/ Technology

Vinyl’s making a comeback – where are the free downloads?

Record player with vinyl record playing

When did you last buy a record? Vinyl is experiencing something of a comeback, with rocketing sales and new types of buyers. Shouldn’t this increased popularity force record companies to give us free downloads?

Back at Christmas-time, Andy Vandervell opened up a debate about how ebooks should come with a paperback copy so ebook owners wouldn’t feel left out when the presents are being handed round.

As I have no intention of trading in ‘real’ books for digital ones any time soon, this wasn’t a Conversation I felt particularly passionate about. But now I’m beginning to understand Andy’s theory.

Why should we get free downloads?

Since I moved house and dusted off the record player, I’ve been buying a lot more vinyl. On a recent splurge, I noticed that two of the five (brand new) records I bought came with a slip giving me a code for a free download.

While I was mightily pleased to be given this ‘complementary’ download, it did get me thinking. Why should I be pleasantly surprised when I’ve already paid for the track? If it was a CD I could rip it on to my computer (albeit illegally, but hopefully not for much longer thanks to The Hargreaves Report).

OK, it is possible to do some clever format shifting from vinyl to computer, but the quality is never going to be the same. Part of the joy of listening to vinyl is that is has a different, less digital, quality to it, but that quality just doesn’t translate well via computers.

As Andy argued, the film industry has managed to tackle this issue:

‘The majority of major Blu-ray releases now come packaged in ‘triple packs’ where you get the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and a digital copy that can be copied to your PC for use on mobile devices or PCs. Why can’t the same be done for books?’

Absolutely – and indeed, why not the same for vinyl?

A vinyl revolution?

I’m well aware that many feel the same way about records as I do about ebooks: not interested. But there’s been much talk of a vinyl revolution in recent years, putting it firmly back on the consumer map.

Purchasing records is no longer the preserve of DJs and dance music fans – rock, indie and country vinyl have all sold well in the past couple of years, with Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys topping last year’s charts.

The figures may be relatively low, but numbers are rising significantly. According to the Official Charts Company, sales were higher in 2011 than any time since 2005, and sales figures for up until October 2011 were around 240,000 units – a 40% leap from 170,000 in 2010.

So what’s the attraction? As I have previously argued, CDs have had their day – their small scale and questionable quality offers no obvious benefits over downloading tracks straight from the internet.

But if you do opt for downloads you miss out on building a relationship with the music: enjoying the artwork and reading the sleeves; sifting through your collection to decide what goes on next, not to mention having a collection to pass on when you’re gone.

So yes, I – along with many others it seems – will continue to choose vinyl as my primary type of music, but I really hope those download code slips start becoming more ubiquitous.


A chum of mine – a young bloke – offered to convert
my very large collection of old vinyls for use on the
computer, already rigged to the hi-fi for superior

Insists he can iron out the imperfections with

My turntable’s currently out of action, which has prompted me to (occasionally) pick up a duplicate copy of some classic LPs on CD or via MP3 download. I feel like a mug for paying the record company twice, but I simply don’t have the time to convert my entire record collection to MP3!

I’d be pretty happy to get a slip for a free download with future LP purchases, but I’d be over the moon if I could get a free download for all my existing vinyl! I can but dream…

You’ll probably find some extremely good deals on eBay for second-hand CD copies of your old LPs – especially if, like me, your musical tastes are out of fashion 😉 I recently bought a CD on eBay for £1.04 – and that was shipped from Germany with free postage!

I have a near-mint Carlos Kleiber’s rendition of Beethoven’s
Fifth and shall see if it sounds nearly quite as good if stored on
computer hard drive.

You could try storing it with “lossless compression”. The quality will still depend on the quality of your DAC converter (the hardware inside your PC) and the sampling rate.

My young computer guru wd certainly know abt
that re DAC converter and “lossless compression”.

The true hi-fi buff of old days wd probably have converted
his LP collections for use on professional Revox open-reel
deck for convenience and ease of listening.

Shall see abt dusting off my Scottish-made
Linn Sondek turntable, with the Ittok arm and Karma
cartridge was amongst the very best turntable setup of
its day…stand corrected if otherwise.

Wonder how much it would fetch if offered for sale
on the net.

I find this a very curious conversation. Of course, everyone is entitled to listen using any medium they like, but I don’t understand this retro surge towards gramophone records. For me the C.D. was an emancipation. No longer did I have to worry about worn needles, off centre pressings, static and surface noise from dust or careless handling. A symphony could be heard without swapping sides and the C.D. was neat, even if the case was/is substandard.

