Poll: If digital audio is so great, why didn't it kill the LP?

Even the most die-hard LP fans concede its many flaws, so why didn't the LP fade away a few years after the CD was introduced?

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

There's no sense denying vinyl's imperfections. First there are the noise issues -- pops, clicks, and rumble -- and they all get a little worse every time you play an LP. Then there are problems with speed stability, off-center pressings, warped records, less than accurate vinyl and phono cartridge frequency response curves, poor stereo separation, and limited dynamic range. That was all true back in 1983, and digital has only improved since then. So why are vinyl sales up year after year since the early 2000s?

Poll: Vinyl vs. CD

Why will the LP outlast the CD?

Most formats wither and die soon after the replacement format takes over -- VHS and Beta tapes, HD DVD, DVD-A, LaserDisc, cassette tape, MiniDisc, 8-track cartridges, DAT tapes -- new titles are no longer released in those formats. The LP, 30 years after its replacement was introduced, is thriving. Thousands of new titles are released each year; new turntables and phono cartridges are introduced every year.

In every measurable way digital clobbers analog, but with a great turntable like my VPI Classic and my Magnepan 3.7 flat panel speakers , vinyl's shortcomings are surprisingly easy to ignore. They have extraordinary levels of resolution, and LPs sound awfully good at home. Maybe, just maybe, the numbers and measurements are missing something our ears are hearing. Ask someone who grew up listening to CDs and MP3s about why they're now listening to LPs, and they all say the same thing: they enjoy music more on LP. That's why the LP survives: it's the best way to listen to music.

New vinyl may be a niche market, and it's expensive, but LPs are selling in large enough numbers that more and more labels are releasing new music on LP. Then again, you can't download a LP, or get new vinyl for free. Bands who like to see some money coming in from their studio efforts like vinyl, that's for sure.

CDs trounce records by any measurement you can name; but CDs didn't finish off records, and neither did the MP3. Why is that? Respond to the poll at left, and then tell us what you think in the Comments section.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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