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CDs vs. Records

Dana Beaton


For many of you under twenty-five, you most likely had a mixed collection of tapes and CDs; records were merely old fashioned and something our parents used to listen to. It has only been in the past couple of years that I’ve found myself reintroduced to them, since becoming a huge fan of music from the 70s and 80s, by artists such as David Bowie, Kiss and Bob Marley. Although cassettes began to displace records during the 80s, followed by compact discs in the 90s, the demand for vinyl has recently been increasing. Maybe it sounds as if record collectors, like myself, are just digging in to some retro trend, but I’m going to explain why they appeal to so many music lovers.

Take a “look” at records. While one can argue that the analogue sound quality normally isn’t great, many people argue the recording sounds more “real” because the quality isn’t perfect – it’s almost as if you were there at a live recording and the little mistakes or scratches created a little character. However, the recording isn’t live, so wouldn’t we expect it to sound cleaner and more refined? Music quality should be something easy to ignore when it comes to impressive music, especially if, like me, you have favourite musicians who are not particularly recent. With the exception of early recorded music, where the original format could now be damaged and restored on CD – you may find listening to music the way it was originally intended can create a better atmosphere.

Now take a “look” at the majority of compact discs. I’ve never been particularly fond of CDs, but I do admit to owning a few by my favourite artists, such as The Vines, The Dandy Warhols and a few free copies that were included with music magazines. CDs are small, practical and digital, yet they are packaged in plastic boxes and are very clinically produced; it becomes easier for companies to mass produce – reminding us of Henry Ford and the assembly line – and cheaper produce equals cheaper sales, brainwashing people into thinking this is genius. But why? Yes, the album artwork still exists when it comes to CDs, but it’s small and doesn’t qualify for being put up on your bedroom wall. Sure, you can, but do you really need to stand right in front of it to enjoy it as a piece of artwork? Many people would argue that the design is part of the artist’s expression, including Alex Steinweiss, who in 1940 at the age of 23, invented the album cover. This change in presentation caused record sales to increase by over eight hundred per cent, so no-one could disagree that it doesn’t affect its appeal.

Independent record distributors would become creative with their products, including sheets of song lyrics, photographs and interesting things to discover. Now, this is not completely lost in CD productions. For instance, while I’m not a fan of Nine Inch Nails, my brother has a fairly large collection and the man behind NIN seems to have taken inspiration from the way records were designed. Having released a lot of his deluxe edition albums in book-like shapes, he has truly captured that creativity not just in his music, but also in how it is presented. One can now see many more indie bands doing the same.

Nowadays CDs are recorded digitally and do sound as if they are much better quality. But when they first arrived in the late 70s, available songs were mainly copied from analogue tape masters to compact discs or completely remastered; the quality was not any better! It’s only in the past ten to twenty years that recent songs have been recorded with new technology and sound terrific. So I will probably adhere to listening to new artists on compact discs or MP3s and older artists on their original records. Well as much as I can get away with it.

It’s different for everyone. For instance, if you are the sort of person that likes to have one or two songs by hundreds of artists… you’re best off downloading MP3s – but that’s a whole other article. If you’re happy enough listening to your favourite artists and creating a collection of their music, records are the best way in which to head. If we have the equipment to make music more enjoyable in presentation as well as sound, why not create something as smart as the record, but newer? We’ll just have to see what producers come up with next…