MUSIC BOX: Vinyl – resurgence demands quality

By on May 7, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – “Better to burn out than to fade away,” as Mr. Neil Young put it, is generally agreeable, until the opposite is applicable.

The subculture of vinyl record collecting never burned out, but it did fade away in the ’80s and was held at bay during the digital revolution of the ’90s before entering a mainstream resurgence period in the last several years. Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks record sales, reported there were 3.9 million vinyl records sold in 2011, the most in the United States since the tracking system began in 1991. And in 2012, those numbers were toppled with 4.7 million sold.

Photo cutline: Over 14 million vinyl records sold in the United States in 2012.

Photo cutline: Over 14 million vinyl records sold in the United States in 2012.

Even most non-audiophiles (geeks) will agree there’s little comparison between the quality of listening when matching MP3s versus vinyl. MP3s are convenient, but the lack of depth is lifeless in comparison. Vinyl versus high-quality digital (FLAC, Apple Lossless, etc.)? That comes down to subjectivity. For me, vinyl has a unparalleled texture and richness that develops from the physicality of a needle in a groove, and requires a more intimate experience.

Interested in owning a turntable? Entry level record players are quite affordable. Audio-Technica has a few highly-rated units in the $100 range, and Sony has a popular model for $80. Where do you get used vinyl? Well, this one gets a little tougher for Teton County residents, but there are options. Garage and yard sales often hold gems; Browse N’ Buy, online auctions, and YaHippie in Idaho Falls are your most convenient options.

On my most recent travels, I hit up record stores in Portland, Ore. and Bellingham, Wash. Some were devoted solely to new, vintage and bargain vinyl, others were thrift shops, and some were tradtional stores that also carried CDs. In the “bargain” bin, I picked up my favorite Hendrix album, Band of Gypsies ($3), Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Bros.’ Sleepless Nights ($6), Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors ($3), and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night ($2), among others. I rarely buy new vinyl because of its price tag ($18-$25), but did splurge on the 180-gram version of Tom Waits’s Bad as Me last year because I liked the digital album so much.

On April 20, I only caught glimpses of the most recent Record Store Day, which has become a phenomenon in mid-sized to large cities. More mainstream artists than ever are releasing vinyl seven-inch and LPs, and there’s a developing fan craze to wait in line for a copy of these limited releases. This is not just nostalgic baby boomers attracted to a piece of their past, but it’s also a movement fueled by a younger generation (even teenagers) who have found the vinyl aesthetic – including the 12-by-12-inch cover art display with liner notes – to their liking.

Why is this important? Because consumers are demanding that quality be restored. Vinyl is not realistic for everyone but quality should be, even in digital form. Though online indie retailers like CDBaby.com and Bandcamp.com have long offered the consumer choice of format including high-resolution digital FLAC (FLAC players for your computer are available as freeware), iTunes and Amazon are barely getting their feet wet with “some” files offered at 256 Kbps for MP3 and AAC formats. At least iTunes’ users can convert CDs to Apple Lossless to listen to their CD collection in high-res format.

Next time you ponder buying an album, consider the physical options for quality’s sake, or spend an extra two minutes to research high-resolution options for digital (often found on artist’s websites). Your ears, and the musicians, will thank you!

Cathedral Voices Chamber Choir’s fundraiser concert

Cathedral Voices Chamber Choir is raising money to support its education and outreach programs for the coming year, including their very first education program, “Singing in the Schools.” The upcoming fundraiser concert, “Journey Through Music,” will feature new local artist, Gina Feliccia, a Broadway performer and vocal coach.

“Journey Through Music,” 7 p.m. Saturday in Studio One at the Center for the Arts. $20 suggested donation, silent auction. CathedralVoices.org.


About Aaron Davis

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