Vinyl Daze

This last week has generated more mainstream coverage of the vinyl world than we've seen in, say, the last 20 years.

What caught people's attention was an essay by Wired's Elliot Van Buskirk, "Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD's Coffin", which stated that pressing plants, distributors, and marketing mavens are all touting booming business in LPs—RTI's Don MacInnes said RTI's business was up 25% over 2006.

Van Buskirk cited a trend among consumers to use MP3s for portability and LPs for sound. He also pointed out that, although CD theoretically has wider dynamic range (he said it, I didn't), the current vogue is for mastering labs to compress dynamic range to a scant few dBs. He must have talked to Michael Fremer, too, as he reported that digital, Nyquist's theorem to the contrary, cannot "contain all of the data present in an analog groove."

We must have received forwards of Van Buskirk's article from everyone we know.

Earlier in October, Amazon.com launched a vinyl only department that features LPs and turntables. The equipment selection is primarily slanted towards the lower end of the spectrum, although we were pleasantly surprised to see a Thorens TD190SE featured. The LP selections are fairly few, and loaded more towards used than new, but like the dancing bear, the trick isn't how good Amazon's analog section is, but that it exists at all.

On October 31, CNET's Audiophiliac blog, written by Steve Guttenberg, published "Intelligent Design vs Science, analog vs digital, CD vs LP—and the winner is?" Guttenberg is, of course, one of us ("one of us, one of us") and his defense of his preferred format was interesting in the context of CNET's demographic—all the more so for the conversation it started in the comments field.

So is analog the wave of the future? We think "nail in CD's coffin" is hyperbole, although Van Buskirk's argument that CD is ailing while analog is surging is not far off the mark. The CD's days may well be numbered, except among the group of music lovers Jon Iverson likes to call "hunters and collectors." Digital downloads, legal and otherwise, will continue to flourish—and, we hope, high-resolution digital may become a real contender now that file transfers are faster and storage is cheaper.

But it is also obvious that vinyl has an appeal that has reached beyond the "lunatic fringe" we audiophiles were once depicted as. People still like it, and many prefer it. We predict that analog audio will always be a specialty market, but probably not the marginal one we suspected might be the case as recently as 10 years ago. The LP may not ever come back—not in a mainstream way—but we're now confident that it isn't going away either.

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