Digital files are the worst way to collect music. They’re an abomination. They’re anti-music.
These files don’t exist. They’re air. A bunch of 0s and 1s. They’re Justin Bieber.
If you listen to the great ZZ Top song “Master of Sparks” off Tres Hombres on vinyl, your first reaction may be what the fuck is going on there? Sounds like it was recorded in mud…but that’s the point. That’s how the little ‘ol band from Texas intended it. Muddy, nasty, sleazy. In fact, the whole album, produced by Bill Ham, sounds this way. And that’s why it’s so great. Its recording is an interpretation of the sound that ZZ Top was trying to capture at that time. It ain’t clean – it’s a garbled, glorious bloozy boozy mess.
Hear it as a digital file and it sounds tinny, unnatural and loud. The idea with digital – and this hearkens back to the CD days – was to ‘clean’ up vinyl. To eliminate any pops, ticks, scratches, pits – anything that may make extraneous noise on a record’s surface. Not a bad idea – especially if you have records that are so dinged up you can’t listen to them. But the idea with digital was also to either equalize everything out of the music or over-equalize it, boosting all levels and dumping dynamic range. Dynamic range in music is the difference between the quietest and loudest volume of an instrument, part or piece of music. Often, when things are reproduced digitally, this range becomes limited through compression, which allows for louder volume, but can make the recording sound lifeless.
This isn’t always the case with CDs – I have some that sound incredible but most sound wrong. Like those Beatles CDs that were released in the late ’80s. They’re way off compared to hearing them on vinyl. In fact, when I first purchased those discs back then, they almost destroyed my love for the Beatles they sounded so bad. Nothing emerged from those reproductions except disappointment.
Take MP3 files. They’re completely stripped of dynamic range. They’re dull coming out of little ear buds that further destroy sound quality. Sure, they’re easy to download and they’re portable but to what point? Take your music everywhere? Ultimately they underwhelm the music listening experience.
Here’s Neil Young’s take on digital music downloads: “It’s about sound quality. I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution. It’s bad for music.”
There’s another aspect to collecting albums as opposed to air-based files. Records are a physical representation, with actual tracks cut into grooves that vibrate (like sound waves) when a needle glides inside of them.
Albums are an actual product. Not only do you have the vinyl disc itself, but you have the jacket, the sleeve, lyric sheets – all those great real things that you can curate, see and hold.
© 2017 Chris Barry