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iPods and headphones or records and gramophones?

by The Concordian November 22, 2011
In the last decade or so, the way we experience music has changed drastically. Many now walk around with a miniature library of music in their back pockets, downloading music directly to their computers for a fraction of what they used to pay in stores. Still others have gone retro, touting the virtues of vinyl as the superior method of music enjoyment. But what makes a person prefer one to the other?
Twenty-four-year-old Cory Pereira, a.k.a. DJ Pinky Pereira, plays shows all over the world, but currently calls Montreal home. Though he began his career on vinyl, he’s since moved on to using nothing but digital music for his shows. “I know [DJs] that still appreciate vinyl, but the majority of them are digital now, including all the international DJs I know; they’re the ones who finally convinced me to switch to digital.”
He explains that digital has overtaken vinyl in its once iconic role at the turntables mainly for the ease of use and practicality the format allows. “What made me change was cost efficiency and the amount of stuff I used to have to carry for gigs. Now it’s so much easier; I can travel with my laptop, my two controllers and my soundcard in the same bag and that’s it!”
The other advantage, he says, is the sheer amount of music he now has access to during his shows. “On my laptop right now, I have maybe 200 GBs of music. On vinyl, I’d only have three, maybe four, songs per record,” he says.
For some, the prospect of having thousands of songs at your fingertips is exactly what turns them away from mp3s. “There’s pros and cons to having the ability to access everything,” says Sam Mullen, a McGill graduate in music performance. “If you have endless choices, it destroys your focus. I’d much rather listen to an album over and over again so I can hear the fine details of it.”
Mullen has been a record collector for years but admits that his stance on musical mediums is not for everyone. “I wouldn’t say limiting yourself is an answer for everybody, but for someone who wants to study music seriously, or wants to get to know music, it can definitely help to limit your choices.” As a musician himself, he says that those limits are what fuel creativity and bring about new variations of music. He believes that when you take away limitations “it leads to monotony everywhere.”
Sylvain Plourde, a professor of digital audio at Montreal’s Trebas Institute, argues that new technology has allowed casual listeners to experience unprecedented sound quality. “Back in the day with walkmans, you had to deal with the horrible background noise on tapes, so mp3s are better in that sense.”
That lack of “background noise” is also what he sees as the big advantage that digital recording has over the analog process vinyl uses. Plourde says to imagine the recording of analog vinyl as Morse code; “when you make S.O.S. ‘dot dot dot’ sounds, they can come out at the other end of the line as ‘dot dot’ and a lot of garbled noise” whereas the digital method is like “directly writing that S.O.S. on paper,” it has no chance of getting garbled in transit like analog would.
As for the idea that vinyl sounds better? “You’ve got to be careful not to compare apples and oranges. If you take a $100 hi-fi record and put it on a $50,000 turntable, of course it’s going to sound better than an mp3 file. But take a cheap record and play it next to a song in [the audio editing software] Pro Tools, and you’ll get the same result.”
That being said, Plourde believes there will always be differences in sound quality throughout mediums for those with sharp enough ears to hear it. And for the rest of us? “Ignorance is bliss,” he laughs.

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