’t disagree. Halfway through is the right time to decide if you want to pull a record off the turntable and head in another direction, or flip it over and go the distance. And just getting off the sofa to make it happen keeps you engaged with your music in a way that just doesn’t happen with CDs – the experience of taking an album out of the sleeve and dropping the needle has no digital corollary.

Ahhhh.... that's the stuff.

Ahhhh.... that's the stuff.

4) Better sound quality – For many people this is the first point of superiority in the vinyl/CD comparison, but for me it’s just the cherry on top. Anyone who cares about such things knows that vinyl provides a richer, warmer, more full sound than compact disc. But I also enjoy the imperfections – those hisses and pops have come to feel like a natural, welcome part of the listening experience for me.

This is how your ears see CDs (top) and Vinyl (bottom).

How your ears see CDs (top) and Vinyl (bottom).

5) Affordability – The first reason I fell in love with LPs is still applicable. If you’ve got a hundred bucks and a ticket to a flea market, you could go out tomorrow and build a pretty solid classic rock collection on vinyl. There are many great (and let’s face it, lots of not-so-great) albums available in dollar bins across the country. If you’re willing to get down on your knees and dig through a crate of dusty old records, you’ll probably find something worthwhile, for roughly the same price as a candy bar.

The dollar bin awaits...

The dollar bin awaits...