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They call it the "vinyl revival." "It sounds so much better," say those who insist on listening exclusively to vinyl, but does it really? As someone who is very passionate about music, I felt like I might be missing out.
So, about a month ago, I purchased my first turntable, essentially to see what this whole vinyl revival thing is about. I did some research and bought a half decent one, not one of those cheap ones that all of the audiophiles warn against. I spent some money.
Call me a hipster, band wagoner, disciple or whatever else you can think of. I'll be honest, I have thought of these labels myself; can vinyl really sound that much better, or is it just a fad?
I've come to the conclusion that this isn't entirely a fad for me, considering the small collection of records I already possessed thanks to my father.
The collection isn't very extensive, about 15 of my dad's favourites, which he passed on to me a few years back – mostly U2, the Police and a few others. Some of these albums were the soundtrack of my childhood, only at the time I listened to them in tape or CD format, and are still very important albums to me today.
I like to think that my dad brought me up on good music. Mostly, these records have just sat on my wall for show, collecting dust.
I found myself in downtown Toronto one day with friends. I had come to the city to take a look at the record shops scattered down Queen and Spadina, just to see what they were like. None of us had turntables, but we figured just looking at records would be fun.
I ended up purchasing two records (a little impulsively, but at a good price) at a used vinyl store, one of them being Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and the other, mostly as a joke, the soundtrack to Top Gun.
The next day, I felt rather stupid for buying records that I would never actually be able to listen to, so to make up for my first impulsive purchase, I made another one. Ironically enough, I learned that I bought the turntable on international record-store day. It was obviously a sign.
I think in an age of instant gratification, where every piece of music in the world can be accessed and streamed for $10 a month (or free if you're that kind of person), vinyl either has zero relevance to someone, or it has a profound impact on their listening experience. It sits somewhere in the middle for me.
I believe that the physical experience that comes with purchasing and listening to vinyl is definitely worth the extra effort for my favourite albums.
Flipping through a bin of records and purchasing the physical, colourful album is an experience that can't be compared to a digital stream.
When I brought my record player home, the first album I played on it was The Unforgettable Fire by U2, probably one of my favourite albums of all time.
Physically playing this album on a turntable, rather than tapping play and skipping through songs on my phone, felt special.
Also, vinyl simply sounds better than a compressed MP3 file. I notice it, and I think most other people would too, with some half-decent speakers.
Listening to all of the old albums I have is definitely interesting. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel as if I'm rediscovering the music I grew up with, just now in a more physical experience, where I actually sit down and listen.
Despite this nostalgia, I feel scammed in a way. I recently made a visit to HMV to pick up some CDs for my car and purchase a Coldplay vinyl.
I already knew vinyl ran for $20 to $35, but as I left the store, having paid $60 in total for two CDs and one vinyl – music that I technically already "owned" with my streaming subscription – I felt confused. I asked the question again, is it really worth it, this whole vinyl revival thing?
I guess it comes down to this: As someone who loves music and enjoys discovering new material of every genre, streaming music is incredibly useful. I use it all the time and, despite the difference in audio quality, I don't think I would be as satisfied having to purchase all of it on CD or vinyl. Now saying that, there's music I like and then there is music I love. The music I love is worthy of picking up on vinyl, for a more physical and quality audio experience.
I like records. Am I willing to pay to expand my collection? Yes, at least when it comes to albums I love.
However, I would hesitate to spend money expanding my collection further than that. Records sound amazing, but I love streaming for the ability to discover new music.
Jon Banninga lives in Welland, Ont.