Technology

Debunking The Myth: Is Vinyl Really Better Than MP3?

Debunking The Myth: Is Vinyl Really Better Than MP3?

Is Vinyl Really Better Than MP3?

There are many myths surrounding music and the quality of music we listen to. When it comes to the big questions, vinyl certainly makes it to the top. With the recent resurgence of vinyl, this question has come into the limelight again - Is vinyl really better than mp3, or any other digital format? In order to answer this question, we have to look at a few facets that will help us answer this question. 

The History

There is no contention that the introduction of the cassette and later on the compact disk changed the music industry completely. For a long period of time, record stores were places where music listeners and enthusiasts would gather around and talk about the music they listened to, or that new release that was about to come up the next weekend. First, the cassette made it possible to listen to new music in a more compact way. You could listen to your favorite music in your car now! CD’s took it to another place altogether. You could have your songs in a digital format and save them for later listening. A click of a button, and you could do everything you wanted. You didn’t have to load your turntable, carefully put your vinyl on top of it, and listen to it one stretch, side to side. These innovations also came around the time of the ‘Singles’ era of the 70’s and 80’s. Popular music moved towards single chart hits than hit albums as a whole.

Then came Steve Jobs and created the iPod. You could now have a device that stores thousands of songs in this small box that you could carry around with you. The birth iPod was definitely the death of vinyl. It ushered a new era of mp3’s. Kids could get access to their favorite music quicker than ever. The Internet made that process only easier and faster. Illegal piracy of songs added another dimension to this. A kid could download the entire discography of say The Beetles or The Rolling Stones, listen to a song for a second, skip to the next and if they didn’t like something, delete it. It sadly narrowed the whole experience of listening to music down to a couple of clicks on an old clanky keyboard. Even CD’s started becoming obsolete.

 

The Change

But then, something remarkable happened post-2007-08. Every year, the global music report would show that the sale of vinyl and physical CDs was going up. After a point of time, CD’s stopped, but vinyl kept going up. What happened?  Statistics showed that most of this vinyl was being purchased by people between the age of 18-25. You can give credit to the neo-hipster movement for that. Vintage looking vinyl players started coming back at a very cheap cost. These kids started exploring record stores and vinyl of their favorite musicians. And this is where the real question comes in. Why do you think they stuck to vinyl after listening to it?

A Change of Perception & The Science of Vinyl

Try this – Get two versions of one of your favorite songs/records. Get a vinyl, and get the digital version. First, listen to the digital version and then listen to the vinyl. As Robert Fripp of King Crimson famously said, “You’ll get the shock of your life.” As this resurgence of vinyl became more apparent, the information about the science behind it came back into the light. As Adam Gonzalves of Telegraph Mastering said, Vinyl is the only consumer playback format we have that's fully analog and fully lossless.” That means, there is absolutely no compression to the audio you’re listening to. And mp3? There is a long process of digital compression that takes place before the audio becomes mp3. You’re essentially losing a lot of information that was initially there in the recording, and essentially downgrading in quality.

Another thing that has become a big problem with digital audio is the ‘loudness war’. It’s basically a phenomenon where every big release tries to be louder than the one that came before it, resulting in immense distortion of the record and making it sound extremely compressed and fatiguing. Go check out a video on YouTube where there is a comparison of the original master of Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’, to a loudness war free master that the person has done. Vinyl's volume is dependent on the length of its sides and depth of its grooves, which means an album mastered specifically for the format may have more room to breathe than its strained digital counterpart. The longer an album, the quieter it gets. There is absolutely no distortion whatsoever. Again, revert back to the comparisons mentioned earlier, the difference isn’t small, it’s quite noticeable.

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons why there has been a resurgence of the vinyl audio wise is the warm sound it creates. Vinyl masters are usually warmer and mid-rangier than their digital counterparts. To humans, that sounds more natural as our talking frequencies lie mostly in the mid-range.

     

Portraying The Artists Vision: To Offer  an experience that is tangible.

I’m sure you’re wondering, that can’t be all right? So there’s a difference in sound. But what makes vinyl other wordly and so fascinating? It’s the whole representation of the product. Right from the 12-inch cover with the artwork, to the double sided inlay, to the back and the vinyl itself. With this resurgence, the art behind a record has increased tremendously. The album cover has become important again. Manufacturers and Producers are experimenting with different ways to make vinyl. Colored and Marbled Vinyl is now not a rarity, but an easily available resource. Box sets have become popular again. The packaging behind making a record has become important again. And it might sound like I’m 60 years old, but going to a record store, sifting through vinyls to pick up what you want, heading back home, taking it out, putting it onto your vinyl player and listening it to the first time is an experience. It’s an experience that is tangible. There are memories attached to that process. This is what I believe has truly brought back the resurgence. It takes time and effort, but it feels as if you’ve worked to get the music, you’ve worked to get that uncompressed quality – the vision the artist intended you to see.

Conclusion

So where does that leave us? We’ve talked about various facets behind analog and digital production of music. There’s a reason there is still a vinyl-making machine at Abbey Road Studios. There is a reason more and more artists are releasing vinyl records. If you really want to find out, you’ve got to try it out for yourself. I’m going to leave you with this small bit of information – even Steve Jobs listened to vinyl on high fidelity audio speakers. What do you think?

     

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