An Old Story Resurfaces

I’ve been working with an STS student who’s been chasing the original story of this transition and, despite the Nyquist Theorem, this myth keeps resurfacing. It’s not the CD, it’s the recording/playback devices, and the sound engineers using and designing them: Vinyl goes from throwback to comeback (pdf)

Almost any other decade, this scenario would have been ordinary. But the scene – a teenager perusing stacks of cumbersome vinyl in a sleek digital age that is gradually rendering the compact disc obsolete – was unfolding on a Friday afternoon in 2008. And it is one that is being replicated in small but growing numbers across the country. Although she may be an anomaly among her peers, Morgan and other young music fans are embracing the virtues of vinyl.

Mike Dreese, cofounder and chief executive of the New England music store chain Newbury Comics, says his company’s vinyl sales, which had been increasing at an annual rate of about 20 percent over the past five years, are 80 percent higher than they were at this time last year.

“Right now, we’re selling about $100,000 a month worth of vinyl,” Dreese says.

But why vinyl and why now, especially when even CD sales have plummeted 40 percent since 2005? Dreese blames the sterility of technology. “I think there are a lot of people who are looking for some kind of a throwback to something that’s tangible,” he says. “The CD was a tremendous sonic package, but from a graphic standpoint, it was a disaster. People still want a connection to an artist, and vinyl connects them in a way that an erasable file doesn’t.”

Vinyl lovers insist that analog records sound warmer and fuller, as opposed to the brighter yet brittle digital experience of CDs. The compressed sound of MP3s, meanwhile, sacrifices both the highest and lowest ends of the sonic spectrum.