Paper Late: vinyl vs CDs


Although I agree with the main thrust of Prog 94’s Paper Late article (In Praise Of The Humble CD), I’ve spent the last couple of years buying back most of my vinyl collection which was sold at car boot fairs in the late 80s. I do enjoy the experience of going round record fairs and hunting down more obscure artists. I also love the full-scale artwork, the sleeve notes and lyric sheets.

I own a manual turntable, so you have to be in the room to pick the needle up at the end of a side. This has forced me to do something I haven’t done for a long time, which is to sit in the room and listen to the whole album, rather than having stuff on in the background. I think some vinyl sounds warmer, but I admit it’s a subtle difference and I do wonder how much of this is just in my head. Certainly older recordings, such as the first two Yes albums, Yes and Time And A Word, sound really good, but could that be because they were recorded in an analogue world? However, I do find the scratches and pops really annoying and even modern vinyl suffers from that. I bought the new version of Colosseum’s Valentyne Suite and it’s really warped despite being on 180 gram vinyl. As for 45rpm LPs, the sound quality is better but the format means getting up every 10 minutes or so to turn the record over.

I admit there are other downsides; for starters, vinyl is very expensive in comparison to CDs. Compact discs are less likely to suffer from scratches and they also act as physical back-ups to streaming or downloads. Many of the more obscure artists I like aren’t even available on streaming sites, or if they are, I often find I end up picking and choosing individual tracks rather than listening to the album in full the way the artist intended. Streaming isn’t without its flaws either; many services only offer inferior MP3s and even my rock-deadened ears can spot an MP3 from a WAV or FLAC file.

To get the best of all worlds, I think vinyl producers should take a leaf out of InsideOut’s book. When I bought Riverside’s last album Wasteland on vinyl, there was a physical CD enclosed along with the record, which meant I could transfer the audio to my portable player at top quality as well as playing the CD itself in my car. However other labels don’t seem to have bought into the vinyl resurgence properly, which seems odd to me. Surely packaging LPs with a quality digital version reduces the risk of pirating and provides opportunity for a much higher mark up? Take note Van der Graaf Generator! The vinyl version of Do Not Disturb not only didn’t come with a download code but also contained fewer tracks than the CD. And don’t get me started on the abridged Merlin Atmos: Live Performances 2013 which was a big disappointment.

So I think there’s room for both CDs and vinyl, but as much as I love my records, I still use CDs more than any other format.

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