I'm not an advocate for vinyl or anything analog for that matter, and that's based on informed opinion, not nostalgia and hearsay. I could come up with some reasons for you to listen to your music on vinyl but none would coincide with the ones in the aforementioned article. In fact I will argue below that the reasons given in it are arbitrary and uninformed. To be clear, makeuseof is not, by any means, a site specialising in music so I was not expecting blind tests, digital-vs-analog comparison charts, noise floors or the Nyquist frequency to pop up anywhere in the article. I went in knowing that it would probably be a light piece about warmer sound, disc cleaning rituals, large artworks, and the occasional ironic moustache. Which would all be shrugable yet perfectly fine. But instead...
1. Your Taste in Music Will Improve
As a person accused of musical elitism numerous times I take offense! The medium is irrelevant. Yes, you will likely find a different (narrower) variety of music printed in vinyl, but this, particularly in context of vinyl's current incarnation, has nothing to do with fine taste and everything to do with shady marketing. In declaring the Pixies better than Nickelback, the author reveals nothing about vinyl and everything about him confusing his own taste with good taste in general; an oxymoron given the personal nature of taste. A dissection of Nickelback's and the Pixies' music would expose both as equally superficial compared to the simplest works of e.g. Palestrina. That is not to strip the Pixies of their cultural and musical value but it goes to show that there's always someone with a twirlier moustache than yours. The comparison misses the point entirely. The author's thesis demonstrates how he has fallen victim to a semi-transparent scheme organised by executives who notice and subsequently exploit obvious correlations in social behaviour a.k.a. subcultures. Similar logic leads to the misconclusion that people listening to vinyl have better taste in clothes.
To be clear, I do agree with the implication that being exposed to certain art within certain context will indeed shape your taste and make you more attuned to said art, but taste is not equivalent to aesthetics and has nothing to do with quality.
True to some extend. Also, you damn kids, get off my lawn! Buying records is an experience but not linked to vinyl. We buy CDs too, those are digital, right? I remember browsing movies in my local video-club for hours as a young boy and there was not a single VHS on those shelves. They were replaced by the film's bare cover in a slim, plastic container. The actual tape had nothing to do with the experience.
I prefer to get my books from the local store. It is a valuable, sadly fading, social tradition that often has positive side-effects: the discovery of new art, interesting discussions, potential friendships, exposure to sunlight, etc... Digital is not the culprit of this tradition's demise (although it can be argued it's the murder weapon). Any argument against technological progress is pointless. Our (western) lifestyle is inevitably changing. If certain rituals are deemed too important to wither away we should revive them otherwise. The forced resuscitation of an obsolete medium can only be a temporary solution (as indicated by the sudden death of Record Store Day).
If we want to hold on to the social aspect of purchasing art we need to adapt. Interestingly enough, one solution is already given by the author in his playful final thought: "Note to self: Build social music buying app; make millions." I can think of another non-ironic way: Pair music with meaningful art and commentary. People don't buy vinyl and CDs to actually access the music. That is overwhelmingly done in the digital domain even if you own the vinyl. They buy it for the booklet, the photos, the lyrics, the design, the thing to put on their bookshelf. That's what's lost from digital music; but it doesn't have to be. Once again, the medium is irrelevant; why have a CD in the first place? Instead, provide a content-rich booklet with loads of stuff to read, look at, even interact with, add a download code for lossless and/or mp3 files and you're done. People might have a reason to go back to their local store, no vinyl in sight.
The myth that vinyl sounds better is so obviously ridiculous, so quantifiably disprovable and yet so stubbornly pervasive!
To make sure we're on the same page let me clarify: While there might be some analog equipment involved in the making of a record, everything ends up in a hard drive where it's mixed and mastered digitally. Analog components add noise. This is unavoidable because perfection cannot occur in nature. Every cable, every tube, every filter, every piece of hardware dealing with analog signal coming through it adds a little bit of noise. That is not necessarily bad—but more on this later. Thankfully, that noise is barely audible (unless it's intentional) and we still use analog synths and processors. What we don't use is tape. There are several reasons that have made magnetic tape, the material formerly used for analog recording, obsolete. First of all, it is considerably expensive. It's also extremely cumbersome to edit. Most importantly though, it lacks the wide dynamic range of digital audio, because of its high noise floor. Simply put, you cannot have extra quiet moments captured on tape thus your range from quiet to loud is significantly narrower than in digital. None of the contemporary bands one might find in a record store, vinyl or not, use tape.
