You might reasonably assume that, since I’m co-hosting a monthly Gusto Vinyl Happy Hour at the Sportsmen’s Tavern celebrating the beleaguered but indomitable record album that I must listen to vinyl almost exclusively. In fact, though I never got rid of my roughly 2,000 vinyl records despite ever-changing new listening formats, I'd estimate that vinyl comprised only 25 percent of my total listening experience.
That changed in 2018. This year, I purchased more vinyl than I have since I was a teenager. And, though streaming via phone is what I do in the car, at the office and while walking the dog, when I’m at home, I’m increasingly drawn to my old Technics turntable, early '70s model Marantz receiver and mini-fridge-sized stereo speakers. I feel like a kid again.
It’s not lost on me, however, that I’m making things difficult for myself. Streaming digital files is a significantly more convenient choice. So why are audiophiles like myself and so many others still clinging to LPs? I thought I’d ask someone who might be able to suss my motives.
“I think it has to do with the experience,” said Ethan Weissman, a 20-year-old Buffalo musician and audiophile enrolled in the Studio Production program at SUNY Purchase. “I firmly believe that digital is the best medium, but I still acknowledge that it’s much more of a tangible and spiritual experience to feel a vinyl record, hold it in your hands, drop the needle yourself, and listen to the music as the artist intended, from start to finish.”
I’ve watched Ethan grow up. His father, jazz guitarist and educator Stu Weissman, is a close family friend. His older brother Avery is a rock and jazz bassist gigging up a storm in Buffalo. We started holding informal Weissman-Miers family jams at my home a decade back, when our kids were still quite young. Ethan has grown into a deeply talented musician, an astute recording engineer, and a bit of an audio snob. So I trust his views on my vinyl fetishizing.
“I agree that gear fetishizing is a huge point for vinyl enthusiasts,” Weissman said. “Most of the people I know who are super enthusiastic about vinyl love to talk about their stereos, speakers, amplifiers, receivers, even down to the cartridges and needles they use on their turntables. It all helps build that physical experience that you don't quite get with any other medium.”
So true. So surely, he’d acknowledge that some things sound significantly superior on vinyl?
“I really don't think anything sounds better on vinyl.”
“The limits of the medium necessitate a narrower stereo width so the needle doesn't jump out of the groove, and so extremes of the frequency range, both high and low, are lost. If anything were to sound better on vinyl, it would probably be older jazz records that depend much more on dynamic range than extreme frequency content. Anything produced in the more modern era is better suited to digital.
“This opinion might be a product of my age, but I really believe lossless digital formats like WAV or FLAC are superior to vinyl in every way - except the experience of listening.”
Ahh, there it is – the crux of the issue. It’s about the experience. So my talented young friend is suggesting that my vinyl fetish reveals a need in me for engaging in some sort of sacred ritual. You know what? I think he’s right. And I'm good with that.