Music on vinyl is a better listening experience, not because the music sounds better, or because vinyl is cool again. It’s a better listening experience because compared to listening to digital music, it’s difficult. So you wind up paying attention.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether music played from a vinyl record sounds better than digital music, but my goal is not to settle that debate. My point is that collecting and listening to music on vinyl is just a richer, more pleasurable experience.

Listening as a physical act

I am old, so when I started buying music, the CD was just coming onto the scene. Most music was purchased on vinyl or cassettes. My older brothers bought vinyl, so I did, too. I gathered a decent collection until CDs took over the market and vinyl pretty much disappeared as a format for new music.

But vinyl never quite went away. Many early CDs of classic records (like the Beatles) sounded bad due to technical issues in converting the analog recordings to digital. Used record shops catered to music lovers with little money for high-priced CDs, and some famous musicians like Neil Young began to argue that all digital music sounds inferior, and that the technical causes of that inferiority cannot be overcome.

Don’t call it a comeback

Today, vinyl is again a popular format for new releases. I was in legendary Minneapolis record store the Electric Fetus a few weeks ago (for the first time in years) and was impressed by their selection of new music on vinyl. (Their used vinyl collection was not as impressive.) I think the hipsters who are into music on vinyl love it partly for the retro-cool factor, and partly for the low cost of used vinyl and the fun in searching for it, but also because listening to music on vinyl is a ritual with a number of related parts, all of which limit your options rather than expanding them. This tends to result in you actively listening to the music rather than treating it as just another piece of content in your device-heavy life.

Sacrificing for their art

First, you can’t take vinyl with you. You have to be at the stereo. You have to physically handle the record, and clean it. You have to operate the machine, which has moving parts. The sound of the record isn’t the same every time, because playing a record literally wears it out. That makes you treat the vinyl and the music on it with care and respect. Finally, you can’t jump from song to song with a click. So you hear songs that you’d otherwise miss (or not purchase at all). Plus, a record’s sleeve can be 12 by 24 inches, allowing ample room for really cool or really awful art.

Combining all these elements makes it likely that you are either already passionate about what you are hearing or more likely to become passionate about it.

If music is an accessory for you, like jewelry or sunglasses, that’s fine. But if you think it’s much, much more than that, you should get yourself some vinyl and a turntable.

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Joe says:

    Interesting read. Just wanted to point out though, that your link on the word “turntable” at the very end of the article doesn’t do anything when clicked, it’s broken.

  2. Thanks, Joe. The link works fine for me, but if you search “turntable” on Amazon you’ll get there.

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