Why I Just Can't Get Into Vinyl
by, 09-23-2012 at 09:48 AM (1691 Views)
So…chances are this is a pretty safe post, here; after all…we are in the warm embrace of the Computer Audiophile populous (although I know some forums, where this message would be met with great debate…and I might even invite a few of those “friends” here, so we’ll see if all stays quiet). But I just can’t get into the seeming resurgence of Vinyl playback.
Trust me…I’ve been tempted; and thought about it, a LOT. But because I’ve thought about it a lot, I know exactly why it just doesn’t resonate with me. I find it to be an interesting insight, on our approach to the hobby in general…so I thought I might share:
First: I’m the guy. Take a look; I’m 44, which means I was 17 when the CD came of age in 1984-85. Sure, players had been out for a few years prior to that…but this was the year they broke the sub-$1k barrier. I know, because I worked 2 jobs that summer vacation…to save up for my first CD player, the Technics SL-P2! Hell, I was buying CDs before I even had the player to play them…lol.
So, I’m exactly the guy the digital revolution was aimed at. I was BIG into music, and even “stereos” at that point; such as I could be, with my limited means. I read Stereo Review religiously, and had a kick-ass car system (because that I could afford). We know now…in hindsight…the promise of “perfect sound forever” wasn’t exactly the truth; especially in 1985. But I wasn’t already an established “audiophile”…with a Linn LP12 and Mark Levinson phono pre-amp. In other words, my record playback was of the scratchy, skipping, shitty kind…lol; so CDs were a HUGE leap forward for a guy like me. Hell, even cassettes…shitty as they were…were better than Vinyl, because there were no skips and scratches (just wow and flutter…lol).
So...CDs were right in my wheelhouse, and man did I embrace the medium. I must have amassed about 1,000 Silver discs, before the advent of the CD-R; and when that happened…ALL hell broke loose, lol. At its “worse” (and yes, it became almost a compulsion…the same way some guys collect more Vinyl than they could ever listen to in a lifetime…I had somewhere between 4-5,000 discs, among the Silver, Blue, and Green discs.
Now, that sprawling of a collection…also made me the perfect candidate for disc-less playback; and when that came across my radar, I took to it with the same kind of gusto. I was an early adopter, and remain an enthusiastic one. The point is; that’s one reason I can’t get into Vinyl. The CD and digital playback is so engrained in me, and I never had a chance to have a romance with Vinyl playback to begin with. To me, it represented shitty fidelity; and I guess…even with all the strides, and big, big-buck gear available…I just can’t get into the idea that Vinyl is truly “better” than digital.
Which brings me to point number-two: is Vinyl playback…even by the enthusiasts who profess it to be so…really “better”? I contend no. Again, if it’s the sound you grew up with; fell in love with…the way I did CDs. Well, of course you might prefer it. It feels like home; feels right…sounds “right”. The same way I never had a chance to get to know really good Vinyl playback…if you were already there, you probably never gave CDs much of a fair shake. In hindsight, we probably can assume now…that really good Vinyl playback, probably did kick CDs ass…then. Bad masterings, 16/44.1 brick-walls, and the like. But there is just no way…and again, I feel totally safe saying this here…that hot wax and lathe can be a “better”, more accurate medium than the CD. Now, sound isn’t only about what measures better…or is supposed to be better; we’ve all moved beyond that notion. But again, my point is that those who prefer the sound of Vinyl, are probably just accustomed to it.
The third reason I think some gravitate toward Vinyl; is what I like to call the “fetish” of it. The word I always hear from those…defending Vinyl against Digital, is that it’s more “involving”. Well, on that point…I might wholly concede; and we are looking for “involving” in our music playback, right? But is it more “involving” because of its sound…the medium; or is it because of us, the user?
