The Resurgence of Vinyl: Nostalgia vs. Audio Quality

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Resurgence of Vinyl

Written by Donna Maurer.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Living in a world of digital streaming and music apps galore, it may seem surprising that vinyl records are making a massive comeback in the mainstream. But the sales for vinyl have boomed, and it seems as though people enjoy having physical media as well as digital these days.

The resurgence of vinyl isn’t only about nostalgia, though; many feel that the sound quality of a record far outweighs that of a master recording online. Which one is correct? Let’s explore how vinyl records provide for people yearning to remember the past and whether or not the audio is better.

The Record Still Sells in a Digital World

The vast majority of music is experienced digitally, probably due highly to the convenience factor it supplies. Audio content is more accessible than ever before. Playing media can be done instantly on practically any mobile device, making it easy and preferable.

The first half of 2023 has already seen vinyl sales up over 20% more than the year prior. So why are vinyl records seeing such a significant increase in sales?  After all, vinyls are just another product and a way to distribute and sell music to fans.

Holding onto nostalgia can likely be the culprit of this increase, with many fans liking the ability of having something physical to hold in their hands when enjoying their favorite tunes. As a fan of a particular artist, there’s a cultural or historical tie for music lovers.

How the Recording is Done

Creating a vinyl record is different than when done digitally. The process of editing audio depends on the medium - in this case, the record recording is sent electronically to a lathe that cuts into a piece of lacquer. The music waves control the grooves' shape on the record's curve, and then it’s coated and stamped.

The needle on a record player follows those grooves created by the waves, producing an electric signal with a magnet or a coil. The generation of the signal passes through an equalizer and then gets amplified to bring the sound out in your speakers.

In digital audio, the signals are sent through an analog-to-digital converter, known as an ADC. Then a computer recording program or software processes it and converts it. A sound engineer or independent artist can then adjust and add effects within the recording to mix and master the music. 

The Difference in Audio Quality

Vinyl records can skip or sometimes slide when the needle goes across it. If the frequency of the audio is low, but the amplitude is too high (or loud), the needle bounces and skips. Many audio engineers apply specific mixing to music when recording on vinyl, preventing this from happening.

Records work to the frequency range of the human ear and beyond, with the range from a frequency of 7Hz to 50kHz. It can depend on the equipment that’s used and any filters that are applied. As the needle moves from the outside of the record to the middle, picking up high-frequency detail once the circle is smaller is more challenging.

It’s natural to hear distortion when playing a record, and it’s considered a pleasant part of owning and playing vinyl records. This distortion is why many prefer to have a physical record than streaming digital audio without such distorted sounds; they rather enjoy the sound of imperfection than a digitally “perfect” master recording.

Those who advocate for vinyl state that the sound quality is far superior to streaming recordings. There’s a sound that’s warmer, richer, and more naturally occurring. Digital formats can lose some sound information during the conversion process, and it’s not as “pure” compared to the vinyl’s analog sound.

Nostalgia and Physical Collection

The other part of vinyl’s appeal to fans is the sense of nostalgia that it brings. Returning to the days when listening to music was a more active experience rather than a passive one. The ability to pick up an album, place it on the player and move the needle can evoke a sense of emotion and recollection for music lovers, shares Vincent Reina the teacher at Music To Your Home.

Owning a piece of something physical can provide other experiences. The albums often have artfully crafted pictures, lyrics, and liner notes. These things can connect you to the music you listen to and provide a deeper and more profound experience than just pushing and listening to any digital track. It gives a more personal value to your musical journey.

Many vinyl records nowadays are collectible, too, with limited editions or unique LPs released by the artist. Having a piece of something that isn’t widely available can make owning a record far more appealing and a seemingly rewarding hobby if you’re a genuine music fan.

Vinyl’s Future in a Digital Age

The perceived quality of vinyl, whether it’s due to nostalgia or advocating for its audio quality, really comes down to an individual’s preference. It’s clear that this resurgence in vinyl sales is more than just a simple fad that will pass away.

For many people, this resurgence in vinyl is a link to the artist and music, a perceived sound that transcends digital audio, and a sense of nostalgia. The revival of vinyl records provides a connection to music in a more meaningful way, and for all of those reasons, vinyl is likely here to stay for the future.

No matter your preference, vinyl can bring about a renewed appreciation for having something physical that brings a new experience to your listening.