Analog Anxiety

Within the confines of the cozy analog audiophile kingdom, things couldn't be better: Turntables, cartridges and phono preamps can be found in abundance, while mounds of new and used vinyl can be scored by the truckload.

But outside, in the wilds of the larger music community, the analog herd's numbers are falling precipitously. The first shockwave hit the recording industry when it was announced that Quantegy, the last remaining manufacturer of professional analog recording tape and the only US recording tape manufacturer, had closed its doors on the last day of 2004.

Studios, recording engineers, and quality-conscious musicians everywhere began hoarding the precious remaining stock of tape, hoping that they could make it through their current projects until someone could re-launch production. A glimmer of good news surfaced recently when a new ATR Magnetic Tape web page popped up with a "Coming Soon" banner, but the industry is now on notice that its analog ways are easily threatened.

Closer to audiophile home, UMG announced last week that as of April 5, 2005, it was shutting down the UNI record pressing plant in Gloversville, NY, "arguably the last good vinyl pressing plant on the east coast," according to Stereophile's resident analog expert Michael Fremer. The plant presses 180gm LPs for Sundazed, Sony Music, and many other major and independent labels.

The plant appeared to be very busy, according to Sundazed's Bob Irwin, whose label is just down the road in Coxsackie, NY. UMG's Office of Corporate Communications issued this oblique statement: "While decisions like these are difficult to make and are not undertaken lightly, they are necessary to meet the many new challenges brought about as the industry continues to rapidly evolve."

A UMG spokesperson told Fremer that the company will continue to offer vinyl, but it will be outsourced instead of manufactured by a UMG-owned facility. The reasons why the plant was going to be shuttered instead of put up for sale were not made clear, reports MF. Fremer, who also operates The Tracking Angle website devoted to vinyl, opines that RTI, in Camarillo, CA, may now be the nation's only high-quality pressing plant.

Finally, one of the country's legendary analog recording studios, New York's Hit Factory, closed its doors last month. Musicians using the studio included John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Donald Fagen, Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Toni Braxton, Madonna, U2, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and others.

Cause of death for the 37-year-old facility? Studio personnel cite the growing popularity of home studios, made possible by cheap digital multi-tracks and the digital audio desktop revolution. Studio employee Carolyn Johnson notes, "People can easily have a studio in their home if they want, and this is an expensive building to run. The times are changing."