“Involving” is the right word, because Vinyl playback certainly is “involved”, lol. To start with, you have to browse through your collection: you pull your finger over the spines of hundreds or even thousands of slip-covers, trying to decide which wax-cylinder to pull. And yes, it’s an important decision…because you’re pretty committed to that choice (more on that in a minute). You carefully extract the LP, probably go through a pretty religious cleaning ritual; carefully drop rosewood-box cartridge stylus…deep into pristine, 200g virgin-waxy groove (yes, it is almost sexual). You sit back and listen carefully and captively, for the next 20-30 minutes; because guess what…you don’t have much choice, do you? Lol
If that’s a reason for the Vinyl guys to like it better; I get that argument. I’m a cigar-smoker, and one of the things I like about that hobby…is it requires my attention, much in the same way. There’s a ritual about lighting properly, and a cigar holds your attention for that hour or so (depending on the size). For someone who has trouble letting the stresses of life melt away, I can relax when smoking a cigar…because it is also “involving” (as opposed to say cigarettes, which thankfully I don’t smoke. If you think about cigarettes…they are not “involving” at all. Cigarette smokers almost prefer to light up when they’re doing something else. Maybe that’s the way Vinyl guys see digital...especially disc-less playback; as like the “cigarettes” of mediums, because it demands so little of our attention, lol). Still…none of that, makes Vinyl sound any better.
Reason number four, I resist the urge to just stick my toe in the pool of Vinyl playback; the gear. There’s a lot of it (which any “audiophile” would tend to like)…and it’s certainly sexier, and lends itself to more fiddling than digital gear. Like most of us, I have a box that acts as my transport, a box as DAC…and a pad, that acts as remote. I sit in my listening chair, and can play 10-second snippets, of 6 different songs in a minute! Not that I have that kind of ADHD, but the point is…there’s not much to tweak or fuss with. With Vinyl; there’s cartridges to align, and tracking weight to gauge. And cleaning…oh my god, is there cleaning: cleaning the record, cleaning the stylus; special paper to store the LP in to begin with. Let’s see…there’s the record-cleaning machine, the various liquids and solutions, the brushes…and that’s before you even get to the turntable! On the equipment side…there’s the deck, sometimes an external speed controller; the mat, the tonearm, the cartridge, the step-up transformer or phono pre-amp. There’s just so much stuff…and it’s all tweakable. Again…digital playback, by comparison; is most definitely "un-involving", if that’s the way you want to think of it. I guess you don’t have nearly as much invested, in sitting down and listening. So, if you need that, or that somehow makes the experience better for you; so be it. Still doesn’t make the sound better.
I won’t even go into the albums themselves; because certainly…especially lately…buying LPs is more fun and sexier than CDs. Most of our stuff happens across the Internet; in invisible 0s and 1s. It’s simply transfer of data. When was the last time any of us, got up early one Saturday morning…to try and sniff-out a bargain, on a used CD, lol. It’s laughable and preposterous, right? But that sounds like hella-fun to me; to be “in the know”, and go bargain hunting at that little out-of-way wrecka store…looking for an out-of-print Blue Note, that the shop owner is unknowingly selling for $10 (although that's not very likely anymore. Which is another reason people treasure their albums these days; they cost like $30 a piece! Lol). Again, you might even argue that Vinyl guys are more hobbyists, than even the rest of us. Following that path, certainly requires more “involvement” than picking the best under-$2k DAC. I’d get caught up in it, no doubt. But none of that, still makes Vinyl sound better than Digital playback.
I think you get the idea. If it sounds like I am painting the Vinyl guys, as crusty, curmudgeonly oldsters…who can’t let go of the past, and a sound they’ve simply become accustomed to; that they like to fidgets with albums, and tonearms…and don wool caps, and shop for used records on the weekends. Well…that is kind of how I see them, lol. Of course, now there's the opposite end of the spectrum; the newly Vinyl-loving hipsters…simply embracing it, because what’s old is new again. They tend to go against the grain…and be counter-culture, because it's “cool”. I see them using the LP almost as a tool of sedcution; “hey baby…look how cool I am; no iSomething for me…I’m kicking it old-school”. They probably still end up listening more on their Androids, and in 3 years…those TTs will be relegated to and flooding eBay, lol.
And that’s why…I just can’t get into Vinyl. (Oh, and I've been wearing the proverbial groove in this one lately; including this Sunday morning)