A $380 music system for playing vinyl



For the vinyl curious: A complete $380 hi-fi system for LPs & audio files

The Audiophiliac matches the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable with a pair of Audioengine A2+ speakers — the combination really clicked!

media.jpgThe Audioengine A2 speakers and Audio Technica AT LP60 turntableAudioengine/Audio Technica/Steve Guttenberg/CNET

You’ve probably read plenty about vinyl’s sales surge that’s been going on for years. Then, just a few weeks ago, Jack White’s new “Lazaretto” LP sold 40,000 copies in one week, the most any LP has sold that quickly since 1991! New vinyl is easy to score online, but some yard sales and thrift shops have loads of $1 records. New-to-vinyl converts should ask older friends and relatives if they’re ready to unload their record collections — you might get lucky! Those old, pre-1980s LPs are 100 percent, all-analog pressings, so if you can find ones in decent shape, they’ll probably sound better than digitally remastered LPs.

If you’re ready to take the plunge but don’t have a lot of cash, check out this little turntable based hi-fi. The system can also play digital audio from your computer.

It starts with the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable ($120), which comes with a premounted phono cartridge so you don’t have to mess around with setting up the tonearm. Just place the platter on the spindle, then thread the rubber belt over the motor pulley, and you’re good to go. Since the AT LP60 also has a built-in phono preamplifier, you’ll hook it up directly to the Audioengine A2+ speakers. All of the wires and cables are included, there’s nothing extra to buy, except records.

Most cheap turntables sound awful, so the AT LP60 is the least expensive turntable I can recommend. Sure, a used Rega, ProJect, or Music Hall turntable will definitely sound better, but unless you know the owner or buy from a hi-fi shop that knows its way around turntables, I don’t recommend buying used turntables. They’re too fragile, and too many things can go wrong that you won’t notice until it’s too late. Vinyl newbies should stick with new turntables.

The Audioengine 2+ speakers are tiny, just 6 inches high by 4 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep. They each sport a 2.75-inch Kevlar woofer and a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. The left speaker houses a 15-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier and a digital converter with a USB input, so you can play music and movies with your computer over the A2+s. Little speakers like this don’t make a lot of bass, so place them close to a wall (3 to 12 inches), and the bass will be pleasantly full. I used the original A2 as one of my reference desktop speakers for a couple of years.

Frankly, I was surprised by this system’s sound quality. Its sweet and juicy balance isn’t short on detail, and the stereo imaging is spacious. Well-recorded vocals sound natural, but dynamic oomph isn’t great. Hey, tiny speakers with 2.75-inch woofers aren’t powerhouses, but in terms of musical pleasure, the AT LP60/A2+ clobbers any Bluetooth speaker I’ve heard to date. The advantages of using two A2+ speakers — placed five or six feet apart — over the 25.2-inch wide Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($600) speaker are easy to hear. The A2+s produce legitimate, room-filling stereo far better than the Zeppelin Air. Granted the Zeppelin Air is wireless, prettier, and puts out more bass, but I’d much rather listen to the AT LP60/A2+. Those two sell for $230 less than the ‘Zep Air.

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell’s “One for the Road” LP of duets brought a smile to my face. The two men were clearly enjoying singing together, and the all-analog, two-LP set from 1979 perfectly demonstrated the virtues of vinyl. I bought the album a few years ago for $1.99! The White Stripes’ self-titled first LP showed that the wee Audioengine A2+ speakers were ready, willing, and able to rock out.

Downsides? There’s no remote for the speakers, and the A2+s volume control is on the back of the left speaker. I don’t consider that a major drawback; you’ll quickly get into the habit of setting the volume when you change records. When playing audio files, you can adjust the volume with the computer.

Substituting the larger Audioengine A5+ speakers ($399 per pair) for the A2+s will add bass, and they’ll play louder and fill larger rooms better. Upgrading the A2+ or A5+ sound with the addition of a Dayton Sub-800 subwoofer ($89) is worth considering, too — either initially or down the road.

Largest vinyl record pressing plant in the US is expanding


America’s largest vinyl record pressing plant in Nashville, Tennessee, will be expanding its operations to include a second warehouse full of record-making machinery. United Record Pressing LLC toldThe Tennessean on Monday that it plans to add 16 presses to its present 30, and it will use the remaining space in the new warehouse as storage to meet a robustly growing demand for its product.

While we’ve been seeing an upward trend in the vinyl record industry for years now, those increases are becoming more noticeable, and this latest news from United Record Pressing reflects that in a tangible way. The company’s new location is a 142,000-square-foot warehouse in Nashville that it bought for $5.5 million.

United Record is attributing the good times to digital music sales. “Our belief is that it’s being driven by the rise in digital,” Jay Millar, the company’s Director of Marketing, told The Tennessean. “People who want something tangible and the best sound quality and experience are going to vinyl as opposed to CDs.”

