Friday, January 27, 2012

Music on vinyl making a comeback

Old turntable and LP.
I've known about the increase of music-industry vinyl sales for few months now, and when I heard about it I was pleasantly surprised.

Not long after I'd heard that sales of music on vinyl were up over the previous year, I was in a conversation about music with some folks at our local bar.

So the kid says to me, "Hey, there's this new thing, it's music on vinyl, like a big disc. You need a special device to hear it, kind of like a DJ turntable. You should check it out, you like music".

Now, either he thinks I'm really young (oh, bless him the little scoundrel), or he's unaware that vinyl pre-dates the recent LP release by Vampire Weekend. I suspect it's the latter, though I'd be happy with the former.

Yes, Virginia, I know what vinyl is.

My first amplifier was my father's hand-me-down Fisher tube amplifier (which started with a primer button - you kept it pressed until the tubes were properly lit). The turntable was some used thing I picked up at the local used-stereo-equipment store (we had those back then), and I'd buy records from the stacks at our local used-record-store (we had those back then).   There was nothing like lying on the floor, album sleeve in hand, reading the back cover. Back then we listened to music. We'd just be there, and listen.

Even when the Walkman cassette players were ubiquitous, we'd still find time to listen to great music. As we were able to buy better gear, the old used stereo rigs were replaced with better-quality amps, speakers, receivers, and so on.  Quality music and listening for the enjoyment of listening hadn't yet been replaced by the convenience of portable, lower-quality music and the use of music simply as a background, a soundtrack, to our (increasingly frenetic) lives.

I'm glad to see vinyl making a comeback. The quality of the LPs are better now then they were at the end of the LP-era; they're thicker, heavier, with deeper grooves.  The quality of music from the big black disc should be high, provided you're using an analog signal chain (whether tube or solid-state) or a digital signal chain containing an excellent DAC (digital-analog-converter).  The LP master (for manufacturing) is probably cut from a 24-bit, 96k sample-rate studio master (or better, if you're artist's producer had the foresight to record at 24/192). In some cases the original may be 16/48k (16 bit, 48k sample rate), but that's still better quality on analog vinyl than you'll get from an mp3.  These days, 24/96 in the music studio is common, so what you're hearing via vinyl is much better than you'll get either on CD (16/44.1) or mp3 (a conveniently small file at the cost of degraded audio quality).

Now, what I really want is a convenient, portable high-quality music I can listen to as the soundtrack for my increasingly frenetic life and an analog system at home with LPs for recreational listening.