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