Why do I choose to listen to vinyl records as opposed to digital?

I am currently participating enthusiastically in the global revival of vinyl records. As I write I am listening to one of a crop of new vinyl records (Lucky Town by Bruce Springsteen) that I received as birthday presents. It sounds wonderful on my Linn LP12-based system, and I am enjoying the experience immensely. However, it remains a puzzle to me why I bother to invest heavily in my vinyl playing system when my digital streaming system also sounds wonderful and has a number of advantages. It’s much cheaper to run, the cost of my Quboz subscription equates to less than half of the price of one 1 LP per month and gives me access to almost all the music I could ever wish for. It is more robust than my vinyl collection which is susceptible to dust and other issues that can lead to clicks and other imperfections in the sound. I confess to being someone who is easily distracted and irritated by clicks and surface noise from LPs.

We measure many parameters to try to evaluate the merits of hifi systems: signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response, harmonic distortion etc. In reality, digital streaming outperforms analogue vinyl reproduction in most of these. Even early CD managed that and this together with its robustness led to its popularity and for a while seemed enough to see off good old-fashioned analogue. But these days CD seems to lack the appeal of vinyl or the convenience of streamed digital.

If we accept that many people get more enjoyment from listening to vinyl than digital, then we must accept that we are measuring the wrong things. I know from my academic work that we tend to measure the parameters that are easy to measure. Our dominant scientific paradigm emphasises measurements that are reproducible in a consistent fashion. However, human things often value things that are not susceptible to measurement in this way. Enjoyment of music and its reproduction is in essence a feeling, based upon an emotion. Feelings and emotions are difficult to measure, not necessarily consistent or reproducible.

Further, some characteristics may impact positively or negatively on enjoyment according to context. The very convenience of digital streaming which is one of its attractions, may actually detract from enjoyment. The physical act of having to select a record, take it to the turntable, place it on the turntable, clean it and then carefully place the stylus in the leading groove may actually force an increased level of engagement. Similarly, the fact that it can’t be paused or played on random play may also increase engagement.

The final characteristic of vinyl replay that may feed into the enjoyment for the hifi hobbyist (or addict) is that it’s far more tweakable than a digital system. Since I acquired my Linn LP12 turntable, I have changed the cartridge, headshell cables and mat. I am already looking at upgrading the phono preamplifier stage, and the speed control system on the turntable as well as replacing the drive belt.

Is this an advantage or is my digital system that just sits there and plays music preferable? Fortunately, I can afford to indulge my hobbyist tendencies (within reason).

My empirical observation is that when I am in the mood for serious listening, my analogue vinyl records do provide me with more enjoyment than my digital system. Similarly, I gain enjoyment from the ability to tweak my turntable-playing system. Is that measurable? Not really. You can demonstrate it by those evenings when you set out to play just one record, and three hours later, you are still playing records three hours later. That said, I have spent many happy evenings listening to streamed music on my streaming system and other frustrating evenings listening to poor vinyl pressings with too many imperfections.

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