Regarding sound quality, I have found most C.Ds to be outstanding in this respect. Listening on ‘good’ equipment, the music is full, detailed, round and satisfying. Updating my CD player two years ago showed me that my discs had even more to offer than I thought possible before. I suppose this is difficult to quantify in terms of quality. I can really enjoy the same music on my kitchen system. Some detail is lost but it can still provide uplift and enjoyment. After a while, the ear doesn’t know what it’s missing at that moment.. One man’s hi fi is another’s starter kit and it’s all relative, but there probably does come a point when you have to migrate from a humble lounge to a listening studio to appreciate the extra thousands spent on exotic equipment.

So, I’m suggesting that the issue between the various mediums regarding quality of sound is a little spurious, provided it is at least as good as the C.D. For me, the silent background and the hour, plus, listening time is everything. Prophets of doom suggest that C.Ds will disintegrate over time. Mine haven’t.

Some will desire the loss-less super bit downloads and claim that anything less debases the listening experience. When the C.D. came out I stopped longing for anything better. All these years later, and I still get a buzz when a silver disc lands on the doormat.

I don’t buy a great deal of music, but I have modest collections of LPs, CDs and cassette tapes. Most of this is orchestral music and even though Classic FM burbles on about a top 40, I’m quite happy listening to what I have collected over the years. My hi-fi separates are around 25 years old and still work well, though the turntable could do with a new belt. Not up to modern standards, but rather better than some of the compact systems currently on sale.

I was very disappointed by the remastering of old classical recordings for CD because the obsession with a silent background removed removed the natural sound of the concert hall. Fortunately, it was not long before the standard of remastering became much better.

I did transfer a couple of records to computer and made CDs but lost interest and still use the records.

The way I really enjoy music is by attending concerts.

Mitchings says:
3 March 2012

I think it’s less about the medium and more about the quality of the mastering process, when vinyl is mastered more care tends to be taken, whereas CDs are often overly loud and full of clipping; lacking in dynamic range.

A well mastered CD will of course be better than a poorly mastered vinyl and visa-versa.

Completely disregarding the content and focusing on the mediums; CD is a fixed format, it’s 2 channels, 16-bit depth and 44100 samples a second; it’s totally reliant on the mastering process for quality. Vinyl varies greatly, but a high quality, heavyweight, audiophile-grade vinyl with a solid mastering process will outshine a CD with a same-quality mastering process.

So for me it’s more about the recording, the mastering, the playback equipment and the aesthetic preference; and finding the best of each of those elements at the highest resolution possible whether that be vinyl, CD, dvd-a/bd-a or download (high res or mp3).

Some of the stuff on YouTube are quite good audio
coming over your quality hi-fi speakers.

Have no problem listening from YT Maria Callas or other sopranos
I cd name over my hi-fidelity system in terms of acceptable sound quality.

Converted all my records – CD – reel to reel tapes and cassettes – VHS to digital DVD some time ago. Perfectly satisfied with the reproductive quality.- But found for classical music it sounded marginally better with my huge Hi-Fi speakers of yesteryear (built by my very own fair hands) 20Hz to 20kHz at 3db – I decided it was far more convenient to go digital with my shelf hi-fi speakers connected to the TV.. Saves a lot of shelf room.

Gerard Phelan says:
2 March 2012

One writer queries the need to discuss media saying that it does not matter “provided it is at least as good as the C.D”. That is also my opinion, EXCEPT that I would use a different comparison “provided it is at least as good as the Vinyl LP”. As other writers have noted, CD’s and ‘downloads’ do not provide the whole music, they are just samples. That is because they are digital media. Only LPs (and cassettes and Reel to Reel tapes) use the analogue recording approach that delivers ALL of the music. Of course there is no gain if the recording studio is digital as most are today.
I agree with the premise of the main article – it would cost the music publisher almost nothing to provide a download as well.

Don’t think I’ll take up the offer of transfer from LP to hard drive
as too time-consuming, besides much if not most of my classical
and opera collection are already on tape anyway and believe it or
not, still gives very/good sound reproduction on my somewhat
upmarket hi-fi system that I bought a long time ago.

To the extent music is on which is not that often, it’s mainly for
background listening like when surfing the web or chatting with
you folks.

I’m fortunate to live in London with easy access to a rich musical
and cultural life and must ensure I get out and abt more often to avail
me of that, something many other world-class cities can only but envy.
Pardon me as I digressed.

