For The Music Collector: Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital

Let me take you back a decade and a half ago. It was the turn of the century, and I was going to college on Spring Garden Road with my buddy Trevor (one third of HAFILAX dot com). Every once in awhile during lunch hour we would duck out of the college to hit up record stores such as HMV (on Spring Garden), Taz Records (near Pizza Corner), Sam The Record Man and CD Plus (on Barrington St.) to get our music fix. We would look for the latest albums, and try to hunt down rarities that included limited special edition CDs, CD singles, and CDs from bands that we listened to that were considerably hard to find. There was this kind of excitement when finding a particular album that you were looking for, knowing that you’d go home and listen to it, while adding another piece of music to your collection.

For me, owning a physical copy of music was something special. It meant experiencing the band through their music, their photos, the artwork, the lyrics, words in the credits, and all those little extras that appeared on a band’s album. Take Sloan‘s “One Chord To Another” album, for instance; it included a simple album insert like any other band, but with this one in particular, it had vital information about the recording of the album. This would spark a lot of interest among the fans, who would try to figure out “The Sloan Secret” that was hidden within the vital information. It was later revealed by the band that it was just a simple joke, but tidbits like these were what made buying albums worthwhile.

Sloan's "One Chord To Another"
Sloan. “One Chord To Another” insert.

A lot has changed since then, there’s been a giant shift in our music culture with the digital music revolution & the re-emerging popularity of Vinyl. I’ve seen the disappearance of record stores, including some of the ones that were here in Halifax, that I mentioned earlier. And I’ve also noticed the emergence of new ones that have popped up in smaller pockets throughout the city. With the drastic decline in CD sales over the past years, it has become quite difficult searching for those hard to find CDs.  Nowadays, I find myself in a peculiar situation;  “Do I continue collecting music CDs?”, “do I throw out my CDs, except for a select few, and convert them all to digital?”, or “do I start looking toward Vinyl for my music collecting fix?” It’s not an easy situation, so I’ve decided to break it all down to the pros and cons of owning each format… dum, dum, dum!

1. Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital as a casual fan of music…

I’ll have to admit, like most of you reading this, I own a massive digital music library of MP3s. With just a simple point and click, I have access to thousands of songs on my computer within seconds. I can also take my music wherever I go, including my car, going out for run (try doing that with Vinyl), visiting my friends, a funeral… it’s quite convenient. I can honestly say that digital is definitely the way to go as a casual fan of music. Though, the truth is, most casual fans don’t take the time to enter a record store, let alone set up a turntable and play Vinyl records. They are all utterly hopeless.

2. Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital as a collector of music…

For those of you who have abandoned your physical music collection, you are soulless! The category of the collector is where I, and some of you, fall into. Sure, you can still collect your music online, but to us, the full extent of the experience lies in physically collecting the music, to feel its presence in your hands. If you’re not owning CD, Vinyl, or even cassette, and to a lesser extent 8-track, you really aren’t experiencing music the way it was meant to be experienced. This includes the sentimental value of owning the photos, artwork, lyrics, and all the goodies that come with owning a physical copy of an album.

As for the CD vs. Vinyl debate, it’s pretty much plastic vs. vinyl, small insert vs. large sleeve; the amount of richness varies, and is subject to the person owning the copy of an album. It really is just a personal preference when it comes to collecting.

3. Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital for someone experiencing the format of music…

This is the heart of deciding whether to go Analog (with Vinyl), or Digital (with CDs, mp3s, etc.), or both. Yes, collecting is great, but to embrace the ultimate experience of music, you really got to have a music format that sounds good, and this is the problem that I’m having with digital.

Digital music (mp3, aac, wma, flac files) originally comes from the high quality recordings that are found on CDs, and in some cases from converting Vinyl. When you download your music from services like iTunes, and Amazon, you are not always getting the same richness, and complexity that are found on their physical counterparts. The reason for this is that companies copy CDs, like you would from your own computer, onto your hard drive, resulting in your music being converted to a lesser degree of quality. These companies sell you the music files at a lower quality, and you buy them, never to actually get the original CD quality. So my question to you is… “Why are you paying for music that is of lesser quality, and without the packaging that could have come from buying CDs or Vinyl?”

I will come back to this question later.

Now, the million dollar question… what’s better… CD or Vinyl when it comes to format? The answer is neither. Both formats offer a different sound. Some can argue that albums that were specifically made for Vinyl, especially those in the earlier days, are of better quality, which I have no doubt. But some can say that the opposite is also true. From my experience of listening to mostly CDs, I’ve come across some Vinyl that has really smoked the CD quality out of the water, from its nice, clear sound. I’m not an expert in this subject, but with the recent emergence of Vinyl, there are many music fans out there, that are willing to back-up their favourite format.

4. Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital for someone buying the music...

So, back to my question… “Why are you paying for music that is of lesser quality, and without the packaging that could have come from buying CDs or Vinyl?” Well… that’s cause digital music is usually cheaper to buy. Let’s take a few examples from online…


2001, Joel Plaskett‘s “Down At The Khyber”, another East Coast gem to add to your music collection. The Vinyl edition goes for $19.99, the CD edition goes for $14.99 (both from, and for the digital download it goes for $9.99 (iTunes), half the price of Vinyl.

So… do you pay half the price, for half the quality? Not really, for the most part the digital quality of a music file that you buy online is usually pretty good. You’ll usually run into trouble with the quality of music when you download your files from unknown sources. And usually those sources are free, but at the same time you run the risk of downloading something that you didn’t originally intend. Let’s bring up another example of price comparisons…


2014, Alvvays‘s self titled album, one of my favorite albums from last year. The Vinyl edition goes for $17USD, the CD edition goes for $10USD, and for the MP3s it goes for $8USD (all of which are from Poly Vinyl Records).

And I have one more, the album that I’ve been searching in stores, but haven’t had a whole lot of luck…


2010, Land Of Talk‘s “Cloak And Cipher”, a band from Montreal that brought musical bliss to my ears. The Vinyl edition is unfortunately out of print everywhere, the CD edition goes for $11USD (, and for the MP3s it goes for $10CAN (iTunes, this includes a bonus track not found on the album versions, sweet).

5. Vinyl vs. CD vs. Digital for the experience itself…

I just gotta say there’s nothing like staying at home on a Saturday night, and spinning a few albums while you relax comfortably on your couch. How you go about experiencing your own music… well, that’s up to you, but there are a few ways that it can be done. The first is digitally that requires you to setup your computer, TV, music player, phone. Holy fuck, there’s just so many ways. You can choose your albums in between, or you can just create one giant playlist of albums, the possibilities are endless. With CDs there are fewer options, and unless you have a CD changer, you are committed to listening to that one album. But of course, you can always switch through the tracks, which is a nice option.

And then there is Vinyl… you’ll usually only have one device in your house that plays Vinyl, and that’s your record player/turntable. You position the Vinyl, you drop the needle, and it plays for half the album. You turn the record over, and it plays the other half. There’s no skipping tracks. You’re there, committed to listening to the album…the way it was meant to be heard. You’ll, at times, hear some feedback, but your experience will be different, cause you’re listening to analog.

6. Closing remarks…

Anyway, that’s my unbiased take on the matter. I’m looking at hitting up Halifax record stores in the coming weeks to give you a feel for their atmosphere, selection in genre, and album availability. With the devaluation of CD prices, this might be the perfect time to pick some up. And who knows, I might just start up a collection of Vinyl while I’m at it.

About the author


Me, I'm an avid music goer, documenting/photographing Halifax's music scene. I like loud shows, and long walks on the beach.