Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

44

July 28, 2011 • Music Diary, News

Music Diary Notes: Why Predictions of Vinyl Out-living CD’s Make Sense

It had been close to three decades since I bought anything on vinyl, as I started shifting my collection from Vinyl to CD. In both cases I was simply recording to tape since my portable system in my college room was a tape-based system – and I wasn’t ready to move my expensive CD system into that environment!

But I have maintained the hundreds of records in my collection in pristine condition, but really haven’t played them in ages. That is in stark contrast with my wife, who has always used her records for their given purpose – to play music directly. As a result, most of her records are scratched up and have skips and so on. She also differentiates what is on record versus what she has on her iPod. For her, the record is part of a larger thing – the whole experience of grabbing the vinyl and dropping the needle brings her back to a different time and place.

This past weekend we were in Princeton NJ and my brother and niece took us to the Princeton Record Exchange, an awesome independent record shop with loads of new and used CDs, tapes, DVDs, and a massive section of vinyl records.

I just enjoyed browsing, finding gems that I already own as well as things that were first released for CD but then back-released for vinyl (Columbia Masterpieces series, for example), and also the ‘180 gram audiophile’ records such as for Pat Metheny’s new ‘What’s It All About’ recording.

My wife, on the other hand, came out with the album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ by Soft Cell. For those unaware, Soft Cell was much more of an edgier punk act, and generally not represented by their hit song ‘Tainted Love’. She was excited to have the record and put it on for everyone to hear when we returned home. It was musically immediately evocative of a different time and place, and having vinyl as the medium was essential.

Had my wife seen the same recording on tape or CD she wouldn’t have stopped – she could have gotten this on iTunes at any point over the last decade.

All of which dovetails into one interesting statistic and prediction – vinyl is the only physical music medium whose sales are growing, and the vinyl LP will outlast the CD.

In terms of sales, vinyl has seen double-digit growth for each of the past several years, including triple digit growth from 2007 to 2008!

Vinyl gained 41 percent during the first half of this year, to reach 1.9 million units in the US, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Meanwhile, physical CDs dropped 6.4 percent to 103.3 million units during the same period. If those percentage rates hold steady, eventually vinyl outlasts the bottoming CD.

Of course the numbers are small, but there is a clear trend that has resulted in analyst Lyor Cohen predicting that vinyl will outlast the CD.

One’s going down, the other is resurging. But will vinyl ultimately outlast the CD, a decade or more from now? “Vinyl will definitely outlast CDs because of the resonance, the sound,” Warner Music Group top executive Lyor Cohen recently told Forbes. “The quality is closest to the way the artist wants you to hear it.”

But many wonder if this is just a fad, similar to all of the retro synths in use by folks like Deadmau5 and Skrillex. That is voiced by DMN:

That strongly supports the theory that this is just another music industry fad, a ringtone-like bubble that ultimately goes pop. Or, fails to ever scale towards the serious and sustained levels enjoyed by the CD.

Personally I think that sales of CDs and those of vinyl are unrelated and largely motivated by different thought processes, so comparing trends makes little sense. In fact, the desire that drives both – desire for ownership of a physical product – should result in both trending in the same direction. So why the difference? Because, as Dan pointed out and was confirmed in comments, when people buy a CD they generally rip it to iTunes and look at the booklet … then set it on a shelf.

Digital booklets and apathy caused by the lousy booklets that come with most CDs has lessened the value of the physical CD, as has the lower price for many MP3 albums and the ability to burn CDs through iTunes.

However, a vinyl album has the analog warmth of the original recording, the satisfying tactile feel of grooved plastic and a diamond stylus, and the large format cover art and notes. It is a all-encompassing experience about more than just the music. Well, at least it is to people like my wife.

Me? I really don’t care. I have digitized all of the out-of-print vinyl I have, have replaced much of the rest with digital tracks, and anything else I obviously don’t care that much about.

I assumed that most younger folks would be like me – all digital. Yet there is an appreciation for what vinyl brings to the listening experience. SOme say that the iPod and digital music has cheapened the music experience, and that vinyl brings back value.

Perhaps, but I estimate that it will never be a large market, and will eventually fade out completely. But for now, folks like my wife get to enjoy the experience of listening to a great record on their turntable … even if it is just to jam out to ‘Sex Dwarf’.

5 Responses to " Music Diary Notes: Why Predictions of Vinyl Out-living CD’s Make Sense "

  1. Carly Z says:

    Awesome post! I agree about vinyl. Loved my vinyl records and I had to part w/ them when I moved out of Boston (my record player had been busted for a while and it didn’t make sense to move them) but I definitely preferred vinyl for a lot of tracks.

    Also, princeton record exchange is amazing. I used to go there to hunt down non-mainstream stuff when I was in hs andhome from college. :)

  2. David Min says:

    Vinyl will have to die out when/if recording studios ever go to completely digital production. Obviously, at that point there will be nothing analog to a recording that a turntable and stylus will be able to produce!

    That will be a sad day.

    • David:

      As it is, pretty much all music is digitally mastered at this point, and started the switch-over in the early 80’s. So what you have now is the 24-bit, 96kHz sampled masters then dumped to analog masters and then reproduced similar to how I showed last week (http://www.geardiary.com/2011/07/25/random-cool-video-1951-wanna-buy-a-record-promo-surfaces/).

      The days of recording to analog tape are almost entirely gone. Audiophiles are not thrilled at the move, but admit that unlike the early digital masters, there is a clear advantage of getting digital master->vinyl compared to digital master->step-down to 16/44-> CD …

      • David Min says:

        I guess this really begs the question: at what sampling frequency rate will the human ear be unable to distinguish between digital and analog?

        I’m certain that some audiophile nuts will claim that there will ALWAYS be a difference if one listens closely and carefully enough, with, of course, the best audiophile gear available. Personally, I am in the camp of believers that consider the brain to be, at some point, a digital machine. So with that assumption, there will some point where we won’t be able to physiologically tell the difference.

        • I know that there is a an audible difference between 16/44 and 24/96 – particularly on frequency sweeps, dense harmonic structures with fast changes, and so on.

          But … no one is hearing those differences – because they are washed out because most people are listening on an iPod or smartphone or computer hooked up to earbuds of a car sound system completely ill-equipped for the audio quality needed to see those differences.

          So I definitely believe that from the same 24/96 digital masters, and on the same quality home stereo system, you can hear a marked difference between vinyl and a CD since the CD would have an inherently lower bandwidth and sampling frequency. Once you leave that sonic space and go to the real world, the difference disappears.