How do you take your music these days? For those in Camp Tangible, it seems our ranks are certainly growing, and in the analog direction. For the first time since 1987, vinyl record sales have outperformed CD sales in the US, according to a new report. The CD, which saved us all from the cassette, was a digital revolution in music. But for some, the love was lost somewhere among the ones and zeroes.
Those who prefer pure analog troughs of sound cut into wax have never given up on vinyl, and the real ones probably gobbled up a bunch of it in the 90s when everybody was CD-crazy. But mind you these aren’t used vinyl sales we’re talking about, which means that enough new vinyl has to have been readily available for purchase for quite some time now. Although it doesn’t really seem like that long, new vinyl’s been back for almost 20 years — and according to the report, 2022 was the 16th consecutive year of growth for record sales.
So Why Vinyl?
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but there was a time in my 1980s childhood when vinyl was all this scribe had to listen to. I have historically been a bit slow to adopt new music formats — I didn’t have a CD player until 1998, and it was given to me for my birthday. I was excited to get the thing, mind you, especially since it had 10 seconds of anti-skip protection (which of course was a huge concern with portable CD players).
But CDs are way different from records. Sure, they’re both round, but the similarities sort of end there. For one thing, the artwork is disappointingly small compared to vinyl. And the whole gatefold album cover thing isn’t really possible with a CD, unless you forego the jewel case and release it in a chintzy little cardboard jacket. But then people will have this one disc that’s four times thinner than the rest and it throws everything off in the collection.
So why vinyl? For me and many others, it’s part process and part restriction. In order to listen to vinyl, you gotta work for it. You gotta start by running your thumb nail down the crack to open the plastic while leaving it intact so it can protect the jacket. Then you have to remove the sleeve from the jacket and slip the disc out while touching only the edge and/or the label, unless you’re the type to just pinch the spine and shake it out with the flick of the wrist. For the more serious collector, you can add a step by storing everything in clear plastic sleeves, although this makes the spines harder to read — which leads to investing in crates or record store-style flipping bins. It can be a whole thing. That’s kind of the point.
If you still don’t understand why someone would want to open up a record instead of a Spotify playlist: what if every book on your shelf was the same size, shape, and color? Sure, they’re all different on the inside, but wouldn’t that be boring, and worst of all, kind of frustrating when you wanted to find the right one?
The restriction of course comes in the fact that if you do nothing, you’re going to listen to a whole side of a record. But then you get to do more work — move the tone arm out of the lead-out groove, flip the record, and drop the needle once again. Why would a person prefer all of this pomp and circumstance? Well, it just makes us feel more connected to the music, man.
109 thoughts on “Vinyl Sales Ran Circles Around CDs In 2022”
I don’t buy vinyl because PVC is an awful material.
I had to read up on that and apparently it’s the plastic that does the most harm to the environment, being harmful when it’s made, used and disposed of.
But what’s the alternative?
Last year a UK company (UK firm Evolution Music) made the first record out of Bioplastic.
It might be worth us all encouraging more firms to seek more environmentally friendly alternatives to PVC.
There’s an interesting resin that is produced bys some insects, so it’s organic and actually edible, maybe some compound could be made with that resin and used to print records?
Not sure if you’re being fascetious or not, but before vinyl, there was shellac.
Some people haven’t heard of Shellac but, as an aside, it makes for some easily breakable records so I can’t see people wanting to use it today.
In India shellac derived from insect lac was used since ancient times. Shellac is the secretion of the lac bug (Tachardia lacca Kerr. or Laccifer lacca). It is used for wood finish, lacquerware, skin cosmetic, ornaments, dye for textiles, production of different grades of shellac for surface coating.
Urushiol-based lacquers differ from most others, being slow-drying, and set by oxidation and polymerization, rather than by evaporation alone. The active ingredient of the resin is urushiol, a mixture of various phenols suspended in water, plus a few proteins. In order for it to set properly it requires a humid and warm environment. The phenols oxidize and polymerize under the action of laccase enzymes, yielding a substrate that, upon proper evaporation of its water content, is hard. These lacquers produce very hard, durable finishes that are both beautiful and very resistant to damage by water, acid, alkali or abrasion. The resin is derived from trees indigenous to East Asia, like lacquer tree Toxicodendron vernicifluum, and wax tree Toxicodendron succedaneum. The fresh resin from the T. vernicifluum trees causes urushiol-induced contact dermatitis and great care is therefore required in its use. The Chinese treated the allergic reaction with crushed shellfish, which supposedly prevents lacquer from drying properly. Lacquer skills became very highly developed in Asia, and many highly decorated pieces were produced.
“I had to read up on that and apparently it’s the plastic that does the most harm to the environment”
I once did a calculation a few years ago to determine what PERCENT by volume of the ocean was plastic based upon an estimate of how much plastic has already been dumped into it. When not using scientific notation there were so many leading zeros that it was hilarious.
I suspect the percent by volume in the total land area of the Earth would be higher because of the lower total area and depth of landfills, but it would still be hilarious.
“The Earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the Earth; the Earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place: it wanted plastic for itself, didn’t know how to make it, needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question: ‘Why are we here?’ Plastic, ***holes!” – George Carlin, comedian
About the great overpopulated human scourge destroying the planet. I’ve checked this and it is correct:
I have ( ALL ) My Vinyl from 1968 .60% or them are collector’s item.
0.60%? Sounds about right. Mostly impressive because you’d need at least 500 records to have that precision.
That crossed my mind recently, too. I still do buy vinyl but at least i know where i am at, partially. There are other new materials now but they are few and not that good, is what i know. Boy, when i was a kid we went through old storage rooms abandoned by the local vinyl manufacturer and threw the records to the wall just for pieces. I also found some vinyl softporn back then but didn`t keep it. Would have been quite a laugh record today.
