Saturday, July 26, 2014
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HSU: The secret of loving vinyl: Accept your status as a pretentious nerd

The only reason there are people that don’t get vinyl is that the people who do love vinyl are never honest about why it’s great.

Full disclosure: I love vinyl. And that’s stupid.

It’s stupid the way collecting stamps is stupid, or the way that dumpster diving for antiques is stupid. It’s just a hobby. It’s worse than a hobby. It is a sick addiction and a sad, pathetic money-suck with little reward — but oh, how truly sweet that reward is.

I can tell you with full confidence that vinyl isn’t in any way better than digital music. It isn’t better than CDs. It doesn’t sound “fuller” or “warmer” — the illusion that it does is created by imperfections in the grooves and in the way the sound is transmitted through the needle and the turntable. Even albums that were recorded to be heard on vinyl are going to be much less accurate through a needle than they would be in a digital format. Likewise, buying new releases on vinyl is like buying Pacific Rim on Betamax.

The real reasons to love vinyl are small, insignificant and only tangentially related to sound quality.  If I wanted to hear the superior versions of random bands I find in the record store, I’d rip flac files off of the internet (say no to pirating, kids).

But I don’t want to hear the best version. I want to hear my vague and mysterious early-80s European reprint of Zeppelin IV. I want to accidentally drop the needle too quickly, ruining the entry grooves and adding to the LP’s battle scars. I want to wonder about previous owners and why they would ever let go of such neat records. I want to enter a record store looking for nothing at all and leaving with a bag of mystery music. I want to be forced to buy from a sketchy Amazon source if I want anything specific. I want to blow and dust and wipe clean a record for five minutes only to put it on and hear a horrible pop in the middle of my favorite track. I want my fury to ring from the heavens as I realize that the pop will stay on the record forever. I want the smell of a record sleeve to make a real difference in whether I like an album or not — some smell like old books and vanilla, others smell like mold.

The same can be said of record stores, although most just smell like basements, and a good portion of them actually are basements. Much like my opinions of the plastic they peddle, my choice of record stores is based on features that are as unmusical as they are strange and kind of gross. I like my vinyl shops dark, stuffy, unorganized, dusty and gross, with bins of inscrutable knick-knacks in one corner and shelves of sleeveless singles and broken VCRs in another.

I’m just as crazy and stupid as anyone who collects antiques, and I’m not any better just because I have to have speakers to enjoy my archeological finds. Record collectors aren’t dirty hipsters — we’re dirty nerds and we’re fools. Maybe someday you’ll join us and we all can live as one.

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