Millar also told the paper that the company is currently working its 30 presses 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Nielsen’s SoundScan reported that 6.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2013, up from 4.6 in 2012 and under 1 million in 2007. But as The New York Times reported last year, “manufacturers, specialist retailers, and critics argue that SoundScan’s figures represent only a fraction of actual sales” and perhaps only account for as little as 10 to 15 percent of total vinyl sales, because Nielsen tracks records sold, rather than records pressed, and many vinyl manufacturers don’t print bar codes on their record sleeves, so sales from independent shops that don’t report to Nielsen don’t get counted.

Sales Of Vinyl Records Are Soaring



Here’s the latest chart from Paul Resnikoff at Digital Music News: projected U.S. vinyl music sales for 2013, based on first-half data from Nielsen Soundscan. This is no longer a fad:



The BBC reported in April that the surge has been driven by the confluence of artists releasing exclusive material through the medium, and its growing popularity among 18-24 year-olds (there’s a chicken-and-egg element to this).

College-aged buyers have also expressed a desire to keep record stores in business, the BBC said. And Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson says there’s a commonly held belief — not entirely accurate, it turns out — that LPs always sound better than CDs.

Resnikoff notes they still comprise a tiny chunk of overall music sales, though one that seems to be growing larger every year.

Also an interesting contrast with his chart from this past week showing music downloads are way down:



Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/vinyl-music-is-surging-2013-7#ixzz2ajU61uRe

Vinyl back in vogue as 18-24-year-olds lead resurgence of record sales

Vinyl back in vogue as 18-24-year-olds lead resurgence of record sales

Vinyl back in vogue as 18-24-year-olds lead resurgence of record sales

Vinyl back in vogue as 18-24-year-olds lead resurgence of record sales


It seems 18-24-year-olds in the UK are preferring vinyl records to iTunes and Spotify, if research from ICM in time for Record Store Day this Saturday is to be believed.

This resurgence of vinyl is almost entirely enabled by the UK’s independent record stores that are currently enjoying a period of measured growth after having declined in numbers from 2,200 in the 1980s to just fewer than 300 today.

In the last month, 5pc of the research participants had bought music in vinyl format. The most surprising finding from the research was that sales of new and vintage vinyl are biggest amongst 18-24-year-olds (14pc had bought vinyl in the last month compared to 9pc of 25-34-year-olds and 5pc of 35-44-year-olds), not what you might expect from the generation that has grown up with the CD, iTunes and online downloads.

The majority of vinyl buyers are purchasing second hand, and although there are specialist websites meeting this demand, 8 out of 10 (85pc) record buyers prefer to buy their vinyl or special-edition music in their local independent record store. In fact, the research suggests that having an independent record store nearby actually influences how people buy their music. Eighty-six per cent of vinyl buyers have an independent store near where they live.

But it’s not just vinyl fans who prefer to shop in their neighbourhood independent record store – almost a third (32pc) of all respondents chose it as their preference, as did almost half (47pc) of 18-24-year-olds. Ten per cent visit their local record store on a monthly basis, with the majority (78pc) spending up to stg£15 per visit.

27pc of vinyl buyers don’t actually play their records

Those who are engaged in music generally are more likely to buy in a range of formats. Of vinyl buyers, 52pc also bought CDs, 31pc got MP3 downloads, and 36pc bought luxury editions or box sets and, perhaps most surprisingly, 19pc of vinyl buyers bought cassettes in the last month.

Twenty-seven per cent of vinyl buyers don’t play the records they own, and although some are planning to buy a turntable, others say they buy the vinyl to admire and own, and the CD version to listen to the music.

“Independent record stores are driving and fulfilling a growing demand for music on vinyl – from new limited editions to second-hand collectibles,” said Maurice Fyles, research director at ICM Research.

“With the closure of many branches of HMV, some might expect that demand for music shops and physical formats are declining – our research rejects this.

“Rather, when there is so much music available to buy or download online, people’s needs from the high-street record store have changed. Independent record stores offer a diverse, interesting and rare range of music – and that seems to be the key to their continued survival,” Fyles said.



Nevermind, a Nirvana Q&A and Album Playthrough

Territorial Musings: Classic Album Sundays and Linn present Nevermind, a Nirvana Q&A and Album Playthrough

22/09/11. Doors open 7.15pm

As part of the In Bloom: The Nirvana Nevermind Exhibition at the Truman Brewery we have a very special event on Thursday 22nd September for Nirvana fans.

The event will start at 7.15 with a panel discussion chaired by DJ, Classic Album Sundays founder and massive Nirvana fan, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy. Panellists confirmed thus far include Keith Cameron (Mojo, formerly X FM) and James ‘Jam’ McMahon (Kerrang! Magazine editor), with more special guests TBA.

The evening will culminate with Nevermind taking centre stage, as guests are invited to open their ears and take part in a truly unique listening experience.  Played on vinyl from start to finish, through state-of-the-art audiophile Linn sound equipment, expect to hear the album as never before.

With limited tickets left, this event is selling fast. Book your tickets online at: http://territorialmusings.eventbrite.com/.

Or, if you want to avoid the booking fee, tickets can also be bought from reception within the exhibition at The Loading Bay Gallery.

