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The Audio Debate: Vinyl or Compact Disc?

Compact discs are definitely the format of the masses nowadays, but are they the best media for music? Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages.

The aim of any music recording and playback system is to reproduce the musical performance as near as possible to the original. Human hearing at its best has a frequency range from around 15Hz to 22kHz, although as you get older you lose some of the higher frequencies. However musical instruments, both traditional and electronic, are capable of producing a much wider frequency range. Whilst this may seem rather pointless, in fact it is very important when you consider harmonics. We can hear harmonics of sounds that we can't hear, so these inaudible sounds must also be recorded and reproduced so that we hear the harmonics.

Vinyl Records:

Compact Discs:

Personal experiences:
If, like me, you have been buying records since you went to school, then I'm sure you'll understand the excitement of going into a record shop and finding that new LP sleeve, with great art work. Spending your hard earned pocket money and going home to play it. There you'd get the record out of the inner sleeve, which quite often contained more art work and the lyrics to the songs. The smell of the new vinyl... mmm. Then listening to side 1, before turning over to side 2. What an experience. Over the years upgrading the Hi-Fi system to get even more out of the vinyl. Then in the early 1980's along came the announcement that a superior sound system had been produced and the new discs were indestructible and lasted forever (a claim that was soon retracted). So suckers that we all are we rushed out and bought new CD players and expensive Compact Discs. Yes they sounded different - no scratch or dust crackle on the sound, but didn't sound just right. Anyway believed them that this is better and bought some new releases on CD and thought they were OK. Still not too sure, decided to buy a better CD player (at twice the price I'd paid for my turntable). Still sounds "OK". After a couple of years bought a second hand LP copy of one of my favourite CDs - wow what had I been missing? The rest is history - traded in those CDs that I could get an LP copy of. Still always buy the new LPs now unless not available, then wait for a sale before buying a CD unless the music's something special.
Problems I've had with CDs: One of the first CDs I bought was "Big Generator" by Yes. This disc lasted about 6 months before it was unplayable. Gaps (silences) appeared in the music! Obviously at this time the shops/manufacturers were keen to push the medium and happily replaced it for another even without a receipt! Also be careful when handling your CDs. You'll probably get away with scratching the playing side of the disc, but whatever you do don't scratch the label side! The actual data on the CD is just under the label, and one disc I've got with a scratch on the label no longer plays! Warning check the packaging - one CD had been on my shelf for nearly a year when I decided to play it again. To my surprise the disc had become crazed from the outer edge towards the middle, looking a bit like a frozen pond. Half the tracks are unplayable. Panic set in and I started going through other CDs, another one in the same type of packaging (digipak) was starting to show the same problem. I've never had an LP deteriorate on a shelf. Oh yes, and don't whatever you do stick anything on the label or write on it as this too can attack the data just under the label.

Do you play music while relaxing, doing the housework, etc. OR do you listen to music? I think this is the key to choosing the format for your music purchases. If you listen to the music then you want the best medium capable of reproducing the music as close as possible to the original. If your just want to hear music then the easiest to use is probably better for you. For the reproduction of music, the best media is the Vinyl record. For ease of use the Compact Disc wins. It's a bit like choosing whether to go to a restaurant or a fast food outlet. Both have their uses, but one is always going to be better than the other at quality. Of course if the owners close all the restaurants they expect us to go for the fast food, well they're wrong!

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