The vinyl resurgence has been in play for so long that it is more of an evolution than resurgence, in that although there are ebbs and flows to the market, vinyl’s renewed popularity doesn’t appear in danger of being labeled a fad anytime soon.
A quick look at the format’s continuing growth in the 21st century could lead someone to believe that vinyl recordings were introduced in the early 00’s, when in fact 12” records never disappeared completely.
In 1988, CD sales exceeded traditional albums. Record stores replaced album bins with new displays designed to merchandise compact packaging in all its variations – long sleeves, 5” shrink wrapped discs, and career-spanning box sets. Vinyl was viewed as oversized, cumbersome, and long past its prime, leading to its near-complete disappearance at music retailers.
No surprise, there was a big move toward selling entire collections to make space for the new digital world, or just to make space. Similarly, it was a boon time for turntable collectors and used equipment dealers who spent pennies to acquire plenty of well-functioning gear that was, at least for the time being, being put out to pasture.
LP’s were thrown to the bottom of the audio heap, but they never disappeared. In the early 2000s, as eBay and other newly emerging forums offered venues for buying and selling nearly every imaginable, mostly legal product, vinyl and related products proved to be among the most popular items.
Jumping to the modern era, vinyl sales increased dramatically since the early days of the resurgence. According to Nielsen, in the past 10 years, the format has experienced 260% growth, with 17% growth in 2018 over the previous year.
The reinvigorated interest in vinyl comes as streaming services are the current music sources of choice. How then does a format that requires maintenance, care, and a reasonable investment compete with the simplicity and immediate gratification of streaming audio?
While there are many reasons, all of which can be debated, there is no denying that playing a record is an experience – it requires the listener to be an active participant in the process, at least in 20-minute increments. For some, this may seem like a chore, but vinyl enthusiasts consider this ritual a satisfying part of the process.
And then there’s the sound. Vinyl enthusiasts wax poetic about the warmth and resolution of an analog disc, while those in the digital camp argue that nothing beats the range and resolution of high-res. files, including FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and DSD.
Both sides have a point. With vinyl, no data is lost when pressing a record. Apart from audiophile-level streaming services such as Qobuz and TIDAL, more popular options, including Spotify and Pandora, offer lossy, compressed, MP3-grade audio that sounds fine on a portable player, but are clearly lacking when played on a full range home audio system. Conversely, even the best vinyl pressings don’t compare to, say, a DSD file can deliver a dynamic range of 120 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz and an extended frequency response up to 100 kHz—though most current players list an upper limit of 80–90 kHz.
To put this in layman’s terms, the upper limit of human adult hearing is 20 kHz. The frequency response for a conventional LP is, at best, 20 Hz - 20 kHz +/- 3 dB. In short, a high-quality vinyl pressing will sound fine to all but the most demanding audiophiles.
The upshot? With new pressing plants opening every year, and both major labels and independents discovering and catering to a new generation of vinyl enthusiasts who may or may not be audiophiles, but who are nonetheless intrigued by the experience of playing a record, vinyl albums will likely be with us for years to come. Anybody who has yet to take the plunge will find a deep selection of turntables at every price point, as well as an awesome phono preamp manufactured by your friends at Emotiva. (Yay team!) Music lovers owe it to themselves to see what all the fuss is about.