Whether a vinyl record sounds better than a CD or MP3 version of an album depends on more than just the quality of your turntable. Some vinyl records are recorded with tremendous skill and deliver wide dynamic range—that is, the quiet parts can be truly quiet, and the loud parts can be extremely loud—while others are made on the cheap and have far less dynamic range. A well-engineered vinyl record is more likely to connect with listeners on an emotional level than CDs or MP3s. Certain performers and performances especially benefit from being on vinyl.
Here, 11 albums in a variety of genres especially worth buying on vinyl…*
Sam Cooke–Night Beat (1963). Cooke was perhaps the best pop/soul singer of all time…and this album features some wonderful tracks including “Little Red Rooster” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The sound quality of the 2010 reissue by Music on Vinyl is superb, showcasing Cooke’s natural singing voice. $25 new.
Roy Orbison—The Very Best of Roy Orbison (1966). Orbison could start at a whisper and build to a crescendo—and vinyl conveys his pure voice and incredible talent especially well. This collection was released by Monument Records, which employed some of the best sound engineers in the business, and features most of Orbison’s biggest hits, including “Only the Lonely” and “Oh Pretty Woman.” $5 to $15 used.
Joni Mitchell—Court and Spark (1974). This album showcases Mitchell’s nimble voice and her skill as a composer, with backing by an excellent roster of jazz musicians. Songs include the popular “Free Man in Paris” and “Help Me.” (For the best sound, seek out the 1980 Nautilus Half-Speed Mastered Series reissue—it reveals previously hidden textures in the vocals.) $24 new. $10 to $30 used for the Nautilus version.
Pink Floyd—Wish You Were Here (1975). This isn’t as famous as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, but it is the band’s most emotional and heartfelt album—it is a tribute to deceased former band member Syd Barrett. This is immersive, otherworldly music, and the vinyl record allows more of its emotional content to come through. The title track and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” are among the highlights. $29 new.
The L.A. Four—Going Home (1977). Jazz guitarist Laurindo Almeida, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Shelly Manne and saxophonist Bud Shank form one of the top jazz combos of the 1970s. The album makes it feel as though you are right there in a 1970s jazz club. $40 to $50 used.
Talking Heads—Stop Making Sense (1984). This is one of the greatest live albums ever made, and the excitement of the concert comes through on the record more than on the CD. It includes 1980s art-rock classics such as “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House.” Play it loud. $15 to $25.
Howlin’ Wolf—Blues Masterworks (2013). English label Delta Blues released this double album with 25 of the seminal blues man’s greatest songs. Hits include “Smokestack Lightning” and “Spoonful.” This is the music that the Rolling Stones have been trying to imitate for the past half century. $48 new.
Leonard Cohen—Popular Problems (2014). The 81-year-old master songwriter continues his impressive comeback streak with one of his finest albums ever. The quality of the backup singing and orchestration is fully revealed on vinyl. $22 new.
Vivaldi—The Four Seasons performed by Félix Ayo and I Musici (2015). If you have only one classical album in your collection, this should be it. The sound is gorgeous…the music unforgettable. $14 new.
Chris Stapleton—Traveller (2015). Stapleton is the best new country artist around, and this album teams his top-notch songwriting with powerful, emotional vocals. $15 new.
Joe Bonamassa—Blues of Desperation (2016). Bonamassa is emerging as the greatest blues guitarist of his generation. His latest album features his superb playing and singing, and on vinyl it has splendid sonics to match. $31 new.
*Prices are for new albums or, where noted, used albums in excellent to near-mint condition sold through eBay.com, Amazon.com or Discogs.com.