Vinyl sales up 55%



Thursday July 28th, 2011 10:58

Vinyl sales up 55%


Vinyl sales were up 55% in the first half of the year, according to data from the Entertainment Retailers Association and Official Charts Company. And while they still remain a niche product overall, ERA stats also suggest many music fans will pay a premium to buy music on good old fashioned vinyl, even though many are likely to never actually put their records on a record player.

168,296 vinyl records were sold in the UK in the first half of 2011, compared with 108,307 in 2010. And ERA reckons consumers will pay on average £16.30 for a vinyl record, compared to £7.82 for CDs and £6.80 for digital. Radiohead alone contributed 20,771 of those vinyl units with their ‘King Of Limbs’ record, while limited edition vinyl releases for the increasingly popular Record Store Day helped boost the overall sales of the format too.

Commenting on these stats, ERA boss Kim Bayley told CMU: “Vinyl may still be a niche format, but it is growing fast. Whether it is the ‘warmer’ sound many music fans appreciate, the large-scale artwork of a twelve-inch sleeve or its sheer retro appeal, vinyl seems to be capturing the imagination of buyers despite the fact it typically costs twice as much as a CD containing exactly the same music. Much of the focus in the music industry [of late] has been on cutting prices, partly in response to the rise of internet piracy. The success of vinyl shows music buyers will pay a premium if we deliver them a package they really love”.

Top selling albums of 2010

.Beatles - Abbey Road

Soundscan has released the top selling albums of 2010 and they are as follows


1. The Beatles, Abbey Road (35,000)
2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (18,800)
3. The Black Keys, Brothers (18,400)
4. Vampire Weekend, Contra (15,000)
5. Michael Jackson, Thriller (14,200)
6. The National, High Violet (13,600)
7. Beach House, Teen Dream (13,000)
8. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Valleys of Neptune (11,400)
9. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (10,600)
10. The xx, The xx (10,200)

Sales of vinyl LPs continued to rise, up another 14 percent to 2.8 million units from 2.5 million in 2009, accounting for a whopping 1 percent of overall sales. Seventy-one percent of vinyl sales came from independent record stores, which in turn recorded about 7 percent of overall sales.
During the period of Jan. 4, 2010 to Jan. 2, 2011, overall sales came in at 1.507 billion units, down 2.5 percent from 2009’s total of 1.545 billion. Total album sales dropped almost 13 percent to 326.2 million, while digital album sales rose 13 percent to 86.3 million. Physical album sales dropped 19 percent to 240 million units sold.
Interesting to see the makeup. The only proper Beatles album to be available on vinyl stays at the number one slot for several years running. 7 of the top ten are what you would call recent releases while some old chestnuts round out the top ten. No doubt these four classics sell many more 2nd hand copies on vinyl than the new ones Soundscan account for.
None of the top ten vinyl records occur in the top ten albums for the year in all formats. Vinyl obviously sells to a very different market than the mainstream. Or the mainstream still does not release many of its titles on vinyl?


What’s so great about high-end audio?



What's so great about high-end audio?

by Steve Guttenberg

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Side and top of an Ayre MX-R oh-so very high-end power amplifier.

(Credit: Steve Guttenberg)

It's the hi-fi's job to produce the sound of music encoded in a recording.

Does how well or how accurately it produces the sound affect musical enjoyment? I'm not so sure about measurements; they just define distortion levels, power rating, and frequency response, but they don't have all that much to do with good sound. Good sound is much harder to nail down; we like what we like. You know good sound when you hear it.

Studio recordings rarely sound "live," or even realistic. How could they? Chances are the band never played the entire tune together "live" in the studio. Their music was patched together from bits and pieces, overdubbed, pitch corrected, rhythm corrected, EQ-ed, dynamically compressed, and processed in a gazillion ways. Of course, a lot of that also goes into modern "concert" recordings. So what constitutes a good sounding recording is pretty impossible to define. Play it back over a great system and what do you hear? Does it get your blood pumping?

So the question really is, does the music fully engage the listener? Sometimes, the better the hi-fi, the more music the listener hears, the more they like the music. Why that is? I don't know.

Vinyl playback is in most ways technically inferior to CD, but a lot of folks, including me, enjoy the sound of LPs more than CDs, or even SACDs or DVD-As. That's our subjective call, but I fully understand why some music lovers don't like vinyl; they can live happily ever after listening to digital. So it's not a matter of who's right and who's "wrong." It's like arguing about what's better, chocolate or vanilla?

It's about music, and I'm in favor of listening to music in the best possible way. If a better speaker gets you closer to the sound of your favorite music, it's worth it. High-end turntables minimize LP noise, and get more music out of the groove. That's why they're better. If I can occasionally feel like I'm in the room with the band, that's a thrill I'd rather not do without. That's what's so great about high-end audio.

What do you think?

Have you ever heard a high-end audio system?

Steve Guttenberg is a frequent contributor to magazines and Web sites including Home Entertainment, Playback, and Ultimate AV. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

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by cvaldes1831 June 25, 2009 9:06 AM PDT
It's really about diminishing returns. I'm all for high-quality speakers (I bought a used pair of Thiel Audios for $600) and much of it has to do with placement.

