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Vinyl records: timeless format or just a fad?

vinyl record

Last week, the amount of money spent on vinyl music in the UK overtook digital downloads for the first time. Records are now firmly in the mainstream, but are they back for good, or is this just a stay of execution?

Ten years ago, the only people buying LPs were a few musty record collectors and the occasional aspiring DJ, but the £2.4m spent on vinyl in the UK last week proves that things have changed.

In a turn of events few, if anyone, would have predicted back then, that figure outstripped the £2.1m spent on digital downloads in the same period.

In an industry that often obsesses over the ‘next big thing’, it seems almost absurd that 15 years after the launch of the iTunes store, we find ourselves returning to a format that’s been around since just after the Second World War.

So why has this happened? Is there something about the LP that makes it truly immortal?

New ways to consume

The latest sales figures do make a good story, but don’t be fooled – vinyl is still nowhere near the most widespread way of listening to music.

According to the British Phonographic Industry, in early 2016, LPs represented less than 2% of overall music consumption.

So if people aren’t really listening to vinyl much, and they’re not downloading music either, what are they doing?

The answer is streaming of course – the UK streamed 26.6 billion songs on services such as Spotify and Google Play in 2015, and the figures from 2016 will no doubt be even higher.

If you include the numbers from free video streaming on sites such as YouTube, it’s over 50 billion plays.

Why vinyl?

In my opinion, this is the real reason that vinyl sales have overtaken digital downloads.

Through streaming, we’re spending more time listening to music we don’t own and can be pickier with what we spend our money on. If we really like a song, we’ll buy it. However, we like owning physical objects such as vinyl – we feel more attached to them, more emotionally invested than we do with something we can’t see.

Why would I buy an MP3 when I can have something lovely and tangible like a record?

We’re also willing to spend more on each individual record because it’s a more occasional and sentimental purchase.

Do you own vinyl? Have you rekindled your passion for it after its recent resurgence, or has your love for the LP never wavered? Maybe you went digital and never looked back, and now you’re waiting for this fad to blow over?

Comments
Member

We have a huge vinyl collection, although mostly music prior to the 20th C. I’ve digitised it all, a very long drawn out process, and managed to get most of it approaching the quality of an AAC copy. But now it all sits in a cupboard – or two – and we listen to music on our server or iPods.

Member
Vynor Hill says:
12 December 2016

I think I’ve written this before, so, very briefly, I like CDs to have and to hold and put on. Streaming leaves nothing in the hand and everything at the mercy of clouds and computers which will eventually fail. Back ups then have to be found and that’s hard work. Besides, I have a good music system which is not connected to any other media and doesn’t need replacing. Vinyl? I thought the silent background and good (if not quite the best) sound reproduction meant that Vinyl had had its day. I can still remember records getting thinner and warping, off centre pressings with real vibrato on every note and a constant battle with dust, static and blunt needles. Perhaps the new vinyl has improved, but for me? No thank you.

Member

I pensioned off my turntable and fairly modest collection of LPs when I moved home, mainly because the turntable and record cabinet would have to be in front of one of the radiators in my lounge, which did not seem like a good idea.

After listening to LPs many times I sometimes get up at the right time to turn over the record – and then realise I’m listening to a CD.

Member

I know, I’ve listened to some albums so much (Sgt Pepper’s one of them) I still think, “this is where I would turn the record over” when I listen to a CD, but I’ve stopped short of getting up… so far.

I prefer vinyls because there aren’t any pointless, so-called “bonus” tracks added at the end of the record where I would expect silence after musical bliss. A record is like a painting or a scupture or a film, when it’s finished, it’s finished. I hate having to rush to the hi-fi after the cathartic Day In The Life to that I don’t hear the utterly inappropriate piece of nonsense added after it by some musical vandal somewhere. You can tell I feel strongly about this :0). See another convo on how they are vandalising Buffy.

