Vinyl Or Cd The Age Old Debate

Essay, Research Paper

At the beginning of the last decade of the Twentieth century a new media for the storage and playback of music came into the picture. The compact disc was a phenomenon of sorts, causing people to completely rebuild record collections that had taken years to build. It was a situation of, “out with the old in with the new.” There seemed to be no place for the vinyl records that had been so true to so many for so long. Compact discs do have several benefits over the vinyl records of the past, but there is also something about a record on vinyl that sets it apart from its digital counterpart.

Convenience is likely the most noticeable benefit that compact discs have over vinyl records. They are easily stored in a binder or on a small shelf. You can load some stereos up with several at a time and have continuous play of music for hours with out having to deal with changing anything. The compact disk also brought the concept of quality sound out of the home and into the cars and walkways of the world, something the cassette never quite managed to do. Essentially for the busy lifestyle that was embodied by the nineties in America the compact disc made sense convenience wise.

Before too long the major record companies stopped producing vinyl releases of many of the albums they released in favor of the new cheaper to produce compact discs. Less and less could you buy new releases on vinyl and even more rarely could you buy reissues of older albums. If you wanted to listen to new music or a copy of past favorite you were left with compact disc as the only quality choice. Therefore availability of new music became a strong benefit of compact discs.

Another commonly mentioned benefit of compact discs is there durability and easy of care. You can play a compact disc millions of times and it will sound the same

each and every time. They are susceptible to scratches and finger prints, but both are easily avoided thru proper cleaning and handling.

Of course one of the commonly referred to advantages of vinyl is the care for the records themselves. As Walter L. Olean states in the Vinyl Verbals section of the Dragon Discs’ website, “Listening Is An Act Of Accomplishment. When I clean the record, clean the stylus, adjust all other turntable settings, and then coax a great sound from the recording, I feel a clear sense of accomplishment Listening on this level isn`t passive. I`ve been involved in the process. Life is good.”(Olean 1999) The whole experience can end up being very aesthetic to the point where you almost have a part in the music you are listening to.

Another benefit that vinyl has, at least in reference to the music of the past, is that most music before the late eighties was recorded using analog recording equipment, and vinyl records are a form of analog playback. In the world of analog sound is recorded directly onto the medium in which it will be stored. In contrast for digital recording the sound is converted into data that is then stored on the chosen medium, and must be reconverted to be played back. It can be argued that because it is an interpretation of the sound being recorded and not the sound itself that it loses some of its original character, even if the result is an “exact” copy of the sound produced.

With vinyl records a large portion of the analog character is kept simply because it is the sounds themselves that are used to create the grooves of the record. Further more each individual record over time begins to develop a personality of its own. This is in much the same as if you were to compare the sound of musical instruments built by the same person from the same materials. Both instruments will have unique characteristics that even though they look identical they have small differences. Records over time can develop small scratches that can be heard on playback and ultimately become part of the listening experience.

Ultimately it comes down to the sound itself. To many people music on compact disc has a crisp dry edge that sounds somewhat cold and unfeeling. Not to say that the music is cold and unfeeling but that the sound lacks what the philosopher Wittgenstein described as, “how a clarinet sounds.”(Wittgenstein 1953, 36) Most recordings on vinyl are able to keep at least some of this tonal texture thru the essence of the analog recording process.

Compact discs do have many advantages over vinyl records the most prevalent being their convenience, but if the sound quality is the most important aspect of the music than vinyl records in some way have a better ability to capture the true richness of recordings actually recorded using analog technology. So in the respect of listening to jazz of the past, or classic rock there is very little contest to many searching for the true feeling of the music. The vinyl record has a place in the world of the compact disc if only for the occasional intensely introspective listen to the music you love the most.

Backus, John. 1969. The Acoustical Foundations of Music. New York: W.W. Norton

& Company, Inc.

Cogan, Robert. 1984. New Images of Musical Sound. Cambridge: Harvard University


Olean, Walter L. 1999. The Timeless Debate Over Whether Vinyl is Superior to CDs

[website]. Dragon Discs (

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. New York: Macmillan


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