That said, I like live performances by great performers in top-notch venues. Even in a staid classical concert, there *is* an interaction between the performer(s) and the audience. There's a tension and anticipation that simply is lost once you've listened to a record once. When you listen again, you already know what's coming.

Are my $600 speakers better than $20,000 ones? Maybe not. Are the $20,000 ones 33.33x better than mine? If you are happy spending your money on all that gear, more the power to you.

I must say that at least audiophile enthusiasts listen to music. A lot of wine collectors just look at dusty bottles with moldy labels, and a lot of Leica owners just polish camera lenses.

Reply to this comment

by HiFiCollectorDOTcom June 25, 2009 9:27 AM PDT
"I'm not so sure about measurements; they just define distortion levels, power rating, and frequency response, but they don't have all that much to do with good sound."

Yes, but these are all the things that human ears can actually hear. I'm a firm believer that when it comes to amplifiers, preamps, and CD players, mid priced units with high input impedance, low output impedance, flat frequency response, low distortion, and low noise will sound every bit as good as gear costing ten times as much. Double-blind tests have proved this to be true. I suggest we purchase high-end gear for other benefits : better build quality, greater reliability, better retention of value, greater pride of ownership. Because when it comes down to it, measurements do count, and ABX testing has proved this.

Thanks, and keep up the great work. – HiFiCollector.com

Reply to this comment

by 54321ron June 25, 2009 11:35 AM PDT
I demoed a $25k system at a dealer & the "being there live" felling was uncanny. This became my reference when I started putting a system together. I've spent about $4k for a 2 channel system with $3k going to the speakers and it gives me that same feeling with some of my music. For example, I enjoy listening to Amos Lee and I feel like he is singing in the room every time. I saw him live last month and while the show was great, the sound quality was not. So now, I combine the memory and ambiance of that live show with the quality of the music coming out of my system and the experience is that much better. It's the most I've ever spent on a system but it is definitely worth it.
Reply to this comment

by TXinD76121 June 25, 2009 12:37 PM PDT
The sadness of "high end audio systems" (I've heard a number of them) is that they so often start with a flawed source. As the recording industry has gone downhill, record companies spend less and less on recording sessions–some of which are now done for as little as a few thousand dollars, a small fraction of what would have been spent on a recording production years ago. It's mostly done according to what's easiest and cheapest, with no care whatsoever for sound quality. Rudy Van Gelder and Wilma Cozart Fine were doing better work with much more primitive microphones fifty years ago–Van Gelder literally in apartment living rooms. Even when recordings get some money spent on them today, the money isn't spent on the right things–rather, the sound is massaged and compressed and computerized and manipulated nineteen different ways until it has little to do with any acoustic event.

Why bother with an extreme audio system when 97% of the music being made is recorded barely even competently? Listen to a really beautifully-crafted record like, say, Erik Friedlander's "Broken Arm Trio" vs. a really horribly recorded album like Neil Young's "Living With War." THAT'S where sound quality really resides, not in the difference between a $2,000 and a $20,000 amplifier. "Living With War" STARTS OUT sounding like an AM radio in a '77 Pontiac. Yes, you can get the gist of it even so, but you just plain can't put enough lipstick on that pig–it makes a high end system totally pointless. And, unfortunately, that's overwhelmingly the norm these days. Purely in terms of sound quality, "Broken Arm Trio" will sound better on ANY system, not just super-expensive ones.

Audiophiles are left in a really weird position: we listen to poor recordings on inferior media (CD and vinyl) on super-expensive audio setups. Maybe if more care and effort were more routinely expended at the beginning of the chain, less would need to be done at the end of it.

–Blue Mikey

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by pubmat June 26, 2009 8:06 AM PDT
So true. From the 400 pound gorilla of dynamic range compression, the loudness wars, et al, modern recorded music has been ruined, At a time when we could be taking huge leaps forward in playback fidelity with dvd-a, sacd, or blu-ray music discs, we've backslid into oblivion.

by TheTurntableFactory June 25, 2009 1:13 PM PDT
My first exposure to "hi-end" audio was at an older friend?s home about 1985 with Magnepan speakers (they were nearly 6 feet tall), Macintosh separates, and a Shure V15 III pickup. My MFSL recording came alive that night; I was floored, and hooked. I'd grown up with a 1972 Panasonic CD-4 setup that was at best, tolerable. I spent the next twenty years looking for that sound again, knowing that my weakness was always the end component, speakers and a small annoyance, my turntable. A recent friendship brought me to my current end component, Grado GS1000 headphones. Not the best fitting pair I've handled, but the sound floors me no matter what the source (iPod, laptop, or MFSL vinyl through some of the best and affordable equipment made.)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to impress a 20 year old vinyl fan. With a capable turntable in hand, he brought me an AT 440MLa he received as a birthday present. After mounting the cartridge and showing him how to adjust the tonearm properly, we hooked it up to my system, and played some Supertramp "Breakfast In America". By the look on his face, he was floored with the sound that came out of my speakers, and showing him how capable his source for music was.

I think a lot of audiophiles spend too much time debating intangible characteristics, and spending too much money on a solitary hobby. The best sound that I've ever heard from any component was that which was enthusiastically shared with friends and family. It's something that can't be measured or bought, but is enjoyed and cherished forever.