Advanced digital technology allows for a practically inaudible amount of noise. In actuality, your own equipment is predominantly responsible for whatever (added) noise and/or distortion you might hear (especially your cheap earbuds or overpriced designer headphones). My point is, since all music is created equally, what once could have been a point of comparison (analog vs digital recording) is now taken out of the equation. Music, up to the point of mastering is identical regardless if it's intended to playback digitally or vinylly.
Mastering is the creative process of finalising all the music on a record for optimal playback. If you plan to release on vinyl this is the production stage that will (should) result in two distinct musical outputs... because of the limitations of vinyl as a physical medium. Unlike the simple task of reading ones and zeros, with vinyl you need a physical needle to pass through the physical grooves of a physical track carved on a physical disc. This brings physics into the mix. Vinyl is both dynamically and spectrally challenged. The needle cannot handle extreme dynamic changes nor extra high (but audible) frequencies, and the disc itself cannot handle the size of the grooves required to produce extra low (but audible) frequencies. Mastering for vinyl requires the dynamics to be slightly tamed and the frequency range to be trimmed at both ends. So unlike the claims of the article, vinyl is not what’s called a lossless format, quite the opposite.
In fact, the compromises required for a vinyl master are more severe than the ones that happen during mp3 compression. I mention mp3s since the author of the post under scrutiny has thrown it into the ring and declared vinyl the winner because "it's just better." While mp3, does remove some information from your audio, that's mostly in the top end of the spectrum. Human hearing theoretically operates within the frequencies of 20Hz-20kHz but that's a very broad range that most of us cannot actually perceive. I can barely hear above 17kHz on a good ear day, how about you? Bottom line: vinyl isn't better than digital. It's comparable to mp3 but the outcome depends more on your equipment than the medium itself. Not to mention that decent vinyl playback costs multiple times more (decks and needles are expensive).
It should be noted that many digital services offer lossless formats. I personally do not recommend them unless you have hi-fidelity playback equipment (Drops by Z do not count) but if you compare vinyl to digital proper... well, let's just say that would be brutal. I know most people have doubts about that, but it would take a very long post to explain why and how digital playback is better than analog. If you are interested in learning a bit more I strongly suggest watching this video.
Lastly, rest assure that if you did a blind test you would not be able to tell the difference between lossless and mp3, or vinyl for that matter.
Because nothing says "music lover" like dollar signs. Honestly, I won't even bother with this one...
Instead here's an afterthought:
Human art is defined by nuances and idiosyncrasies of two discrete kinds: social and aesthetical. Social have to do with context: political and/or topical commentary, the conditions under which art is created, its themes, point of view, language, etc. I will not expand on it since it's irrelevant for my point (extremely important nevertheless). Aesthetical has to do with the art of the craft (formalism): Things like instrumentation, colour, structure and, in modern music, production. Humans are fond of the familiar. As I mentioned earlier, analog equipment add noise, a particular nuance that evokes a sense of familiarity because it has been there since the early days of recording. That's why, in the crystal clear skies of the digital realm, the emulation of analog clouds is much coveted. Engineers have at their disposal several ways to re-introduce that "warmth" of yesteryear, that sepia tone of sorts, this time with the added bonus of being able to dial it in using a very precise dimmer switch. That sweet hiss, that warm buzz, that gentle grunge is still present in out music, only this time it's there on purpose.
The "better" sound of the vinyl is the mere projection of our human idiosyncrasies on an inanimate object. Perhaps the subtle clicks of the needle skipping in the dust are, evolutionarily speaking, reminiscent of crackling fire embers heard at the first human gatherings. Perhaps the physical action of taking a disc out of its sleeve, cleaning it up, carefully dropping the needle in the outer groove and sitting in an armchair with a glass of wine does make music sound better. And if that's the case for you, by all means, enjoy your ritual. But for the last time, the medium is irrelevant. You have your ritual and I have mine. Both enhance the experience, but only on a metaphysical level. If you really want to treat your ears to better music, instead of spending money on vinyl or all sorts of equipment, spend time in education instead. Because no matter how precisely your hardware deciphers sound, the true comprehension takes place in your brain.
Always be listening,