How apropos. I was just about to write: Why did they keep making CD “jewel cases” out of Polycarbonate? It is an awful, brittle material. (okay, maybe not toxic, but still a PITA)
Jewel cases are made from polystyrene not polycarbonate. CDs are made from polycarbonate which is a cleaner plastic than pvc. Also, one 180g record contains 12x the plastic than a single CD @ 15g. A typical 12inch record holds appx 40minutes of audio. A CD has the potential capacity of 80 minutes of audio. So in terms of audio content a single 80 minute CD = 15g versus the vinyl equivalent @ 360g. A comment above noted the toxicity of pvc and asked for a cleaner alternative. It’s been available for 40 years – it’s just not trendy….
No wonder. There were always some audiofools who claimed that vinyl sounds better than CD. Now when everybody just listens music over Youtube, Soundcloud or some other streaming service, only those audiofools are still buying physical media.
Audiofools are not alone, there are many digifools too. The kind who buy “audiophile” IP Switches :)
Those people are still audiofools. Audiofoolery is not bounded by technology, only the individual audiofool’s dreams…. and credit cards.
I find new distribution model to be problematic:
– My friend told me I should use tidal – I asked him about few songs I really like and those were not there (yet?). Same for spotify. Sure today maybe it will have it – or maybe not. Or will be removed because the artist will pass away will not have enough listeners.
– All those services can remove or block whatever they want and wherever they want. What will stop them from removing songs that are politically uncomfortable? Songs that are already on the market long time will disappear.
– I downloaded my CD music collection to my iphone – some tracks are blocked because “this track is not available in your country” (one was released in my country only but – apple knows better). Yes – apple decides what is available in my country. If apple can decide what should I play on my device what will stop them from removing good stuff from their streaming service?
So streaming is fine but old formats still have some advantages to me.
I agree with first two points, there are issues, just as with anything on the cloud. But I don’t understand the third. If you rip a CD from your collection and put it on your iphone, how can apple know that it is not available in your country? Does it send all files to Shazam or wherever to identify them?
Have no idea how it works – I have full album of The Crystal Method “Tweekend” and first track “PHD” is displayed in grey and when I try to play it returns me this message: this song is not available at the moment on your country or region. The same goes for Łona i Webber “Insert” and track “Świat jest pełen filozofów” (all other are accepted). I live in Poland, bought this phone in polish store, artist is polish and release took place long time ago in Poland.
Spotify is great until a big yellow taxi pulls up and takes your harvest away because the company decides supporting anti-vaxxer podcasts is more profitable than the 70s era artists you might’ve signed up to them for.
It’s only possible to buy music on physical media. Otherwise, you’re leasing it until you die or the provider discontinues the service, depending on the exact license. Even when you get a DRM-free file, it’s not legally yours and it’s not transferable.
CDs do leave a bit of quality on the table, but SACDs and DVDs are pretty much the end-all be-all of collecting music.
You can listen to your $25 record, on your $1k amp, on your $2k speakers, with your $500 cables, on your $1k power conditioner, on your $5k turnable, with the $500 stylus, on your rickey old table.
I’ll take my 10k songs on my $100 cellphone, with my $25 headphones and it will sound just as good.
There is a sucker born every minute.
Ehh your phone won’t keep up if you’ve got a low bitrate mp3 or mediocre earbuds, especially wireless ones. You do need to spend a whole several dollars on a usb to 3.5mm output on some phones when the internal isn’t up to snuff, and then whatever speakers/headphones/etc are still needed for both methods.
But, but the $500 cables are properly “aged” to reproduce sound perfectly!
True and don’t forget to shave the edge of your media of choice!
You have one of those “corner cutting” machines for CDs? Awesome!
Actually, most of the people buying vinyl and crowing how it sounds so much better than digital aren’t using high-end audiophile equipment or even a decent run-of-the-mill stereo. They’re listening to it on $50 plastic Crosley record players from WalMart. Their opinion is not to be trusted, they’re just buying into the hipster retro fad.
Also, if you are so into “the process” of savoring the cardboard artwork or reverently handling the disc or “working for the music”, well, that’s a whole ‘nother issue that doesn’t really have anything to do with enjoying the music.
Actually, there’s a good reason that vinyl on a crappy player can still sound better -at least in some ways – than a good digital source. And it has nothing to do with any ‘magical properties’ of vinyl, nor with placebo or esthetic effects. It has to do with the source material.
For many years now, a large majority of recorded popular music had fallen victim to the Loudness Wars. It’s been compressed and compressed to the point where it sounds harsh and fatiguing, in a (successful) attempt to stand out on radio and on the web and gain more attention and more sales. I can hear this compression, and I can verify it by looking at it in Audacity – it looks very much like a badly clipped waveform.
Vinyl, by its nature, has amplitude limitations that don’t allow for anywhere near the degree of compression or loudness typical in digital media. It can be – and often is – compressed; but it still inherently sounds more natural and less fatiguing. These days, the mixes that are used for cutting vinyl masters are very, very different from those used for digital releases of the same material.
My music listening has been strictly digital for a very long time now. I don’t miss handling and cleaning records, and I don’t miss the ticks and pops, and the deterioration with repeated plays. But I DO miss pre-Loudness Wars recording, mixing, and mastering quality. And I can imagine a good pressing on even a mediocre turntable might well be easier to listen to than the same music from a digital source.
Excellent point. Worst is when the clipped garbage digital mix is pressed onto vinyl with no changes or appreciation of the limits of the media. All the downsides of both overdriven mix and downsides of vinyl too. Tho seems to be very, very common.
Finally, to those used to listening to same mix on crap earbuds it probably does sound same or maybe better on LP, so no one is the wiser.
Ah that’s what it is! Compression! For kicks, I bought a Disney Moana soundtrack on vinyl for the girls and I said to myself “What idiot mastered this?? It’s clipping and.. something else wtf??” I’m not an audiophile but I know when something’s being overdriven. This must have been a throwaway record that they went straight from wav file to vinyl.
