I recently got a new turntable — I'd been without a functioning one for
about 25 years, long enough, I reckon, to give me some perspective on
the experience of spinning vinyl.
I've heard people say that you can't really appreciate the superiority
of vinyl sound over CD sound except on audiophile equipment, but it's not
true. I have a decidedly non-audiophile music system and if I listen to a CD
after playing a couple of records I notice a difference immediately.
The CD sounds thinner, especially on the high end of the sonic range.
The ability to transmit the high end of a recording in warm, round tones
is what vinyl does best. And all across the sonic range it imparts a
presence to the music that a CD just can't.
CD mastering has improved dramatically in recent years. You can hear
the improvement best by comparing the first CD versions of the Beatles
albums with the new remasters. With the remastered CDs there's a marked
difference in the roundness and warmth of the tone. They almost sound
like vinyl — but not quite . . . and again it's in the high end of the
range that you notice the difference most clearly. When John and Paul
hit their high notes, their voices take on a slightly freeze-dried
The other aspect of spinning vinyl has to do, of course, with the ritual
of the thing. Pulling a record out of its sleeve, cleaning it, being
careful to set the needle down on it without harming either the needle
or the disc, getting up to flip the record over when one side is done —
these things put you in a certain specific state of mind. It conditions you to think of the disc as a precious object, and the music you're going to listen as special — an event.
I adore the convenience of having tons of music on my computer and
portable devices. It allows me to listen to more music, and more varied
music, than I otherwise would. (Twenty-four hours worth of Christmas music is still not quite enough for me.) But spinning vinyl encourages me to
listen to music more selectively and carefully than I otherwise would.
I'd never go back to black exclusively, but I also don't ever want to be without it again.