Member

Not only have I pensioned off my turntable but I still have not set up my HiFi separates since moving home earlier this year. I’m using a micro-‘Hi-Fi’ bought as an alternative to a soundbar for the flat-screen TV. My old Philips CD player, which must be nearly 30 years old , has a ‘favourite track selection’ that can be used to omit selected tracks. I don’t know if this is now a common feature but it is a very effective way of dealing with unwanted tracks.

Member

You certainly knew your CD players Wavechange buying a Philips 30 years ago , it was good in its day , some of those old models are now prized by aficionados and command “big bucks ” .

Member

Sophie you have all the attributes of a “top end ” hi-fi enthsusiast.

Member

Its taken a long time for Which to bring this up probably because it hadnt reached a set business level at which bigger entities get interested and want to profiteer from the demand . This started long ago and anybody.like myself who inhabits hi-fi mags that comment and display top-end equipment will have known this at least a decade ago. Decks can cost from several £100,s up to and exceeding £100,000 , arms in the 10,s of £1000,s , power amps ,particularly- valve (tube ) amps using early 30,s enormous triodes costing mind boggling sums . I have spent a lifetime evolved in this hobby from buying old mechanical 30,s 40,s decks with heavy bakelite arms one of which I am holding right now as I type – G.Marconi moving coil -with MADE in ENGLAND , remember that name ? (NOT -made in the land of Built to a Price)– with a steel needle . I progressed up to designing power amps from original designs in Wireless World/Electronic World , making my own versions . I have an extensive collection of 50,s ORIGINAL Rock,n, Roll LP,s and going onto the 70,s . Vynor is quite right , to save money BB reduced the thickness of LP,s causing warping and other audio problems . Now I have in addition a very expensive British made designed-manufactured CD tray only player ( no DAC) with separate power supply + the latest BRITISH -made- manufactured-designed DAC convertor costing “silly money ” + own build mono/dual small signal amplifier-mono/ dual power supply- ( stop’s overhearing via the power supply ) and Japanese Stax electrostatic ear speakers with electrostatic power amp also costing “a lot ” BUT I have now made all my CD,s into files on my PC which has a £200 audio card with 0.001% thd using very high quality audio chips and a good LInux audio programme that converted them into WAV -yes I know it takes up nearly 11Gbits . outputted to an original BRITISH ARCAM power amp but Sony APM speakers . Anybody needing help with hi-fi I can help you. PS Daniel- any relation to the owners of LINN (Scotland ) or know them ? or Alvin Gold ?

Member
Scottie says:
31 December 2016

So, you’ve taken a compressed format, copied it and using expensive equipment expect it to play brilliantly.

Member

Uh no ! Scottie-since when has WAV been missing digital musical data.- WAV=EXACT COPY ! Flac= supposed lossless compression I said I copied CD originals not down market methods via the web etc. BUT direct from my OWN CD collection so my recordings are=24bit/96Khz (audio standard/blue book ) and IF I wanted to download from my upmarket British made/designed Cyrus CD PLATFORM + PU + the latest – BRITISH-designed manufactured CHORD -2qute DAC = dis. THD-0.0003% yes thats right no error there , which offers up to 32bit at 384Khz when inputting to my upmarket PC via a separate AUDIO card costing £200 approved by music editors etc. -does that get your approval ?

Member
robert C says:
22 January 2017

Agreed, CD is WAV and lossless, but they are 16 bit 44.1kHz, so up-sampling to 24/96 does nothing for the music. WAV ripped carefully to disc is as good as that recording will get.

Member

Robert -you have missed something out –dynamic range -aka- resolution =48db, check out the Nyquist rate audio samples should be sampled at twice the the highest frequency giving greater bit DEPTH -IE- peaks + subtleties wont be reduced or not heard it has room for 256 times the data.

Member

One of the problems with having very high-specification audio equipment is that the acoustic properties of the listening environment might not match and it becomes necessary to carry out various, and perhaps costly, alterations to provide suitable damping or attenuation in the surroundings to approximate to an anechoic chamber. Good headphones will do it but are not very sociable.