Obviously you never googled Jimi Hendrix`s guitar cord. But then again, you are right. It even might occur to you, you can have it both ways. My point being, listening to records can be kept on the cheap side, just for giggles.
Or, like I did, get $80 second hand (Marantz) amp, $120 second hand 3 way stereo speakers, 300$ Audio Technica turntable (AT95e stylus included), make cables yourself for almost nothing and get 95% of the sound quality of $10k system you described and also enjoy the experience Kristina described in the article. Also, connect RPi with DAC board to the amp so I can stream audio from phone, computer, TV if I want.
Audio doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve got $150 DIY loudspeakers, a $200 homebrew amp, $25 DIY cables and a silly cheap DAC that I’d pit against your “sounds just as good” setup any day of the week. In reality, your $25 headphones on a “good enough” internal DAC/amp sounds “just as good” because you don’t know any better.
There’s a self-aggrandizing blowhard born every minute, too.
Same here. I bought my speaker second hand (or third, or fourth, who knows) for 12€. I had the luck to find both my amp and the turntable on the street. The day I started using them I realized I had never listened to quality sound before. Neither from the “hifi” I had as a teen, nor from the bluetooth speaker available here and there.
There are no high quality $25 headphones. Not even close.
If you allow IEMs instead of full size headphones, it could be true. You might need a little EQ to get things right but they’ll render the sound okay. Moondrop quarks are even pretty decent for just a few bucks. Some of the trouble is that not everyone listens at the same volume, so a tester might say there’s a problem with something but it when playing at a standard high test volume, but at casual volumes it sounds fine, and the sound signature is perceptually different for everyone dependant on volume so…
Your comment is of the cynical variety: “I don’t have reasons for liking X, therefore anyone else who likes X is a sucker.”
It’s a flat rejection of trying to understand how “X” satisfies the preferences and goals other people have, and an attempt to elevate oneself above other people.
I wonder if it occurred to you that pretty much anyone buying vinyl also has a phone and access to countless albums digitally? So it’s not like you’ve brought some new revelation to the party.
I stream music on my phone, smart speaker, in my car and also on my 2 channel music system.
But I also play a lot of vinyl which, on a high quality turntable and cartridge, can sound absolutely superb. I have a top of the line digital source, and in terms of sound quality differences I find the main issue is the quality of the recording, not the medium. But I find the aesthetics of vinyl albums and turntables more appealing than swiping on yet another thing on my phone. Doesn’t mean that is going to be the same for everyone else of course, but it’s hardly being a “sucker” to know what you like and how to achieve it.
And it’s pretty laughable to suggest that digital songs on a phone through $25 earbuds will sound “just as good” as a good LP on a high end system. Of course “good” is ultimately in the ear of the beholder, but when people hear an LP played on my system they are in shock regarding the sound quality. And they are all quite familiar with the sound of digital music on their earbuds. In other words, something isn’t automatically more impressive sound quality “because it’s easily accessible and digital.” A better system will make the sound better, whether it’s vinyl or digital.
The earbuds ARE closer to an ideal loudspeaker than your wooden cabinet speakers, especially as they cut out other noise. The dynamics that apply at these vastly different scales is very different.
It’s well recognized that it’s much easier to get good sound out of headphones than it is out of “high end systems”, especially as the latter is subject to all sorts of subjective biases and mistakes in perception, such as confusing high frequency distortion for “clarity” etc.
So true. The “usual” conversion is for each dollar you spend on headphones (or earphones or in ear monitors or ear speakers and so on) you spend 10x as much on loudspeakers to get same quality sound. Seems about right to me; I’ve never heard better sound out of anything that beats my nice in ear monitors and modest DAC/headphone amp. Well, not never ever but I do not have the obscene monies needed to get some good electrostatic loudspeakers.
One of my setups is a $1,000 (MSRP) set of Denton 80ths on a $1,000 Peachtree superintegrated, and it handily beats my IEM setup, which was significantly more expensive… Unique Melody Miracle, AK DAP + Ray Samuels balanced amp/DAC. That said, there’s no way my 10x cheaper headphones (Grado SR225x) will ever come close, not by a mile. They’re great fun to listen to, don’t get me wrong…
All that aside though… I still feel it’s mostly subjective anyway. Too many people forget about the music and spend their time “listening to their equipment”. Buy what you like, listen to it and love it. That’s all that matters!
If you want to get pretty close to the electrostatic feel without breaking the bank, Maggies are always a good bet. I wouldn’t trade mine for the world, and they’re one of my cheaper speakers. They need a lot of power to really get down, though…
I’m well aware of the advantages of earphones/earbuds in some respects.
But the idea that one should just accept that any digital song played on $25 headphones will sound just as impressive as vinyl played back on a high quality system using speakers, is a silly generality.
As I said “good” is ultimately subjective so Bill could listen to a cheap soundbar and declare it “good.” But his attempt to dismiss the sound quality of vinyl on high quality playback systems using speakers is silly. As I pointed out: I have had a large number of non-audiophile listeners in my home, all of whom are quite familiar with the sound of digital music using their phones and earbuds/earphones…whose jaws dropped at the sound they were hearing from vinyl playback on the system. All saying they’d never heard anything sound that good, that real. A few older cynics who’d given up vinyl long ago for CDs said “I never knew vinyl could sound that good!”
So my point is that while digital has some clear technical advantages, well produced and played back vinyl can sound VERY close to digital quality for many tracks, and then you add the advantage of playback on a high quality speaker system and…if you’ve experienced it…comments like Bill Gates’ come off is quite silly (and an obvious undercurrent of trolling).
That’s begging the question that the speakers ARE high quality rather than just expensive.
