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Should you be buying physical copies of music?

So vinyl’s making a comeback. It’s cool to have your Wiz Khalifa and System of a Down on the same material that your grandmother would have listened to the Gaither Vocal Band on. But is there any actual merit to owning vinyl, or even cassettes and CDs, other than their niftiness?

The history of vinyl dates back as far as around the 1890s. The records were originally composed of Shellac, but a celluloid material soon became a more popular option. It wasn’t until around 1949 that the actual vinyl material was used to construct records. These first vinyl records played at 45 revolutions per minute, or RPM. Initially, early records were all designed to play at much higher RPMs, which would only leave about five minutes of audio on each side of the record. This was soon resolved though, with the 74-82 RPM records being phased out and replaced with the much slower paced 33 and one-third RPM record, which allowed much more audio to be stored on each side of the record. These 33 and one-third records are what we use most often today. And now we can add holograms and stuff too. I don’t know man. Ask Jack White:

The most popular digital format is MP3, and when compared to physical music, specifically vinyl, you can draw a number of different conclusions, even past the difference in audio quality. One of the first noticeable differences is ease of access. The simplest and most popular way to access an MP3 file is to reach into your pocket, pull out your chosen brand of smartphone and press play, whereas with vinyl, you first need a turntable to play the records, speakers so you actually have something to amplify the sound and a receiver to power your set of speakers. You can’t walk around very well with all that equipment and listen to your music like you can with an MP3 player and a set of headphones, unless you’re feeling particularly 90s-tastic and want to walk around with this piece of machinery on your shoulder.

The clear advantage to physical music comes in a less noticeable form. Listening to physical music is usually more of an experience than a listening session from a digital vessel. When you listen to music on an MP3 player, it’s less ceremonious. You have the option to skip songs in an album and make playlists and all manner of different things that can alter the artist’s original intention for an album. With vinyl, that option isn’t as readily available. With the needle dropped on the record, I’ve always felt more inclined to let that side of the record play through, rather than picking it up to interrupt a track. Buying music is an investment.

The physical vs. digital debate has been a hot topic in recent years and will likely continue to be debated until definitive proof that one is better or worse than the other is published. Digital music is more transportable than physicals, which makes them much more accessible. But at the same time, it’s easier for albums to have an impact on you when you sit down, eliminate distractions and concentrate on the music itself. But having religious experiences with music isn’t always your main prerogative. Sometimes you just want something playing in the background while you study or something inoffensive to play while your family is in the car with you. In the end, it’s entirely personal preference.

About Sean McCully

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