Greetings, enlightened readers. Back in April, a shameful piece of misinformation slipped through the editorial cracks here at MakeUseOf. My colleague Matt expressed the highly dubious opinion that vinyl is in some way superior to digital music.
I’m here to correct that grave error. Digital is clearly superior to vinyl for many reasons, some of which being the same reasons my colleague erroneously suggested benefits the aging physical format.
1. Your Taste in Music Will Improve
Ask an art critic what their favourite painting is and they won’t say the Mona Lisa. Instead, they’ll likely tell you a personal tale about a certain piece by a lesser-known artist and how it speaks to them.
Vinyl proponents, like our own Matt Hughes, seems to think that liking the Pixies, or other bands such as The Beatles, whose records fill the shelves of secondhand stores, is somehow an indicator of good taste. Instead it just demonstrates that you like the Mona Lisas of music.
If you don’t like the Pixies or The Beatles then you’re a heathen, but if either of them is your favorite band then you simply lack imagination. Good taste is not a matter of liking what everyone else likes, it’s about understanding and appreciating what you like.
Advocates for vinyl also argue that record fans are discerning listeners, however, they’re flipping correlation and causality — you need to be a discerning listener and a massive music fan to bother with records at all; but you don’t need to buy records to be a discerning listener. The only thing buying records shows is nostalgia for the Top 40 bands of a different era. Taste? I think not.
If you truly want to develop your taste and appreciation of music then digital is the best way to do it. With services like Spotify and the redesigned Last.fm you can explore more styles and genres than ever before.
You can also get recommendations from experts and your favorite artists rather than a bearded 40-year-old man called Greg who wears “vintage” T-shirts and still lives with his mum because his record store doesn’t turn enough of a profit for him to move out.
2. All You Need, When You Need It
Some say record buying is an experience. You know what is also an experience? Plummeting to your death. Ask someone who’s just come back from a parachute jump if they enjoyed it and they’ll often say “it was an experience” — it’s now the word of choice for describing those things that are supposedly fun but which all sane people end up hating every second of. So yes, buying music from a record store really is an experience.
Much better than walking into some dingy little shop (after trekking there on public transport or, God forbid, driving and paying for parking) is to sit at home in a comfy chair, think about what music would most fit your current mood, and, using the power of the Internet, get to listen to it in mere moments.
Rather than choosing from a small selection of albums, you have the entirety of the world’s musical output to pull from.
3. Digital Sounds Better
How to recreate the sound of a record player using your smartphone: 1. Start playing your favorite song. 2. Pick up an empty bag of chips (crisps) and rustle it next to your ear. Congratulations, you’ve now recreated the wonderful crackle of vinyl for a fraction of the cost of a record player.
As this piece on vinyl myths, linked to by commenter Adam, breaks down, “despite decades of arguments, there is no technical proof of the sonic superiority of the vinyl medium compared to CD.”
Even though most digital audio is compressed, you need to be using extremely good audio equipment to tell the difference as long as the bitrate of the track is high enough. Your grandma’s old record player isn’t high quality audio equipment. Listening to a track at 320 kbs on Spotify through your iPhone and a good pair of headphones is going to sound a lot better, and comes without the annoying hiss.
You’ll also notice I said most digital audio is compressed. If you’re a serious audiophile you can download lossless FLAC files.
4. Vinyl Is a Terrible Investment
Streaming services like Spotify are killing the concept of owning media but for some reason vinyl aficionados are convinced that their record collection is a solid investment, or at worst, a legacy for their children. I know Matt can spot a bad investment opportunity when he sees one, so how he could believe this myth is a mystery to me.
While some rare vinyls are indeed collectables, nothing you buy in your local second-hand store is ever going to sell for more than you paid. That old copy of The White Album is about as rare and collectable as a signed Terry Pratchett novel.
Leaving your record collection to your children is an even worse idea. The odds of them liking your music are pretty slim. Ask your kids right now. They probably think Justin Bieber is cool, but have never heard of the Eagles. Therefore, your oh-so-wonderful stack of hand-me-down vinyl is going to be nothing more than a set of oversized drinks coasters that will likely end up in landfill.
Face It, Digital Is The Future
Arguing over music formats is almost certainly pointless, but let’s be honest, digital is where it’s at. With streaming services you can listen to whatever music you want, whenever you want to, wherever you want to. I would love to see someone try that with a record player.
The only thing records are good for are as weapons against zombies… with Spotify playlists providing the soundtrack. So what do you think? Are you a vinyl aficionado or a digital fanatic? Let us know in the comments below which format you consider to be superior.