It’s easy to impress people simply by playing the same music louder or pointing out the stereo image they might have otherwise paid no attention to, or simply adding/removing echoes which they don’t. Change anything from the usual, and stand next to the person going “what do you think?” and it automatically becomes “better” even if it makes no objective improvement. That’s called the Hawthorne effect.
You can easily fall victim of the same effect if you buy a graphic equalizer with many knobs and sliders. Any slight change you make sounds better, and cumulative changes sound better and even more “right”, until weeks later you realize you’ve drifted and distorted the sound completely, and simply gotten used to it.
People like vinyl because it’s a fun thing to collect, you don’t have to be weird about it.
I love listening to vinyl in my car, unfortunately my record player constantly skips, go figure.
I love vinyl. Some people think it sounds better, some think it sounds worse. I don’t care. I just love to sit down and listen. With vinyl I actually have to put the disc on the player, put the needle down (got a full analogue player), then sit down and listen. Just listen to the music. I use Spotify etc for casual listening, but when I listen to vinyl, I really listen. Sometimes I grab the cover and look at it while listening. It’s all so comfy. It feels more like music. I think it’s just an experience. I can take my car, unlock it using a remote, get in, drive to work. But on some days, I get the 50’s 2 stroke out, put on my jacket, my helmet, push start it from the second gear because the kick starter doesn’t work well, and drive that to work. It’s just nice. Some don’t like the noise, the smell, the work, but I do. Same with vinyl. It’s easier to put on Spotify but it doesn’t give me the same warm feeling inside.
The loudness wars left music on CD and digital formats in a sorry state where everything was compressed to mush. Nowadays the streaming services normalize and compress the sound to a standard level regardless of the artist’s original intent, so it’s ruined either way.
>”Because of the limitations of the vinyl format, the ability to manipulate loudness was also limited. Attempts to achieve extreme loudness could render the medium unplayable. Digital media such as CDs remove these restrictions and as a result, increasing loudness levels have been a more severe issue”
The loudness war ruined music on CD and other digital formats, and streaming services started normalizing and compressing the dynamic range to save on bandwidth, which had the same effect as the loudness war.
Vinyls can’t be recorded that “hot”, so they rescue some of the dynamic range back and consequently can sound better.
Vinyl’s loudness should be related to amplitude of the movement of the needle, so it would seem like there would be a maximum possible loudness that a record would be recorded to just barely meet. Then, since there’s going to be some level of noise floor from friction or general hiss or whatever, you should have a dynamic range possible in between the two, but the record companies could still choose to make the average parts louder. I don’t see how the average is limited by vinyl rather than the peak. Any source or explanation of how that could work? Instead of just old records are from before the loudness war somewhat?
Due to the human ear’s frequency response, we need the bass and mid frequencies to be very much louder than the treble to have “equal volume”, but the vinyl record can’t handle that without crossing the grooves when you get a big bass hit etc. That’s why there’s the RIAA correction which pushes the bass down and treble up, and then does the opposite on playback.
Coincidentally, that leaves a lot of headroom for drums, which makes vinyls sound more “punchy”. Dynamic range compression as done on a CD attempts to make all sounds on the record equally loud by pushing everything up towards -0 dB and increase the overall sound energy that way, under the theory that a louder record is perceived to sound better. It makes a “wall of sound”.
This leaves no headroom for the drums, so they tend to fake it by using a compressor that makes the other sounds quieter on a drum hit, resulting in the volume “pumping” instead of the bass.
To answer the question better; the standard frequency response of a vinyl is already so skewed that you can’t mess around with the levels too much. Getting good clean sound out forces you to do it more or less in a way that still leaves good dynamic headroom on the record.
Of course you can do all the dynamic compression etc. at playback, but why would you want to ruin your music?
Ahh, that does sound more reasonable. If the needle just can’t go past a certain displacement, then the un-corrected displacement is less for higher frequencies at the same slew rate. Forgot all about the RIAA correction in my first comment. I’m not sure using modern vinyl will help the way they choose to mix it; for instance even though digital could convey sub-bass frequencies they tend to give you a missing fundamental (illusory low pitch that doesn’t actually contain the low frequency it’s pretending to be). To those who don’t know, that’s because they think you’ll use a speaker/headphone/etc that can’t convey them even if they were there.
Hopefully they don’t just slap together a corrected version of the same digital product and they actually remake it for vinyl when they release that way. I wouldn’t know if they do, not having a record player.
So then arguably, the only reason vinyl music’s dynamic range worked out so well is that the things you want to leave plenty of headroom for (drums) happen to be a bass sound. If you wanted a loud whine for some reason, you’d be out of luck.
>If you wanted a loud whine for some reason, you’d be out of luck.
Coincidentally, there was a “pitch war” way back in history where concert hall orchestras would intentionally tune the instruments up to produce clearer and cleaner “heavenly” sounds, to the complaint of singers who had to strain their voices to keep up and players who would complain about their strings snapping.
On some vinyl the grooves are spaced further apart on loud, bass-heavy sections, closer together on quiet sections. The close-together grooves allow more music time on that physical part of the record. If there’s only one big BOOM in the record, there’s a 4 second period (2 revolutions) where the groove spacing has to be bigger and the rest of the record (the average, kinda) can have grooves closer together.
It seems a senseless shame that heavy compression is applied to either vinyl or CDs. Schlocky top-40 radio stations compressed the heck out of everything anyway, so nothing was achieved by compressing the source material (except for hiding the high noise floor of vinyl.)
I also heard that when cutting master the needle is operated by coil which reacts badly on high transients (it burns). In that case engineer would have to limit the sound to spare the equipment.
Overheating the coil could plausibly happen if the sound going on the record is very loud across the entire spectrum, i.e. compressed like modern music.
Wide-band noise has more energy all added together than a single sine wave at the same amplitude. That translates to more electrical power needed to move the stylus.
The most desirable vinyl record ever for the range and quality of its recording is the soundtrack to the original “Casino Royale” movie. An unopened original pressing can bring big $$$.
