Is it more than a little strange that so many people buying LPs didn't grow up playing records? What's the appeal?
The CD format is fast approaching its 30th birthday, so if you're under 40, there's a good chance you didn't grow up playing LPs.
I'm over 40 and still play and buy new records, but I'm curious about why younger people are getting into vinyl. Is it the sound, the feel, or the satisfaction of holding a nice hunk of vinyl in your hands? Here in NYC there are lots of places selling new LPs. I can't help but notice the vast majority of the titles are from young bands, and are bought by young people. Adding to the mystery, LPs usually cost more than CDs or legal downloads. Even so, CD sales numbers are in decline, but vinyl's sales are trending up. The numbers are small, but at least they're going up every year.
In England vinyl sales were up 40 percent in 2011, with Radiohead's 'The King of Limbs," Adele's "21," and the Arctic Monkeys' "Suck It and See" leading the pack. So it's clear that most of the new vinyl isn't being gobbled up by aging baby boomers, and that's a great sign. The vinyl upsurge isn't nostalgia driven, it's fueled by people who didn't grow up with records.
Youthful LP converts say things like "There's less compression, more, much more information. More air. More depth." Doug H said, "I'm 38, and bought my first turntable in 2011. I hate MP3 sound. Bored with CDs. Vinyl sounded better, and old vinyl hunting is fun." Dan K was on the same track, "Great selection of music on the format for cheap prices at thrift stores, garage sales, etc. The thrill of the hunt!" My friend Mark B, who's close to my age added this, "My conclusion, based on talking to a bunch of people in my office: LPs are cool and different and kinda retro dance clubby. Although people have heard that LPs sound better, they are not willing to put much money into it. A cheap USB turntable to plug into a computer is what they prefer. A DJ-style Technics is considered the ne plus ultra."
Of course, some portion of vinyl's ongoing surge can be traced to baby boomers, like me, who never gave up on vinyl. I have thousands of LPs I bought over the years, and I keep them around because the music is still important to me (when it's not, I sell it or give it away). I definitely think some, but not all LPs sound better than their digital counterparts, including high-resolution audio versions. There's something about the sound of vinyl that digital can't match. You need a decent turntable and phono cartridge to really hear analog's superiority, but true quality never comes cheap. Oh, and you can't play records when you're on the go, LPs are a stay at home medium. And not everyone is lucky enough to have a record store in their neighborhood.
Analog isn't perfect, but neither is digital, and neither truly sounds like live music. Analog better communicates music's emotional power, which is the main reason LPs are harder to ignore. Fact is, most people rarely listen to digital music, without also doing something else: reading, talking, working, driving, etc. Apparently, digital music isn't compelling enough to give your undivided attention.
I'd like to hear from my younger LP playing readers; please tell us in the Comments section why you listen to LPs, and where you buy them.