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by HalSF June 25, 2009 2:33 PM PDT
Chocolate is better, by the way.
Reply to this comment

by buzzvader June 25, 2009 3:06 PM PDT
I've listened to great bands live like Chicago, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Leo Kottke, and even the Buffalo Philharmonic in a hall designed by Eli Saarinen and his son (Kleinhans Music Hall) in Buffalo, N.Y. You know what? A studio recording sounds better than all of these after it's done. Even music played on an older tube radio sounds better than many live shows. 60s radio.com sounds better than some music.
Just my opinion, but give me an Ampzilla or Audio Research tube amp and a set of Magnepans with a Dual turntable to play vinyl records and you have sound heaven!
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by one_flat_monkey June 25, 2009 6:03 PM PDT
I hope some time you have the opportunity to hear the Linn LP12 turntable with a good cartridge. I've owned both a Dual and the Linn, and there's a lot of difference.

by coprock June 26, 2009 10:09 AM PDT
Studio recording better than live? I find listening to recorded classical music unsatisfying after seeing a live symphony or chamber music presentation, especially at a place like Disney Hall. In my heart I know that it would take much $$$ to purchase a system that could even make a recording come close.

I agree with you regarding rock concerts, because I usually find the acoustics and sound pretty crappy, unless it is an intimate club and I am 10 feet in front of the stage.

by sspadafo July 2, 2009 1:16 AM PDT
Steve, great article.

There are two things I know are certain, and NOT subjective
1. CDs sound better than Vinyl
and even more important…
2. Chocolate is WAY better than Vanilla 😉

Reply to this comment

by mikeinhouston July 2, 2009 3:18 PM PDT
OK, CD's will never sound as good as vinyl, not even using a $200 turntable against a $50,000 CD transport/DAC set up. The term 'sample rate' means just that, part of the original. Vinyl, in most instances is the orginal.

I had not listened to vinyl in years, but out of curiosity took my 1981 Reference (from Pacific Stereo)Direct Drive semiautomatic turntable out, with it's circa 1987 Shure 104e cartridge and fired up a new pressing of Hotel California and I was SHOCKED by how much fuller and deeper the sound was. The wife even noticed without prompting. I compared that to a heavily modded Denon 5910ci playing the same recording on DVD-Audio, and it was no contest. Let's not even discuss CD's or lossless files even running those through the Bel Canto Dac III I had at the time. The sound from that is good, but it's not anywhere near as good as vinyl.

The subsequent Clearaudio and VPI tables I have bought have been absolutely magical.

My first hi end audio experience also was with Magnepan speakers, and no matter how many others I try, I always come back to them. Currently my 3.6R's are driven by amazing Cary Audio CAD 500 monoblocks and a Cary SLP98P F1 tube preamp.

Long live vinyl.

Chocolate is better than vanilla though.

Reply to this comment

by DaveOCP July 5, 2009 8:51 AM PDT
Almost all recordings range from atrocious to tolerable. This is why I think that the best sound system is one that can make poor recordings sound as good as possible. That means a nice, warm midrange and somewhat forgiving (but not dark) highs. A speaker that shines a thousand watt spotlight on every last flaw, and sounds good with one recording out of a thousand is pointless.
Reply to this comment

by Donkeyshins July 15, 2009 3:10 PM PDT
Define 'high-end'.

My system at home (Denon DL-103R -> Origin Live RB250 -> Nottingham Analogue Interspace -> Kenwood C2 Basic -> custom Dynaco ST-35 -> Kipsch Heresy II + HSU VTF-1) may not qualify as a high-end system by the likes of TAS or Stereophile, but it sure sounds great to me. And yes, I also have a digital source (and a tuner and cassette deck) but I do the majority of listening to vinyl – both new and original releases.

The best part, I spent way, way less than high-end prices on most of this stuff.


Leonard Cohen & Sundazed



Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog

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Backtracking: 'Songs of Leonard Cohen': A vinyl reckoning

01:31 PM PT, Jul 3 2009

L_cohen_3) Sundazed Records' new version of the singer-songwriter's classic debut is a great way to get reacquainted with vinyl records.

Tastemakers such as Bob Dylan, Jack White and T Bone Burnett might be at the forefront of championing the resurgent interest in vinyl albums and singles, but they're not the only enthusiasts celebrating the return of the format in today's digital era: Nielsen SoundScan reports that vinyl sales will top 2.8 million units this year, up about 900,000 from 2008, and new record stores are springing up across Los Angeles. 

Of course, New York label Sundazed Records, which has specialized in vinyl reissues for 20 years, has been unquestionably ahead of the trend. And what better way to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with vinyl than with Sundazed's new version of the classic debut from Leonard Cohen, a superb singer-songwriter who is enjoying a new wave of popularity thanks to his highly acclaimed tour?

"Songs of Leonard Cohen" was originally released by Columbia Records in 1967 and contains such signature tunes as "Suzanne," "Sisters of Mercy" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye."

