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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, November 02, 2019 1:00 am

Vinyl setting new sales records

Before there were eight-track tapes, before cassettes, before CDs, waaay before digital music, there were ... records, thin platters of vinyl etched with patterns that could be reproduced as sound on a device called a record player.

Records were a hassle. They had to be constantly cleared of dust and lint – carefully, because they were prone to scratch. They tended to warp if not properly stored. And changing a record on a record player required effort – after a few songs, you had to turn it over, sort of like grilling a steak.

Still, there was something about records that all the playlists of Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music haven't been able to replace. And now, “like an aging rocker,” the Economist magazine reported, “vinyl is making a comeback.”

In 2005, the Economist reported, just $14 million worth of records were sold. Records are still a tiny portion of the U.S. music-sales pie. But this year, the British news magazine reported, “they should reach $500 million and exceed those of CDs for the first time since 1986.”

Some hardcore listeners have long contended that the “hi-fi,” or high-fidelity sound produced on a good record player, is better than the best digital audio devices. But the allure may be as much about the packaging as the content. Record album covers were the canvas for some of the best counterculture art of the 1960s. And sometimes half the joy of listening to a new “LP” – long-playing record – was the array of reviews, notes and playlist information on the back cover. “This is special,” those liner notes seemed to say. “Let us tell you a little about this recording and this artist.”

Digital music downloads offer little more than a curt “here it is” for the new listener. Of course, that taciturnity is balanced against the super-convenience of having the whole world of digital music at your fingertips. Or is it?