Vinyl vs CD: The big debate.
Author: Wayne Ellis Lee
The debate begins...
There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the "CD vs Vinyl" debate is the longest running and most heated debate in the history of DJ'ing! After the countless arguments I've read and participated in, one thing remains clear to me: there is no true winner, and there probably never will be. Not as long as CD and Vinyl co-exist in this world. How should you decide which format is best for you? Is it merely a matter of personal preference, or do you think it would be wise to find out all the facts first, and then make an informed decision? Read on as we delve into the in's and out's of both formats, and offer you a fresh look at what each one has to offer you…
There are several things that need to be considered when deciding upon a format. This does not at all imply that you should choose and stick to one format, but let's see how they measure up against each other in the various departments:
I've just taken a box of records, and a box of CD's - and hopped onto my scale to weigh them. This is what I found: 1 x Pro Box containing 80 records weighs in at 20kg. This is the minimum amount of records I'll take to a gig, and the same holds true for your average vinyl DJ. A CaseLogic CD box containing 60 CD's weighs in at 6.8kg. If I'm playing a set off CD's, this is what I will take with to the gig. 20kg vs 6.8kg. Quite a vast difference. CD DJ's also have the option of abandoning their CD covers, and keeping all their CD's in a plastic sleeve DJ box. This makes it even lighter and allows them to carry more music to gigs. "But does the weight of the format really matter?", I hear you asking. Well, that depends on you.
A very good friend of mine has injured his wrist in the past lugging around his record box to gigs. Most of the big name DJ's won't be seen carrying their own record boxes - there will be someone carrying it for them. I suppose it depends on how strong your arms are...or how many groupies you have!
Hands up how many people know how a CD is burnt and how the CD player reads that burnt CD? When the CD is 'burnt' the CD-Writer's laser beam is focused through the clear body of the CD onto the dye layer. When the beam is on, it melts a small hole into the thin layer of dye. The laser cycles on & off rapidly ( think binary 1's & 0's) burning a spiral track of melted & un-melted dye which represents the digitally encoded data. This can then be played back with a CD player, which consists of a read-only laser that doesn't heat or melt the dye layer.
How about a record player? A record or vinyl is similar to a CD in that it is also a spiral track. The vinyl is placed on the record player, and the needle in the groove. At the end of the needle a stylus picks up vibrations as the record revolves and these mechanical vibrations are converted into corresponding electrical signals by a device called a transducer. So what does this mean to the sound quality of CD vs Vinyl? Well, it's the distinction between digital and analogue. Vinyl uses a wider range of frequencies than CD does. Although the first counter argument to that statement would be to remind you that the human ear cannot hear the extra frequencies that vinyl uses, some suggest that perhaps it's not necessarily something you can hear, but rather something you can feel. One common conviction that has come out of the thousands of "CD vs Vinyl" debates is that vinyl has a warmer, fuller sound while CD has a digital, mechanical sound. With the advent of DVD-Audio and SACD (Sony's new format) this is changing. DVD -Audio uses 24bit recording, and a sampling rate of 96khz while CD's use 16bit/44khz to store sound information. With these new formats we can far more accurately represent an analog sound signal and capture the "warmth" I'm referring to.
The CD players that are coming out today are incredible at emulating the vinyl experience. The Pioneer CDJ-1000 is a perfect example. DJ Roger Sanchez was scratching up a storm at the CDJ-1000 launch party, and afterwards in an interview with the press, he laid down a challenge. His challenge was for anyone to stand with their back turned and be able to tell the difference between the CDJ and a real turntable while he scratched. That's a serious statement, it means that vinyl DJ's can no longer use the cliche argument that "you can't scratch with a CD" because nowadays, you can!
Vinyl vs CD: The big debate cont'd...
But there is also this to consider: Do you like to interface with your music via buttons(CD), or do you prefer the tactile sensation of being able to touch and manipulate the music (Vinyl). The CDJ-1000 gives you a "platter" to scratch with, but this is still just a large joystick, if you will, which allows you to manipulate the music coming from the spinning disc, it isn't actually the spinning disc. Most of the vinyl DJ's I've spoken to offer this as their only reason for choosing vinyl. The tactile element of it. There is something special about being able to put the needle in the groove and spinback the record to the first cue-point. CD players offer many features that turntables don't, and one day will probably render the turntable obsolete. But they won't do this unless they find a way to recreate, not emulate, the tactile sensation of vinyl.
CD's win hands down in this department. Added to the fact that a CD can store more music than a vinyl can, they can also be duplicated as many times as you like. Did you know that a 100th generation copy of a CD is identical to the original? So if you want to preserve your music, you can. If you accidentally scratch a rare vinyl and render it unplayable, there's not much you can do about that.
Taking this to the very extreme, if a CD DJ wanted a track so badly, but it was only available on vinyl, in desperation he could go to the lengths of buying the vinyl, and burning it onto a CD. A vinyl DJ in this situation would be hard-pressed (pun intended) to do the same. Why? Well, first he would need to have an extra R100 000 lying around so he could purchase a home vinyl cutter - such as the Vestax VRX-2000 - and how many of us can honestly say we have a R100 000 lying around?
This is a wonderful example of a catch 22 situation. A Vinyl DJ will tell you that he prefers vinyl because all the latest music is available on vinyl. A label manager might tell you that the record companies don't release the latest music on CD because there isn't enough demand for it out there. And so the circle continues, the record companies don't release the latest music on CD because there are too many vinyl DJ's out there, and the vinyl DJ's won't consider CD as a format because you can't get the latest music on CD. This is changing, however. With more sophisticated CD players coming out, more DJ's are starting out on CD, and staying there. And more vinyl DJ's are starting to experiment with CD's to see what it has to offer. The record labels are starting to release the latest music on vinyl and on CD, to cater for that 'other' segment of the DJ market :-)
The last word
Whatever school of thinking you belong to, consider that it's probably in your best interest to replace the "vs" in "CD vs Vinyl" with "and". Use CD *and* Vinyl and get the best of both worlds! As shown in this article there is no true winner, both have their up's and down's and it's the wise DJ who takes advantage of both formats, and uses them to his benefit.