This is a follow-up on the old post I put up about Neil Young and the way music sounds.
Through a small stroke of luck I’ve begun stepping into the world of vinyl records. I have a Fisher turntable and a Pioneer receiver – coupled with a Realistic stereo preamp 1 – that came included with the house we bought two years ago, and a set of speakers that I bought second hand from Mez, Opium Winter’s drummer.
I don’t know too much detail wise about each item. I do know that the Pioneer receiver wigs out if you plug anything HDMI into it, so it’s now only used for audio via RCA jacks. The turntable turns and the speakers sound great and I’ve no intention to go down the rabbit hole that is audiophile nerdery.
The records I have so far is a small collection of old vinyl from my parents house, some freebies handed to me from friends and two that I’ve purchased in the past few months. Listening to them recently has been an experience to say the least.
My kids are not overly interested in records mostly because they can’t fathom the idea of not having any song they want at their fingertips. Understandable considering they’re growing up as part of the Spotify generation. With records you can’t search for music, you can’t easily skip tracks, and (gasp!) you can’t create playlists. Taking a big disk out of a sleeve, placing it on a machine, moving the arm into position and, well, yeah. It’s not their cup of tea.
Then there is the thing about the “sound” of vinyl. A lot of people out there have REALLY. BIG. FEELS. about the “sound” of vinyl. It’s warmer. It’s clearer. It’s….
“Daddy, is it supposed to sound like bacon frying?” my 11 year old asked me when I put on an old Simon and Garfunkel record.
Here is the thing. Yes, this album is an orignal copy of Bookends that my mom bought brand new in 1968. It has no protective paper sleeve and wasn’t really treated with the classic audiophile reverence. But it’s pretty annoying to hear that good, ol’ snap crackle and pop on top of the music you’re trying to enjoy. The newer records I have aren’t as bad, but it’s still there, no matter how faint. And if you have a really awesome system, it only accentuates the crackling.
Then there was the look on her face when the needle skipped.
This brings me to the overall sound of records. Pro-vinyl people will tell you that you hear more on records than you do compared to their digital counterparts. They’re “clearer” or something. I admit that listening to Born In The USA at a decent volume, I picked up little things I never noticed before and I started to believe that maybe, just maybe there was something to this. Then I realized that I was listening on a pretty kick ass stereo setup and I’ve never had that privilege before now. Just to be sure, I hooked up my computer to the receiver, pulled up Born In The USA on Spotify and it sounded just as good. No frying bacon though.
In the end, I can argue the merits of digital and the shortcomings of vinyl, but I won’t. I’ll admit that I’ve been enjoying listing to records. There are aspects of vinyl albums that I prefer over digital. I enjoy the large, lovely jackets (I used to hang these on my wall when I was a young’un). I like the idea that I have to choose from a limited selection so I don’t waste time searching through untold millions of songs in order to find something I want to listen to. Going forward I’m only going to buy two types of vinyl: The first is specific albums from specific artists that I know I will listen to over and over again and the second is from local or underground bands that I like who offer albums as merch. I loath CD’s and the fact that a band decided to release an album tells me that the band/artist in question really enjoys and believes in what they’re doing.
I’m not getting rid of digital. Not by a long shot. Besides the fact that records are obviously, absolutely not portable, I’m not going to buy every single album based on songs on my playlists. Another reason I love digital is that I have been burned so many times by liking a single, only to fork over cash and have the full album completely suck. Try before you buy is where digital really shines.
What I won’t be doing though is engaging in audiophile dick swinging. Music that you love sounds good no matter what. Remember, it’s the song that counts. If the song is shitty, then it’s shitty no matter the format. If there is a song you don’t like, you’re never going to like it regardless if it’s on vinyl, CD, or Spotify.
If you love that song though … man. You’ll listen to it no matter if it sounds full, pristine and clear, or hollow, crackly, warbled and hollow.
1: Talk about a blast from my past. Realistic was (is?) the store brand for Radio Shack. We no longer have these in Canada, they were replaced by The Source sometime in 2010. Back in the day though, I had:
- A Realistic “walkman” with a three band EQ which sounded amazing but would break if you simply looked at it the wrong way.
- A cheap microphone. Well, actually I went through at least three of these over the late 80’s-early 90’s.
- A buddy of mine had one of these dual tape deck portable players. We used it to create “radio plays” and remix songs. Our greatest creation was editing the song “It’s Only Love” so when the “over and over and over…” part hits, it repeats enough to fill the entire side of a 90 minute cassette. We flipped it over and continued looping “over and over” on side B until there was about a minute and a half left, then we let the song finish. It was glorious.