Your vinyl purist claptrap makes me sick


OK, perhaps I didn’t mean your vinyl purist claptrap.  More like, the vinyl purist claptrap of various people out there on the internet who do not read my blog, but will now hopefully stumble across it via a search engine and be extremely offended.

Here’s why your/their/somebody’s vinyl purist claptrap is a bunch of argle bargle.  I’m taking it point by point – all the usual pro-LP arguments, broken down for your easy digestion:

1. Sound quality is so much better.

No, it’s not.  (This is the kind of simple response you get when you make a really simple statement.  See how unsatisfying it is?  Here, I’ll do your work for you.)

1. rephrased: Vinyl has such a nice, warm, analog sound.  Digital is so COLD.

Response: That warmth you hear in a record is the sound of compromise.  You don’t realize it, but they actually didn’t invent record players with the intent of warming everything up like a nice bowl of Chunky Soup.  That’s just the technology compromising the raw sound.  (Same thing with tube amps, you guitar purists out there.  By the way, I actually agree with you guys: tubes ARE better.)  For an interesting discussion of what comprises “warmth,” check this out.  You’ll notice that most of what they’re talking about is stuff that is actually altering the original sound output in some way: overdrive, addition of noise, emphasis of certain harmonic frequences to the detriment of others, etc.  But you know what?  If you like that, you can artificially emulate it.  It’s not that hard if you know what you’re doing and have a little money to spend.

2. But digital sound has gaps between the samples!  That’s bad!  I can totally hear it and everything.

Response: No you can’t.  Don’t be ridiculous.  What you are saying you can do is beyond the capability of human hearing.  You remind me of those people who say they can tell the difference between mp3s encoded at 320 kbps and 256 kbps: those people, and you, are lying.  This is just a music snob arms race that was initiated by scientists letting us in on the secrets of what drives this technology.  If the general public didn’t know, you’d never hear one moron out there talking about how he can hear gaps in a sound that is running forty-four thousand samples per second in each stereo channel.

3. But it sounds better!

Response: This is a fake non-argument thrown in just so I can score another cheap point on you vinylheads.  Why are you unwilling to discuss the major setback of records, which is that even when brand new and played on a pristine, state-of-the-art system, they crackle noticeably?  When you talk about this at all, you write it off as not that intrusive, or even (at your most delusional) charming.  What it actually is, is sound that gets in the way of the music, and it’s only somewhat less annoying than that unmissed relic of the 80s, tape hiss.  A little crackle is tolerable (especially when listening to loud music, as this FBI agent often does out in the field), but throw in some snaps and pops, and you’ll see me reaching for my computer to bring up and order a shiny new CD to replace the offending vinyl.

4. You’re missing out on the best part of music listening: the ritual of inconvenience!  Taking out the record and gingerly laying it on that rubber mat while being careful not to bend or leave fingerprints on the sleeve is part of the experience.  It makes music-listening meaningful!

Response: I see.  Actually, I agree with you.  Here are the other things in life that would benefit from being less convenient and more ritualistic:

~ Going places.  Why do we bother with cars and roads?  We should walk, or use sled dogs.  Going to work meant more when it took two hours each way.

~ Talking to people.  Throw out that cell phone, unplug that land line – if we want to communicate, from now on we should have to be face to face.  Or write a letter, which will be delivered only by a courier on a horse.  Now that’s inconvenient!  That will make us appreciate the ritual of communication!

~ Eating.  Shut down the restaurants, close the grocery stores, and turn off that fridge.  From now on it’s all farms, gardens, firepits, and butter churns!  If I can’t make it myself in a period of no less than one growing season plus several days of back-breaking labor, I don’t want to eat it.

…End sarcasm.  As you can see, I have little tolerance for this line of reasoning.  If you like inconvenient rituals that’s fine, but let’s not pretend society is somehow worse because advances in technology make certain tasks take half as much time or less.  We are not Amish.  (Well, you may be, but I am emphatically not.) 


Just for the hell of it: the other side.  My favorite bit is “This means that, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave.”  (Of course, what’s true by definition is not necessarily true in your ears.)

That’s all I got.  Have a fine weekend, Diane.


9 Responses to Your vinyl purist claptrap makes me sick

  1. Shae says:

    Well. Now I’m not a vinyl purist or anything, and actually haven’t experimented enough to even know if I have a preference.

    On a related note, I am told that I can’t tell the difference between 6000 dpi printing and obsolete, analog (no dots) photo typsetting. I can. But is that a comparable situation? Is it the 44,000 verses the 6,000? I cannot pretend to know.

    However, back on the topic of vinyl, I have something to add on the charm of inconvenience, which I sort of agree with the purists on.

    It’s inconvenient to listen to the tracks of a record out of order or to listen to them intermingled with other albums. There’s something to be said for the argument that an album is a complete work of art that is intended to be listened to in order, especially when it’s a concept album. Or at least, that it used to be, back when it would be listened to that way.

    I like it as much as anyone when I hear Sinatra followed by Metallica and then Toots and the Maytals in my random music mix. I especially love it when the music player allows me to tweak my lists with preferences for how often I want to hear each track.

