If you love physical media (and chances are that you do or you wouldn’t be reading this) then you probably love it in all its myriad shapes and forms. Let’s be honest, when it comes to sheer varieties, there are far more weird vinyls out there than CDs. Picture discs, shaped discs, discs with liquid or actual objects inside the record, odd speeds, colours, thicknesses…you can take the vinyl LP in so many different directions. When you mess around with the CD format (shaped discs, enhanced discs, CD/DVD DualDiscs) you often end up with a product that won’t play in all players. Vinyl tends to be good to go for whatever turntable you have, though you will need a manual over an automatic when it comes to the Vinyl Disc. That’s because it’s a 5″ disc, not a 7″, so you want to make sure you drop the arm on the media and not the platter.
When it comes to odd formats, Youtuber Techmoan (or Mat if you’re not into handles) is the expert. When I saw his video on the subject, I knew I wanted to get a Vinyl Disc just for the novelty value. This is a CD that has normal CD content on one side, but a groove on the other. This groove can be played on a record player, revealing a bonus track. I wondered if any bands I liked had ever released one.
It turns out, one had: The Hellacopters, who are vinyl-mad in the first place. I have a couple albums of theirs with vinyl-only bonus tracks. I didn’t own the album Head Off, so I went to Discogs and got the Vinyl Disc version.
In his video, Techmoan complained of the poor sound quality on the vinyl side of the CD. My copy of Head Off was factory sealed, but still suffers from pops. Perhaps I should not have played the CD side first. The vinyl side could have picked up dust from inside my computer. I played the vinyl side twice, the second time after a light cleaning. Both times there were loud, distracting pops. You can see them clearly in Audacity.
The sound quality was never going to be as good as a real record, not with those grooves packed so tight. And how deep can they actually be? Of course it has to play at 33 1/3 RPM. While it’s not as bad a flexi-disc quality, don’t expect much better performance than that. It’s flat and indistinct.
You also end up with inner groove distortion over the entire song, simply because a Vinyl Disc is basically all inner groove. Look at the pictures below. The entire disc is well within the runout groove on an LP, being just a little larger than the label. It’s darned close on a standard 45. Point is, compared to real vinyl, this disc is tiny, and that has consequences.
Distortion and noise matters less with a band like the Hellacopters. A little inner groove distortion sounds OK on them, but not for other groups. So, the vinyl side of the Vinyl Disc is a novelty. Serious record fanatics are not going to want to listen to it, because it won’t be up to par for them.
What about the CD side? No issues whatsoever. It plays exactly like it should, with no side effects that sometimes plague non-standard CDs. In this case, the album is only 36 minutes long, which I am sure will have many people asking “then why bother with putting another song on the other side? Why not put them all together on the CD side?”
A very good question.
Look, this type of CD was launched in 2007 and only lasted about a year. There was a reason it didn’t catch on, and you can hear that reason. For 99% of the population, all they would have needed was all the songs on the CD. It’s the 1% of us nutters that love weird stuff like this. There is a very, very low number of people who sit up at night thinking, “Would it possible to play a CD on a record player if it had grooves?” But I promise you, we exist, and our questions have been answered.
Yes, it’s possible.
But no, there really isn’t a good reason to want to do it. Oh, I suppose if you had an album that was just over 80 minutes, and you needed to leave a song off (like Extreme did), you could have put it all on one Vinyl Disc. But for far less cost, you also could have just included two CDs.
The vinyl disc comes with a little spacer, like a foam donut, so the larger CD hole will fit nicely on a record player. This ensures nice smooth play.
Whoever it was that figured out how to marry a CD to a record, they are unsung geniuses. They answered the questions of insomniac format-heads worldwide, and they got it to work.
Just because it doesn’t work particularly well doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.