But the format is making a comeback because it supposedly sounds better than CDs or even downloaded files. So is there really a difference? And if you’ve got rid of your turntable but fancy giving a ‘proper record’ a spin, what’s on the market?
Finding your format
People can be passionate about music, so it’s not surprising fierce arguments rage about the best way to play it – downloads, CDs or even vinyl.
Most of us have devices to play digital music files, usually in the mp3 or AAC formats. And you’ve probably also got at least one CD player at home, and another in your car.
If you’re of a certain age, you might even have a turntable, though it could be languishing in the loft or the garage, next to your dusty record collection.
The question is, does one format sound better than another? And once you decide, how do you get the best possible sound system for your listening pleasure – at the best possible price?
Sound quality is one thing, but convenience is another. You can play a CD in your car. Ditto an mp3 player if you’ve got the right connections.
And an mp3 player will store thousands of songs that you can access in seconds while on the move. You can easily take your entire music collection with you anywhere.
The other weakness of vinyl is that it isn’t long-lasting. Sure, you can damage a CD, but if you look after it, chances are it will last much longer than a vinyl album, without any irritating snap, crackle and pop.
But while albums inevitably degrade with each play, they come with attractive packaging, including artwork, lyric sheets and sleeve notes you don’t need a magnifying glass to read.
So what’s all this hoo-hah about vinyl sounding better? Fans say their preferred format gives a warmer, richer sound than digital offerings because digital files are “compressed” to make them smaller and easier to send over the internet.
They say CDs suffer the same problem, which results in weak bass reproduction and thin treble notes. Those who disagree argue that any difference in quality between songs is likely to be the result of the actual recording process.
They say that, in recent years, sound engineers have tended to turn volume levels on all the instruments they record to maximum levels, the aim being to achieve powerful, immediate impact – sometimes referred to as the “loudness wars”.
Another technique is to boost treble signals so that recordings sound light and zippy – ideal for a younger audience.
Critics say this either results in muddy, unsubtle results that sound unsatisfactory whatever the format, or recordings that lack depth and substance – all icing and no cake.
But advocates of digital music say that, recording methods notwithstanding, it is the specification of the sound system that determines the quality of the music, not the format it is delivered in.
So, if you have cheaper speakers or headphones, your music will sound inferior. Up the quality of your kit and the songs will sound better, no matter how you play them.
How do I find the best deal?
If you are in the market for a sound system, MoneySupermarket’s shopping channel will allow you to compare what’s available at the cheapest prices.
Increasingly popular are 5.1 surround systems, which pump out music through six speakers positioned around the room. You can also link the speakers to your TV.
If you are bitten by the vinyl bug, you might be interested in turntables that, as well as allowing you to play them through your system, let you transfer them to your computer.
In this way you can capture your vinyl collection in convenient digital format and consign your vinyl collection to storage, a charity shop or the second-hand market.
If you buy new vinyl, be prepared to pay more than you would for a CD (and lots more than you would for a download) - £15, £20 or even more. You should also be aware that single albums are increasingly being offered as a double-disc vinyl package with three or four tracks per side, again in a bid to improve the quality of reproduction.
That’s a lot of getting up and down to turn the record over! If you enjoy listening to music on the move, there is an ever growing range of mp3 players from which to choose. And, of course, the all-important headphones could make a substantial difference to your listening experience.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.