Posted on February 04 2016
Picture discs do not sound bad as a rule. Are they audibly inferior to standard vinyl? Yes. Always. However, that doesn't mean they sound "bad," it means they are not capable of sounding as good standard vinyl records. The reason for this can be found in how picture discs are made.
HOW ARE PICTURE DISCS MADE?
A picture disc is made up of two squares of Polyethylene (PE) Foil (imagine thin, clear squares of floppy plastic, or a flexi-disc), two printed pictures -- one for each side, and a small hunk of vinyl. Take these as your ingredients and start making a sandwich where the PE Foil is the bread, the printed pictures are the mayo you spread on each slice, and the biscuit is the meat.
This sandwich is pressed together to make the finished picture disc product. The vinyl, in this vinyl record, sits in the center beneath the picture and PE foil giving the disc it's weight. The music is actually pressed into the PE foil, and this is why the best picture disc pressings will never sound as good as the best vinyl pressing.
SHOULD I BUY PICTURE DISCS?
Yes. If you want it, buy it. Whether you want it for the artwork, or the music, there is no good reason you should avoid them. There are plenty of picture discs that do sound good. It's been said that the Blondie Parallel Lines picture disc sounds superb, as does the picture disc reissue of Sublime's S/T album, and Heart's Dreamboat Annie.
If you're on the fence, or worried about the sound, just Google it. If anyone has heard the picture disc you're curious about, rest assured they've entered a review of it somewhere in the internet. At worst, you've got a cool display piece, at best, you've got a cool display piece that you can take off the wall and jam to.