Vinyl vs Download

Last Updated on 1st June 2023

Is it one of those eternal burning questions that generations of humans will contemplate, like the chicken and the egg, how do baby turtles know they have to head straight to the sea, is there life after death or the biggest of them all, The Beatles or The Stones?

In this modern era a new unwinnable battle has emerged, vinyl records or digital music? The two camps are adamant each is better, with sound quality being the optimum level of competence. For some though it is not about the surface noise you get on a vinyl record that is important as much as the dynamic range of sound you get from the digital format.

For some it boils down to how it makes you feel. As music lovers we will have our own favourites but the format on which we listen to them is just as important. Going to your local record store and picking out some gems is why people prefer vinyl. Yet the undeniable convenience and choice available on most streaming services is why the digital download crowd favour their method of listening to music.

As one of life’s music lovers I get to meet other like-minded people and the debate has been opened concerning which is best and I have contemplated (a little too long) this contest. There are pros and cons to both sides but I aim to focus on the pros of being a vinyl junkie. That said I must add that I do also download digital music to my phone, Sonos and even a very old iPod.

Person at record store rifling through vinyl
Buying a record is an undoubted pleasure for vinyl enthusiasts

I am going to start at the beginning which is in my humble opinion the best place to start and that is with the actual purchasing of the music and for this purpose I am purely on vinyl albums and not vinyl singles. I get the convenience of the digital download, you just go to your preferred streaming service, punch in the band name or album title and hey presto it is there for you in literally seconds.

One click or tap and it is yours, I mean you don’t even have to open your wallet and there it is completely and utterly available to you on any device to choose to listen to it through. However and this is a big however for me the process of buying records at your local record shop or even a record fair instils wonderful memories of my youth and saving pocket money, working odd jobs to have enough money for the latest vinyl album release by your favourite band.

The aroma of all that cardboard, plastic covers and sweaty heavy metal fans is, to me like entering a picturesque garden full of brightly coloured flowers but instead of sharing that space with all that nature has to offer I know I will be shoulder to shoulder with at least one older guy wearing a heavily faded tour t-shirt dating back to the early eighties at least.

Flicking through the endless crates of tightly packed albums just hoping to find the one that you want or even better to discover one you have been looking for since you were fourteen. Handing money over to the cashier and getting that little appreciative nod from them that they agree with your choice is like being accepted by the cool kids or an older sibling.

vinyl records

One of the arguments that arises between the two camps is the storage of our music collections and once again I appreciate that hundreds of records do take up prized space in the house as opposed being able to store thousands to a cloud type thing somewhere in outer space but for me the fact that I have just find the right unit to store all of my record collection after three years of searching gives me a joy that is hard to explain. I actually get to look at these wonderful recordings, all neatly stacked with the spines facing outwards for easy access and can honestly say its like a piece of artwork.

Talking of artwork and this is where my argument wins every time is the covers of albums and not just the front cover but the back which contains the track listing and on the odd occasion there will be a gatefold sleeve which contains even more beauty than the front and back put together. I actually have a copy of Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones which has a zipper sewn into it. You won’t ever get that again.

Once you have the buying, the storage and the appreciation of the physical album under control the next stage is by far the best and the listening experience.

You can’t just grab the lacquer disc out of the aforementioned sleeve, oh no it has to eased from its shackles and handled like a new born baby or a delicate piece of your granny’s finest bone china, you tenderly roll it into the palm of your hands making sure that your fingers do not touch any of the playing surface, the physical record has to be slightly spun into a horizontal position and laid carefully onto the turntable, you may notice I refer to the device on which it is played as a turntable and not a deck and I do not know why but to some it will always be a humble turntable and I am not a DJ.

A man enjoying a vinyl experience with his old record player
The vinyl experience vs digital is an ongoing format debate that will never be resolved

For me the lowering of the record player’s needle is the most powerful part of the entire process as it drops onto the edge of the spinning disk the mechanical noise that ensues is the most evocative in my whole life. I can best describe this surface noise as a crackle, a warm sound I can readily make with my mouth but cannot express in words for this page but anybody who has ever played a vinyl record will know exactly what I mean.

If you add the excitement of when the music is going to start with that of the crackle you have the optimum moment of playing any music this way no matter what you are going to listen to whether it be rock, soul, hip hop or classical (other types of music are available).

Now back to the digital counterparts amongst us and an argument that us vinyl lovers will never win is damage. These lumps of lacquer disc or sometimes various coloured bits of plastic are susceptible wear and tear which is something no matter how vigilant you are is inevitable but as I said at the beginning of this article I am going to focus on the positives and give you an example of how a scratch in a vinyl record can in some strange way enlighten your life.

As a child I had an album by Madness called One Step Beyond and it’s opening and title track of the same name had such a huge scratch in it that it would jump and entire verse and it wasn’t until I digitally downloaded the album twenty or so years later I discovered this almost lost verse which to me was like hearing the entire song for the first time all over again. This has added a new dimension to the listening experience for me.

One thing I like to do which most of my vinyl loving friends are aghast at is leaving the last record I played on the turntable as opposed to putting it away. Not only does it remind me of what I was enjoying on the last visit to my music collection but it makes the turntable look slightly prettier than if it were left empty.

So I suppose I have to sum up and tell you that my way is the best way, vinyl or digital download, but in all honesty I cannot do that because as a music lover I have to conclude that whichever way you choose to listen to your favourite band is the right way to do it.