Unfortunately the master tape was damaged doing new pressing molds for a later run of LPs. It was digitized as best as could be and an original run LP was digitized. After a lot of work a new digital master was created from those sources.
I’m the same. One thing I can’t deny is simply because it feels like I’m buying an actual artifact. Actually buying a thing, instead of paying for some data. I don’t know how better to explain that part.
But the actual listening experience – partially because it’s such a pain to flip side, swap records, it all encourages you to just put it on and listen to it. And my tastes lay solidly in the “dad rock” era where albums were designed to be listened to whole.
I have to say though – I totally approve of the modern trend to include download codes with LPs. That way I get the best of both worlds.
“If you still don’t understand why someone would want to open up a record instead of a Spotify playlist:…”
Because Spotify’s playlist don’t smell!!!
I’m from Argentina and in my young 80’s opening a vinyl imported from the USA was quite a sensory experience. Unlike the Argentine vinyl, the imported ones had a very particular smell, something like the smell of a new car.
Which is caused by the off-gassing of the plasticizer in the polyvinyl fake leather interior of a new car.
Like the scent of a woman
I have been a vinyl collector since 2001. I own at least 3,000 pieces of vinyl, mainly Jamaican music. However, the price of vinyl has now doubled or tripled in Japan. So I started collecting CDs. CDs are currently the best time to buy. Vinyl is not the best time to buy.
I like to buy music on CDs because it gives me a lossless copy of what the creator intended, and it lasts a long time in very basic storage conditions once I rip it to a file instead of continuing to use it directly. It still (used to) come with a booklet with lyrics and art and such, so none of them looked the same and you could fold out a larger picture on some of them.
I also liked cassettes because they were fun, you could record your own from the radio or make a mixtape, and later on you could insert into the player a 3.5mm or (even later) a bluetooth adapter. I keep meaning to repair my walkman; it had a great radio receiver. Although the popular versions were largely inferior to CD quality, they’re book shaped so you can read the labels on what would be the “spine” when in a shelf or box. (Some less popular versions approach hi-fi with better versions of dolby). The basic idea of a magnetic tape is still used for long term storage in datacenters; of course that’s higher quality and digital. Cassettes were just a cheap version with worse quality. But there was a golden age where we were all recording our favorite songs off the radio and shows off the TV, and we felt like we knew what we were doing. *shrug*
Vinyl? You’ve got the experience which is fun for those who are into it, but the material just doesn’t maintain peak quality and I tend to prefer to have more songs to choose between, along with the ability to make my own if I want. And it’s above that critical size where it’s reasonable to carry it around anywhere.
“If you still don’t understand why someone would want to open up a record instead of a Spotify playlist: what if every book on your shelf was the same size, shape, and color?”
I don’t buy that – all your vinyl records are the same size and shape! And the “spine” on many is just white with too-small writing on. Much easier see a little face-on picture of your albums on a screen.
I was eyeing my collection of 12″, 10″, and 7″ records when I wrote that.
I do most of my listening through streaming/mp3’s/flac. About 20 years ago I got back into vinyl because of one thing: It really takes the stress out of listening to music.
With streaming or playing my mp3 collections I tended to never really listen to the music. I would only listen to songs I instantly liked. And often skip to the next track/file before a song was finished. This way of listening thrashes a lot of experiences one can have if one REALLY listens to a whole album from start to finish.
With vinyl it is too much work to get up and change tracks. So, I tend to just listen to all of them while I can read the lyrics and look at the often amazing artwork on the cover.
The sound is worse though. There is noise, distortion, and other artifacts. But, it still provides a better overall listening experience in my opinion. And the sound is faaar from bad. Some older records can be amazing. F-ck, I hate the compressor effect used in most modern recordings…
You don’t like the compressor effect, well all records are compressed otherwise the needle would be thrown out of the groove. Back in the day I had a de-compressor to add more dynamic range to my records. When CD’s were first available they showed off their dynamic range but I think most people didn’t like it. Later CD’s were more compressed.
Dynamic range compression has the effect of boosting the loudness (overall sound energy) of a record by bringing the louder sounds level to the quieter ones – which the mastering studio employs to be able to amplify all the sounds on the record to the maximum level to make it play louder without clipping. Radio stations would use the same technique to play louder without overshooting their modulation bandwidth, and digitally streamed music uses it to reduce variation in order to achieve lower bit rates (better data compression ratio), etc.
Vinyls used RIAA correction which pushes the mid- and bass frequencies down because those would throw the needle out, or make the groove on the record cross between turns. Then the record player would apply the reverse correction. There were couple different versions, some of which may have been sold as “de-compressors” to people who didn’t know any better: they were basically equalizers with a non-standard correction curve.
Doing dynamic compression on a vinyl like they do on CD would re-emphasize the mid- and bass frequencies back and make the record unplayable. Alternatively, if you push the levels down enough that the needle won’t skip, it would de-emphasize the high frequencies so much that when the record player boosts them back up, it would also amplify the groove noise and hiss off the record and make it sound terrible.
As a side note, cassettes had a variety of options for noise correction which were very similar; it wasn’t just dolby on or off. They also needed to reduce hiss by preemphasis and deemphasis. Unfortunately, most of the types that came out never got popular enough – but IIRC there’s a techmoan video where with special tapes and the right correction, the system sounded as good in technical aspects as a CD – though the way the audio was mixed is all up to the recording company of course.
I’m a greybeard, and remember when CDs appeared and everyone started to buy CD and CD players ditching vinyl, because CD were better than vinyl. I have a good record player and it’s old and I can’t find replacement needles for my cartridge so I have to buy a new cartridge and align it. The biggest advantage of CD is that it’s a physical object that when you buy it, it’s yours. The format it’s an open standard and it works with any CD player and it’s quite easy to make copies to use on portable devices, and at the same time it’s a real object, you can have signed by the artist.
