As much as I appreciate the convenience of digital music (i.e., CDs or downloads), something changed when record labels shifted from the production of vinyl records to CDs.
Despite their limitations, CDs showed great promise. They have increased clarity at lower frequencies when compared to vinyl. At lower frequencies, the hardware used to play vinyl records can produce rumble that interferes with the audio playback, of which CDs are immune. Further, CDs have the convenience of changing tracks with the push of a button. In addition, CDs are less prone to damage than vinyl records and are smaller in size.
There have been attempts at combining the best of both worlds, blending the desirable sonic properties of both formats with the durability and convenience of CDs. The best candidate for this would probably be the Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD). One of the greatest movie score composers, Jerry Goldsmith, (Tora! Tora! Tora! and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) was a great proponent of SACD. Indeed, most SACDs sound better than their CD counterparts. However, this is, at least in part, due to the extra attention the audio receives during the mastering process. The downside, is that SACD remains a niche format that requires special hardware to take advantage of.
Many CDs released today have limited dynamic range. This is not simply due to a limitation of the format, but the poor judgement of the powers-that-be who decide what the album should sound like. On the occasion that a vinyl version of the same album is released, it will typically have a different mastering process, which will likely be much better than its CD counterpart. For this reason, as well as the sonic advantages of the format, the vinyl version of an album will likely sound much better than the CD version. Feel free to test this out by comparing a recently released CD of an old album against your (or your parent’s) old vinyl record of the same recording. Which one sounds more pleasant to listen to?
The advent of digital music changed the record label’s motivation. No more were they interested in engaging with their customers. They simply wanted to produce as much music as possible in order to enhance profits. Fortunately, over the last decade, their has been a significant resurgence in vinyl production and sales. It appears that record companies are beginning to understand that they must reengage with their customers in order to remain relevant. Something the small reissue vinyl producers have known for a long time.
So, on National Record Store Day, even if you don’t spin vinyl, go out and support your local record store. Unlike the chain stores, these are the stores that are just as passionate about music as you are.