Matt is a professional engineer by trade and an amateur audiophile by night. I between, I’m usually searching for a better cup of coffee.
"What's the deal with vinyl?”
I recently had a friend ask why I still bother with records.
What about them was so special that I keep (and continue to grow) my collection?
The dreaded, "WHATS THE DEAL", question.
I have to admit I hadn’t put much effort into the why....I just knew that I did.
After stumbling around the obligatory comments about sounding better, I decided to try again and put some words to my response.
Looking back, I’ve been a record collector for years. Blissfully unaware and doing my thing until the realization that “most people don’t do this” hit me.
Fast forward through many months of a pandemic and I can now say that if 2020 had any silver lining, it was time.
Time to listen.
Time to expand my collection, but also time to examine the “why” and get a better articulated reason for why I prefer those vinyl discs more than other forms of music. I can’t be the only one who does.
Put down the Light Beer!
Turns out I wasn't the only one. In fact, record sales have been steadily increasing over the years with 2020 seeing the first year since the 80's that vinyl outsold CD's.
A "Vinyl Renaissance".
That still doesn't answer the "why", so let me give it a crack.
- First and most obviously, the sound. There is just something about the faint hiss and crackle going on in the back of a song that gives it a depth. It's akin to hearing the guitarist's fingers faintly sliding along strings in a song. Though not technically part of the music, it adds to the whole. It makes it more.
- There are those that argue that a record is never a true recording of music. That it is an always changing sound; subtly distorting with wear and temperature and humidity. They claim that those background sounds are flaws in the recording and that deeming worth to them is an attempt by your mind to nostalgically attribute value to imperfections.
In my mind, at least, those people can choke on their light beer and mayonnaise sandwiches .
To me, a vinyl recording is as close to being in the room with the musician as we will get. It also happens to be a million miles from the auto-tune digital monsters that we get introduced to these days.
But this is the superficial argument.
The real story is in the record itself.
- I enjoy these records as entities that have a history all to themselves. A few in my collection have been with me for years, carried around as treasured possessions. Slowly spinning in the living room of my youth, or later as decorations in my college apartment (at least their covers), or even later stacked away in the back of a closet under my own children's things.... and finally as a pleasant distraction in a pandemic. To stop and think that a 50 yr old record has been in other places and played for other people, it makes me appreciate that each album has its own, mostly unknown, history. I personally have albums that once belonged to my father, my mother, to my In-laws, as well as strangers from places I will never know. I have picked them up from libraries thinning their collections, from chain stores, from local "hole in the wall" places that instead of being quirky anachronisms were once simply referred to as record shops.
Put the needle on the record
Imperfections And All
- Lastly, and by no means least, records are a portal to another time. If treated well, a vinyl record can last more than a lifetime so you can easily enjoy the sounds from decades past. I have an odd looking purple Audograph disc (look it up) that contains a recording of the mundane conversations from my grandfather's law practice. I'm certain at the time he had no clue that decades later his grandson would be listening, but that's the point. The recordings are clips of the artist - frozen in time just as they happened. Like a moment frozen in amber to be admired for what it is.....imperfections and all.
Vinyl records are delicate immortals who offer their own unique voice. By simply dragging a stylus across the winding grooves in their surface, you activate a time machine; A portal through which they simultaneously transport you to not only what the artist intended you to hear, but how that actual moment in time was experienced. They are windows to another world and another life, and they make me look forward to being able to listen again.
By comparison, digital works seem hollow and lifeless, but I'll leave that decision up to you.
Spin The Platter
© 2021 Matt Stone