Ever since digital technology was introduced, the analog vs. digital debate has taken place. And it’s not close to being resolved since, it would seem, the point of the discussion is not to find a definite answer. Pleasure is found in the discussion itself, just like the point of being an audiophile is not necessarily to create the perfect listening experience, but enjoy the process of building such a system.
Let us point out a few qualities of listening to music on vinyl. I’m not trying to say that this should be the only way you listen to music. But I also believe that, if you really enjoy this activity, you should not miss out on the experience offered by analog technology. My reasons for owning a turntable fit into, roughly said, two categories: the first one can be described as “lifestyle” since actually owning an album on vinyl and having the necessary equipment to play it, implies certain ways of living and listening; the second category is a technical one and it offers you reasons related mostly to the quality of the sound itself.
Of course, we live in the 21st century, and it’s really hard not to listen to music in digital format. They are practical and enable you to store enormous amounts of music in virtually no physical space. But, the indisputable fact is that the digitization of music has changed our listening experience. You can scroll through tracks and never listen to a song in its entirety, getting only the basic idea of the sound, lyrics, instrumentation etc. This is, for me at least, the first reason for buying a turntable. It enables you to actually own your music in a physical way. Yes, you also own music in this way when you buy a CD, but with the vinyl, that is bigger, you can also appreciate the artwork better. When holding a record, you hold a true work of art, music and image, and you really get to know the artist when looking to the album as a whole. An important factor to be considered when it comes to this great feeling of owning a record is the feeling of holding a piece of history in your hands. Thanks to the historical status of records in music history, you can’t help but feel special. Also, if you own an album on vinyl, you have to listen to the whole thing at once, no skipping tracks. That is also a fantastic way to get into a musician’s frame of mind and learn what the concept behind the album was.
When you own records, you have to own the necessary equipment. This is another, really fun aspect of the whole analog vs technology debate: as any audiophile will tell you, it’s equally fun to make your own listening system, collect components and try out different combinations. It’s an expensive hobby, but it also offers a lot of satisfaction. And the point is in the quest for the equipment, not in finding the perfect combination.
Now, the technical aspect: analog sounds different from digital. Especially if you grew up listening to MP3s, you’ll find it interesting and refreshing. Analog sound is the natural sound. When you record something with analog technology, you record every aspect of the given sound. This is the main reason why a lot of audiophiles enjoy turntables. The sound is more natural and more faithful to the original and listening to music on vinyl will bring you as close as possible to that sound that was originally played. When music is digitized, it loses some of its aspects. Namely, digitization means that snapshots are taken of the original, analog recording, and the tricky part is that there is a limited number of snapshots per seconds available. After the snapshots are taken, they are converted into digital information with a given precision. So, depending on the format, you lose some aspects of the track that was digitized. A CD recording takes 44,100 snapshots per second and the precision is 16 bits. MP3, for example, is only a rough sketch of the actual music that was played. Of course, there are high quality digital formats (like .flac or .ape) that will enable you to get an almost perfect “picture” of the original sound. Even though your ear can’t actually hear that some aspects of the sound are missing, there is still a difference. For me, the digital recording can never replace the warm, soft sound of vinyl.
So bottom line: you can’t fully appreciate music without hearing it in analog form. Buy a turntable, and it will complete your listening experience.