CDs and Vinyl: An Odd Pas de Deux

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compact disc
The CD is over 30 years old (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When CDs started coming out in the early 1980s, they promised everything: cleaner sound, no surface noise, easier to use, more convenient. Early CDs also enabled record companies to resell their existing catalog, at higher prices of course, and sell the hardware to play it. Some of the early recordings eliminated the tape hiss inherent in analog recordings, ruining the upper octaves, harmonics, and hall / studio ambiance. The music sounded dead, and Neil Young famously remarked that early digital sounded like nails being driven into his head. Neil Young had been working with the late Apple wizard Steve Jobs on getting better sound for digital files–Steve Jobs only listened to vinyl at home, supreme irony–the project has resulted in Pono. Tonight on 5/7/14, there is a big show auditioning the new Pono System for The Audio Salon being at Bergamot Station if you care to check it out.

Going back to the mid 1980s, consumers were enthusiastic over the new medium of Compact Discs so they took their old vinyl into brick and mortar record shops to trade in for CDs. To mainstream music lovers, vinyl was considered old school and sales dropped. For me, I personally loved the silent background of CDs and the lack of skips and pops from lousy LP pressings.

Today, we’re seeing changes. Turntable sales are up and so are LP sales from specialty stores like Music Direct and Elusive Disc. Original analog vinyl is worth more than ever. I say “original vinyl” because many vinyl reissues are made from digital files, which breaks the analog chain and can degrade the sound. Some companies like Mosaic, Impex, Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, and the German company Speakers Corner, source their reissues from the original masters. You’ll pay extra for it, but it’s worth it.

record player
Hipster endorsed turntable (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Otherwise, you may be stuck going on or Ebay, searching out original Contemporary LPs recorded so masterfully by Roy DuNann or Rudy Van Gelder original analog LPs on Blue Note, Impulse, or Prestige. No digital remastering here. No remastering with mega-compression for use on laptops or mobile devices. This is great original sound. But, you’ll be paying about 10-40 times what you got from record stores when you sold your old original vinyl (and rue the day you did it.)

I’ll end this by saying it’s fun to search through the vinyl bins at record stores like Amoeba. And now, over 30 years after the Compact Disc hit the scene, it’s suddenly hip to want record players and LPs again–even stores like Urban Outfitters are selling them now to eager shoppers. A love of vinyl is always a good trend.