By the way almost all 33 and 45 produced since the early ’80s are made with molds that are engraved using a digital master, even indie artists in the late ’90 started to use digital tapes. Unfortunately CD masteing suffered a lot because the loudness wars that make a media capable to a 96 dB dynameic range compressed to a 6 dB dynamic range, a thing that isn’t possible on vynil bedause otherwithe the needle start to jump out of the groove.
>The biggest advantage of CD is that it’s a physical object that when you buy it, it’s yours.
I only buy digital music that I get to keep. If it’s laden with DRM and tied up to some streaming service… well, there’s always the old “record stereo mix and save to MP3” method.
That went some time ago. Now WASAPI in Audacity on a latest upgrade to win10 is gone.
Entirely or just not working right?
Oh well, there’s always the analog loopback cable…
please try a digital loobback cable first.
Or a digital mixer like https://vb-audio.com/Voicemeeter/banana.htm
I just enabled Stereo Mix as an input on the Realtek audio on my quite new Ryzen PC.
The most said here. Loudness here, there, and final cut pro’ed to death. Provenance, KISS. Some live binaural cassettes I’ve made far exceed what the industry puts out.
On the other hand 32bit is instrumentation grade accuracy, beyond even fast & wide analogue tape. Once finished at 24/96 bits I can carry it in my phone. At last vinyl quality I can play anywhere. I wanted it since 1978 and finally. Progress! Light weight plastic turntables some with ceramic pickups still abound.
Which would you rather buy, a poster or a coaster?
In europe there are queues at the vinyl pressing factories. We recorded an double album but we have to wait 9 months before they can produce our record… And its only 1000 pieces.
I wonder if anyone will build new or find and restore old Direct Metal Mastering equipment? The last one that was in working order in the USA was bought by the “Church” of Scientology years ago but apparently they never used it.
Maybe it’s different in the US? But when I buy newly released vinyl here in Europe, I get that piece of plastic PLUS a coupon that will allow me to download the music in a digital format, directly from the record label, and often with less compression than on purely digital platforms. So all this bashing of how much better digital sounds compared to vinyl just doesn’t apply, I get both!! And if I even lose all my income and savings I would still have *my* music and not just the certainty of having made people behind Spotify and Apple etc rich by renting access to music they had no creative role in creating.
When buying music (vinyl or digital) from platforms like Bandcamp, and you think that that album that costs 15 bucks is actually worth 20, you can even pay more e.g. to support some new band. Try that with Spotify and Apple.
By selling music in batches of many titles on a single medium, artists can also “force” their audience to try some of their work that is perhaps more experimental or off the beaten track, especially when it’s so awkward to skip tracks like on vinyl. That must be different from producing music with just streaming (and webstores that allow cherry picking tracks from albums) in mind.
Also keep in mind that if you reach a certain age, your hearing will automatically deteriorate to a point where I doubt people can really appreciate the superiority of digital sound anymore. And that’s at a point where you still can hope to have several decades to go.
So I use both analog and digital formats. After all, I want to also enjoy my music in my car while driving (yes…I know….there were gadgets that claimed to allow listening to recods in your car but I guess that’s for another episode of Hackaday). Why there is all this emotional debate about using either this or that format is something I honestly don’t get.
When you buy a CD anywhere, you get a lossless digital copy that keeps existing once the record label stops maintaining their download page or they forget your code, and a cd can easily last decades if you don’t badly scratch it. It still often has a premade mp3 download, but if you make your own you can get a lossless copy or multiple versions.
When I buy from artists on Bandcamp, I get a lossless digital copy that keeps existing just the same, on my hard drive. I don’t need the CD for anything – it’s easier to make backups of the files and keep them forever than trying to keep the CD from inevitable rot, or the lack of a functioning CD-ROM drive.
Don’t artists rarely release in flac or similar formats instead of like… 256k mp3? And IIRC mass produced CD’s use physical processes instead of the kind that rewritable consumer stuff uses, meaning they last longer. But yeah, you might find a lack of drive eventually. Would take until the last blu ray drives are too old to use I guess.
Nowadays, most artists release in flac nowadays. At least, I was able to get flac archive from all of the bandcamp artists I bought albums from.
I also checked their spectrogram to ensure it isn’t fake lossless (i.e. transcode MP3/AAC lossy/etc into FLAC and selling it as “Hi-res”) and all of them keeps information above 20kHz.
I just take the 320 MP3 file. I’m not that much into Hi-Fisting.
>and all of them keeps information above 20kHz.
That doesn’t mean they’re not fake. Remember MP3-Pro? Modern high compression lossy algorithms re-generate the high frequencies algorithmically. In other words, they make it up as they go along to produce “something” that sounds like it belongs, since you don’t know what the original sounded like anyhow.
Great article. 50 years ago or so, my Cousin Michael (z’l) was an artist in the UK. He designed and painted artwork for LP Record sleeves for DECCA. Several of his cover designs were given top recognition by the record industry.
Have lots of LPs.
Not surprisingly some of the best recordings of the classical venue happen to be still only on LP. And once a week WQXR-FM a Classical Music station in NYC does take the time to do so. Oh and DECCA happens to be a great label, for Tenor Opera stars.
the vinyl edition of slayer’s reign in blood has an unending skip track at the end, so the storm technically lasts forever if you don’t remove the needle. that deserves a hack a day article in of itself.
Monty Python made a record with two B sides, and on one of them they made a double track which would play different songs depending on where the needle happens to land when you start it.
Rumor has it there exists a vinyl record that was cut with ten grooves on the same side, each containing an identical commentary of a horse race, except with a different winning horse.
yep definitely need a rundown on vinyl hacks.
