Vindicated Vinyl

July 22, 2008

A while ago my friend and fellow music lover Liz asked me why I liked vinyl so much. At the time I gave her the same answer that I give almost everyone, it simply has a good feeling to it. But that’s kind of a bullshit answer to the question, what does “good feeling” even mean?

My intention with that answer has never been to give people the run around or to pretend that I’m some kind of pompous connoisseur. I’ve given that answer because I’ve never really sat down and thought about the mysterious draw that it has on me. Because I don’t really enjoy giving Liz bullshit answers, I sat down for a few minutes after she left and tried to figure out exactly what it is about vinyl that I love so much.

First off, vinyl appeals to the geek in me because it’s an engineering marvel. When you think about the very small electrical signals that are generated by the needle moving a coil between some magnets and how those signals are so carefully amplified by the phono stage before hitting the preamplifier then going down the line to the power amplifier and finally reproducing the exact same movements on a much larger scale in your speakers. It’s a purely mechanical and analog system and it’s alone in this sense. The technology has been around since the first recordings and still manages to amaze me that it actually works.

Not only does it work, it actually works quite well. People talk about how vinyl has a warm sound to it, and in an effort to describe things succinctly, I guess that’s a fair description. But to my ear, that warm sound is actually the sound of imperfection. Some might get confused at this point and wonder how imperfection in an audio system could be considered a good thing.

One of my all time favorite bloggers was Kathy Sierra. Her blog was called “Creating Passionate Users” and it clued me into a number of things regarding human nature. One of those things was the fact that we are somewhat drawn to a small amount of randomness. If that isn’t obvious to you, think about it for a short while. What’s more interesting, a person that is perfect or a person with some flaws? A perfect person may sound nice on the surface but I’m sure we would all find that person boring after a short while. I believe that this draw to the imperfect is partly what makes vinyl enjoyable.

Another thing that I love about vinyl is that it really forces you to listen to the music. It takes so much effort to skip a track on a record that you end up not bothering. Maybe we should give kids that can’t concentrate a pile of records and a turntable instead of prescribing them ritalin.

Really good albums tend to have a story to tell, each track being a chapter and in a way I feel that I owe it to these artists to listen to what they have to say in the order they intended… at least once. To be honest, I have found myself quite annoyed that I couldn’t easily go back and listen to the same song again once it ends. But in time I realized that this was actually a fantastic thing. How many times have you found yourself listening to the same song on an album over and over again because it’s so good and leaving the rest of the album untouched? I’ve found myself in this trap many times and one sure fire way to cure it is to make it a royal pain to put things on repeat.

While my collection of vinyl records is far from huge, I do take every opportunity that I get to purchase vinyl at concerts. On the plus side, vinyl is frequently more profitable for the artist and I’m all about supporting them. Another little known fact is that today you frequently get a digital copy (without any DRM) when you purchase a record. This makes it so easy to have your cake and eat it too.

So keep an open mind. If you’re fortunate enough to find a good turntable and are able to hook it up to your system, you might want to consider it. Hopefully you’ll experience the same combination of relaxation, excitement and enjoyment that I do while fully exploring what the artist is sharing.


2 Responses to “Vindicated Vinyl”

  1. Amanda Green Says:

    You never cease to amaze me. I never knew you were able to write so well. Please do not take offense, but most computer guys are unable to write anything remotely captivating, let alone captivating and funny. You truly are a talented guy, my friend!

    P.S. I have a small collection of vinyl myself and completely understand the fulfillment of the dust popping sound the speakers make when the needle first touches down and the first song is about to begin.

    P.P.S. “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack was born for vinyl and is the most enjoyable one I have.

  2. Liz Says:

    hey ryan – read this today and thought about your post. Folks love their vinyl…. :D

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