Bazzer boy says:
2 March 2012

I wholeheartedly agree with the comment from Vynor Hill , saying how CDs have changed his outlook to playing/listening to music, I too think that CDs were just what musical recordings had been waiting for, what with the ease of handling and also the smaller storage space that is required, along with the fact that they will stand much more abuse than any vinyl record will, and along with the already stated fact, that there is no stylus to either scratch the record or the expence required to replace the worn out stylus. It has been said to me that the sound on vinyl is a better, more original sound than on CD but personally I cant notice the difference, but the sound I hear is O.k for me

I was interested in the passing critical comment about ebooks. This surprised me coming from a digital literate reader.was it some kind of archaic prejudice? I’d have thought everyone reading these pages was equally at home with data however it was presented. Of course tactile senses give pleasure when reading a good book, well printed and well bound, but a basic ” page turner” is virtually directly input straight into the brain and as well done via an ebook as by print.

roger_will says:
2 March 2012

I agree with Vynor Hill. All this talk about LPs is very odd. We will have talk of going back to mono soon, or even B&W TV! OK CDs are not perfect, but SACD is getting there. Moreover just like FM, you cant listen to an LP with headphones since the background noise is so bad. (DAB does not even pass muster because of compression artifacts, however BBC radio 3 HD at 320kB AAC is pretty good for compressed music). The great advantage of the LP was that the program notes did not require a scanning electron microscope to read them. Talking of which, where do you store and access an opera libretto when you download music?

Firstly I agree it would be great to have a free download with vinyl purchases. On the quality question I’m afraid it’s the good old music industry doing its cynical best to get us to buy our music all over again, only this time by going back to the start. Anyone of my generation started off with vinyl (and cassettes – but that is one format thankfully consigned to the dustbin), then went on to cd’s, digital downloads, before finally back to vinyl again. I remember all too well some of the last vinyl purchases I made before cd’s took over, poor quality, thin and very often warped. So when we were told cd’s would never have those problems, it seemed like a dream come true, but the quality of vinyl had been deliberatley reduced, to be followed by unavailablity for most titles. So many people then bought their record collection all over again in CD form, sold at hugely inflated prices (relative to the tiny production costs of making a CD) and reaping massive rewards for the music industry. But now, since CD sales have dropped off due to downloads, vinyl is back in, and many people will re-buy their old records for maybe a third time! (how long before videos make a comeback!). In fact I welcome this return, especially now that they make superior 180g/200g heavyweight vinyl . But quality, whether CD or vinyl, will always depend on the quality of manufacture, and the quality of the playback equipment. Provided both are high there should be little to choose between the two formats. For convenience the CD wins, but as an object to own, the LP wins hands down every time.

London Rambler says:
2 March 2012

I find it hard to change needles on my record player. Are there any players where the needle change is easy.

Dr Roger says:
2 March 2012

I was a little surprised by the comments here.
Surprised because my old vinyl lives in the garage together with my old good quality hifi including a decent turntable. I’ve never been a ‘purist’ able to detect subtle improvements in distortion or quality beyond the discernment of the human ear!
However, my choice is a Bose system with 5 tiny speakers ‘fed’ by an Apple TV & iTunes conversions or downloads. Old jazz or blues perhaps on that worn/scratched vinyl, on 78’s long since broken, or heard live in my youth are now readily available through downloads from iTunes, Amazon or wherever. I delight in the relative clarity.
Similarly perhaps when I was completing my Doctorate (in Psychotherapy Practice) the availability of books on iBooks or the Kindle App were a godsend. Today, enhanced iBooks, Times sub etc with sound & video & the ability to Google unknown words direct from my iPad mean I avoid ‘real’ books as much as possible! And, of course there are audio books to listen to on a long journey…
Perhaps I’m just a heretic?

I don’t think you are a heretic. You have found what suits you best. For most people, convenience scores over quality. There’s no point in being judgemental.

Someone might be glad of your old hi-fi before it succumbs to damp and spiders’ webs, though there might not be many takers.

Goodness me, ‘needles’ and ‘record player'(?) what next ?
…. 45 rpms and 78 rpms?.. hernia-inducing stuff as to latter,
well, if you try to carry the entire output of Mozart at one go
and he has been doing it since aged 6!

Dr Roger says:
2 March 2012

As teenagers we’d cycle miles to a 2nd-hand shop that sold 78’s of a wonderful jazz pianist called Jimmy Yancey all now freely available on iTunes. Similarly we’d go to jazz & blues club in a pub (under-age!) & listen to Long John Baldry & Julie Driscoll-just great to re-discover them on iTunes. Good memories of a mis-spent youth. Doubt you’d ever find the vinyl or cd’s & if you could I wouldn’t want ’em.
Soon there’s going to be huge sale on Pre-Loved (no fees) or Amazon Market Place of stacks of cd’s, LP’s, hifi, books as we de-clutter!

