Needle droppers at the back of Barnes & Noble...

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Chesterton's "giggling excitement over fashion" consumes years of our lives. Thankfully, as you get older you weary of the giggling and get suspicious of the excitement. So my nose began to twitch just now when I saw signs plastered across the windows of Barnes & Noble announcing "We have VINYL!"

Really? Vinyl? You mean all those years we spent slipping sleeves out of album covers and records out of sleeves ever so carefully, and all that belly button fluff we had to take off the needle... 

and all that time we spent weighing the merits of this or that turntable and this or that stylus, and all that space our record collections took up, and all the weight we carried in and out of dorm rooms and apartments are hipster style, now? Barnes and Noble hipster style? 

There's one born every minute.

It will take great courage, but if you find it within you, join me in eating white eggs from Walmart. Then you're terminal and it won't be so scary to descend deeper into the hipster oblivion of drinking lukewarm coffee, eating grain fed beef, snarfing down a Mickey D's fish filet sandwich, spraying fungicide on roses and tomatoes, ordering $25 eyeglasses from China, buying bare root trees and shrubs online, and....

Listening to MP3s. If sound quality is what matters to you, never fear—you can't tell the difference. But of course, you won't be able to display your turntable to your guests, allowing them to watch the religious ritual of pinching navel dust off the stylus and carrying it into the bathroom to flush it down the toilet.

As Wikipedia summarizes:

For modern recordings, the controversy between analog recording and digital recording is becoming moot. No matter what format the user uses, the recording probably was digital at several stages in its life.

An additional complication arises when discussing human perception when comparing analog and digital audio in that the human ear itself, is an analog-digital hybrid. 

And Skeptoid reports:

In 2000, some excellent research was published in the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education where subjects listened to digital and analog recordings of the same concert performance, recorded unequalized and unmixed especially for this test. They were able to switch back and forth between the two at will, and everything was blinded and well controlled. ...The researchers concluded: "Results showed that music major listeners rated the digital versions of live concert recordings higher in quality than corresponding analog versions. Participants gave significantly higher ratings to the digital presentations in bass, treble, and overall quality, as well as separation of the instruments/voices. Higher rating means for the digital versions were generally consistent across loudspeaker and headphone listening conditions and the four types of performance media."

To summarize the science, digital is the superior reproduction format, but analog (particularly vinyl) offers a particular type of sound [hisses, scratches, and pops] that some people prefer. 

The best argument in favor of vinyl recordings need not be bolstered by unsupported claims about the technical quality of the recording, and that's the physical, tangible experience. Lowering a needle onto a record... More senses are involved: the smell of the album cover, the touch of lowering the tone arm into the groove, the sight of the stroboscope indicating the precise turntable speed. It's a full experience to which the listener must dedicate focused attention and time. Vinyl records are ...a metaphysical, philosophical issue.


Here's a modest proposal: how 'bout if Christians focus our metaphysical moments on the doctrines of Scripture rather than the doctrines of gluten, tea, raised bed gardening, free-range chicken, craft beer, and vinyl. Nawmean?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!