Don’t Call it a Comeback: Why Vinyl Still Matters

December 13th, 2010 by Paul DeBenedetto

Did you hear that vinyl was dead?

If so, you may have heard wrong.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, in 2008, more vinyl albums were purchased than any other previous year in the history of Nielsen. That’s 1.88 million records. An impressive number. What’s more impressive? In 2009, that number increased by 33 percent.

What’s interesting is that the market for other forms of analog devices, such as compact cassette tapes and 8-tracks, is non-existant, or relegated to “cult” status: experimental indie rock group Animal Collective is offering a free cassette of unreleased songs with every pre-order of a new shoe each member has designed for the Keep shoe company.

But the above numbers indicate that the vinyl market is hardly niche, or a blip on the radar. So why vinyl, and why now? With record companies struggling to keep up with the digital boom in the last decade the vinyl surge seems curious. How can an old form of technology thrive during a time when even MP3 players can become obsolete after a year or so of use?

“Vinyl sounds better than CD,” says Greg Winter, 29. “A well cared-for, clean vinyl on a good sound system will kick a CD’s ass any day.”

Winter is the impetus behind HPRS, formerly known as the Highland Park Record Sale, an underground record sale in Iselin, NJ. He began collecting vinyl about 15 years ago, but entered into the world of vinyl sales about eight years ago. He says the reason digital hasn’t buried analog is simply because the quality of sound is just not as impressive. To some, the compression process destroys the quality of the music.

Beyond that, though, Winter believes that vinyl appeals to a certain subset of music fan who cares about not only the music quality, but the music experience.

“There’s a magical quality about vinyl,” Winter says. “The feel of it, the warmth of it. Dropping a diamond tipped needle into a groove that plays music– you don’t have that engagement with a CD.”

More cynically, the question very well may not be “why is vinyl back,” but rather, “what reason does anyone have to continue to buy CDs?” In an age when music is so easy to consume digitally, the younger generations never became too attached to CDs, and older fans who never accepted them see no reason to buy them now. That vinyl has something to offer– a musical experience over a piece of plastic ephemera– seems to be the cause of its longevity. And with new hardware and software that lets you rip your vinyl to your hard drive, you can have your cake and eat it too: you can buy vinyl as a collector, and still have each song at your fingertips.

Below, see and hear more from Greg– including some of his stops along the way– and perhaps learn a little more about what it is that makes vinyl so special these days.

View A History of HPRS in a larger map

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