Ron Bates says:
2 March 2012

I believe most of what lies behind the quality debate is is down to how and why various people listen to their music as well as how the music etc is produced and especially mastered. There are differences in the digital and analogue domain. Most professionally (studio based) music is recorded to a digital system at a minimum of 24bit but more commonly 32bit floating point, with a sample rate of a minimum of 88.2kHz or more commonly 96 or 192kHz This enables a high dynamic range and easier editing capabilities, however to a greater degree, apart from the top range of bit rate/sample rate recording, the process of converting the signals results in compromises (losses – Nyquist) due to the conversion processes as for when burning the finished product to CD it has to be dithered down to 16bit and 44.1kHz for various MP3 etc formats it’s even worse. Professional analogue tape machines record/playback to/from high speed tape (30ips) and a professional tape machines ‘sample’ rate is c56kHz often with rock/pop types of music recording levels – dynamics – ‘pushed’ into the red to take advantage of a characteristic known as tape-compression, this adds a sort of ‘warmth’ which is something that digital tries to emulate via plugins but as yet has not really succeeded – it’s quite complicated -. But this is a major contributor to the differences dicussed here. Whether it matters or not is down to the listeners ability to ‘tune’ in to this character (they do not need to to enjoy the music) or whether having listened to a lot of vinyl have absorbed this character (warmth?’) – which translates to vinyl – and notice it missing from digital formats – basically if they aint heard it then they wont miss it! Both formats have their advantages and disadvantages and unless ones system has very expensive – currently £400 to £1000+/channel – ‘high-end AD/DA converters then for CDs, and the various MP3 etc formats, the resulting sound will not have the high fidelity that a listener as opposed to a ‘hearer’ can or needs to identify. The other problem is that whether living room or studio, the sound will not be as ‘intended’ as the speakers and the space sound is listened to in need to be considered/planned together, and not purchased simply because they look good or ‘fit’ a space if maximum quality and pleasure is to be gained from sound content. There is a generation now that has grown up with ‘brickwall’ lilmited contemporary music that will probably find anything with a hint of dynamic range as boring, uninteresting or wrong/odd – headphones, dont think I’ll go there as well. Welcome to progress!

Ron Bates wrote: Whether it matters or not is down to the listeners ability to ‘tune’ in to this character (they do not need to to enjoy the music) ….

I used to have a friend who used to go into even greater detail about sound quality and use both conventional and test recordings to let me hear and understand the various issues. Another friend bought particular classical recordings to show recording problems and avoided recordings with an audience present. You tend to meet some interesting folks when working in universities. 🙂

I used to have a lot more interest in sound quality when I had an interest in the technology but now I just enjoy the music. I am aware the deficiencies exist, and can understand the reasons, but my brain somehow manages to ignore them and I now just enjoy the music.

Thanks Ron, that’s very illuminating. Totally agree, people who can’t tell a lifeless compressed mp3 from a top end SACD, or maybe the sound from a big groove 12 inch vinyl, well they’re welcome to their convenient lives.

Mitchings says:
3 March 2012

I still like the convenience of digital but vinyl (particularly audiophile grade stuff like MFSL) is still the best distribution platform for high quality in the vast majority of cases. I want all my music in flac at the highest possible quality played bit-perfect via foobar > wasapi > hdmi (up to LPCM 2-8Ch @ 24/192) > receiver/amp > speakers.

For most music, poorly mastered CDs are still the best you can get, then for a small percentage there’s DVD-A/BD-A. An even smaller amount of music has High-res downloads available such as 24/44 or 24/96; but then it’s not just in the numbers, the mastering quality matters too.

When, BD-A, DVD-A or HR downloads aren’t available I find the best solution is to rip a vinyl on a solid setup at 32/192, do a minimal amount of fixes & use Saracon to scale down to 24/96 FLAC with a flat dither & a solid sample-rate conversion. I have extremely fussy ears and I can’t tell the difference between a really good vinyl rip and the actual vinyl playing (minus less prominent pops/crackles). Sometimes however, a lower res copy can sound better because of a better mastering process; but nothing imo sounds better than a really good rip of a half-speed mastered, heavyweight, audiophile-grade vinyl that has been cleaned and ripped wet; as well as originally mastered well.

Basically I find the best quality version of a piece of music, preferably high-res and well mastered and transfer it to the lossless digital domain with minimal degradation & the utmost transparency while gaining a great deal of convenience in the process.

My whole foobar library is made of FLAC files ranging from 2Ch 16/44 to 8Ch 24/192; with sources all across the board such as CD, HR Downloads, DVD-V, DVD-A, BD-V, BD-A, SACD, Vinyl & Studio Self-Masters. 38% of my library is from Vinyl because the reality is that the mastering process is usually far more caring for Vinyl.

I also make a 2Ch VBR MP3 (270-320Kbps JS 44.1/48KHz) version of all my tracks (created in LAME from 32-bit float blow-ups) for my iTunes library for my iPod.

I just wish people would stop giving into the loudness war and release on more formats.

Fu kai Yong says:
21 July 2014

where i can buy it ??