What comes to mind when you think of a record? For some, it could be the signature crackly sound, for others, old 60’s music playing on a dusty shelf. Perhaps you or your parents may have owned some? Maybe you’ve walked past some niche record shop with rows of untouched vinyl? Or, if you are part of the younger generation, you may recognise them from the single “You Spin Me Round”, which has been re-recorded by many different artists. Many people don’t understand the fuss around vinyl records as technology has advanced since then, so why do so many people, to this day, still use them? In this essay I will explain how vinyl is actually better than online digital streaming.
To start with the most obvious one, the quality of the sound. It’s hard to argue that vinyl has better sound quality than digital streaming; it’s simply a fact. Some believe that listening to a song through the vinyl medium is the best way to hear that song. Of course, this would be affected by the quality of the record player itself, but for the most part, they would be correct. Due to the way vinyl records are created (they are made up of small grooves which the needle is lowered onto and spun on) every single part of the song’s analogue sound-waves is captured in the grooves. This makes them the only true lossless format of music. Whereas with digital music, a digital kit is unable to read analogue sound-waves. This means that they have to translate the waves into a digital signal and back again into sound-waves. This leaves some information lost or changed in the process, not giving the listener the true sound. For a personal experience, I remember playing a record for my brother and his reaction to a song that he had only previously heard digitally. He was taken aback by how you could hear every instrument more clearly and the vocals were smoother. Then he proceeded to ask me, “Why does it not sound crackly?” This crackly sound which many people prefer when listening to music on vinyl, occurs when dust and dirt accumulate in the grooves, causing the needle to jump and produce the noise.
Another reason why there is a buzz around vinyl is not to do with the music itself, but with the experience of buying the records. When you walk into a record shop you can expect to find a few old men looking at classic rock or jazz and possibly some hippie art students flipping through 60s psychedelic pop, but you are guaranteed to fall in love with the atmosphere. Spending hours flipping through rows of old and new records just simply cannot be compared to staring at a screen to select what song to listen to. The rush of dopamine you get when you find an album you like among hundreds of mediocre ones, going out with friends and spending a day looking at music, bringing a parent along and watching their face light up when they find something they “haven’t heard since they were your age,” are just a few of the great parts about going record shopping. Of course, if you are not into the whole social aspect of going out to buy a record, then you can find virtually any record online begging to be part of your collection.
The main reason so many people love vinyl records, including myself, is that they are a physical representation of the music. They can last decades while remaining in a relatively good state. This means that vinyl tends to be an investment for many people and that second-hand records are also very popular. With digital music, there is, of course, no physical representation of what you are listening to. You cannot buy music that someone has already listened to online, but when you buy a used record, you are physically passing music from one person to another. As they are physical, they can make great gifts for people. I have bought many people a vinyl record as a present as it is an easy option and always goes down well. Not to mention, the connection you build with the music while gently putting it onto the table, placing the needle down, and eventually flipping the side over is just far superior to simply clicking a button to play a song online. When I first got my record player my mum looked out a box of her old collection and passed them onto me, thankfully we share a similar music taste, so to my delight I found many albums I enjoyed that were still in good condition such as ‘A Tango in the Night’ by Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ and of course no vinyl collection is truly complete without ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, but not only did I enjoy listening to these, it was also the connection I had while listening to the same vinyls my mum would’ve at my age that simply could not be replicated if I played them digitally.
If a problem you face while listening to music is figuring out what to play next, then you are not alone. When listening to music on streaming services such as Spotify, sometimes the endless options available can feel daunting, and often you spend more time looking for something to play than actually listening to the music. This is where I feel like the saying “less is more” can be applied, with many people nowadays not fully listening to an album and liking to jump between artists. This is harder to do so with vinyl, as the format forces you to listen to the majority of the songs on the album. This can be good for expanding your music taste by allowing you to listen to more from the same artist. Also, it relieves you of the pressure of, “What should I play next?” as another song will play automatically after the next. This way of listening to music can help you appreciate the effort some artists put into their work, as the arrangement of the songs can play a crucial part in making the music flow well together. Actually sitting down and engrossing yourself in what you’re currently playing is a much different experience than the casual way of playing something through Spotify.
However, many people argue against the use of vinyl. One viewpoint is that they are very fragile and can be easily ruined. Therefore, why would you want to spend money on something that could be rendered worthless so easily? While they are correct in some aspects, I believe that it doesn’t hold enough weight to deter vinyl lovers. Vinyls do need to be stored correctly to be kept in good condition such as; keeping covers on them, keeping them upright, making sure dust doesn’t get collected in the grooves, and the list goes on. Then, while you are listening to them, you should be careful not to make any movement that could cause the needle to jump and create a scratch, as that will lead to the record skipping and being unplayable. Similar to how you will find book lovers that scoff at the idea of downloading a novel on a Kindle as it doesn’t give the same experience as flipping the pages, the same principle can be applied to vinyls. Ultimately, you cannot create the same experience with technology. Taking all of this into account, the fragility of the vinyls adds to their value and makes you appreciate them more.
In conclusion, I believe vinyl is better than digital streaming, such as Spotify. You can find practically any album or song you like in vinyl format, meaning it is an option open to anyone who really enjoys music. Furthermore, the physical aspect of records helps create a deeper connection between the listener and the artist, and the casualness of digital music has, in some ways, watered down the potential impact music can have on people.