Sundazed also is releasing four other early Cohen collections: "Songs From a Room" (which includes "Bird on the Wire"), "Songs of Love and Hate" ("Famous Blue Raincoat"), "Live Songs" and "New Skin for the Old Ceremony" ("Chelsea Hotel No. 2)."

The latest catalog from the New York indie features more than 250 vinyl recordings, including such classic works as Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," the Byrds' "The Notorious Byrd Brothers," the Stooges' "Fun House," Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends" and Otis Redding's "Otis Blue." Each album has been remastered from the original Columbia Records stereo masters and pressed on "high-definition vinyl." They feature the original artwork and liner note pages where applicable.

The company is so vinyl-friendly that its website, www.sundazed.com, even sells turntables.

To vinyl supporters, being able to hold an album as opposed to simply downloading enables you to establish a closer relationship with the artist and the music — not to mention that the album artwork is typically more elaborate than that of a CD and vinyl offers a richer, warmer sound than an MP3 file.

Leonard Cohen
"Songs of Leonard Cohen"

The back story: Cohen, born in Montreal in 1934, was a late starter in the music world. After studying poetry and prose at McGill University, he gained early acclaim in Canada for his poems and two novels.

But Cohen, who had been in a country band (the Buckskin Boys) briefly as a teenager, eventually returned to his love of songwriting. His breakthrough was when Judy Collins recorded "Suzanne" in a hit 1966 album and the tune became a fixture in her live show.

Although Cohen had planned only to be a songwriter, John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who also signed Bob Dylan, was so impressed by Cohen's own versions of his songs that he signed Cohen to a record contract. The debut reached only No. 83 on the U.S. charts, but the critical acclaim was enormous. His literary bent and insightful reflections placed him alongside Dylan and Joni Mitchell as the inspirations for much of the 1970s singer-songwriter movement in America.

The music: Cohen's graceful, confessional songs have been described by Rolling Stone as "elegant, bittersweet mood music for the dark nights of the soul," and there is a relentlessly stark and revealing quality to such tunes as "Sisters of Mercy." Sample lines: "You who must leave everything / That you cannot control / It begins with your family / But soon it comes round to your soul."

"It was all I could write about," Cohen told me in 1995 when I asked him about the dark isolation in his music. "You have to dig down for that true voice, which you've heard in others — a Billie Holiday or a Hank Williams — and you try to find it in your music. It's a way of proving you deserve to be here. . . . You deserve to get a girl or deserve to walk out on the street.

"I know this is a very poverty-stricken view of things, but that's the way I was. I never had the luxury of standing in front of a buffet table saying, 'I'll write this kind of song today and that kind tomorrow.' It was like: 'Can I scrape some words together and write anything? Can I dig deep enough inside to say something that matters?' "

For further study: It was hard for years to imagine Cohen ever matching the intimacy and depth of his early rush of songs, but he has come up with so many other gems in his long career. To hear the original versions, the best CD package is "The Essential Leonard Cohen," a two-disc set from Columbia that contains 31 songs, including "Hallelujah" and "Everybody Knows."

If you already have several Cohen albums, the recent "Live in London," a two-disc set, updates his tunes marvelously.

Backtracking is a monthly look at CDs and other pop music releases of historical importance.

–Robert Hilburn

Photo credit: Sundazed Records


Vinyl’s uptick



Vinyl's uptick is evident in sales of old and new records

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Maria Mendoza inspects a record by the band Camera Obscura before putting it in its sleeve at Record Technology Inc., a Camarillo company that’s been making vinyl records since 1972.

Photo by James Glover II

Maria Mendoza inspects a record by the band Camera Obscura before putting it in its sleeve at Record Technology Inc., a Camarillo company that’s been making vinyl records since 1972.

By the numbers

57 million: Value of vinyl LP and EP shipments in 2008, the highest dollar level since 1990 and more than double the almost $23 million in 2007.

2.9 million: Vinyl LP/EPs shipped last year with an average album value of $19.55. The total was about the same number shipped in both 1996 and 1999, but the dollar values those years were $36.8 million and $31.8 million, respectively.

1 percent: Vinyl’s share of prerecorded music market. It’s doubled from 1999 to 2008.

2.9 million: Value of shipments of vinyl singles (commonly known as 45s) last year, down from $4 million in 2007, continuing a slide that began in 2002.

Source: The Recording Industry Association of America

James Glover II / Star staff 6/30/9 THOUSAND OAKS - Alice Cooper peeks out from the record bins at the 'Record Outlet' in Thousand Oaks on June 30, 2009. The store is owned by K.C. Staples who says he's seen an uptick in the popularity of records.

James Glover II / Star staff 6/30/9 THOUSAND OAKS – Alice Cooper peeks out from the record bins at the 'Record Outlet' in Thousand Oaks on June 30, 2009. The store is owned by K.C. Staples who says he's seen an uptick in the popularity of records.

Jose Martinez, above, pours vinyl into a machine that flattens it into records at Record Technology Inc. At right, Jorge Rocha makes a nickel positive, a step in the record-making process.

