Record Player Redux

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Phil Spector may be in for some jailhouse rocking, but this story in USA Today points out that not all artifacts of the Age of Vinyl are hitting the skids. Writes Jefferson Graham:

Record players, whose sales wound down to a halt almost a decade ago, are coming around again.

No one expects an exodus from the dominant compact disc to the nostalgic format. Nonetheless, sales of turntables and the vinyl LPs played on them are experiencing a resurgence as younger listeners are buying less of today's music and rediscovering relatives' archives.

Record sales–admittedly a paltry 1 percent of all prerecorded music sales–were up substantially last year, in contrast to the larger industry trend. And one fellow estimates there some 10 billion LPs still cluttering up the nation's attics. Thanks to cheap, nostalgically designed players from manufacturers such as Teac and Crosley, it looks like vinyl discs will be sticking around for a long time (and not just because they take a million years to biodegrade).

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  1. Is anyone familiar with ELP? It’s a laser record player that cuts out the pops, but it keeps the signal analog, so it has all the advantages of cds, other than portability, and none of the disadvantages. Unfortunately they’re very expensive.

  2. I have to agree with Seymour about the CD thing. Originally I remember a benefit touted of CD’s is that the digital age allowed CD players to ‘edit’ out scratches that records reproduced. This may be true of small enough defects but once they cross a certain threshold, the CD is unusable (at least for that song) unless you want to enter an unending skipping loop. The net result is ironically that CD’s are more sensitive to scratches than vinyl LPs.

    I do think that the hip-hop thing has led to a new life for turn tables, but probably that originated because the parents of the kids that developed rap and hip hop had large collections of records lying around that urban youngsters could make use of for free to back up their improvised musical creations. So there is a certain amount of ‘rediscovering of relatives’ archives’ that fuels this also.

  3. This isn’t my theory, but I don’t remember where I’m lifting it from. I find it plausible.

    CDs are a scam. In the 80s the record companies were facing dwindling income (rather like now) so they decided to introduce a new technology and resell their catalogs in that new format. This was the CD. Aside from looking neato and modern, and being somewhat smaller and more portable, the main selling point was perfect noise and pop free digital quality audio. (“Digital” was a magic word in 80s advertising, like “New!” or “Space-Age!”). But any self-appointed audiophile will tell you that LPs and analog sound better: “warmer” and with more presence. Digital can sound brittle and cold.

    But everyone jumped on the bandwagon and loaded up on CDs because they were the “must have” technology and the recording industry was saved. . . at least for a while.

  4. I know that my interest in vinyl albums is due to my being a club/electronic music dj. There are many of us who are a bit resistant to cd’s (for a myriad of reasons I’d rather not bore anyone with at this point) and are sticking with vinyl.

    It’s funny how many people ask me, ‘they still sell records?’ when they see me carrying a sack of new vinyl.

  5. I must point out that the vast majority of music purchasers are not audiophiles. I myself wouldn’t know “warm” music if it set my ears on fire.

  6. Well, CDs aren’t ENTIRELY worthless. I can record LP tracks to my PC, then burn them to CDs to listen to in my car.

  7. Well, USA Today skips the real reason turntables haven’t disappeared during the past decade: hip-hop and electronic dance music. The turntable is integral to the creation of music in both forms, and continues to be exalted by those artists. (The vintage-style record players described in the article, of course, are a different matter.)

    As for the youngster who decries the CD as “harsh and pristine,” he may want to keep his ears on DVD-Audio. It’s essentially a lossless format that eliminates the sonic degradation of CDs and comes without the snap-crackle-pop of records. I’m crossing my fingers that DVD-Audio gets some legs in the market.

  8. Looks like SACD will probably win out over DVD-Audio in the market.

    Most of the “sound effects” used by DJ’s et al for creation of music can be replicated using special CD players now anyway.

    The real reason records haven’t vanished is, in spite of the pops and clicks, they are more durable. Scratched records will usually play through, scratched CD’s are a pain in the ass (sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t).

    Personally, I prefer 78’s.

  9. Personally I don’t hear much difference btw formats, although in general I do think CD quality sounds better than cassette tapes (especially if they’ve been played a few hundred times). I listen to most of my music in the car anyway so most of the subtle audio quality is lost under the road noise. I think many people feel that way which is why downloading mp3’s is so popular, even though it isn’t as ‘perfect’ as the CD. Unless there are obvious mistakes (skipping or digital distortion) I can’t tell the difference, even at home.

    The analog distortion issue is an interesting one, historically speaking, because when it comes to playing music the difference is obvious. Rock and roll was pretty much invented because guitarists desiring to play at loud volumes overloaded the power tubes in their amplifiers, which created ‘distortion’ that now is a designed in feature in guitar amps and effects. Until very recently, attempts to duplicate the sound of overdriven tubes with solid state transistorized amplifiers did leave a lot to be desired, an apparent ‘brittleness’ and coldness compared to the warmth of tube driven amplifiers. Having just before professed not to be an audiophile, I will say the difference is obvious to me as a guitarist. People have been importing tubes from Russia for musical equipment for the past few years because they don’t even make them anymore in the US. However some of the newest generations of guitar amps and effects pedals seem to have licked the warmth issue, although true tube afficionados may disagree.

    The degree of distortion provided intentionally by musical amplication equipment however is much greater than than created unintentionally (probably unavoidably from the record player engineer’s standpoint) by the playback method. I’m sure people can hear the difference but in my opinion it’s probably not important to 98% of the music-buying population.

  10. A lot of indy companies only, or mainly, press vinyl. I doubt Screeching Weasel records were included in the tallies, though.

  11. Even if record sales are increasing, why did Spector think producing a .45 would do him any good?

  12. Brian: “Any self-appointed audiophile” is full of horse hockey. Green pens, anyone? Let’s see a double-blind study in which people can reliably hear this “cold”, “brittle” quality.

  13. Someone probably has done that. Here’s the thing: digital actually captures the sound more accurately, especially at higher sampling rates, whereas analog introduces subtle distortion that people say they find pleasant. If you overload a digital signal it clips and sounds awful. If you overload an analog signal it just sounds . . . good. Fat, warm, and all that jazz.

    It’s actually the lack of distortion in digital audio that leaves people unsatisfied. I dunno, maybe there is a placebo effect though.

    A lot of digital audio processing software nowadays has stuff to emulate analog distortion because people say they like it.

  14. I just got a Crosley Record player, the four in one thing. I can’t figure out how to work the LP player. Im really bad with technology. I can’t download mp3’s or work a Record player. Someone please help me in some way to make this easier on myself.

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