Member

Good perception John and thats why I have Stax electrostatic “ear-speakers ” nothing is missed due to very high voltage bias and movable mass of about 1 micron and a push/pull configuration in each ear .

Member

My vinyl system was built over many years and still lives on the massive cabinet I bought for it way back when. A mixture of manufacturers including Acoustic Research (record deck & speakers), Marantz amplifier & CD player, Denon cassette deck, Kenwood(!) FM tuner. Expensive cables (which DID make a difference in those mostly analogue days). It doesn’t get used much but Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl still makes an impact that the CD fails to do.

A new buyer who might have one of the new, cute, suitcase record players will not get anything like the same experience but hopefully they might get to hear a decent system that is in their price bracket and go on from there. Not many people would pay £30,000 for the Kronos Turntable but we can all lust after it… Or the Pathos Adrenalin Monobloc amplifier at £33,000. Each. And you do need two of them…

Member

Your talking my language Banjo !

Member

You’re talking my music Banjo !

Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here are probably my all time favourite albums.

Member

I’ve been given a small collection of EMI 78’s from the ’50s – opera, brass band, big band if I remember correctly because I cant play them yet. I’m on the lookout for a reasonably priced turntable to play 78 rpm – mine only does 45 and 33. Even an old record player would suit. I’ve written to Father Christmas.

I like vinyl and I’ve also a small collection of mainly classical. Isn’t the problem the hiss and crackle and clicks from small scratches if you’re a bit careless, however good the equipment?

Member

Malcolm I wont send you to very expensive decks try : http://www,myrecordplaters.com/ best record player reviews | find best turntables 2016 easily -forget crosley -complete RUBBISH scroll down to # 1 best overall or : http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/gadgets-tech/best-turntables-under-500-record-players-8899911.html I have old Dansettes but the reproduction would never do classical music justice.

Member

If the 78s were of sentimental value or historically interesting, I would be tempted to buy an old gramophone. I enjoyed my childhood visits to see my grandmother, partly because the house was filled with interesting old objects including a Dulcetto gramophone with a colourful parrot logo inside the case. The speed could be varied with a lever until it sounded right and among the 78s were some single-sided ones.

I have no idea what a 78 would sound like on a modern high quality turntable, but probably not very good if it had been used on old equipment with a high tracking weight. I’m amused that the first recommendation from Duncan’s second link is marked Best Buy – but not a Which Best Buy of course.

Member

Wavechange “Best Buy ” in this sense is related only to a price range , this is very common in hi-fi because of differences in income . When you reach the top end you are paying for slight nuances in the recorded music , the timbre, the “openness ” , spatial range , not just the FR , but the perceived MUSICAL reproduction , the bowing of the strings on a violin , the solidness of the low frequencies etc etc. Anybody nowadays can do the 20Hz-20Khz cheaply its whats reproduced that counts , some people are happy with what comes out of a£50 player others are more discriminating , and yes , there is some musical “snobbery ” actually egged on in some quarters to make those with the money spend more . I have no idea what Which constitutes as a “Best Buy ” in hi-fi but having a large knowledge of all things “hi-fi ” I would like to critique on it.

Member

I was just amused by the Best Buy label, Duncan. I try to avoid marketing and was only familiar with Which? using the term.

Member

duncan, thanks 🙂

Member
robert C says:
22 January 2017

REGA (which is UK designed and made) specialise in record decks and offer a dedicated 78 rpm player that plugs into most hifi. My father has one. One of the cheapest decks they make. Its 45-33 brother got good reports in Which recently, which I was pleased to see.

Member

Good British make Rega I bought one of the first manufactured batch RB 300 arms in 1984 -still have it Robert . It was innovative in its day by being die-cast in one piece and engineered on resonances were well down. Even Alvin Gold liked it at the time.

