So I recently purchased a turntable and started buying vinyl. While I am by no means an experienced connoisseur, only owning about a dozen or so albums so far, here are my thoughts about the vinyl craze, which seems to be taking a chokehold on today’s hipsters and neo-1970s twenty-somethings.
Shopping for vinyl is like going treasure-hunting.
The cool thing about buying vinyl is you can go as cheap as free or you can go as fancy as paying kobe beef for limited-edition 200g master pressings. I tend to stick to the free bin end.
Hunting for awesome vinyl in thrift stores and flea markets is awesome. Digging through musty bins. The “ah-ha!” moment when you find an album you love. Inspecting the record in multiple light angles to determine if it’s in buyable condition. Negotiating with the seller.
Scoring a really awesome record for a few bucks or getting completely ripped off – it’s all part of the experience. Sometimes you can win really amazing gems for a few measly bucks that may look trampled but end up playing beautifully.
To buy vinyl you gotta go OUTSIDE and talk to people.
If you download your tracks off the Internet you just sit at home and download them. If you buy albums, you go outside into the real world under the real sky with real air and go to real places and talk to real people.
All the record stores in my area are situated in the “artsy” alcoves of town, areas I don’t usually go to. Funny enough, the record stores like to congregate along certain streets so it’s convenient and fun to make a day of it: I start at the thrift stores, then move up the street to the independently-owned specialist shops.
Now, I’m one of those really shy and unsociable people who usually don’t do more than mumble “on visa please” in stores. (Perhaps it’s because I grew up in unfriendly Vancouver). Going out and buying music is a way of trying to encourage myself to socialize more, because I love talking about music. Granted, you don’t walk into a store of pretentious snobs, it’s quite cool to have a short chat with people when buying records, especially in flea markets and thrift stores when some bargaining is involved.
Listening to the work of artists in their original album form
These days, most people listen to music track by track. We might have a playlist with a track from 10 different artists. Gone is the original experience of listening to a full album front to back the way an artist intended it to be played.
Listening to an album front to back is definitely a different experience unto itself. Artists structure their LPs like a journey, with highs and lows and bumps and bends. You can find gems on albums never promoted as singles that become your favourite tracks. You feel like you know the artist in a more intimate way.
Listening to albums front to back is also a convenient way to keep track of time. I usually put on an album before I go to bed and say, “I’ll go to bed after this album is done playing.” It’s a better timer than anything and helps with procrastination because after the album is done, the silence is one of satisfied finality.
Vinyl doesn’t sound better. It just sounds…different.
Granted, I don’t have super fancy equipment so I’m probably not re-producing the vinyl sound in all its glory. I can’t say vinyl sounds better because I really believe it depends on your equipment – how scratched your LP is, how great your turntable and speakers are, etc.
And even that can be totally countered. My $2 The World of Ravel Dynaflex fetched from the flea market sounds beautiful. Strangely, my brand-new Florence + the Machine Lungs LP, which costed as much as casual fine dining, sounds really shallow and kind of disappointing.
I can for sure say vinyl sounds “warmer.” It’s difficult to describe. It’s as if the sound is taller and narrower, whereas digital is flatter and wider…if that makes sense. Doesn’t mean you’ll love it, though. You can rightly say vinyl is “muggy” while .mp3s are “bright.” For example, my remastered .mp3 of “Rhiannon” is brighter with a more prominent vocal track, while the same track on my Fleetwood Mac LP has a more subdued vocal and a more prominent guitar. I happen to like the guitar on that track a lot, though, so the LP works in my favour.
If there’s anything I’ve learned: Beatles albums sound amazing on vinyl. My super-scratched-up-dented-scuffed/smudged flea market $5 Abbey Road is full of pops and crackles but still sounds absolutely charming; as charming as the 1960s. Again, it’s probably all psychological 😉
All images used in this post are mine.