OPINION: Is the resurgence of vinyl, practical?


When I think of vinyl, I vividly picture a section in Urban Outfitters that’s located in between the first and second floor. It’s the vinyl section. There’s vinyl from all sorts of recording artists. Behind the records lie Crosley vinyl record players in sleek boxes. These record players aren’t like old ones you might be familiar with, but more hip in all sorts of colors and patterns. Some are even portable and can be tucked away into a cute Crosley suitcase. So what’s the deal with vinyl garnering so much attention? With streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and the ability to download any song within seconds, why go back to the long play, vinyl record?

“People don’t have to buy vinyl, and yet, they’re increasingly choosing to do so,” an April 19, 2014 Gizmodo article titled “Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile Way to Own Music,” said.

CDs may be obsolete, but the vinyl record seemingly still has a physical value that is money well spent.

According to a Nov. 29, 2014 NPR article titled, “Vinyl, Once Thought Dead, Makes a Comeback In The Digital Age,” vinyl sales have tripled in the last six years. In the first part of 2014, 6.5 million units were sold. Vinyl make up 3.5 percent of music sales. Although that may not seem very big, that number was significantly smaller ten years ago, at 0.2 percent.

According to a Sept. 29, 2014 Billboard article titled, “Urban Outfitters Doesn’t Sell the Most Vinyl,” Amazon makes up a good chunk of the vinyl market and Urban Outfitters comes closely in second. Even Whole Foods and Best Buy are noticing the trend and carrying vinyl in some stores.

Why the growth? Vinyls are much more intimate than CDs. The huge record feels substantial. Vinyls are also interactive, unlike a CD, which you only need to insert once to play. To play a vinyl, you must put it on a record and move over the needle. After listening to one side, you turn it over to listen to the other. You can’t just shuffle through songs like an iPod or skip passed tracks like CDs. You listen to the record from start to finish, just as the musician intended.

According to the Gizmodo article, listening to a vinyl is “social, and fun, a far cry from the passive aural experience of CDs or digital.” Playing a vinyl makes the listener more physically and emotionally involved as well.

According to a Nov. 19, 2014 Oregonian article titled, “Does vinyl really sound better? An engineer explains,” many people think that vinyl sounds better; however, the answer is ambiguous. Sonically, vinyl has both weaknesses and strengths compared to digital files. According to the article, vinyl’s volume depends on the length, both sides and depth, of the grooves. In simpler terms, the longer an album is, the quieter it will be.

Vinyls are so likable because it pins very closely to the way that humans hear music organically. Modern vinyls are produced from digital masters, so Vampire Weekend’s, “Modern Vampires of the City” is probably mastered from the CD-quality audio, which is still pretty great quality. This means that the quality isn’t going to be as high-resolution as other devices to listen to music with. Since most of the vinyl sold at Urban Outfitters and Amazon are newer vinyl LPs from modern artists, the CD quality isn’t going to sound more refined, just more “vinyl.”

As surprising as it may sound, college-aged students play a large role in bringing LPs back. Artists like the National and Vampire Weekend sell a massive amount of vinyl. According to a June 9, 2013 New York Times article titled, “Weaned on CDs, They’re Reaching for Vinyl,” the National sold 7,000 copies of its album “Trouble Will Find Me,” and Vampire Weekend sold 10,000 copies of “Modern Vampires of the City.”

Collecting vinyl has always been cool, and now it’s affordable. Most Crosley record players are under $100 and at the highest are $160, according to Urban Outfitters’ website. Modern records even come with a download code to get the digital copy.

I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of the black grooves on a record. I’ve researched in investing in a record player several times, before the resurgence, but have always backed out. I consume music very quickly. I’ve always been a huge advocate for the iPod, and the tradeoff between having all my music at my disposal or having to listen to a whole record at once has always been very clear-cut to me.

I would love a record player someday, but hopping on the bandwagon, especially with music, has never been my thing. I support those who have record players, and I support records wholeheartedly. Nonetheless, the practicality of me investing in one is not in the cards right now, and I would guess most college students feel the same way.

According to a Feb. 10, 2012 NPR article titled, “Why Vinyl Sound Better Than CD, Or Not,” Scott Metcalfe, director of recording arts and sciences at the Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University, said that listening to vinyl is more about the experience that comes along with it.

“There’s also – we have lost the ritual, and we’ve lost the experience of sitting down and focusing on just a recording,” Metcalfe said in the article “What we’ve gained, in a way – and I’m not saying one’s necessarily that much better than the other – is most people walk around with a huge collection of music on their belt or in their jacket pocket.”

People consume more music now that we ever have, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take the time to sit down and make an experience of listening to vinyl. There is no right or wrong when it comes to listening to music. If you prefer intimacy, buy records, collect them or give them to your children, because records will always be timeless.