I was born in 1979 to parents that were born in the early 1940s. I also had three older siblings born in the 1960s. So I was aware of vinyl records. We had some in the house. Not a lot of LPs, mostly 45s.
I remember as an early child having a small toy record player that could play 45s of fairy tale records. Stories on disc. But during most of my childhood my parents didn’t have a working record player themselves, so their music records were more like objects that just sat in a crate. The big thing back when I was growing up were cassette tapes. They were smaller, didn’t scratch, you could record to them and you could play them in the car.
By the time I really started getting into music myself, around age eleven or twelve, cassettes were still big but CD players were starting to come down in price. The volume of CDs on store shelves were increasing as well. This trend continued through the 1990s, so as a teenager my music collection pretty much started on CDs. I believe I was about 13 when I got my first Sony discman and from there on out it was all CDs for me and all my friends until the age of the MP3 in the late 90s. But even then, CD burners dropped in price and CDs were still the best way to take you music with you. We would often burn MP3 files to CDs and in my case also record some to Minidisc, but that’s a whole other discussion. MP3 players like the iPod would still be a few years out before they started to drop in price and become the next big thing before smartphones and streaming services. Even today my older car with older car stereo has an MP3 compatible CD player it in but no auxiliary jack. So I still burn some music to CDs to take with me from time to time.
During all that time I never really paid attention to vinyl records. I don’t think most people did. We were all of the mindset that digital was better because it was the new thing. Digital sound quality, the ability to skip tracks which was a big advantage over cassettes, and it didn’t wear out with every play. I think a lot of us looked at vinyl as an old and worn out format. Something our parents or grandparents listened to back in the olden days. It was a generation or so removed from us because it came even before cassette tapes and that weird 8-track format that never seemed to really take off. So we certainly didn’t have any kind of hipster love for vinyl the way some people do today. It was the past and digital was the future. We wanted to belong to the future where everything was crisp and new and exciting.
Unbeknownst to me and most of the rest of the world, this was the period of time that vinyl was probably at its best value. So I’ve heard. But it makes sense. If very few people (outside of DJs and collectors) are paying attention to it, yet you’ve still got a huge stock of albums and turntables on the market from decades past, you could probably get some pretty good deals. That is, so long as you were happy with not being able to get a lot of the newer music on vinyl at they time, as it was increasingly being seen as a dead format.
Fast forward to the late 2000s and 2010s and vinyl is back in vogue. Still not the most popular format out there, but definitely fashionable. I’ve seen new record shops pop up that carry 90% vinyl as their inventory and old record shops that were able to weather the digital storm and stay in business, then become revitalized with the new vinyl trend. It’s an interesting thing to see. The only conclusion I can come to, is that people have become jaded by the digital lifestyle and they’re looking for something more tangible. Something they can put in their hands again. Something that isn’t as easy to skip through. Something not so clean and crisp, but instead has a little analog character to it. The music equivalent of a comfortable old leather jacket or maybe even akin to sitting around a bon fire, complete with pops and crackles.
I would be lying if I told you this trend didn’t sweep me up into it. At least a little bit. Last year I bought my first real turntable. A used Sony model for about $65. Along with it, a couple of used Jethro Tull albums and a brand new copy of Undertow by Tool. I had some fun with it for the three or four months the turntable lasted before it broke. Since then it’s been several months since I’ve had a working turntable, so my three vinyl albums and the collection of 45s I inherited from my folks have just been sitting in my closet.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been back and forth on whether or not I want to drop $70-$100 on one of two brand new turntables I found on Amazon. Nothing audiophile quality by a long shot. Just something that will decently play what I have and what I would like to get. But I have yet to pull the trigger and I’m now starting to realize why I’m so hesitant.
