The original high resolution music format - vinyl!
From university students to young professionals, an all-but-extinct music medium has been showing up lately. And we don't mean CDs. Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and '70s, are suddenly cool again. Some of the new fans are baby boomers nostalgic for their youth. But to the surprise and delight of music executives, increasing numbers of the iPod generation are also purchasing turntables (or dusting off Dad's), buying long-playing vinyl records and giving them a spin.
Vinyl's resurgence has benefited from its retro-rock aura. Many young listeners discovered LPs after they rifled through their parents' collections looking for oldies and found that they liked the better sound quality of records, the more elaborate album covers and liner notes that come with them, and the experience of putting one on and sharing it with friends, as opposed to plugging in some earbuds and listening alone. "Bad sound on an iPod has had an impact on a lot of people going back to vinyl," says David MacRunnel, a 15-year-old who owns more than 1,000 records!
The music industry, hoping to find another revenue source that doesn't easily lend itself to illegal downloads, has happily jumped on the bandwagon. Contemporary artists like the Killers and Ryan Adams have begun issuing their new releases on vinyl in addition to the CD and MP3 formats. As an extra lure, many labels are including coupons for free audio downloads with their vinyl albums so that Generation Y music fans can get the best of both worlds: high-quality sound at home and iPod portability for the road. While new records sell for about £15, used LPs go for as little as 10p --perfect for a teenager's budget--or as much as £2,000 for a collectible, autographed copy of Beck's Steve Threw Up.
Big players are starting to take notice too. "It's not a significant part of our business, but there is enough there for me to take someone and have half their time devoted to making vinyl a real business," says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp., the U.S. distribution company of Warner Music Group, which posted a 30% increase in LP sales last year. In October, Amazon.com introduced a vinyl-only store and increased its selection to 150,000 titles across 20 genres. Its biggest sellers? Alternative rock, followed by classic rock albums. "I'm not saying vinyl will become a mainstream format, just like gourmet eating is not going to take over from McDonald's," says Michael Fremer, senior contributing editor at Stereophile. "But there is a growing group of people who are going back to a high-resolution format." Here are some of the reasons they're doing it and why you might want to consider it:
LPs generally exhibit a richer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information. "Most things sound better on vinyl" says MacRunnel, the young record collector.
Large album covers with imaginative graphics, pullout photos (some even have full-size posters tucked in the sleeve) and liner notes are a big draw for young fans. "Alternative rock used to have 16-page booklets and album sleeves, but with iTunes there isn't anything collectible to show I own a piece of this artist". In a nod to modern technology, albums known as picture discs come with an image of the band or artist printed on the vinyl. "People who are used to CDs see the artwork and the colored vinyl, and they think it's really something". Some LP releases also come with bonus tracks not on the CD version, giving customers added value.
Crowding around a record player to listen to a new album with friends, discussing the foldout photos, even getting up to flip over a record makes vinyl a more socially interactive way to enjoy music. "As far as a communal experience with family and friends, it feels better to listen to vinyl"