Jose Martinez, above, pours vinyl into a machine that flattens it into records at Record Technology Inc. At right, Jorge Rocha makes a nickel positive, a step in the record-making process.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO - Kevin Gray transfers the master tape of Gill Evans 'Out Of The Cool' onto a master disc at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they've been making records since 1972.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO – Kevin Gray transfers the master tape of Gill Evans 'Out Of The Cool' onto a master disc at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they've been making records since 1972.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO - Jorge Rocha works on making a ‘Nickel Positive’ which is part of the record making process at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they’ve been cutting records since 1972.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO – Jorge Rocha works on making a ‘Nickel Positive’ which is part of the record making process at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they’ve been cutting records since 1972.

Owner K.C. Staples looks for a particular disc at his Thousand Oaks store, Record Outlet. Staples says about 70 percent of his store’s sales volume is in vinyl records.

Photo by James Glover II

Owner K.C. Staples looks for a particular disc at his Thousand Oaks store, Record Outlet. Staples says about 70 percent of his store’s sales volume is in vinyl records.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO - Jimi Hendrix decals for a new live Woodstock 40th Anniversary three record set that is being cut at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they've been making records since 1972.

James Glover II / Star staff 7/1/9 CAMARILLO – Jimi Hendrix decals for a new live Woodstock 40th Anniversary three record set that is being cut at Record Technology Inc. in Camarillo where they've been making records since 1972.

Veronica Staples files records into the bins at Record Outlet, her dad’s Thousand Oaks store, where she occasionally helps. The recent high school grad says young people are “definitely” into vinyl. At right, Alice Cooper peeks out from a shelf.

Veronica Staples files records into the bins at Record Outlet, her dad’s Thousand Oaks store, where she occasionally helps. The recent high school grad says young people are “definitely” into vinyl. At right, Alice Cooper peeks out from a shelf.

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Almost a decade into the 21st century, Scott Freeman plunked down his money at the Record Outlet register in Thousand Oaks and walked out clutching two pieces of prized, ancient booty.

It was as if the Simi Valley teen had stepped into a time warp. There in his hands were Harry Chapin’s 1974 album “Verities & Balderdash” and a Pink Floyd “Echoes” compilation album, both on vinyl. There wasn’t a cell phone, MP3 player or computer anywhere in sight.

“It’s better than digital stuff,” said the 18-year-old Freeman, who is studying film at Moorpark College. “It’s not as compressed. It’s better quality. Sure, you are sacrificing portability and convenience, but on vinyl, there’s also more of a connection to the artist. … It’s something we never grew up with; it’s something new for us.”

Vinyl, that retro darling from a few years ago, is still riding the surge, remaining popular with everyone from young people to high-end audiophiles willing to pay $300 to $800 for a pristine-sounding record. Vinyl shipments more than doubled from about $23 million in 2007 to almost $57 million last year, its highest level since 1990, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Market players have noticed. Internet retail giant Amazon.com has had a vinyl-only music section since fall 2007. Now, when huge acts such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or the Dave Matthews Band release new material, it also comes out on vinyl.

Vinyl, observers note, will not become king again, though its market share has doubled since 1999. But even with that doubling, RIAA figures show it is only 1 percent of the prerecorded music market.

Still, it’s quite the little phenomenon and one of the few music formats in which sales are increasing (the other being downloads).

Vinyl’s current and curious vibe lies somewhere in those albums Freeman held, the scads of Jimi Hendrix’s “Live at Woodstock” that rolled hot off the presses and onto spindles at Don MacInnis’ Record Technology Inc. pressing plant in Camarillo this month, and the customer who recently wandered into Buffalo Records in downtown Ventura.

Old technology, young fans

“I had a girl in here, maybe 12 years old, who bought a couple Beatles albums on vinyl,” owner Eric Kayser said.

It’s a tune being sung widely if not deeply. Back at Record Outlet in Thousand Oaks, owner K.C. Staples said that vinyl versions of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” are selling “like crazy.”

“It seems like every week, there’s a mom who comes in and says, ‘My son is interested in vinyl and wants to buy a turntable,’ ” he said.

Much of Staples’ core vinyl crowd are kids from junior high, high school and college — the very people supposedly in lock step with the Information Age’s dazzling digital devices.

His 18-year-old daughter Veronica, helping out in the store one day, said her peers are “definitely” into vinyl. One reason, she said, is that the so-called classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is popular with her age group — as is, on a lesser basis, those eras’ fashions.

“I think the styles are coming back, too,” said Veronica, who just graduated from Fillmore High School and hopes to get into art psychology.

Vinyl’s attraction runs “kind of strange,” said Jim Salzer, owner of Salzer’s Records in Ventura. New vinyl, he said, appeals to young people up to those in their 40s, while used vinyl draws young people and baby boomers.

“It’s got a cool cachet to it,” said Salzer.

It “doesn’t much make sense to me,” offered Kayser. “It also seems less corporate to some, and the indie thing to do, like somehow it’s The Man who wants them to go digital.”

MacInnis also took a stab at it, saying, “It’s hip and it’s cool. It’s different. It’s that attitude, ‘My dad played CDs, I’m going to play vinyl’ — that rebellion thing.”

