The Endless Digital Versus Vinyl Debate

Digital Versus Vinyl

Getting music geeks in a room together is inevitably going to lead to arguments. Getting them to debate about whether digital recordings are better than vinyl recordings is sometimes a veritable recipe for disaster.

Many people who aren’t especially big music fans are probably under the impression that the vinyl versus digital debate has completely fallen out of favor today, and that taking the side of vinyl in that debate automatically marks you out as an older person who is hopelessly behind the times. In fact, vinyl has experienced a drastic resurgence in the twenty-first century.

Compact disks, or CDs, sold well for a time, but they never stopped attracting controversy from the people who insisted that they would never be able to measure up to vinyl records in terms of their sound. CD album sales hit a peak in 2001, after decades of development, and they have dropped by an astonishing 80 percent since then.

The music industry is in an interesting position at the moment. On the one hand, many people are enthusiastically streaming and downloading music, which indicates that the digital sound of music is prevailing. On the other hand, millions of people are now purchasing LPs. The artists who promote their digital songs are also trying to make them sound as much like vinyl recordings as possible, and the notion that a song sounds like it was recorded on a vinyl record is treated as a huge selling point.

One thing is certain about this debate: vinyl recordings sound different than digital recordings. Some people might try to dismiss this debate by saying that people are arguing over very minor differences in sound quality in the manner of wine experts arguing about differences that you would have to be a wine expert to even perceive. Most people are able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital recordings immediately. They produce very different sounds.

The moment anything can be described as distinctly different from something else, some people will be rushing to argue that one thing is better than the other. Then there will be the people in the excluded middle who will argue that both of these things are good, and that one is simply different from the other. Certainly, people exist on all three sides of the debate with regards to vinyl recordings and digital recordings, even as the line between them is starting to blur.

What people should know is that digital recordings were initially devised by sound engineers who wanted to make them as accurate as possible. They wanted to make sure that what people would hear during live music shows would manage to make it into the recordings that they would then purchase. Vinyl recordings are objectively less accurate than digital recordings, and they have been since the early days of digital recordings. CDs are more accurate than LPs, and LPs are less accurate than many of the audio recordings that people will hear on YouTube, even if those YouTube audio recordings aren’t of the best quality.

Vinyl recordings manage to add additional textures to the sounds that people hear, and a lot of people like the extra qualities that vinyl records manage to add to their favorite songs. People aren’t paying for accuracy, so to speak, when they are trying to pay for vinyl recordings of new songs. They are specifically looking for that vinyl sound quality. To a certain extent, you could think of that vinyl sound quality as being an additional instrument in its own right, given the importance that a lot of people attach to it.

Vinyl comes with a unique type of analog sound distortion. Some people would say that this genuinely weakens the quality of the music that is being played, since people are hearing the way the vinyl is interacting with other devices, and they are not hearing anything that the musician definitely intended to use to create the sound. Of course, some musicians encourage people to listen to their songs in the form of vinyl records, so it certainly all depends.

Ultimately, the question of whether vinyl recordings sound better than purely digital recordings is going to be answered on an individual basis. The music world is never going to reach a consensus on this. As the line between vinyl and digital recordings begins to blur, thanks to the possibility of replicating the vinyl sound digitally, it still isn’t clear that there’s going to be any sort of consensus.

Fortunately, music geeks have more options than ever before when it comes to the songs that they’ll listen to, the styles that are available, and the formats that they will choose when they listen to what they like. People can listen to almost anything they want in vinyl today, and they can listen to digital versions just as surely. There is plenty of consumer demand for both versions, and people don’t have to worry about voting with their dollars. They are sure to be able to get the products that they want one way or another

Posted under Sound Engineering