So vinyl outsold CDs. I didn’t know they still sold CDs. I would have thought the greedy DRM folks would have stopped making them in favor of more …controllable…(and) perpetually licensable mediums. Maybe somebody will invent a CD player that has a software patent that requires a continued subscription in order to work. Or the DAC manufacturers will form a cartel with the RIAA that will ensure your digital streams can never be played unless you paid. And paid. And paid.
“Not a hack”.
And I don’t know what it’s doing here. It’s a little factoid, but gets more distribution than it deserves. I suppose it boosts the egos of people still buying records.
My 1978 turntable is still set up, I never dumped my records, but I doubt I listened to a record after 2000. Too much trouble, you have to flip it over and get up to skip songs.
There are holdouts, but surely a lot of these sales are to kids who think it’s hip. And it’s all relative. It’s not like 1980 when someone I knew had a contract to update a local pressing plant with Intersil 6100s. Then they were churning out the records.
Amazon keeps trying to sell me records. But even if I was interested, I wouldn’t pay the price. I held off moving to CD until 1997 because of the cost.
I recently bought a set of the first five Lovin Spoonful albums for about $20. There have been similar deals in recent years, though I feel it’s drying up.
“The CD, which saved us all from the cassette”
What do you mean? I haven’t seen much portable CD players in use (due to size, skipping and ease of CD scratch) and most of my friends jumped from cassettes “walkman” to mp3 players. Before that they made their “mix tapes” and album copies on cassettes. But that could be my place only.
Later CD-Walkmans could play MP3s off of a burned disc. That was much more convenient than the expensive or tiny MP3 players. The only problem was that they were a little bit too big to put in a pocket…
I bought two used portable CD players about ten years ago. They both do MP3s. I.mentioned it to a librarian, and she immediately realized they were transitional devices, between CD and MP3 players.
My first MP3 player, I thought bought late, was 512K. Surely about the same storage space as a CD full of MP3s. I soon replaced it with an 8gig player, that had a slot for 16gig cards. A few years ago I bought one from China, the card slot hold up to 128gigs.
They didn’t actually start adding MP3 decoders to portable CD players until after the iPod and other hard-drive based MP3 players came out, so it wasn’t so much of a transitional device but a competing tech that died out when flash memory became cheap.
All of this assumes that your hearing is up to scratch…. My nearly 70 year old ears cant hear any where near the top end of what is reproducible on any format…. None the less my memory serves me well enough to fill in the gaps where my ears fail me… Go suck it…
Human brains get used to the sounds they grew up with. As brains become ‘set’ in their ways, they find other sounds not to their liking. People who grew up with the distortion of valves or the compression of vinyl, got to like it. So they are right in saying valves or vinyl sound “better” … but only to them. They can’t be swayed by quantifiable facts from an electronic distortion meter. Today’s youth are going to think DAB and MPEG3 compressed music are okay.
I grew up with CDs as far as my active listening career was concerned.
I find the mastering quality and sound engineering of music from the 70’s through 80’s before everyone was doing digital music far superior. Even music I wouldn’t normally listen to just sounds better, and that’s judging by a copy on Youtube.
MP3 is okay though. The meter doesn’t matter when it’s measuring matters which the ear can’t meter.
This. The mastering and recording skill of the engineers has much, much more to do with the overall quality than the medium at this point. CDs are superior in every way but cannot make up for garbage engineering. Sh*t in, sh*t out.
In the heyday of recording, 60’s and 70’s, recording engineer was a highly sought after, skilled profession. Now, literally anyone with a laptop can “master” some crap they made in their basement. I suspect even “professionals” rather than amateurs have minimal Skill and experience compared to their predecessors. This is verified by absolute garbage cd recordings I’ve purchased along the way. See: Metallica’s Death Magnetic. It is literally unlistenable.
I believe Billie Eilish won best record and was done by her brother in the basement. (different than best album which is for music itself; best record is for engineering unless I have it backwards). I leave it to the reader to speculate if he was a savant recording engineer or if the industry is jacked up or any other interpretation or commentary.
I used to work for a hi-fi company, and learnt the extent of the audiophool industry.
There are meters to measure noise and distortion to quantifiable figures.
Double-blind testing is the only way to prevent the listener having preconceptions due to the price tag etc.
Audiophile magazines refuse to do double blind testing, and ranking by meters, because their ‘golden eared’ reviewers would be out of a job.
Some manufacturers let reviewers keep the units reviewed. The difference between “perk” and “bribe” is semantic, but the price of high-end hi-fi units can be several week’s wages. How impartial do you expect reviewers to be?
We noticed that audiophools were paying stupid money for simple coaxial cables that cost a fraction of the labour spent on making the complicated electronic boxes. So we started making them for a better price.
There are ads in hi fi mags that make claims more ridiculous than politicians (“Change your plastic knobs for our hand-crafted wooden ones, and you music will sound sweeter”. Or show a complete lack of knowledge about how CD players work (“use our felt tip pens on your CD rims, and your player won’t have to work so hard correcting errors”).
The reason why vinyl is outselling CDs is nostalgia and brains trained to like vinyl. Everyone else gets their digital music off silicon memory instead of spinning plastic.
There’s likely so many parameters involved that it’s difficult to quantify what people focus on or prioritize when it comes to playing back music on audio equipment.
I grew up hearing vinyl records. I accepted the occasional clicks and pops as just part of the experience. The real world has plenty of mild static and clicks and pops. They’re artefacts that can feel comforting in the quieter sections of a recording. Listen to Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing and it feels like the clicks are integral, they fit. Beyond a point though, they do spoil the experience.
If you could go back in time to the 1980s and examine the condition and quality of the turntables in use by most mere mortals, you would likely find them to be a mess.
Proper playback of vinyl requires a carefully set up turntable of reasonably good quality. Get something out of whack and it’s going to sound terrible. The reason why CD players took off is probably likely due to the ease of use and predictable sound quality. You didn’t need to know how to set them up. It was just plug and play.
