Why Were People So Quick to Abandon Vinyl and Jump on the CD Bandwagon in the 80s and 90s?

23 Dec 2014

Two reasons:

(1) Vinyl used to be made of really crappy stuff. 

When CDs were first put up against vinyl in the early 80s, it wasn’t really a fair fight.  

The energy crisis of the 1970s had shifted the record industry towards recycled vinyl as a way to save money in an era of high petrochemical prices.  Crappy recycled vinyl meant more surface noise:  hiss, rumbles, snaps and crackles.

Not only was the raw material used in the vinyl of lower quality, the pressings were often thinner. Thinner vinyl means grooves that are more shallow. Shallow grooves are able to store less audio information, especially at the lower end.  No wonder those records sounded like crap against the CD’s digital storage capabilities which had no trouble storing deep bass.


(2) Turntables Weren’t Very Good—Comparatively Speaking.

For years, my workhorse turntable was an Akai AP-100C, a machine I paid $100 for using the money I earned from my first part-time job. I thought it was state-of-the-art.  But compared to a turntable of similar value today (i.e. something in the $450 range), it’s crap.

Turntable motors have improved. Enclosures are more advanced.  Tone arms are better.  Wiring within the tone arms is better.  And let’s not even discuss the amazing advances in cartridge technology. All this adds up to a turntable that can interpret what’s in the grooves more accurately.

So when we were comparing CDs to crappy vinyl played on (comparatively) crappy turntables back in the 80s and 90s, well, no wonder the compact disc got all the love.

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