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Vinyl doesn't sound better than digital – you just think it does

2 minute read

Erica Basnicki / RedShark NewsWhy you think vinyl sounds better

Sound quality is subjective, but there is a very good reason why you think vinyl sounds better.

You may think you are buying a better sound when you buy a turntable and vinyl records, but you're not.

What you are buying is time to listen to music, and that will make anything sound exponentially better.

Stopping to listen

Vinyl is not portable. This means the act of listening to a record is a very conscious and deliberate one, and, more often than not, is an activity in-and-of itself. It's what I love most about listening to records; I make the time to pay attention to the music. I notice every detail: the clicks, the pops, rumbles in the background. The depth of the kick drum, the musicality of the guitar.

Paying attention leads to the perception of better sound quality, but that's all it is: perception. Sound quality is subjective. There are no definitive measurements for what sounds 'good' and what sounds 'bad'.

This is no different than to when you pay attention to the food you're eating, instead of inhaling it because you're starving. Savouring a glass of wine vs. chugging it to get pissed. The attention we give to the thing that we are enjoying is what makes it qualitatively 'better'.

Which is why there isn't anything inherently better about the sound quality of records. In fact, you could argue vinyl sounds markedly worse than digital. (It's the subject of a whole other article, but why do we accept vinyl crackle as 'good'? At the end of the day, it is still unwanted noise.)

It's all a point of preference, never a statement of facts.

Time for appreciation

What you are getting when you opt for an analogue sound system is a better appreciation of the music you are listening to. That is why it sounds better.

Sure, you can do your housework and listen to a vinyl record in the background. It won't sound any better or worse than a CD in that moment, because you're not really paying the music any attention.

If you carved some time out of your day to listen to an album you just bought, it's no wonder if it goes on to becomes the record to listen to. You gave it time and, in return, it gave you pleasure. Give music nothing and it will likely give you nothing in return.

We know that MP3s lack a certain amount of musical information; by and large, it's the ethereal "stuff" that delights careful listeners and can only be appreciated through careful listening.

It's also exactly why most people are happy enough listening to MP3s through tinny earbuds.

When we listen to music on portable devices, nine times out of 10 we are simply adding a soundtrack to the activity we are partaking in at the moment: drowning out the sounds of public transportation, masking our noisy office environment while we work, entertaining ourselves walking from one point to another.

In those moments, we are not taking the time to actually listen to the music. We are preoccupied. Sound quality really doesn't matter in these moments, because it's not where our attention is focused.

This is not an argument against buying a turntable or records. It's the very reason why more people should buy a turntable and probably why they were Amazon's biggest seller this past Christmas. A record collection forces us to stop and listen to the music – what could be more enjoyable than that?

The point is, if you want music to sound better, then listen to it. Really listen. Music doesn't owe you anything, but it will reward you if you give it your time.

Tags: Audio