Demand ramps up production

MacInnis is in the business without really being a fan. He doesn’t even own a turntable. “I hear plenty of vinyl here every day,” he said with a laugh. “I like to escape from it.”

But he knows vinyl inside and out — all his Camarillo plant does is press 12-inch phonographic records for labels. Vinyl orders grew about 20 percent from 2006 to 2008, he said. It’s leveled off some so far this year, barely a few points above last year, though MacInnis said that might be due to the overall economic slump.

“There’s a much more positive vibe about vinyl than there was 20 years ago,” he noted.

In the early ’90s, Record Technology was pressing vinyl only two or three days a week “and barely surviving,” MacInnis said.

Today, his plant presses vinyl six days a week — 14 hours a day Mondays through Fridays, and eight hours on Saturdays. He has eight presses and 38 employees, all but six devoted to production.

MacInnis has about 200 labels as clients, from big boys such as Warner Bros. and Capitol Records/EMI to indies such as Sub Pop and Matador Records.

In a given year, the Camarillo plant presses about 2 million records.

During a visit to the plant on July 1, Hendrix’s “Live at Woodstock” album was rolling off Press 2. They made 27,000 copies. “That’s a big order,” MacInnis said above the loud hum of machinery.

On Press 8, “Steamin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet,” an album first released in 1956, was issuing forth again. Over in the acoustic mastering room, engineer Kevin Gray was cutting an old Gil Evans jazz record called “Out of the Cool,” transferring it from master tape to master disc — the last artistic step before it’s manufactured into an album. At the end of the line, workers were packaging up — sleeves, jackets, wrapping plastic and boxes — Bad Company’s self-titled debut album from 1974.

Soon, MacInnis and crew will press the Woodstock soundtrack album, also being reissued for its 40th anniversary. Next spring, he said, they’ll be busy when the entire Beatles catalog comes out on vinyl.

Still, he said, “It’s not going to become the prime format for prerecorded music ever again.” Fewer than 10 U.S. plants press vinyl, and no new equipment is being made.

Sound quality debate

Vinyl devotees speak of its warmer, richer, fuller sound — the idea that you can hear a guitar pick, or someone take a breath off a horn. Salzer has spoken of being able to “feel the band in the room.”

It can be true, others said. Staples said his vinyl copy of Nirvana’s “In Utero” is “head and shoulders above my CD copy.” A well-kept record on good stereo equipment, MacInnis said, “is far superior to digital.” But they also said some things sound better on CD. It all depends on the pressing, Staples noted.

Tom Port contends that vinyl sounds better than CDs because “it’s not hard to be better than a CD.” Port runs Better-Records.com, a Thousand Oaks-based enterprise that finds, cleans and plays vinyl albums, then sells the best of the lot to clients — well-heeled ones. His core customer is willing to pay $300 to $500 for a record; sometimes demand will push it to $800.

Sales, he added, have doubled over the past three years.

“We’re selling you vintage records, way better than anything you’ve ever heard,” Port said. “This is for high-end audiophiles, the people who care about their sound. The masses like their Ford Tauruses, but some people want to drive a Ferrari.”

Port is not a fan of today’s new vinyl pressings. But, he added, it’s a crapshoot with virtually any pressing. One side of an album can sound different than the other, he added.

“There’s a lot of random variability in anything,” he said, “and with mass productions, there’s lots of variations. We can’t explain why so many records don’t sound good.”

Savoring piece of history

Vinyl has other colorful offshoots. Former financial world guru Gary Freiberg of Los Osos founded Vinyl Record Day and is now trying to get vinyl honored with a U.S. postage stamp, which is under consideration. He set up Vinyl Record Day for Aug. 12, in honor of the day in 1877 that Thomas Edison reportedly invented the phonograph, but efforts to get the day recognized nationally have fizzled.

Freiberg contends that vinyl is part of our history. Just as people wouldn’t throw out books, neither should they throw out vinyl.

“It’s part of our Americana,” he said. “At one point, everyone thought vinyl was dead and would be gone.”

Freiberg has everything from P.T. Barnum to Jimmy Swaggart on vinyl. He counts some 3,500 records, 2,000 45s and 8,000 album covers in his collection.

CDs, he said, are “so impersonal.” Yes, they are easier to use and you don’t have to get up every 15 minutes to change sides. Records skip, crackle and pop, but CDs can acquire similar sound ailments, he contends.

Care could limit appeal

MacInnis, for one, thinks the care required for vinyl — cleaning records, replacing needles, etc. — may eventually kill the vibe.

“It’s why this surge will be short-lived,” he said. “People who are getting into vinyl for the cool factor will now realize what a pain … it is. It takes dedication.”

For now though, vinyl is hot on the spindle with its needle sitting in a devoted if not popular groove. Staples estimates that 70 percent of his sales volume at Record Outlet is vinyl. Over at Buffalo Records, Kayser thinks vinyl is about 60 percent of his business.

Both also buy used vinyl, but Kayser has a bit of advice for those hoping to cash in on their dusty, neglected collections.

“A lot of people think they have a gold mine of vinyl sitting in their garage,” he said, “which is almost always not true.”

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