Record Store Geek

Seven Reasons Vinyl Really Is Better Than CDs

Last week, I riled up the Mumfords with Five Reasons CDs are Better Than Vinyl. This week, I'll try to get back in their good graces and give vinyl its due.

I know what you're saying. "Pick a side, Geek"

It might seem a little wishy-washy on the surface, but stay with me and I'll explain my logic. Trust me, I'm not trying to get off the fence on both sides. I really do see the merits of each configuration.

So without further ado, I present Seven Reasons Vinyl is Better Than CD.

See also: - Record Store Geek: A Beatles Refresher Course for Pups and Middle-aged Rookies. - Record Store Geek: Five Statements Guaranteed to Annoy Music Critics.

Different Levels of My Music Collection

As I said last week, this whole conversation is about buying and collecting music.

If you don't collect, than it's not for you. Fire up Spotify or Pandora, turn on the radio or a digital TV music station, or use one of the countless other options and listen (for free) until your heart is content.

So from this point on, I'll assume you are a collector. I'll also assume you have some sort of "collection strategy."

My strategy allows me to write two seemingly conflicting blog posts about the superiority of both CDs and vinyl. Allow me to explain.

Above all, it's about the music rather than the delivery method, and in that sense, it's a great time to be a fan (which is why Kids Today are musically spoiled rotten.) My opinion is that the best way to take advantage of the environment is to embrace it all. That means having a mixture of CDs, LPs, and digital files.

Here's how the three delivery options fit into my strategy:

I do have some music that's only in my computer.

Being in the industry for almost 30 years, I've never done much downloading (not because of RIAA fear but because I've always had an abundant amount of music available to me), so mainly it's CDs I obtained, ripped, and then traded. The primary reason: The music didn't strike my fancy, but I wanted to keep the files in case my tastes changed.

(I don't have to do this anymore, because now I can test on Spotify and YouTube; I don't even have to obtain an album if I don't like it.)

However, if I only have a file, I don't even consider the album part of my collection. I do consider most of my iTunes library part of my collection (the convenient part), but only the stuff I have on CD. After all, if something is really worth pulling out and listening to, it's worth buying for the collection.

With that clarified, when I buy an album, it's gonna be on CD, because I believe every word I wrote last week's column.

CDs are the most important part of my collecting strategy. Nearly every album I own is on CD. Not every one has been ripped, so my CD collection is considerably larger than its digital counterpoint.

So where does that leave vinyl?

Only the Very Best Make the Vinyl Cut

CDs are the most important part of the strategy, but they don't constitute the highest level of the collection. The highest level is vinyl.

You see, if an album is really, really important to me (Abbey Road, Kind of Blue, Derek and the Dominoes, etc.), then I buy the record, too.

That's right -- if you check out my collection, you can spot my all-time favorite music because I've got the CD, the files, and the LP.

I listen to digital music a majority of the time, but the time I spend with my vinyl is special to me. Because there's just some things about vinyl that can't be beat.

Seven things, to be exact.

1. Time Constraints. We used to have a rule at the store: Don't play more than eight songs by any given artist. Why? Because that's just about the perfect amount in one sitting . . . for any artist. Once you get into that range, you're nearly always ready to move on to something else.

Albums allow for roughly four or five songs on each side, which fits perfectly into this theory.

The increased capacity of the CD seemed like a good thing at first -- and by all means, it can be great -- but more often than not, it's led to the inclusion of inferior songs from the recording session and diluted the overall quality of an artist's release as a result.

In other words, seven great songs out of 10 is a damn good album. Seven out of 18 . . . not so much. The time constraints of the album forced artists, labels, and producers to filter out the shit, and we all benefited.

2. Sides I miss sides. Sides offered another level of creative depth to the artist, and often times defined albums for me. As the album grew into an art form, the very best artists seemed to learn how to group songs with sides in mind, like two little sets.

Sides were oftentimes distinct entities, and often a long way from each other in quality, and those differences contributed a great deal to my perception of each album as a fan.

So long as one side was good, you didn't feel like you'd been ripped off. I don't know how many times my friends and I had this conversation -- this side is great, that side sucks.

If at least one side wasn't worn out, you could still listen. I still think about a number of albums (Led Zeppelin IV, Toys in the Attic, Boston) where side one was loaded with hits (of which I tired quickly) and side two literally saved the album for me.

3. Artwork This is a real no-brainer. The LP brought us one of the great bonus benefits of rock 'n' roll: album art.

I spent a lot of my youth staring at all the intricate details of my albums, and I'm still doing it today. Visual and audio art come together to give you a total package. Not just the covers . . . the packaging, the liner notes, the whole works.

But, boy, do I love those covers. A quick walk around my home "art gallery" reveals framed covers by Dave Brubeck, Getz and Gilberto, Dylan Thomas, and Primal Scream (not to mention about 15 rock posters; my wife is very cool to indulge me.)

CDs just don't compare -- because hey, when it comes to visuals, bigger is usually better.

4. Collectibility When things go out of print, they go up in value. This means that a lot of CDs and records are becoming more collectible. But vinyl leads the way; it's simple supply and demand.

The overall pool of CDs is exponentially bigger than that of their vinyl counterpart, so the two aren't even comparable in terms of supply. Meanwhile, the aforementioned digital options have driven down CD demand, while a decade-long explosion of Mumfords, er, hipster vinyl buyers, has driven up demand for vinyl.

So while a lot of CDs are increasing in value, I don't see them matching the collectibility of vinyl any time soon. So keep those records clean, my friends, and you may someday profit.

5. Sound Quality Holy hypocrite, Batman. Didn't I use this one on CD, too?


It's like this: Overall, and in most cases, the CD quality beats vinyl quality.

However, when it's clean vinyl on a good system, it's tough to beat the full, analog sound (I prefer stereo to mono) of a good record.

6. Listening Captivity What the hell is that, Geek?

Listening to records is a more elaborate, more restrictive process; it lends itself more to listening to music as the primary activity, rather than the background sound. (Okay, maybe "background" isn't the right word -- as I've mentioned before, I'm constantly aware of what's playing. So let's say "secondary sound.")

When I'm playing LPs, I'm not walking and listening to music. I'm not driving and listening to music. I'm not raking the yard and listening. I'm just listening (and perhaps having a beer.)

And that's good, because although convenience is sweet, and I think music goes with almost everything, sometimes music deserves my full attention.

7. Availability Last but not least, thousands of great records still have simply never been put on CD, which is enough to justify vinyl all by itself.

I'm an insatiable music lover; anything I haven't heard is "new," and I love to dig backward, so this is a big deal to me. I read about stuff and I want to hear it; I like one album by an artist, and I want to hear the rest.

CDs simply can't satisfy that end of my addiction like records do. As more albums are digitized, I'm sure that will fill the void, but I don't own YouTube . . .

. . . and we're talking about collecting.

Chalk up another point for vinyl.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.

Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek and Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood.

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Steve Wiley
Contact: Steve Wiley