September 28, 2020
There has been a long debate in the music industry over the sound quality of different formats of audio media. Over the years music format has changed many times. From the initial front-runner, Vinyl, fashion turned to the 8-Track, the Cassette, CD’s, digital downloads, and now digital streaming. Interestingly, streaming does not allow the end-user to purchase the music they are listening to, but instead allows only for listening rights while subscribing to the service or listening to advertisements and commercials. Of the media versions that do allow for lifetime use purchases, there has been an unlikely change of fortune over the last several years. The oldest format, Vinyl, has come back in style and is the market leader in new sales!
Many different trends, both technical and behavioral, have had to come together to culminate in the renewed popularity of Vinyl. On the technical front, each new format released over the years has brought with it better compression technology. CDs could hold more songs in a smaller size than could cassettes, and cassettes the same over the 8-track, and so on. This increase in compression technology eventually led us into the full digital era where the electronic download took hold. As digital technology increased, we got to the point where you didn’t even have to download a song anymore. Instead you can stream live without taking up any space at all!
For the audiophiles among us though, each of these changes in format brought with an undeniable loss in fidelity of the music. Each time a song was compressed more, it seemed to become more shallow and hollow. Thankfully this trend has started to reverse given the increases in internet bandwidth, and now with a good enough connection you can stream FLAC encoded music, the 4K video of the audio world. These developments have allowed for the distribution of high-quality music, but what about those who want to ‘own’ the music that they love? This is where the change in behavior has come into play.
Those who want to have a physical copy of their music have increasingly turned to Vinyl LPs, where the sound quality is not hampered by variable compression algorithms. Instead, Vinyl offers a rich sound quality in a format that is virtually unchanged from a century ago. It may sound silly, but you can hear a difference if you listen closely. For those who want to own a physical copy of their records, Vinyl has become the choice. Bands releasing new albums these days invariably include a Vinyl edition, even if there is no CD version.
So, what does this mean for most music listeners? For a casual listener, almost nothing except that the streaming music on your phone is pretty good these days. But it could also mean that, as more and more people trend back to original format, that stash of old Vinyls up in the attic could be worth a lot more than you think.