[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Jessica Kane. Jessica is a music connoisseur and an avid record collector. She currently writes for SoundStage Direct, her go-to place for all turntables and vinyl equipment, including VPI Turntables.]
Whether it is audiophiles, an older listener trying to recapture their youth, or younger listeners searching for an authentic experience, vinyl records have become more popular over the last decade.
Vinyl’s revival has made a significant mark in sales figures. Even as physical CD sales decline, people are buying more vinyl than they have in decades. Nearly 6 million units sold in just in 2013. It’s not a single-year phenomenon either. Since the start of the upturn, sales have jumped more than 1,000 percent, climbing from shy of 1 million units in 2007 to nearly 12 million units in 2015, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Here are six reasons vinyl is on the rise.
1. An active, not passive, experience
Unlike digital music or even CDs, with vinyl you can’t simply push play and walk away while it provides hours of background noise. With vinyl, the needle needs to be moved over and the album needs to be flipped, so why not sit down and wait? Instead of moving on to something else, fans find they take the time to look through the album art, read the lyrics, look for surprises in the band’s supporting musicians or liner notes.
Musician Ari Herstand said, “This music is beautifully and intentionally detached from my phone…When we stare at our screens for the majority of our days, it’s nice to look at art that doesn’t glow and isn’t the size of my hand.”
Spending time with the full album and the printed materials is also learning more about the artists and their capabilities than listening to a collection of their hits shuffled in a mix.
2. Something tangible
As impressive as your MP3 playlist may be, you will not be able to leave it to your children or read one day that a part of it just sold for thousands of dollars in an auction at Christie’s. Vinyl can be shared, traded, gifted, autographed and tacked to the bedroom wall. CDs had this too, but with the disadvantages of cracked jewel cases or awkward storage sleeves – and it looked sadly indistinguishable from the computer storage at work or school.
In 2012, actor Bruce Willis raised the question of whether he would be able to leave his extensive digital music collection to his daughters upon his death or whether all ownership would revert to Apple. Answer: both, but it’s not simple. A box (or hundreds of boxes) of vinyl makes it simple.
3. The thrill of the hunt
For many who love vinyl, it’s also about the thrill of the hunt. Whether the hunt takes them to flea markets, tag sales, the local record store, eBay or Walmart, it’s about looking for something different, checking it out and telling everyone about it. Whether seeking treasure old or new, this is panning for gold everyone can afford to undertake.
Becky Mollenkamp of CookingWithVinyl says she carries Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time to garage and estate sales and has picked up many items from the list in good shape for about $1 each.
4. The community
Record shops aren’t just for shopping. They are also a place to connect with other audiophiles and music fans, to discuss things with them, and to get to know them. Digital downloads don’t offer this, and neither do online discussions about music. Some fans feel that online forums are essentially anonymous and lack the community feel of the record store. We like to talk to others that we know and share interests with.
Along with the shops, vinyl fans tend to hangout with each other, often listening to albums together and discussing them, anxious to share new and rare finds.
5. No loss of mobility
More and more artists and labels are including a code for the digital downloads with the purchase of vinyl as a way to entice buyers. This means no second purchase is needed to maintain the ability to listen on-the-go. Some analysts think this is what is fueling the continued vinyl sales growth. For example, Amazon now includes free MP3 versions when you buy a vinyl version for more than 11,000 records.
6. Sound quality
When most people argue that vinyl is better, they often go straight to sound quality. Terms like “warm,” “full” and “lossless” sound are used, with listeners either nodding or rolling their eyes. What they are actually referring to is a combination of things: some musical, others emotional.
Sound is a range of frequencies. When there is a complete presentation of frequencies that diminishes as the frequency increases, the sound seems to be more complete. Vinyl tends to present the widest range of frequencies due to its analog-to-analog production process. Digital music, because of its compression to keep file sizes manageable, doesn’t present as much of a continual range (a good visual metaphor for this using the Mona Lisa shows how something is altered as it is compressed).
As for the emotional, some people equate a slight hiss or occasional crackle as part of their memory of vinyl. While it may not be quality sound, many die-hard fans believe it is part of the authentic vinyl experience.