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Vinyl vs Tape vs CD vs MP3

by Mel Clarke. Published April 11, 2009.

Listening to music can be a pasttime for some people, or easily just a form of entertainment. Whether it’s seeing a band live, or listening to a recording, the experience is a pleasurable one which everyone can relate to on one level or another. It seems as though the one thing people can’t agree on, is the best way to listen to music – which medium? The classic vinyl album which we’ve been producing for an incredibly long time, the formation of the compact tape that made music small and portable to the cd, whose function was exactly just then but the quality was exceedingly better. The mp3 came along and seemed to be the homewrecker of the music medium format family, far surpassing any qualities that these other formats owned to themselves that were unique. So here is the breeding ground for the debate; why do we listen to these formats? Which is better? Can there be a better format, or is it like choosing which one of your children you like most? And most of all, is this experience entirely personal taste?

So we’ve got the vinyl records. Originally known as gramophone records after they took over the medium of music used shortly before the turn of the 20th century. These records were pressed from liquid vinyl, with a groove carved in, to which the music was recorded. Records were the main medium for music which carried on for quite some time, there were so many different varieties of records available measured in inches, which dictated the quality and the length of the recording.

The vinyl record has been around for so long, but since the invention of the tape and its thorough use throughout the 80s, the record business seemed to diminish greatly and slowed down production until after ’91, when it they halted production commercially.

Now, records are used by music fanatics that demand quality (also known as audiophiles) and Dj’s who remix samples.

So what’s so great about the record? The record is essentially the reason why music has become so prevalent as it has today. With the ease of access that records were produced, and due to their high demand they were mass produced which made them cheaper and therefore easier to gain. From this, more records were recorded, radio stations were started, and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution took over the world. Records can be of incredibly high quality, and also give a certain air of authenticity to the experience of listening to music – after all, it was this that helped give the world a music industry. Record covers too were somewhat of a high-end art production. Each cover would be designed carefully and intricately, often with the lyrics of the songs on the back or the inside cover. Famous record covers, such as Led Zeppelin’s IV and Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon, which have gained internationally recognised success.

For these reasons, vinyl records give music lovers and collectors a reminiscent approach to their music listening, which also creates a hobby and a passtime for those who like to remember one of the most traditional ways to listen to their music.

By the time 1982 had rolled around, the world’s music genres had changed so diversely from when audio tape was invented as a way of creating smaller, compact and essentially portable music. This revolutionised the way people thought about music with tape players and small tape ‘walkmans’ popping up all over the shops which essentially rendered the use of a vinyl recording obsolete. This medium was based on video recording software which had recently made its way into the market, with information being recorded on magnetic strips of film which would playback once the cogs were encouraged into movement through the tape player.

This form of music has since been rendered obsolete also, with very little defining its existance other than a stigma which it held onto so dearly. After the CD had made its way into the market, the cassette tape has become a signifier for the 80s. The tape image now represents a time of change within the world and genre; the idea of a mix tape still holds strong throughout pop culture, as well as tape recordings and home-made mix tapes being traded amongst friends.

There is little quality to the tape which has not been surpassed by the CD, as well as the album art leaving little to be desired due to the fact that tape containers were so small they were easily lost, and were too minute to be able to include a detailed cover which could be admired as art.

The CD came along towards the end of the 80s, but never really initialised within the industry until the 90s. The CD gave the people the two bonuses of a record and a tape into one: The small compact and transportable ability, combined with a decent size container allowing for album art. The CD is still holding strong as a main source of music buying, but since the invention of the MP3, CD sales have been severely struggling which also deters the social act of music buying and listening. CDs gave the world a higher quality sound than the tape, which audiophiles appreciated, as well as its close similarities to the record. The difference between the CD and the record, is that the CD worked as a digital entity, with the tracks being read through a laser within a cd player – much different to that of the needle in the vinyl groove aspect from the vinyl record.

When fully digitalised music came around, the world had changed itself all over again. Everyone had a computer and the use of the internet had permeated our culture so thoroughly that it became logical that music would take the next step and no longer exist to be a permanent and physical feature within our lives. MP3 has evolved so thoroughly that we no longer require a solid internet connection in order to obtain it – files can be downloaded from a wireless source, as well as transmitted through a bluetooth connection from one digital item of technology to another.

MP3 offers a higher quality of music again, with many different options as to how fast you wish to obtain it and the level of quality you desire. MP3 however; eliminates the need for cover art completely. There is no longer a physical item which people so often long for when it comes to buying something.

So how do they each compare? Vinyl is the traditional style that many hold as a token of their musical past, it has decent quality as well as album art that can be appreciated. The CD also has these aspects but without the authenticity of traditional music listening; due to the rate in which CDs are becoming obsolete, they too may soon be lumped into the category of ‘traditional.’ The tape is a downfall when it comes to listening to music. The quality is poor and the item is small disqualifying the need for album art. The MP3 also has no need for album art, but its winning point is within the quality of the music.

In this case, it’s to each their own. Everyone has their own way of listening to music, whether it be a social aspect, an entertainment aspect or even simply for a job! The quality of the music may change, but the content is always going to be the same. So whether you like convenience or authentic quality, is how you’re going to decide your ultimate music medium.


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