The Vinyl Bug and How it Bit Me
by Mike DeFabio
Most of the music I listened to when I was a kid was either on a record or on a tape I’d made from a record, and as was typical for me, I didn’t properly appreciate it at the time. Records, as I saw it, were what you bought used because you didn’t have a CD player, and tapes were too expensive. You couldn’t dance around while they played or the needle would jump. You couldn’t bring them with you on a long car ride. You had to get up and turn them over halfway through.
And worst of all, they made all kinds of annoying popping and crackling noises when you played them, and if you weren’t careful enough when you handled them, the proof would be there for everyone to hear, forever. This was exacerbated by my exceptional carelessness when handling records, even when they weren’t mine. (You can have a record collection, or you can have kids, but you can’t have both.)
So when I eventually acquired a CD player as a teenager, the records I’d accumulated were essentially worthless to me. Why wouldn’t they be? I had perfect sound forever now! So I did something I now very much regret and sold them all to local record stores, even the ones I hadn’t damaged very much. And this was at a time when most of the music I liked was pretty easy to find on vinyl and not worth very much, so sometimes all the stores would offer in return was to take them off my hands for me.
CDs remained the only physical medium I cared to listen to for about 20 years. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that I suddenly got the idea that it would be a cool idea to have a record collection again. Not a big one. Just albums I really like, in good shape. Maybe a single crate’s worth. I’m not sure what changed. I still love the pristine perfection that a CD offers, but there’s something about a record that makes it particularly cool to have. And it’s not the “analog warmth” that audiophiles like to talk about. I’m not even particularly interested in newer vinyl reissues that probably sound better than they did when they first came out. Part of it is that the artwork is that much bigger, and when it’s a gatefold cover, it opens up into something huge that you can get lost in. But I also just love the idea of a record as something with a history, that somebody bought maybe close to fifty years ago when it came out, and that was carefully looked after for all that time, so it could somehow make its way to me and I could listen to it.
When you put the needle down (itself an aspect of the vinyl experience I had underrated–the process by which the sound, physically embedded in the record itself, is played back by a tiny diamond, amplified, and delivered to your ears, is astonishing to think about) you’re hearing the music more or less as it would have been heard by someone right when it came out. The formerly annoying act of flipping the record over gives the songs at the end of side one and the beginning of side two an importance they might not have in the middle of a CD (a good side two opener is an art form unto itself). Having to stay in the room while the record plays makes it kind of a special event. And it doesn’t sound perfect, but it’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be a record.
(A CD also doesn’t look as cool when you put in on a dog, but I suppose that goes without saying.)