[Editor's Note: This week, we published an article called “Why CDs May Actually Sound Better Than Vinyl.” But not everyone here at L.A. Weekly agrees with that article's conclusions. This video and op-ed offers a counter-argument.]
To the MIT grads salivating over audiophile didacticism, I concede the following: Yes, those space-age coasters known as CDs sound cleaner. So to them, the resurgence of vinyl is a bohemian craze — like thrifting for soiled flannel shirts in the '90s.
But this is no fad: Six years of vinyl sales tripling (up 52 percent from 2013); CDs sales plummeting; teenagers squandering legal tender on obscure 45s that Matt Pinfield hasn't even heard of. Not because vinyl is en vogue, but because it's rebellious to be sophisticated.
Now more than ever, Americans are looking to the past to rebel against the present. The revived interest in musical antiquarianism follows a decade of disposable music on 99-cent earbuds, and the realization that iTunes and Spotify are turning us into curators of muddled playlists. More than just a physical format, vinyl represents a more tactile and monogamous relationship with music.
Collecting vinyl rejects a future where listening to music is a sacred as fapping on PornHub. Here then are five reasons why dusty wax is a fad-proof experience that's as American as baseball, Elvis and doo-wop.
5. It's the Musical Equivalent to Sex
Playing a CD is like transient mommy porn on a Kindle, while seducing the tiny grooves on an LP is like a slow-burning kiss. Holding an original U.K. pressing of Sgt. Pepper's, as your mouth waters over the faded rust on Ringo's trumpet, involves gently caressing history with your fingertips. Pulling it out of its inner sleeve, as it clings to the mildewing edges, exposes its naked wax like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey. “CDs are like sex with a condom,” said Bill Inglot, a well-known recording engineer. Records are less sterile. They pop, crackle, and wobble as the result of dirty residue — like sex in a backwoods swamp.
4. Collecting Vinyl Is Anti-Globalization
For today's twentysomething, finding that rare GG Allin record is rebellious, while downloading a single on iTunes is the musical equivalent of dad rock. Even purchasing a digitally remastered Never Mind the Bollocks, at Urban Outfitters no less, is still a bit more punk than goggling over The Sex Pistols' back catalog on YouTube. In a way, collecting vinyl is anti-globalization — a romantic return to the days of frolicking through the aisles of a local record store. It's how we display our identity, connect with a simpler time, and communicate the absurdity of playing Neil Young on iPhone speakers.
3. It Reduces Our ADD
Locking that needle down on a groove forces you stop and listen (roughly 22 minutes for each side), calming your impulse to click through song after song on Spotify, like some meth-addled DJ. While the record spins, the liner notes offer insight into the creative process, while the artwork unveils a colorful past. That old book smell of a record sleeve offers a sophisticated departure from streaming through WiFi. Vinyl is the perfect antidote to the over-stimulation of streaming disjointed tracks in a noisy Starbucks, or worse, listening to an opera out of order — forgoing the libretto for a Facebook status update.
2. CDs Are Depressing
CDs are a tacky remnant of the '90s — right up there with pagers and fanny packs. They look like office supplies, with booklets stapled together like instructional manuals. The CD is the preferred format of serial killers, gangster rappers, and douchey DJs like Paul Oakenfold. Which explains why there's no “CD Store Day,” and why CDs sales are nosediving like hair metal in 1991 (CDs sales fell 19.6% in 2014). There's also no return on investment, either. CDs don't have the baseball-card-like appeal that draws people to vinyl — which, if well-maintained, increases in value, while CDs depreciate into yet another VH1 I Love the 90s segment.
1. It Sounds Better
According to audiophiles, the “warmth” associated with analog sound is really just a distorted bass. Producing an accurate bass sound on vinyl is a challenge, which is why recording engineers prefer CDs. They alone want to hear John Coltrane's dense tenor sax beamed through Patrick Batemen's icy stereo system. But for music lovers, not music snobs, vinyl's crackling distortion, warped by the hands of time, makes you feel like you're cookin' with Coltrane in a smoke-filled club in Philly.
Music isn't meant to be analyzed like jet propulsion at NASA. Listening to a record has nothing to with the accuracy of the medium — it's about connecting with the period through a thicket of dust, and playing the same record that introduced someone to Dylan in '63. It's like hearing a faded recording of FDR addressing the nation in 1932 — it's not about the quality of his voice, but that direct connection with history, like listening to unruly grind of an old blues 78. Anyone that listens to the blues knows it's never about accuracy, or “dynamic range” — it's about soul.
No loudspeaker test at Johns Hopkins will prove it, but vinyl sounds better because it's flawed, like humanity, who prefers imperfection to a Brave New World of laser beams and music through the cloud.