Member

I statred out with B & O decks, speakers and amps, and we now have several systems around the house, which use Pioneer, Arcam, Tannoy, Cambridge Audio, JBL and even down to Sony. But I’d never return to vinyl, simply because – as Vynor put it rather neatly – it’s an unending battle with dust, needles, static, levels, vibration and just about every other delight of the modern world. As we get older, too, the frequency range we’re able to discern becomes ever narrower, so forking out huge sums on amps and the like is simply a waste.

Member

The Intro seemed to suggest that there was nothing between vinyl records and downloading or streaming, but CD’s have been [and still are] incredibly popular. Purists might not consider them faultless [although to some extent the quality depends on the replay system] but they represent an accessible, visible, versatile, portable and convenient way of storing and playing music while still having the desirable physical attributes.

Having gone through mono, stereo, and quadraphonic [remember that?] on vinyl, with some reel-to-reel and cassette tapes thrown in, and having had a fairly elaborate hi-fi set-up, when CD’s were launched it coincided with a change in my circumstances and I jettisoned all the gear and the albums in favour of a much more compact system and a small collection of CD’s that would actually be played frequently rather than sit on a shelf for most of their existence. Apart from in the computers and the car, the only means of playing the CD’s now is a couple of Bose radio/CD players and a cheap-&-cheerful system in one of the bedrooms but this suits us fine. We are no longer looking for the acme of hi-fi transcription; we listen to music on the radio as much as on CD, and – the same as for books – I have disciplined myself to discard one for every new one that comes into the house. I have never knowingly streamed.

Even if I could afford it I wouldn’t wish to go down the road of the high-end kit that Duncan refers to; I probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate it sufficiently nowadays. Bring back the stereogram, I say; there was a certain sense of style and performance when relaxing one’s guests with the latest Horst Jankowski album while the fondue simmers and the Hock swirls in the tumblers.

Member

We still have a large vinyl collection that rarely gets played. We always intended to digitise them but never quite got around to it. All our favourites have now been rebought on CDs as birthday presents or stocking fillers so they have become rather redundant.

Member

In an earlier Convo (first link in the introduction), Daniel posted a fascinating observation: An ICM poll of people who’d bought vinyl in the last month found that 48% of those surveyed hadn’t yet played their recent purchase. And a further 7% admitted that they didn’t even own a record player.

My guess is that people enjoy having something tangible, and even if you listen to music on Spotify etc. it is nice to own the record. Even if vinyl records are not played the sleeves may be on display, like pictures. I know of one pub that numerous records and sleeves adorning the walls. It’s not something I have done.

Member

Bang on the money with that comment Wavechange your public perceptive psychology is correct ,that s exactly what the public perceive, and its the one area where “digitalisation ” falls flat on its face . Built into people through 1000,s of years is “ownership ” its part of human DNA , there is no sense of ownership of digital music because it is virtual , it can depart in an instant , wiped out by a hacker/virus/ fault in the computer, even those that think–I have it on HDD so its “safe ” –no its not hackers can block it . You cant hold it in your hand , look at it . even love it. That is where “going virtual ” with the money supply will cause a great deal of anger , already there is a violent backlash in India where the “fake news ” via the government was saying -no more real money -we are going virtual due to “criminal activities” guess what after the uproar the Indian government just wanted to go virtual so BB/banks etc India could make more profit out of charges for using it–they admitted it , so Britain –Beware !

Member

That’s one way to look at it, but the people using streaming services are unlikely to lose access to their favourite music for long. For a monthly subscription you can have whatever music you want, when you want it. No need to look to look after records or CDs and no danger of losing a precious collection. I can see the attraction.

Member

I was thinking along the same lines. If I were starting out afresh I wouldn’t want a tangible music collection if I could readily access any track from any piece of music either through a download or a streaming service and increase my repertoire without leaving home. The much vaunted physical attributes and proprietorship emotions were only making a virtue out of a necessity. The downsides of vinyl and the apparatus required to play it were not inconsiderable. One could still make a bit of a performance out of selecting and playing a piece of music if that’s the way to impress the neighbours on cocktail night.