Is LP wear a myth? Can 50-year-old records still sound great?

Is fear of record wear stopping you from getting into vinyl?

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Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When the CD format debuted in the early 1980s, one of the most appealing aspects of going digital was that CDs wouldn't wear out from being played. That's true, but scuffed-up CDs can skip or become unplayable. LPs are far more fragile, yet I still enjoy albums I bought in the 1960s. Even as a kid, I always took care of my records, and while there are occasional noises, clicks, and pops, some of my old records sound better to my ears than CDs. With a decent turntable, analog can sound more natural than digital. I'm not dissing digital -- I own thousands of CDs -- but in terms of pure musical pleasure, LPs trump CDs.

It's a personal preference. Some folks are put off by analog's imperfections, and they should stick with digital. But there's no denying the fact that more and more people, young and old, are getting into vinyl in 2014. The Audio Technica AT-LP60 turntable I recently reviewed would be a great way to start.

A lot of vinyl naysayers like to harp on the fact that LPs can "wear out." Yes, the act of playing records does add a tiny amount of noise, clicks, and pops with each play, but my frequently played records, over very high-resolution speakers, still sound fine to me. I'm totally guessing, but I'd estimate some of my Rolling Stones and Motown LPs have been played 200 or 300 times, but I'd never replace them with new remastered LPs. Sliding an old record out of its cardboard jacket brings back memories; each LP has connections to the past.

I like the sound of old LPs, and any record that was pressed before 1980 is definitely an all-analog recording; after that there's a chance that even an analog master tape was converted to digital at some point. If you really want to experience what some audiophiles prefer about vinyl, try some clean, pre-1980, original pressings. I'm not claiming that all old records sound great -- not by a long shot -- but condition counts! Scuffed, scratched, or dirty old records can sound dreadful; inspect used LPs carefully, or better yet, listen before you buy. At home, you can clean some of the dust and crud off used LPs in the kitchen sink.

Yes, LPs can wear out, but I own many hundreds of pre-1970s albums that still sound great, so as a practical matter it's not a real concern. When I see well-worn, beat-up records, at least I can say that someone really played that music -- again and again!

If you buy old LPs or singles, share your experiences about wear in the comments section.

 

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