The 8-track and cassette tape challenged its might in the 1970s and 1980s. CDs took over the market in the 1990s. iTunes drove a digital download revolution in the 2000s. As each new format challenged the record player with advances in technology and portability, the vinyl market grew smaller and smaller. But it didn’t die.
And then, something strange happened. Vinyl sales picked up. And they kept going up. In 2011, new vinyl record sales grew 39 percent over 2010 sales, to 3.9 million records — higher than they’d been in 20 years
. Are turntables becoming popular again? The statistics speak for themselves — you’ve got to have something on which to play all those newly-purchased vinyl records. But the real question is this: Why is vinyl making a comeback? Even with big growth in 2010 and 2011, vinyl’s hardly set to upstage the Internet or even the CD as a popular music format. What do people see in vinyl?
Well, the trusty record has two things playing to its advantage. One: the unique sound of analog, something missing from digital formats. Two: collectability, driven by the increased space for album artwork and the special care poured into the creation of many modern vinyl runs. Vinyl albums and the turntables that play them have taken on a niche role in the modern music scene. While they were once the inferior technology for conveniently listening to music, they’re now the coolest alternative to the simplicity of an MP3. Let’s take a deeper look at why turntables are still selling and what that means for the music market.
The Sweet Sound of Vinyl
The wistful strum of an acoustic guitar in Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” the mournful voice of Joni Mitchell in every song of her album “Blue” — there’s just something about that music that sounds like it was born for vinyl. Vinyl’s defenders prefer the format for listening to music for a variety of reasons. Some prefer the “warmer” sound of vinyl, though that’s a vague description that can mean different things to different people. For some, it might just refer to the snaps, crackles and pops that can be heard in vinyl playback.
More serious audiophile listeners might not want to hear those pops at all. A high quality turntable and sound system can remove many of the imperfections picked up by cheaper gear. Still, those vinyl defenders could define a “warm” sound as the greater dynamic range of analog audio. The grooves in a vinyl album more accurately reflect the sound waves of an audio signal than a digital file, but audiophiles will forever argue about the merits of analog versus digital audio and which one is truly superior.
There are even some vinyl listeners who aren’t in it for the sound: In the digital age, big 12 inch records offer a really cool way to collect music.
As of 2012, turntables are readily available — at price points from $150 to $1000. There are affordable players out there for vinyl newcomers, and expensive tables out there for DJs and audiophiles. USB turntables offer an appealing entry point for modern vinyl purchasers: They can be used to convert albums to digital and are often affordable, making them useful for vinyl lovers with big music collections and newcomers looking for a cheap record player.
Mahesh (MGIT ECE 4th year )