News flash: The world is round and vinyl records are flat
Rapper B.o.B. has made news lately—no, not for his music; that ain’t happening—for loudly proclaiming that the world is flat and that all scientific claims to the contrary are part of a giant, centuries-long conspiracy. (To accomplish what, exactly, B.o.B. is unclear.)
But that’s not the only resurrection of old, dead ideas coming out of the music industry these days. There’s another, even wackier notion, and this one is growing in popularity every day. I’m talking about the return of vinyl records.
Vinyl is all the rage again—the newest badge of hipster honor. At first it just seemed like a nostalgic novelty, like hanging a distressed transit sign on your wall. But now it’s getting out of hand. All over the place, I’m hearing with increasing frequency how vinyl is superior to digital recordings—warmer, with greater frequency response, more “real.”
If this trend has you jazzed, I hate to break it to you but vinyl sucks. Always has. Always will. (Actually, I don’t hate breaking it to you at all. I kinda like it. It brings almost as much satisfaction as would clocking B.o.B. with that giant globe from my 3rd grade geography class.) Just like it’s scientifically impossible for the world to be flat, it is equally impossible for vinyl to sound better—unless you like the sound of hiss, crackles, and pops.
Vinyl record technology is based on a needle scraping along a groove with minute variations that make the needle vibrate and allow the record player to electrically translate those vibrations into sound. The needle in the groove is kind of like a car traveling along a street. But once you factor in dust, shmutz and the inevitable wear and tear to both the vinyl and the initially razor-sharp needle that rapidly becomes dull as a thimble, then that sleek car gliding down a pristine street becomes more like a bulldozer plowing a potholed highway littered with boulders, debris and roadkill.
It may feel authentic to eschew anything digital as being cold, inhuman or lifeless, but that’s an emotional response, not a reality. The truth is that digital recordings are the real, original sound as faithfully reproduced as is technologically possible. True, MP3s compress sound in a slightly detrimental way, but they don’t introduce anything approaching the layer of aural crud that vinyl inflicted on our ears for nearly a century. Don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone in the recording business.
Being old enough to remember vinyl, I do miss one thing about it—the things in which those manhole covers were packaged… record jackets. (Cue heavenly choir.) Those were awesome. Big, 12’-square works of art often filled with goodies like posters and giant, full-color photo booklets. You didn’t need a magnifying glass to read the text and the jacket itself took on creative shapes and formats like gatefolds and mixed-media collages. Hell, the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” even had a zipper sewn into the cover. If you’re under 40, you really missed something in album covers.
But to bring back vinyl just to re-experience the packaging is like trying recapture the carefree innocence of high school by promoting acne.
Vinyl is dead, and good riddance. And by the way, so is film, tape, black & white television, and the hand-cranked car engine. If jumping aboard the vinyl renaissance gives you a smile, go for it. Just don’t tell me it sounds better than digital. Some people’s heads may be flat, but the earth is not.