Why is vinyl becoming popular?

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Image: Steve Snodgrass (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Image: Steve Snodgrass (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Vinyl records are experiencing a global resurgence. Sales are the highest they have been in 15 years. The figures from Nielsen SoundScan show the industry is booming with 2.9 million records sold in the past 6 months –  a 33.5% rise in sales over the first half of 2012.

Comparatively, CDs are still struggling with sales falling another 14% as digital music continues to rise as expected – mostly due to the success of music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora.

So what is causing the vinyl numbers to buck the trend of physical media?

Audiophiles

Many audiophiles believe the sound quality of vinyl records is superior to other formats. By definition original sound is analogue. CDs and MP3s are digital recordings while vinyl records are analogue recordings. Digital recordings take snapshots of the analogue signal at a certain rate (44,100 times a second for CDs) and measures each snapshot with certain accuracy dependent on how many bits its format is.

So basically, rather than capturing the complete soundwave, digital recordings approximate it into a sequence of steps. The bad thing about this, it causes digital recordings to lose some information in the process. In contrast, vinyl records contain tiny grooves implemented into them that capture the entire waveform of the original recording. This prevents any information from being lost during the recording process.

This may sound too good to be true, and it usually is, since most modern albums are recorded digitally before being pressed on vinyl. However, many audiophiles contend that the quality is still on par or even better than that of a CD.

Marketing

Most modern albums available on wax come with a complimentary mp3 download. This gives listeners the convenience of not always having to be around their record player whenever they want to listen to the album they bought. They are also quite reasonably price coming in between $15 and $30 for a new release and many good quality second-hand records sell for under $10.

There is also a feeling of community when walking into a record store and being surrounded by like-minded individuals all digging through crates trying to find a jewel. Unlike iTunes and Amazon, record stores are a place where people of many differing music tastes can gather and share their musical tastes with each other in person. It is marketed towards music lovers and through being so hands on it does quite a great job.

They are almost impossible to steal. All you simply need is a “wood box, glass window cement, silicone mixture, liquid plastic and a drill press”.

Visual Art

Music and visual art have been inexplicably linked ever since album covers were invented. The large sleeves and glossy finish of vinyl records provide a large canvas for album art. Many artists take advantage of this. For example, Toro Y Moi’s newest LP ‘Anything In Return’ (below) has the vinyl record coloured in purple and it looks awesome. There is no doubt that many people purchase records simply for the visual aesthetics they contain. I bet we all know someone who has records framed and hung on their living room wall. They just look so much prettier than CDs.

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Intimacy

To play a record you have to physically set up the record player, clean dust off it, put it on the record player and stay in close proximity to it so you can flip it over to the other side when it finishes playing. This gives listeners an intimate listening experience. It allows you to feel as though you are a part of the music you are listening to. You feel connected to the music, and rewarded for the effort you put in to make it play.

Young People

The top 5 vinyl record sales at the time of writing are the albums of David Bowie, Boards of Canada, The Stereophonics, Daft Punk and, Courtineers. This suggests a young demographic is mainly purchasing vinyl records. This could be due to an increase in the popularity of things from earlier decades or it could be because some young people feel disconnected with intangible music. Either way, young people are getting into records and this trend is rapidly increasing.

It appears the soaring popularity of vinyl records is here to stay. There is an increasing number of artists and record labels who offer their promotional LP releases on wax. There is even a Record Store Day held every April where stores worldwide celebrate everything record related through giveaways, concert competitions and promotions.

Vinyl records aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Join the Conversation

  • Xtraflo Xsane

    A digital file that is later converted into an analogue format will not be superior to the original digital file, that makes mo sense.
    If you’re wanting the best sounding vinyl, pick up records from the 60s and 70s. That was both the height of recording technology as well as great music !!

