The great Interbung kvltroversy that has been going around lately regarding analog versus digital formats has been bothering me for a long time. There has been plenty of long-winded snobbery about which is better; proponents of the "warm" sound of vinyl maintain that it cannot be topped for any reason ever, while other people prefer digital recordings due to the ease of use and portability. And there seem to be even more people (like me) who have no idea what the big issue is. My wife bought me a turntable for Christmas this year. I was always spouting off about how the new movement toward analog recording was totally cock-blocking me from hearing some totally cool new releases from bands that I like, so she took the initiative and got me a turntable so that I would no longer be out of the loop.
I had always wondered what all the hubbub was about. Though I do certainly remember experiencing vinyl recordings in my youth (I'm not so young that my parents had no records), the sound quality was never in question the way that it is today. So, with some help from my friend the WZA'd, I was able to obtain some records that I am intimately familiar with in order to really make an accurate assessment of the relative sound quality. The records I used: Converge's Axe to Fall, Baroness' Red Album and Blue Record, and Torche's Meanderthal, as well as the Disfear and Doomriders split, House with A Curse by Coliseum, Vengeance by Tragedy, and one of my oldest favorites (and an album that I have literally owned on every medium, including audio cassette), Bad Religion's Stranger than Fiction. And you're allowed to make fun of me for that last one if you want, but I make no apologies for my unconditional love for 90's era Bad Religion.
This is a pretty good stable of albums to compare, I set out to find once and for all which audio medium was most effective at stroking my D-boner and need to listen to people who can grow awesome beards. And after listening to all of them and comparing the audio quality with my magically discerning ear, I am going to settle the debate for you definitively, right now.
VINYL ISN'T ANY BETTER THAN CD'S OR MP3'S.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Blasphemy! He has no idea what is good and is probably a basement dwelling boner-liker with no friends!" Blasphemy? I doubt it. As to the second part, I don't have a basement, I have a den area in my one-bedroom apartment where I go to hide from the sun.
I experienced these albums on vinyl and digital formats through the same set of (relatively) high-end studio reference monitors, and I discovered something shocking: that there really isn't that much of a difference between the mediums. In fact, some of the records came across as relatively weak compared to the compact-disc and MP3 counterparts. Perhaps this is a mixing issue, or has something to do with the fact that I didn't break the bank on a HiFi system that would deliver the highest quality vinyl sound using the finest technology that 1971 has to offer. I prefer to think that the records get mixed once and then are pressed into all formats, which seems (to me) to be a perfectly reasonable assumption. It's just that the difference is not so palpable as some people might lead you to believe.
Now why would anyone make such a big deal about this? I was concerned about this, until I realized that VINYL IS JUST A GIANT, NOSTALGIA-BASED CASH GRAB BRILLIANTLY CONCOCTED AND EXECUTED TO PERFECTION BY STRUGGLING LABELS. Let's all be real here; none of us really buy any music anymore. I have only bought a handful of things that I really like in a vain effort to support bands that I am comfortable giving my money to. But in comparison to sheer amount of music that I listen to, I purchase virtually nothing, and I imagine that if you're reading this, you're the same. It's just so much easier to steal music, because if you spend money on it, you'll have to make choices about what to buy. Money is finite. But if you can just pluck it from the ether, you can experience anything that you want at literally no cost. I love the Interhole!
Vinyl plucks the heartstrings of aging metal d00dz; it takes them back to a simpler time when they would buy a record and sit around listening to it without doing other things like driving, writing, doing dishes, etc. Nostalgia is in full effect, and the labels know this. When they do vinyl only releases, they know that those albums are much harder to steal because digital rips of analog albums generally sound horrible and are only available on special USB turntables like the one I got for Christmas. Then you have to edit the audio for maximized performance, and working on something so that someone else can steal it is totally gay. Vinyl forces the consumer to *gasp* start buying things again.
I know that when I call something a "cash grab" it sounds like I'm against it, which in this case, I am not. I think that people should buy music more often. It hurts me that the bands that I love, who should be millionaires with private jets and have bitches on either arm at all times, have to tour around in dirty, banged-up vans for no money. Meanwhile, the Justin Beibers and Jonas Brothers and Lady Gagas of the world get paid to have stupid haircuts and wear dumb dresses and sing to children about love and do all the other gay shit that American celebrities get to do (I'm personally looking forward to Justin Beiber's first DUI arrest and it's accompanying mugshot photo). It's unacceptable. But the kvltroversy here is presented as being about audio quality, and I just settled the debate once and for all above, so that argument is now null and void.
Record labels want your money, and you should be giving it to them. But everybody who likes things that sound old and outdated would have you believe that there is something better in analog sound, and there actually isn't. In the end, it's up to you to decide where your money goes, and I think we can both agree that we aren't going to stop stealing music because stealing is cool.
But I will say that the album artwork and stuff is super fun to look at on a vinyl album. I'll give them that.