"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Technology
September 22, 2006

Vinyl To Supercede CD

“I think it’s very possible that the CD might become obsolete in an age of download music but the vinyl record will survive,” Alex Needham of NME, cited here. I love the word supercede. ¬†These days we use it to mean replace, but the original latin meant something more like “outlast because it is superior.” […]

“I think it’s very possible that the CD might become obsolete in an age of download music but the vinyl record will survive,”

Alex Needham of NME, cited here.

I love the word supercede. ¬†These days we use it to mean replace, but the original latin meant something more like “outlast because it is superior.” ¬†After the industrial revolution, supercede came to be used of new technological innovations not just because they replaced older ways of doing things, but because with each new generation of equipment, the new technology was more reliable, more efficient and better at its job. ¬†We can see this sort of development in the history of automobiles from the advent of factory production through to the mid 60s.

Then something went wrong.  Cheaper started to become far more important than better. Having lots of different colour options began to matter more than having something that lasted. After all, the latest trend or innovation was around the corner anyway.

So CD replaced Vinyl, not because it was truly better, but because it was newer, cheaper, easier to transport and store and took up less shelf space in the local shop.  Did it sound better? Sure, it has less crackle and noise, but sound-wise it was poor.  The first generation of CDs were rubbish; more recent ones an improvement, but only up to a point. It took me a few years to switch to CD (odd given I’m usually a technological early adopter), even when I did, the sound quality was frustrating.

The key difference was CD sounded better on cheap audio equipment and CD players required no regular maintenance.  By contrast, keeping a good phono vinyl player in top condition takes craft and patience (not to mention money and space).

Vinyl has lived on because of the devotion of musicians and audiophiles. That makes sense for people who devote themselves to not just hearing music, but listening to it; focussing down on the detail and blocking out other distractions. If you listen like this, then it makes sense to pay more for quality, to make sacrifices for the sound.

Vinyl is difficult to handle and perhaps that adds to the mystique of the music experience, makes the event of listening all the more special (let’s not also forget that for the vinyl lover, there is a degree of distinction in the format they use).

But, if we are honest, most people don’t listen to music that way, especially not once they get out of their teens. Music is a backdrop, a soundtrack, an underscore to the other activities of life. Something to make driving more pleasant, to take your mind of the drudgery of the chores at hand, to lubricate social interactions and celebrations.

For these kinds of situations it makes sense to move in the direction of lower cost and greater convenience. With an iPod you can load a whole cupboard-full of CD music into a device that fits in your pocket. Quality a little lower than CD? That doesn’t matter, few people are listening that closely anyway.

So, Vinyl will outlive CD?  No surprise, it is a better format Рfrom a certain point of view. In the truest sense, Vinyl supercedes the CD and will outlast it because in some ways and for some uses it always was, superior. I’ll still use CD, or MP3 or whatever for when I need music to fill a space, to provide a pleasant background, or when I’m on the move. However, for those times when I want to be alone with my thoughts and my music, those moments when I really want to listen, it will always come back to vinyl and a good set of headphones.

[tags] Vinyl, CD, Audiophile [/tags]

Responses
Matt Stone 15 years ago

Fernando,

Completely off topic but were you aware that Philip Johnson and a number of the other Thin Places people are going to be in Hong Kong in approx two weeks time for some Lausanne follow up meetings. You may want to touch base.

Matt

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Hey Matt – yes a little off-topic!

John Smulo has been in touch and I do hope he has the time in his schedule so we can catch up. As as anyone else, well I guess they know were to find me. I’m always willing to meet anyone who wants to connect.

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