Vinyl vs CD/Digital 101

As a music nerd, one topic of conversation that comes up frequently in addition to discussions of favorite band, favorite album, favorite song, and favorite [music variable such as band/album/song] by [another interval such as time/genre/country] is: vinyl vs digital.

I’ve always been in the CD/digital camp because I’ve never been able to sit down to hear vinyl at length. Yesterday, I decided to change that by listening to one of my favorite songs from my favorite album on vinyl. But first, let’s talk a little bit about the differences in these format, and even more so, what these formats mean to the people that listen to them.


Just like any two-sided debate, there has to be the freewheeling third option for those still crazy enough to collect Top Gun soundtracks on cassette. I have four and accept donations.

I don’t know the first thing about the technical jargon related to vinyl.

What I do know is that with vinyl, it’s really more of a sit-down experience. You don’t listen to vinyl on the bus on the way to school or in the car on the way to work. The vinyl culture seems much less disposable. If you can tell the difference between audio quality, you’ve probably heard the same album multiple times, and that isn’t a chore. Vinyl is generally more expensive, too. Newer, shrink-wrapped pressings of vinyl albums like Abbey Road are not as expensive as CDs were ten or twenty years ago or even the original vinyl albums. The full experience, the audio room with the sound sound system, speakers, subwoofer, albums, hardware upkeep, and of course the obsession of continually finding better and better gear is where the price comes into the picture, just like any nerd culture item.

As my computer sensei often said, “it’s all ones and zeros.”

CDs are cheap. I mean that in the most polite way because it allows you to hear a much greater diversity of music. I enjoy surprise bargain bin albums by obscure 90s grunge bands (also applicable to cassette). It’s also nice to be able to casually go to Walmart and pick up the Tribute album to guitarist Randy Rhoads after realizing you only own the first three Black Sabbath CDs and want to hear a different version of Paranoid. I won’t even touch digital piracy here, but will lump legally purchased digital copies along with CDs, because with how ubiquitous MP3 players are these days. You can own the MP3 version for the bus, the CD version for the new car, the cassette version for the old car (that wants to be a F-14 Tomcat), the 8-Track version for the El Camino, and the vinyl version for the study.


Vortex Music and Movies
I briefly debated including a plug to the specific music shop I went to, but decided in the end to repay an ever so small debt of gratitude. You see, readers, I was on the hunt for two particular things. The first was music by Gogol Bordello, a band that captures all the positive energy music should have, which is available at some big box music shops, but you can’t sit down at a solid sound system and listen to one of your all-time favorite songs on your favorite album on vinyl at FYE. The second thing I was looking for was the vinyl experience. It’s no use listening to a random song on vinyl. It has to mean something to you. I’ve lately been listening to Abbey Road with some degree of frequency (obsession may not be the right word for it), and I believe all the qualities it has, from the songs, the passion, the length, and overall quality, makes it a solid choice for my favorite album. At least a “desert island CD.”

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
I became interested in music thanks to videogame music, and developed a further interest in music thanks to rock music, and I Want You (She’s So Heavy) represents to me everything that I enjoy about rock music. This is not “She Loves You” or “All You Need Is Love,” not that those are poor songs by any means, but I Want You represents a different side of the Beatles that is both shocking and invigorating. To paraphrase Booker T. Jones, the Beatles were the top act in the world when they released Abbey Road. They could have went for a collection of pretty pop songs, or even released a greatest hits album. Rather than do that, they ended on a high note that draws new listeners in nearly 50 years later, and should hopefully continue to draw new listeners in the year 2069 (and 2525, if man is still alive).


Vinyl vs CD/Digital
We listened to a vintage pressing. My first impression didn’t instantly convert me, I think because I was listening for the wrong thing. While listening to the song, I listened for the “warmth” or the crackle and hiss that people talk about with vinyl, which is a very quiet side effect. I did end up buying a shiny new shrink-wrapped pressing of Abbey Road, because once I have a solid sound system myself that doesn’t involve headphones or a laptop, I figure starting with my favorite album is the best place to start. That’s because my final argument is that it doesn’t matter if you listen to it on vinyl or CD. The key is how it makes you feel. Sitting down with the album to enjoy it. You probably won’t enjoy a movie as much if you’re also listening to the radio and doing laundry at the same time, and the same applies to music.

The difference comes down to where you listen to the music. If you’re comfortable, you feel better, and hearing music you like will help you feel even better.


About Zombiepaper

My interests are very specific and sometimes esoteric: writing, videogames (EarthBound), movies (zombie, martial arts, and animated), music (listening and bass guitar), thrift stores, philosophy, and toys. Also, Cowabunga!

Posted on August 17, 2012, in Music, Opinion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Vinyl will always rule. People growing up in the iTunes era will never know any better, having never been exposed to a format that is truly faithful to the original recording. If you can’t tell the difference or aren’t immediately converted to comparing a digital file and a record of a band in which the low-end and bass guitar is prominent. (Not talking rap, or pop where the bass is this inorganic guttural boom, broad enough to survive the loss an MP3 experiences when a song is compressed and hammered into a respectively flat, digital file.) Take U2, the Cure, a mono copy of any Byrds album in which the bass is pushed to the forefront. Then see if you don’t just hear the different, but FEEL it. Digital music kills more than just sound fidelity and entire instruments, it kills the spirit and soul and every little humanistic nuance that was meant to be included in the initial recording. All that dies when you shake of the ‘extraneous’ scraps so you can fit all your music in your wristwatch. True music-devotees don’t think about the ‘inconvenience’ of having to flip over a disc, or how big it is, or because you can’t run to it. If your at home, there is no alternative. An ‘iHome’ makes for a poor one. Hopefully this is enlightening, but only you can realize the importance of vinyl for yourself. Or else just suffer from the devastating ignorance. Vinyl forever!

  2. *try comparing

  3. *shake off

  4. RedTimbre: I actually agree with you.

    My main point is that if you’re a music beginner, and you hear conversation about vinyl or CD, you should really ignore it until you start to appreciate music more. That’s why this is Vinyl vs CD/Digital 101, and I even say “I don’t know the first thing about the technical jargon related to vinyl.” I’ve been listening to music semi-unprofessionally for four years now without being able to say much about vinyl. So for a 101 class, technically a 98 class, it’s learning that these formats exist, not the nitty-gritty.

    I must say, however, that the only song by U2 that I can stand is “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and, I recently noticed that “Come Together’s” rhythm section kind of sounds like an old school telelphone, after hearing the song a few hundred times. Boom-boom, dun-dun-dun.

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