CDs vs. Vinyl Records (vs. Music Downloads?)


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Consider me a reverse snob: I love CDs. My music collection contains hundreds of them.

I still have four or five vinyl LPs and a couple dozen 45-rpm singles packed away somewhere, but I no longer have a turntable to play those relics on.

This makes me uncool in some music lovers’ eyes (or, rather, “ears”). There’s a sizeable number of audiophiles who disdain CDs and digital music in general and who decry the passing of vinyl as the standard medium of recorded sound.

Vinyl lovers assert that music sounds better—some use the term “warmer”—on records than on CDs. They also contend that the analog nature of vinyl records comes closer to capturing the original musical experience than does modern digital technology.

Frankly, I don’t see it (er, hear it). But then, maybe I don’t have sufficiently finely tuned ears.

Given the fact that, at least to my hearing—and I suspect to that of the vast majority of listeners—, there is little noticeable difference between the sound of a song on vinyl and the sound of it on CD, here are the reasons I prefer to own the latter:

  1. CDs take up less room. My CD collection fills three shelves of a six-shelf bookcase, plus a standalone rack that holds maybe 150 CDs. That same amount of music on records would probably require all of my living room shelf space (i. e. , five big bookcases) to hold.
  2. CDs hold more songs. Vinyl long-playing albums usually contained only ten or a dozen songs. Check out any CD that is a copy of an album originally produced on vinyl; unless it has “bonus tracks” you’re unlikely to find more than 12 songs on it. Original CDs—those produced as CDs from the get-go—may contain 18, 20 or even two dozen tracks. More music is a good thing.
  3. CDs open up troves of great recorded music to more people. If not for the many old records committed to CD, I probably would not have discovered the marvelously haunting blues recordings of the 1920s and ‘30s. Not everyone has the knowledge, time, persistence and funds to build a collection of original 78s of this music. The advent of CDs has made this “people’s music” available to the modern masses.
  4. CDs pick up less noise over time than vinyl does. Even with care, vinyl records acquire hisses, pops and scratches that never go away. Admittedly, CDs are not indestructible, either. But of the hundreds of CDs that I own—some of which have been played over and over—none has any permanent “acquired” noise that I can detect. (Yes, I am aware of reports suggesting that the earliest mass-produced CDs are prone to degrade with time. Believe me, I’m monitoring my CD collection carefully for any problems along this line. So far, nothing. In any event, today’s CDs are said to be manufactured to higher standards than the first ones were. )
  5. CDs, to me, represent a cleaner form of music playback technology, less encumbered by physical constraints. Streaming audio, mp3 files and iPods take this freedom even further. Maybe it’s an aesthetic peculiar to me, but I like the notion of music that flows at the push of a button, with a minimum of human or (noticeable) machine intervention. The mere act of turning a record over to play the other side now seems quaintly antiquated and hopelessly industrial-age to me.

As you might have noticed, all of these points in favor of CDs apply even more forcefully to mp3s that one can download to a hard drive or load onto an iPod. We’ve entered an age of broad music availability, in which it possible for the average person to explore a multitude of genres and sub-genres and to enjoy the past hundred years’ worth of the greatest recorded performances and artists.

Assuredly, CDs will one day become as extinct as vinyl records. As much as I love them now, I doubt I’ll lament their passing. It just means that some better medium of recorded music will have taken their place.

Stefan Smith writes on entertainment and other subjects for the Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium. Recently, he has written an extensive review of amazing new software anyone can use to capture music audio streams from Internet radio broadcasts and break them up into individual mp3 song files-a legal way to download virtually free music. Read the review at:


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