In my experience, people didn’t really talk much about the lack of noise on CDs. They mostly talked about the clarity and lack of sibilance or distortion.
These are things that can be minimised or eradicated with careful set up of a vinyl turntable. Another factor I think that comes into play is basically being impressed by what the medium can produce. If you think about it “dragging a rock through plastic”, it seems implausible you’d get anything “hi fi” out of it. Yet, you do.
So while it may seem strange, to me, and I’m sure many others, hearing something unfathomably good come out of the speakers is part of the fun and enjoyment. Setting things up is part of the enjoyment.
It’s a bit like with vintage computers, make them do something implausible, that seems outside of the realm of possibility, now that’s fun. It runs DOOM and all that stuff. Seeing an underpowered computer running DOOM, now that’s interesting. Run DOOM on a ThreadRipper with a super fancy GPU, well predictably, it will work, but it’s not impressive.
CDs are a great technology, but they have very little appeal now due to the instant gratification of streaming. CDs seemed nothing short of miraculous in the 80s, a little shiny disc, looked like something from Star Trek. You pop it into a machine and it will sound as good as the best possible record player set up you could have hoped for back then.
But honestly, to my ear, my first pressing of Gerry Rafferty’s City to City absolutely out performs it’s CD counterpart massively. There simply is no contest, it sounds like the musicians are playing live in the room. I don’t have a high end set up, just the best I could afford with plenty of time invested into setting it up so it’s at it’s best. Baker Street sounds epic.
But, if you aren’t interested in messing round with the playback equipment, a CD will give you a decent listen experience every time. And if that’s where your priorities lie, that’s fine, but some people enjoy the active process of listening to vinyl, just like tuning up old Mustangs.
>They mostly talked about the clarity and lack of sibilance or distortion.
Which is ironic since early CD mastering suffered from not having very good filters. In any discrete sampling system, you need to limit the frequency content of the input to below the Nyquist frequency which is half of the sampling rate – hence the 22.05 kHz bandwidth on a CD. Anything above will produce aliasing artifacts, and anything just below will cause beat modulation.
They simply didn’t have the sophisticated “brick-wall” filters and reconstruction filters of today, instead they had a more gradual roll-off that started attenuating all the way from 15-16 kHz to be able to suppress the sounds near the Nyquist limit, to avoid introducing the sound artifacts. In other words, the actual practical frequency range of a CD was very much equal or worse than vinyl or tape – as long as you cared for fidelity.
But, any unwanted frequencies left over would show up as high frequency distortion that adds a sensible “clearness” to the sound because it sounds vaguely like jingling car keys, at a very high frequency where you’ll have trouble making out what it is. You can simply feel there’s something more there. In other words, the better clarity of the CD was originally faked.
Without hearing the original master tape, the listeners could tell whether that distortion was part of the music or not, so they kept adding it in. However, certain kinds of sounds, like on audiences clapping or with anything that resembles loud white noise, it causes the car keys jingling effect to drop to the middle frequencies where you can easily recognize it as digital distortion.
The problem is much like the moire effect on digital displays. You can have a nominally high resolution picture as long as “Waldo” doesn’t show up with his finely striped shirt and cause weird patterns to appear. If he does, you have to blur the image so the pattern disappears.
This is a misleading comparison – vinyl (which you have to buy, borrow or steal) versus digital music which is essentially free and available anywhere all the time. Comparing digital “plays” against vinyl for a particular tune (how about “Roundabout”?) would give a vastly different result.
Let’s also not forget that , not so many years ago, straight razors sold wildly to people seeking “authenticity” until people found out (again) why they’re a really bad idea.
Once a new technology outstrips an old one by a vast amount, there’s no going back. That said, yes, you won’t find me giving up my Yes album covers anytime soon even though the decades-old residue on them is now legal.
Gives you a cleaner shave though.
The problem with modern shavers is that the first shave is fine, so is the second, but after the third you’re left scraping and pulling your stubble out with increasingly dull blades that nevertheless cost so much to replace that you’ll keep using them anyways.
Safety razors are a good compromise. They dull just as quickly, but the blades are ten times cheaper.
You and I need to be friends.
I learned to shave with a straight razor when I was 15 because I’d seen an article in Men’s Health about how to do it. I had never used anything else for like a decade and could easily shave in the shower without looking in like 2 minutes and never cut myself. Eventually I tried a regular disposable and shredded my face to ribbons.
Now I use either a safety razor (I bought a gross of blades for peanuts and will outlast me and my grandson) or the Big Slicey, whichever I’m feeling that day. I occasionally nick myself with the safety razor still, and super rarely cut myself with the straight razor, and it has always been minor.
For reference I also listen to vinyl occasionally and most of my watches tick.
With audio and shaving there is a pretty good correlation between “effort expended” and “results attained”, up to a point. Many things fit this description.
Where one gets in trouble is assuming everyone else does it wrong. I love Belgian beer made by monks but coors lite has its place too. Denying that is the realm of snobbery. Just cuz something is objectively crap doesn’t mean it’s useless.
I heard this a couple years back. Digging, NY Times ran an article in 2021 saying same thing. It was also a NYT crossword clue/answer from, I’m guessing, about same time.
Meanwhile.. that same report says that streaming and digital downloads are 87% of the sales with ALL physical sales being only 11%. This has as much to do with the fall in interest of buying CDs as it does with the increase in interest for Vinyl.
At the same time very few producers are bothering to release CDs, they go straight to digital services. But many of them create small batch vinyl runs as a merchandise item, also releasing those with digital downloads for actual listening.
Kudos for the Roger Dean artwork, he deserved recognition as an inspiration for Avatar even if the media and technology were probably beyond his imagining.
The senior master at my final school apparently looked at one of the Yes sleeves and remarked that the mountains looked eminently climbable. He was the sort of man who’d head into Snowdonia before dawn and be back in time for breakfast.
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