This week, a company specializing in making products few people buy announced the arrival of a boxed set of Beatles LPs. Complete with “original” packaging, the twelve "180-gram re-mastered" albums and 252-page hardcover guide book can be found for the low, low price of 400 dollars or so.
Before you pull the trigger, please locate your 180-gram turntable.
If you, like me, don’t call it a turntable, but, instead opt for “record player”, this might not be for you.
I am a huge Beatles fan. I, in fact, own a turntable, but no, I won’t be buying the boxed set.
I like my iPod better.
I said it.
Revoke my hippie card.
For years, some of my generation, those who grew up with the 33-and-a-third rpm vinyl record as our mainstay musical format, have argued that digital recordings sound “thin” or “tinny” or “yucky” (to use a technical term).
I wouldn’t know.
Maybe those folks who own a collection of pristine, Half-Speed Mastered® Vinyl LPs may be able to detect a difference. Record freaks who store their albums in Dust-Free® air-tight Temperature-Controlled® concrete bunkers, handling them while wearing Silk-Sewn-1500-Count® surgical gloves may be able to make the argument that LPs reproduce sound better than Cds or Mp3s or any other recording format you’d like to name.
I’m unable to verify that as a fact because all of my albums have been played at least seven billion times, sometimes with two nickels and a dime taped to the tone arm. As my therapist has reminded, “the more you play with those, the more wear and tear you will put on them”.
Unlike some, I never took great care to wipe my records with a Discwasher® or Micro-Fibre DustFree cloth® or Static-Guard® Parastatic Roller®. In addition, I must now admit that there have been times that I may have touched the vinyl (shock!) rather than handle the LP by the edges or label (double shock!)
You know that paper sleeve that came with the record, the one on the inside of the cardboard cover that you were never, ever supposed to lose?
Lost ‘em all.
Some, I threw away immediately.
While there is a great argument to be made as to whether a vinyl recording sounds more “warm” or “bright” or “huggable” (to use a technical term), I’m probably not the guy to make that argument. However, I can tell the difference between an album I bought and an iTunes track I downloaded: the album is the one that sounds like someone making popcorn.
At least my albums do.
The covers have fared no better.
Some of the damage was my own doing. Quite a bit of it happened after my girlfriend’s cat sharpened her claws on the spines of everything from Aerosmith to ZZ Top.
Kind of hard to read what they say now.
The real reason I now give my vote to the digital age is simple. When I want to hear something, I want to hear it right now. I don’t want to look for it, clean it, place it on a turntable, find the correct track, place the tone arm, blah blah blah. I just want to hear a song, man. Now.
Same thing with buying music.
Example: The other day, I was thinking about the song “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo. It was stuck in my head and I wanted to hear it. It’s the only song I want to hear by Wall of Voodoo. I’m sure they had many other wonderful songs, each handcrafted and beautifully reproduced. I just wanted “Mexican Radio”.
In less time than it takes for the band to sing the song, I had downloaded it and was singing along, giggling. “What did he say?!”
I needed a fix.
I got my fix.
Was it “warm®”?
Was it “authentic®”?
Was it “true®”?
Beats me. It was Wall of Voodoo. It was the song I wanted to hear. It cost me ninety-nine cents.
And I didn’t have to leave my chair.
Score one for the digital age.
The one thing I do miss about the twelve-inch LP delivery system is the great packaging and artwork. There was nothing like staring at cool photos and reading liner notes as the music played. That’s an argument that digital delivery can’t match.
Except, of course, with video. Want to watch the Beatles playing “I Dig a Pony” live on the rooftop of Apple studios from 1969. It’s just one visit to YouTube away.
Unless, of course, your girlfriend’s cat used your iPad as a scratching post.