Vinyl is cool. It hearkens back to a different time. It’s a different way of listening to music and I found myself listening to albums all the way through rather than skipping around to different tracks like I would with digital copies. But it’s also a pain in the ass. My two Jethro Tull albums only cost me a few bucks a piece because they’re old and scratched to hell. I can’t get through most songs without having to reset the needle. It gets caught in a continuous loop and keeps repeating seconds of the song. The brand new Tool album played better, but still suffered some of those issues before I cleaned the needle. Even then, I’m not impressed. This was definitely a record that was pressed from a digital recording. At least that’s how it sounds and I’ve heard that’s usually the case with most newer vinyl. It’s not mastered differently, it’s literally the same recording as the CD. Which makes you wonder why you even bothered getting the vinyl. With all of that in mind, the biggest problem is the price. New vinyl is not cheap. It’s often two or three times the cost of the CD. So if it’s not mastered any different than the CD, you’re really just paying more money for a less convenient medium that has more points of failure and takes up more storage space. Plus even with the popularity of vinyl today, there are still a lot of albums that just aren’t available on vinyl, or they used to be available years ago but are now out of print and people want to charge you $200-$400 for one. For something that will literally decrease in quality every time that needle scratches over the surface.
If most of the albums I wanted were still in print and sold brand new for $10-15 a copy (with an included free digital download), and mastered differently than the digital copies out there, I don’t think I’d even be writing is post. I think I would have dropped the $70 on a new turntable and picked up a handful of my favorite albums for a fun retro way of listening to music from time to time. But at $22-$50 for most new albums and several others out of print or not available at all, I have to take a step back and reassess this whole idea. Is it worth it? The more I look it at it, the more I say no. Part of it is because I missed that window where vinyl was not cool and a lot of good deals could probably be found. Which leads me to blu-ray.
Blu-ray movies are in that window right not. As streaming movie services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and digital downloads continue to become a staple way to watch movies, blu-ray discs are are falling out of favor with the masses. Which makes it a good time to start collecting them if you’re the collector type. The type that likes physical formats you can tangibly hold in your hand. Yes I know it’s not the same as vinyl records, these are movies rather than music, but the same philosophy applies and there are parallels between the formats.
Unlike vinyl, blu-ray is digital. That alone may turn some people off. Especially people who want to get away from the digital world. It’s also not quite as tactile as vinyl. With vinyl you can run your fingers over the ridges of the record, you can have direct contact with the music by placing the needle down on the record wherever you like. There is something fun about vinyl in that way. Blu-ray doesn’t give you that. But the similarities have more to do with the quality of the image. Blu-ray is often the closest you’ll get to what you would see in a movie theater. More so than DVD. Film prints that played in theaters often fell somewhere between 720p and 1080p in resolution, since they were copies of the original negative and thus lost quality in the duplication process. So in many ways, blu-ray is even better than watching an old 35mm film print. Even in the digital theater world we live in today, most of those theaters are 2K projection, which is roughly 1080p, just a few pixels more here or there. So just like people used to argue that vinyl was better quality than CDs (even though that’s debatable) and better than MP3, you can make the case for blu-ray being the closest thing to a film print you can more readily own and watch.
With all of this in mind, I think I’d rather invest the money I would spend on vinyl into blu-ray instead. Here are my reasons:
1. Blu-ray is cost effective right now. You can still find a lot movies on blu-ray that are brand new and at good prices. Some going for less than $10 new. You can also find them used. I just picked up the Matrix Reloaded and Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince used at a local record shop and it only cost me $10.58 combined. So it’s a good time to be a collector on a budget.
2. Blu-ray is better quality than steaming or digital downloads. That’s just a fact. The much higher bitrates provide better quality and you sometimes get bonus features on blu-rays that you don’t get with streaming services like Netflix or Amazon. If you care about that kind of thing, which I do.
3. They are digital, so they aren’t going to degrade in quality every time I play them, like vinyl will.
4. I probably watch blu-rays about as often as I would put on a vinyl record, so the usage rate is about the same. Most of the time I listen to music it’s in my car or on headphones at work so I don’t disturb anyone else. In most of those situations vinyl isn’t practical.
Those are just some reasons why I think it’s better for me to take that money and put it into blu-ray instead of vinyl. But everyone is different. Still, I can’t get over that pull that vinyl has on me recently. I’m sure it’s just a minor lust that will pass the more I continue to tell myself how impractical and expensive it is.