Over the last few weeks I have had the weirdest urge.
I want to listen to music on vinyl again.
I was never much of a vinyl guy. Given the choice between buying a record on vinyl or cassette, I would always chose cassette. I was never an audiophile by any means. Cassettes were portable. You could carry your tape deck around with you where ever you went, and I certainly did. I drove people crazy. When CDs came along I had my one great nod to audio quality. It didn’t take long for CD players to become as portable as cassette players, and the sound quality of CDs made the very concept of a cassette seem silly. Vinyl made a bit of a come back for me in the mid 90s. I was listening almost exclusively to Boston based bands, most of whom were unsigned, and all were independent. If you were releasing a record on your own you had the choice between CDs, which were really expensive at the time, or vinyl, which was disgustingly cheap. Many bands chose vinyl, so I found my vinyl collection starting to grow again.
Once the mp3 format caught on and Napster took off I was on the wagon in a big way. Is the sound quality noticeably lower on an mp3 than on a CD? Absolutely. Given the sound systems I owned was the difference enough to stop me? Sometimes. If the bit rate was too low even I would avoid it, but if the bit rate was high enough, no the difference was not enough to turn me away. Once the iTunes store came along, well that was it. I still buy CDs, but only on special occasions. Some bands, Rush for instance, still draw me to the highest quality possible. How often do I listen to the high end stuff? Rarely. I rip mp3s of everything and generally listen to that, but the CDs (and the 5.1 mixes, and the DVDs, and the Blu-rays) are there when I want them.
But think about it… I have a Blu-ray 5.1 mix of Moving Pictures by Rush. It sounds AMAZING through my little surround sound system. But is that how it was meant to sound? When Moving Pictures, or 2112, or Fly By Night was recorded, what was the intended listening format? Vinyl. The remasters of The Beatles catalog that came out a few years ago sounds great, but when they recorded Sgt Pepper, what was the intended listening format? Vinyl.
In the great analog vs digital debate, I still side with analog. I do not believe that a vinyl record sounds better than the same record on compact disc. No way. I do believe that on the first play the vinyl is pretty close. The problem is that it is a destructive format. The diamond chip needle dragging across the vinyl disc wears away the vinyl, resulting in a loss of fidelity, and all of those snap crackles and pops you hear.
But what I keep coming back to, in my old age, is that The Who’s Tommy was recorded with the vinyl format in mind. Rush recorded 2112 with the vinyl format in mind. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was meant to be heard on vinyl.
A very big part of me wants to go and buy a turn table and plug it into the tuner in the living room. In the past I used to be able to spend hours digging around used record stores looking for that one interesting release that I couldn’t find in a normal record store. Part of me wants to be able to do that again. Hell, there’s a used record store in downtown Methuen. I could help the local economy as I try and find a copy of 2112 that is still in good shape.
Maybe after another pay check or two I might look into getting a turn table. Maybe. I once replaced all of my cassettes with CDs. Maybe it’s time to consider replacing the all-star CDs with old vinyl disks. Maybe my step kids will be the only kids in school who know what it means to have to flip the disk.