The record renaissance. What's happening?

by Simon Wilde April 05, 2019

The record renaissance. What's happening?

The vinyl era continues to grow and proves music is more than pressing play on a smart phone and skipping from track to track. What is it about records that has kept them from going the way of the dodo?

We love all things HiFi and understand there's a wide cross section of interests and passions about music and music reproduction. From records to cassette, to CD then the dreaded iPod and MP3 files to lossless high resolution digital storage and streaming.

The trend has been smaller, more portable devices evolving to have music at our fingertips anytime anywhere.

 

 No matter how busy we are we can have music available, it's now an assumed accessory taken for granted. Becoming a commodity in some ways, but still obviously special enough to want to access. Music has lost a little of it's soul, it's connection in some way through this process. Lets look at the history. 

 

When CD's arrived in1984 record sales crashed and very nearly disappeared in the mid 90's. Instead of taking a last gasp and falling off the perch completely they kind of flat lined with a faint pulse. Interestingly when downloadable content started to very quickly kill off CD sales in mid 2000 record sales started to come off life support and re-emerge as the legitimate format they've always been. Sales have increased year on year since 2005, now remarkably accounting for 4.3% of total US music revenue*, a smidge behind CD's at 7% and gaining every year to date. In the UK records sales surpassed CD's two years ago. Put that into perspective - paid and on demand streaming accounting for 75% of music revenue today, so sure 4% is small in percentage terms but that 4% is around A$590M in revenue....that's Million. So while not near the peak of 62.7% in 1977 and never will be that again, records 42 years later are in the mix and people are rediscovering or discovering for the first time what happens when music stored on these weird and temperamental flat vinyl discs is played.

 

What is it about records that intrigues? 

Records are as close as you can get to the original performance - I'm not necessarily speaking purely from a sound quality perspective, there are quirks with records that have always been there. The little clicks and pops from dust etc that you don't get on a CD/Digital source. Don't mistake, high quality vinyl recordings can sound absolutely amazing - it's not that difficult to have sound comparable to CD with very little or no back ground noise. 

What I'm talking about is the process and the involvement with a record to get the result. You are closer to the original recording with vinyl. The physical recreation of the music from the vibrations generated in the micro grooves on a flat piece of vinyl. The absolute direct reproduction from the record to your speakers and the human involvement in the process.

Yes CD's are easier and less noisy, as of course is streaming, but it's the connection to the process of making the music - the physical action of picking up and placing the record on the turn table, placing the cartridge on the lead in groove and have that tiny stylus track and trace the micro vibrations in the grooves.

If you've never tried, just listen with your ear close to a cartridge without the amplifier even on - you can hear the sound of the music from the stylus as it runs through the groove.

The music is in the surface of the record, physically there ready to be set free. It's not a bunch of digital one's and zeros on the reflective surface of a thin piece of aluminum sandwiched on plastic, or even further removed from physical reality as completely anonymous digital data stored on a server somewhere thousands of miles away. Digital data, ones and zeros that in a different sequence could just as easily be the recipe for a bad fruit cake or the instruction code set that makes a toll gate go up and down. Those record grooves forever have music in them, just waiting to be released in no other form but music. Playing a record is a visceral and tactile experience, you're literally pulling the music from the surface of the record. It's actually quite amazing that it works at all. We're talking a groove in the record about 80 microns across, about the same width of a human hair. But that's another story.

This is part of what I'm getting at, a record and listening to a record is about one thing and one thing only, the music. It's not picking up a phone to stream some music and get distracted with an email or tweet or doing something else. You pick up a record to play it, no distraction and no other outcome possible. 

I'm hearing so many voices yelling at me through the page, "you're mad! CD's are so much easier, streaming is the only way, records are fragile and there's all that noise of clicks and pops....!" Yes, I completely agree. There is no question and no argument. When I get home at the end of a day, I pull up the HEOS app on my phone and play back some random music via a subscription music service while I talk to my wife and kids about their day and we make dinner or whatever is going on. Absolutely easy and straight forward, done. Easy to access music for background activity or even stream a radio station. Perfect. 

However, if I (we) want to enjoy the music and experience of listening to music my wife and I will decide on a record and we'll spin one or two for the pure pleasure of listening to a whole album. Or if I'm lucky I'll find an hour here and there and sit in peace - might only be once a week but it's worth it to hear a record you've not listened to for ages. Records help you to connect to the music, they help you to slow down - you're kind of forced to listen - no skipping tracks, you'll actually listen to the WHOLE record to the end. This seems such an alternative and opposite way to behave in today's busy world. But it's GOOD.

The other aspect is the physical connection to the media in the form of a large vinyl disc you pick up - the interaction with the cover art and how it might make you feel before you even play any music. So many incredible covers that people will likely recognize immediately and feel an emotion just seeing them. That's what records are about.

It's a whole tactile experience.

 Here's a long bow to draw, it's also something that brings people together. The younger generation are getting together for vinyl parties, playing records and experiencing the music together. Swapping and experiencing this physical media in a way that just doesn't have the same feel as streaming music - you wouldn't crowd around a smart phone screen and see the cover art of the musician being played the same say as you can all see and pass around a 12" record cover!

We could go on about the great debate of analogue v's digital and how one sounds better than the other and get into all sorts of arguments. The truth is for those that don't want to hear it is digital is now 'better' in so many ways. Digital recording and lossless files are extremely good and the quality of the playback devices these days is so good that I personally believe to debate one being better than the other is so ridiculous it's a total waste of oxygen. Both are great and have their place. It comes down to which one you might prefer at any given point in time and what puts a smile on you dial as you listen. 

Put a decent record in my hands on a reasonable quality turn table and cartridge and I'm a happy camper. When I want to relax and really listen to music, that's not a bad way to experience it. If you agree or disagree, either way that's brilliant, it probably means you already love music and one format or the other. If you don't know and would like to find out, the phone probably isn't far away - give us a call or email or pop in to see us for a coffee, chat and listen to some tunes.

You decide for yourself but don't disregard the grandfather of modern music reproduction, it's worth a spin.

- VAF of course recommend and supply a range of great HiFi including turn tables, and also have a large number of records to choose from. We're also highly skilled in refurbishing and serving turntables, so if you have an old turn table bring it in for a check up. Thanks for reading, hope to speak to or see you in our showrooms soon.

 

 * Source U.S Sales database RIAA.

 




Simon Wilde
Simon Wilde

Author




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