Vinyl vs. Digital, a Side-by-Side Face Off

Categories: Whatever

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With all due respect to my audiophile friends, the end-of-year sales numbers for vinyl albums (up 39 percent from last year) are still just a blip on the radar. Vinyl sold 3.9 million copies according to SoundScan and that is a formidable number considering it is quadruple over what it was just five years ago. But, by comparison, Adele's 21 sold 5.8 million CDs, substantially more than the total number of vinyl records sold by everyone. It's pointless to even discuss the billions of tracks sold, so I won't even go there.

But, vinyl has become a viable option for artist trying to avoid piracy and provide a collectible option to fans. And the nerds love it!

I grew up with vinyl and, at one time, had a massive collection. I still love its warmth and the nostalgia I feel when picking up old records, but I have long since moved on to the convenience of digital, which got me to thinking what it would be like if I compared the two, so I did.

Sound Quality

Audiophiles will argue this should be the only comparison worth mentioning, but they shouldn't break their arms patting themselves on the back. Yes, older records -- particularly jazz -- sound superior on vinyl albums without question, assuming they have no scratches or defects, but the rise of digital gave way to an entire sonic shift in every kind of music from classical to industrial. Records cannot produce the frequencies digital can and the end result, if done well, can be pretty incredible (see: Nine Inch Nails). Unfortunately, it is not often done well. Besides, it sadly doesn't matter all that much to a generation weened on earbuds.

Advantage: Vinyl


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Sustainability

Storing vinyl takes a lot of space, but records are fairly easy to maintain. Put them in a sleeve and on a shelf and you're good to go. They can be lost in a fire or destroyed by any number of disasters, natural or otherwise, but so can virtually any physical item. Digital is easily stored on a hard drive and now in a cloud, but as anyone who has lost data can attest, it is very easy to lose.

Advantage: Push


Usability

This is one of those areas where the comparison is almost unfair. I grew up at a time when you carted armfuls of records to friends houses, loaded them one at a time onto record players and listened. There is a real joy in that process, but it isn't easy. Now, you can carry an entire collection of music on a device only slightly larger than a credit card and take it anywhere.

Advantage: Digital


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14 comments
Erik Peterson
Erik Peterson

You forgot one important factor...the experience. There's little to no experience with digital music, but vinyl is a different story. There's artwork, liner notes, a limited amount available, it's tangible and sometimes other goodies...all things that can not be duplicated by digital.

mgz
mgz

You forgot to take into account the resale value of vinyl. Most albums are pressed in much more limited numbers these days so they will manage to retain their value into the future. Try reselling your mp3s when you're tired of them..

Kristen R.
Kristen R.

As for "cost" - also note that with many vinyl purchases include a digital download code in the record sleeve.  I love this because it allows me to continue exclusively buying vinyl for home enjoyment, with the convenience of a digital copy when I'm on the go.

Craigley
Craigley

Here's a concept:  Buy vinyl and convert to digital.  

That's what I do.  

Jeff
Jeff

That's really the best of both worlds, simply having both. Unfortunately, with 3 moves in the last 3 years, if I had as much vinyl as I used to, I'd probably have melted it down and tried to sell it for scrap by now. :)

Phloyd
Phloyd

I am not sure the math is 100% spot on. Adele's 5.8 million copies is NOT 2-and-a-half times the vinyl sales number of 3.9 million vinyl records. Or did I miss something?

Jeff
Jeff

Thanks for catching that. I wrote that when I was working some other thought and then forgot to fix it. Fixed.

Rick
Rick

"Vinyl sold 3.9 million copies according to SoundScan and that is a formidable number considering it is quadruple over what it was just five years ago. But, by comparison, Adele's 21 sold 5.8 million CDs, about two-and-a-half times the total number of vinyl records sold by everyone."

True, but a viable reason or a vinyl playback system and collection is the billions of LP's and 45's already out there that weren't thrown off a balcony, but are available to hunt down in personal sales and used record stores like Cactus and online sellers such as Acoustic Sounds ( http://store.acousticsounds.co... ) and Elusive Disc ( http://www.elusivedisc.com/ ). Many of these recordings are not available in digital of any form. 

The key is to have both, and not to just act like an audiofool. That is coming from a guy who owned high end audio stores here in Houston (The Esoteric Ear/Esoterick) and still designs and manufactures exotic turntable systems (http://www.simphys.com/Pages/p..., linear air bearing tonearms, and record clamping devices ( simplyphysics - http://www.simphys.com/ )

Itstdl
Itstdl

nice site, Rick.  is all this manufactured and assembled in Houston ?

Rick
Rick

Yes. Components to the machined products like isolation devices and tonearms are all U.S. manufacturing. There are links to literature on that site, and the email goes direct to me.

Smedley
Smedley

...And what about reel to reel?

KING
KING

At the crib, vinyl. In the whip, digital.

Uncle Bernie
Uncle Bernie

My record collection topped out at about 300 albums.  I loved them...dearly.  Finally, about 5 or 6 years after I'd gotten a CD player and started amassing my collection of "tiny" discs I was moving out of a third floor walk up apartment and couldn't bear hauling all those albums through three flights of yet another move.  They ended up flying gleefully over the balcony and on to the sidewalk below and I've never turned back.  

I will say though that one thing I truly miss, and this is an experience that will never happen again is the bliss of spending hours in an incense-filled record/head shop flipping through endless bins of albums, reading the bacj covers and liner notes and getting my musical "education".  I still remember when Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic album first hit the stores and me asking the guy at the counter "is this any good" (I thought the cover looked really cool).  He said "based on the stuff you usually buy I think you'll really like that"...and then he took a draw off a "sweet" smelling glass pipe.  Ah, to be young and know the joy of discovery...(sighs wistfully).

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