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Format Wars; What’s Better?

I attended the JD Set in Lynchburg, Tennessee last week, and very fun it was too. As part of the junket freebies we were given vinyl copies of Hugh Cornwell’s new album. Later at the Press Conference, Tim Wheeler from Ash expounded on their decision to stop releasing CD’s. When asked if this meant the band would only release new music in digital form he replied no, but that if they were releasing it in a physical format it would be vinyl, ‘something really beautiful that people appreciate’.

Vinyl was the format of my childhood, CD that of my teens and like most people nowadays, the mp3 appears to be the main way I listen to my music in the noughties. All have their good points. Vinyl looks great, the cover art is fully realised and there is something terribly romantic about those black discs these days. CD’s are easy, have decent sound and flicking between tracks is a doddle (good news for an ADD-addled listener such as myself.) mp3’s are immediate; hear a song on the radio, purchase it within seconds, jobs done.

But all have minuses too – vinyl scratches and is tough to transport around; CD’s have compression issues; and mp3’s are poorer sound quality. So what determines which one is the best? Do vinyl aficionados really think the sound is better?

Neil Young had an interesting argument for this. When, he asked a journalist, was the last time you sat with your headphones on, maybe a few beers or something to smoke, and listened to an album over and over and over again? Years ago, said the journo. Young’s conclusion was that with the CD (digital) you got the sound and that was it. With vinyl (analogue), he reckoned, you discovered something else on every play.

I’ve been drawn towards starting buying vinyl again recently. I’ve been telling myself it’s because of Young’s argument, but deep down I think it is because vinyl looks great and I’m a bit of a ponce. There’s also the fact I miss tracking down rare albums, like I did when I was a kid. Now you just go to iTunes and BOOM, there it is, you’ve got the collected outtakes of Ron Geesin.

I know we have a few audiophiles out there in ELM land, so let me know; what’s the best way to appreciate a toon? And, more importantly, why?

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8 Responses

  1. I’m a cd buyer that wants to go back to vinyl, but I can’t afford a decent set up at the moment. But if I could magic the lot into records then I would.

    Music does sound better on vinyl – the cleanliness of cd is too sterile, I like a bit of weathering and hiss behind my songs. The thing I really like about it is when you play records, that’s all your doing. The oversized clunkiness of the whole affair means you’re not able to do anything else. It’s good to focus in on it.

    Mp3s are a designed for mobility, and this has naturally led to a lot of overcompression and phony loudness in music – otherwise fine records have been slaughtered by horrible mastering, and some horrible songs have been boosted by it. The Killers sound like a collapsing factory and make my ears sting, but they might just be bearable if the records weren’t brick walled in that fashion.

  2. Vinyl is great to look at/listen to but likewise, I find it difficult and very expensive to replace my (older) Technics stylus and am not equipped financially to buy a new turntable. CD’s get my vote as the sound is way better than mp3 and you cannae chop a line on the cover of an mp3!

  3. I buy all of my music on CD still, and tranfer it on to an MP3 player for portability only. I love CDs – I love flicking through them in the shop, perusing the accompanying sleeve, getting the little CD sized bag when you buy it (especially when you buy more than one at a time), listening to an entire album end to end.

    Its not the format as such, its the experience. I love albums. I love hearing someones collection of music as they intended. Most of my favorite songs are album tracks – familiarised and befriended through endless listens to an album on repeat whilst I read or work or drive.

    But the MP3 has robbed me of my attention span, and I frequently find myself flicking past songs on player – even before I have fully realised what it was, and this annoys me.

    The way we are encouraged to buy songs robs you of the joy of the “growers” on an album – all those tracks you had to listen to 3 or 4 times to truly appreciate, but that you listen to long after you interest int eh instant songs you bought the album for has waned.

    I say die itunes, die. Long live the album (it will in my house, any way).

  4. I prefer vinyl and have a decent turntable, but agree with good god man that an album should be listened to as it was programmed by the band, so even CD does fine. Attention spans are getting shorter, and sadly albums are under threat as people now ‘grab’ the singles and ignore the rest. Also people seem less willing to listen to ‘growers’ – anything from a film to a book to a song has to be instant or its discarded as ‘boring’. This is the worst crime a thing can commit these days.

  5. I like the total package – when artwork, track listing and running order all come together in perfect harmony.

  6. I buy CDs and then put them onto my puter and then off I go etc
    I used to buy vinyl but since I moved away from home and no longer have /or can afford a record player, I just keep the vinyl for the day when I can which will hopefully be soon.
    The very setup of vinyl makes me listen to a whole album as opposed to most of my cds where I just skip tracks.

    Favourite vinyl I own: Dark Side of The Moon- sounds even better if you listen to it in the dark, start to finish. And I agree with bertrand d’oyle carte when he said:

    “Also people seem less willing to listen to ‘growers’ – anything from a film to a book to a song has to be instant or its discarded as ‘boring’. This is the worst crime a thing can commit these days.”

    I haven’t brought many albums recently where I can honestly say I frequently listen to them back to back. Is the quality going down hill or is my mind getting in tune with the ‘boring’ mentality? Hope not!

    I’m not against MP3’s although they can be lacking quality which is why I buy mostly CDs.

    PS I almost bought the new Herman Dune album on vinyl the other day, I picked up the record, held it for a moment and then returned it to the shelf and moved on. Maybe I should rebuild my vinyl collection ready for when I do get a player.

  7. I buy all three. The Neil Young comment is interesting. I would have said it was because music was more cherished in the old days. If you wanted to listen to your favourite song anywhere that wasn’t on TOTP or on the radio you had to go and buy the record. And records were expensive. If I saved up and bought one I played it to death. It tooks me years to build up a vinyl collection of probably less than 100 albums but I was dead proud of it. When CDs came in I remained faithful to vinyl for years – I don’t think I bought my first CD player until about 1995. Then I had to buy my entire record collection again on CD.

    Now I live in a world of iTunes. When my iTunes library accidently got moved on my PC and 16gb of songs had to be re-imported, de-duplicated and all my playlists re-built I actually cried with frustration.

    So yes I would love to have a sound system that will play all my vinyl, but I know for certain that I could not live without my iPod.

  8. A lot of good points Adrian. Very close (ie I agree) to what I feel.

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