    However, I recall the days when I didn’t much like or notice the fourth song on the album, but put up with it, until eventually I learned it was amazing in its own way. Nowadays, I just skip it or give it a low rating. Something may be lost.

  2. as a vinyl purist – i would have to agree with most of this article – but some points are just not right.

  3. Shae – I agree with you on the idea of listening to whole albums, at least for artists who intend their albums to be listened to in that way (e.g. not Britney Spears). But I don’t mind leaving that choice in the hands of the consumer. In practice, even though my library is all digital now and can be random-accessed to death, I still listen to whole albums 90% of the time (and playlists or shuffle the other 10%). Let us not forget that you can always drop a needle anywhere on a record. True album purists would idealize the cassette, I’d imagine, since that format made it harder than any other to randomly pull up a specific song. For me, I like having the choice – though David Lynch and his chapter stop-free DVDs would disagree with me.

    Well hell, I suppose artists could always release unitrack CDs. Patton Oswalt’s “222” is two discs and two tracks – you listen to a monolith wall of comedy, or you don’t listen.

    About the dpi vs. samples per second in a wav – they are metaphorically comparable but probably not technically. Two different media, two different really big numbers, and two different sets of sensory organs. My general point there isn’t even that .wavs will sound just like vinyl – in fact they clearly will not, unless you rip vinyl to digital first and then tinker with your sound system to present them in a similar way (since an LP player’s circuitry differs from standard audio outs). Rather, my point is that there’s an idea out there that digital sounds inherently inferior to vinyl, and I think 99% of that comes from the fact that people know how a .wav file works its magic and have dreamed up a psychosomatic dislike as a result.

  4. themcp says:

    I like to listen to old music on vinyl. Some accounting of what the original source material was intended to be played on has to be made.

    Some albums that were mastered in the days of vinyl were mastered to sound good on that medium by people who had a very deep understanding of what the process of producing a physical record does to the sound of that record.

    I love that I can listen to my entire Bob Seger collection from my work computer via the magic of mp3 and the internet – but it really does sound better on my home stereo through my turntable.

    On the other hand – I wager that almost no new vinyl recorded since the rise of the CD sounds better on a turntable… since digital production has become standard. Music is now recorded to take advantage of the clarity and sonic range of a digital format. Music recorded digitally should stay that way.

    I think it’s cute when I see a big-name current star put something out on vinyl – because you know it was mastered digitally (and recorded with Pro Tools), and you just know that they didn’t redo the thing to make it to sound good on a record. It’s just a way to get you to spend money on it.

    Mediums have their strengths and limitations. Modern production lets you layer to your heart’s content… because you don’t loose clarity as distortion and tape hiss creeps in.

    If I were recording an album with lots of tracks and a thick mix today… obviously I’d use a computer. It’s just so much harder (and more expensive) to do a huge mix analog than it is digital.

    But if I wanted to record a solo folk album of just voice and guitar… or wanted to record a small band live… and I had lots of money… I’d hire an engineer that really understood those old production techniques (and had some really great microphones) and I’d go straight to tape.

  5. Ryan says:

    Dude, no unitrack CDs. Prince did that with “Lovesexy” – annoys the piss out of me.

  6. […] an old subject (wink wink), but I feel like I’ve done you a great disservice.  In my post ripping the LP a new one, I somehow neglected to mention the biggest problem with the […]

  7. DJN says:

    Everyone is in titled to their own opinion, and are in titled to voice their own opinion conversely forcing your opinion on others to the extent that you have closed the door on any argument to the contrary makes you ignorant and an a**. That’s pretty much the point to this blog. There’s nothing wrong with the ritual of playback or the awe inspiring psycho acoustical phenomenon that is hearing. As a point of irony I used to, through an extremely elongated process, digitize vinyl using an ultra slow turntable then once digital would speed it back up to normal speed, cut out any signal above 18 K and compress it to 256kps mp3. The result was no Pop, distortion or rumble but that track sounded warmer and better than any other version you ever heard! So I do laugh at the missing bits theory.
    It truly is a person preference and great blog!

  8. Diane, your vinyl purist claptrap makes ME sick, too!
    Music has NEVER been recorded on vinyl, always on tape. Listen to the tape and see how the sound REALLY is, crisp clean and clear (and put on CDS), not snappy, crackly and poppy like that sugar-coated vinyl hogwash!
    You call that WARMTH? So you like your music COOKED rather than the way both I and everyone else who swears by CDs likes it, RAW!
    Vinyl LPs don’t have a TRUER sound than CDs, they have a BLUER sound than CDs! CDs sound GOOD and last almost a lifetime, whereas LPs eventually get worn out and scratchy, then whatcha gonna do? Your problem is that you an overconservative pseudo-audiophile who can’t handle the truth!

  9. Paola Raitt says:

    Someone dropped a link to your blog on Twitter and that is where I first found your site. I fancy the way you write and I am going to subscribe to read more whenever I can. Oh yeah, are you on Twitter yet?

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