Vinyl records gain popularity among audiophiles, iPod generation
Eclipsed by CDs and later by online music downloads, the vinyl album is experiencing a bit of a renaissance.
Some music stores are expanding their album sections to take advantage of rising sales. They’re tapping demand from audiophiles who swear by an LP’s sonic qualities, and members of the iPod generation who are discovering the novelty of records and turntables.
Year-to-date sales of vinyl albums are up 35 percent at the Newbury Comics chain, which has 27 stores in five states. The chain’s stores have been expanding shelf space for LPs, said Duncan Browne, chief operating officer of the Boston-based company.
“We only recently started concentrating on the category as something we ought to pour some gas on the fire for,” Browne said.
Newbury Comics first reintroduced vinyl around 2000 with a focus on 12-inch dance tracks, but scaled back because of weak demand. After an increase in vinyl sales in 2007, the stores have expanded their record sections in recent months.
Vinyl selections at Newbury Comics are predominantly recent alternative rock releases by groups such as the Shins and time-tested classics such as “Led Zeppelin III.”
New releases are more likely to contain extra materials such as photographs, liner notes and bonus tracks.
Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys’ latest album, “The Meanest of Times,” is available on vinyl in a “deluxe” two-disc set that includes two bonus tracks and a CD. It sells for $19.99 at Newbury Comics.
Alternative rockers Mission of Burma recently reissued three 1980s albums with bonus tracks. Like many new releases and reissues, the album is printed on 180-gram vinyl, which is thicker than the normal 140-gram vinyl used for albums and less likely to warp.
Planet Records in Massachusetts has sold new and used LPs since 1983 at its original store in Kenmore Square and its current location in Harvard Square. Owner John Damroth said vinyl loyalists generated sufficient demand even as CDs and MP3 downloads became mainstream alternatives.
In the past year, however, Damroth has noticed a new kind of clientele showing enthusiasm for records.
“The people who seem to be coming to it now are a combination of late high school and college age people who got hip to it through their parents, and up into the 30-year-olds and older doing it from an audiophile perspective,” Damroth said.
Customers in their late 30s and older are the most likely to spend up to $35 for deluxe albums because they came of age listening to vinyl and miss the experience, said Richie Parsons, manager of Newbury Comics’ Braintree, Mass., store.
One customer sold his turntable and most of his album collection last year.
“Six months later, he came in and said, ‘Why did I do it? The records sound so much better,”’ Parsons said.
CD sales still dwarf those of records, with 990,000 new albums sold last year compared with 449.2 million new CDs, according to market researcher Nielsen SoundScan. But album sales did notch a 15 percent gain over the previous year.
Joseph Levy, founder of the Vinyl Tourist Web site, has tracked an influx of new record stores in cities like Montreal that have large student populations. Levy, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., posts store reviews on the site about vinyl-friendly cities.
“It’s undergone a resurgence in the last six years, mainly because of a lot of kids are discovering their parents record collections,” Levy said. “Maybe it’s just the novelty of having an album with artwork you can actually see.”
Vinyl buffs swear by the sound quality produced by records, describing it as warmer and more natural than CDs and MP3s. While digital recordings are made by encoding recordings into thousands of bits and reassembling them, vinyl recordings reproduce sound in a continuous wave format similar to how the human ear processes sound.
“There’s a natural tonality of instruments and voice (that is) more lifelike than any other format,” said Josh Bizar, director of sales for Music Direct. “There’s a warmth in the mid-range, and the high end sounds more natural and lifelike. The bass sounds like it does at a live performance.”
Chicago-based Music Direct has staked its fate on the resurgence of vinyl. Through a Web site and a retail store, it sells nearly 4,000 record titles.
Most of the sales are in the rock new releases category, which attracts the attention of the 16- to 27-year-old audience.
“They’re the group of people that are just now coming into analog, and that’s the most interesting part of this resurgence,” Bizar said.
Music Direct also sells nearly 100 turntable models ranging from $99 to $24,000. The newest twist in turntable technology suggests that vinyl enthusiasts can make accommodations with the digital era. Some models now come with built-in USB ports enabling listeners can upload albums to their MP3 players.
Patriot Ledger writer Steve Adams may be reached at email@example.com.
2007: 449.2 million CDs; 990,000 LPs
2006: 553.4 million CDs; 858,000 LPs