  • Laraine

    Please see http://diffuser.fm/do-cds-actually-sound-better-than-vinyl/ for the reasons CDs definitely sound better than vinyl. But there is now even better than CD—Studio Master downloads. Unfortunately, you have to spend a lot of money to take advantage of them. Got a spare $20,000+? Well, you’d need to spend around that just to get the best out of vinyl, never mind studio masters. CDs can sound relatively good even on modest equipment; vinyl never could.

    • Dirk Grimmsdottir

      You completely missed the point.

    • Tom Watson

      As a mastering engineer, let me fill you in on this. We send a DDPi to the pressing factory, this is made from the wav files, the wav files are put on the CD in audio CD format. The CD is the same as the wave files (44.1k 16bit), the wave files are the same as the CD and the CD is the same as the DDPi. So it’s the same. The converters in your consumer stereo and the consumer speakers are the weak link, not the media. Go and buy some mastering grade converters for 1k or more plus some studio speakers at 2k or more, hook that up to your PC and plays CDs on it and you will notice way more detail and it will cost you 3k instead of 20,000 and is only a once of payment for every CD you can play and find.

      If you really want the best quality media, what you really want to get is the unmastered wave files, it will have the most dynamics and probably sound the best if the mix was really good and the mastering engineer didn’t have to cover up lots of mistakes. However, these will never make it into circulation because you’d have to turn your amplifier up 10x louder and would need higher quality converters and people would just limit them and master them badly so they could put them on their ipod which is bad promotion for the artists and labels since the songs would distort and sound horrible, even if they are illegal downloads.

      The same applies to pre-digital music (pre-1990s) except instead of wave file masters, the unmastered reel to reel tape should be the best quality if it was done well. The record will be pretty similar as the final master reel to reel except with missing a little of the highs but it might not necessarily sound better as mix and mastering engineers knew those frequencies would drop or would notice on the test pressing and compensate to make the record sound how they want it to. So you still would probably prefer the record better than the final master. But… the unmastered reel to reel would have more dynamics and probably sound best, however it will degrade over time like tape does when it gets dirty, scratched, warn and stretched.

  • Wow written 2.5 years ago and still ringing true :-)

  • whoever

    this is the stupidest thing ever written on digital audio:

    “any audiophiles believe the sound quality of vinyl records is
    superior to other formats. By definition original sound is analogue. CDs
    and MP3s are digital recordings while vinyl records are analogue
    recordings. Digital recordings take snapshots of the analogue signal at a
    certain rate (44,100 times a second for CDs) and measures each snapshot
    with certain accuracy dependent on how many bits its format is.

    So basically, rather than capturing the complete soundwave, digital
    recordings approximate it into a sequence of steps. The bad thing about
    this, it causes digital recordings to lose some information in the
    process. In contrast, vinyl records contain tiny grooves implemented
    into them that capture the entire waveform of the original recording.
    This prevents any information from being lost during the recording
    process.”

    if you don´t know what digital audio signal is and how it is produced and then reproduced to Analogue signal why you bother writing about this?? please read this:

    https://wiki.xiph.org/Digital_Show_and_Tell/Episode_02

    http://wiki.xiph.org/A_Digital_Media_Primer_For_Geeks_%28episode_1%29

    unbelievable….

  • Frank Mathiesen

    First the nostalgic feel when listening to a Vinyl Record. The cover is bigger and looks more powerful.
    The new Vinyl is thicker and have better sound quality and many bands reissue their old albums in better quality so it gets more attractive. If Your Vinyl have some scratches you can still listen to it if your CD have scratches you have to throw it out. Goodbye CD Vinyl records is here to stay.

    • Laraine

      If vinyl gets scratched the most likely thing to happen, Frank, is the stylus will skip the groove. If you’re lucky you will get, instead, a click or pop with every revolution until the end of the scratch—a noise loud enough to drown the music. I’ve had that experience with borrowed LPs, but never my own. Ive never had a scratched CD either. They are so dead easy to look after there is no excuse for scratches.