Back to the Future: Vinyl’s Fitting Rebirth

IOWA CITY — In our increasingly digital world where files and photos move to the storage cloud daily, the resurgence of physical vinyl records may seem a bit out of place.

However, Iowa City resident Zach Ziemer thinks otherwise.

“People like the feeling of having something tangible in their hands, and being able to hold the music you’re listening to is a very intimate experience,” Ziemer said.

According to Rik Sanchez, General Manager at Amoeba Music, vinyl sales have seen a serious spike following the release of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, alongside reissues of older pressings of classic rock LPs. Yet the Amoeba chains are not the only store’s noting the rising trend.

Iowa City’s own Record Collector, located on 116 S. Linn St, has experienced this increase on a local level too. Owner Kirk Walther says the shop has seen a boom over the last few years.

“Record Collector’s selection of vintage and contemporary records emphasize the non-mainstream, scarce and otherwise hard-to-find items,” said Walther.

Programs like Spotify and iTunes provide thousands of songs and playlists just one click away, but there’s something lost within the cold flat sound of digital mp3s.

“There’s a certain warmth that you can only get from listening to vinyl records,” UI Sophomore Daniel Gardarsson said. “There’s nothing quite like coming home after a long day, putting on a record and relaxing, especially in the winter time.”

After Real Record & Tapes closed their doors for good in 2011, Record Collector was one of the only places left to find vinyl records in Iowa City. That is until Barnes & Noble decided to add their name to the list.

With a collection of new and repressed records spanning over 50 decades, and countless genres it’s no wonder Barnes & Noble has seen such success among the youth audience.

However local owners like Walther worry the mass production of new records by corporations like Barnes & Noble have removed some of the joy out of flipping through countless records to find that one gem.

 

The majority of records pressed after the year 2014 are made of 180 gram vinyl, which, when compared with the 120 gram records of the 60s and 70s are noticeably heavier.

Manufacturers have argued that this additional weight helps to counteract the effects of skipping, however some aren’t convinced.

Ziemer believes the additional 60 grams of plastic have been added in recent years to accommodate for the rise in Crosley brand turntables.

“Crosley’s are a fine entry-level portable player, but eventually you’re going to realize you’re wasting your money on a cheap product that’s just scratching up your records,” Ziemer said. “You’re better off saving up for a quality rig that will serve you for years to come.”

Ziemer finds the additional weight unnecessary for those operating a higher quality turntable system. Yet he is sympathetic to those who may not be able to afford such a set up.

“I understand not everybody can shell out hundreds of bucks for top of the line equipment,” Ziemer said. “But they should at least consider saving up, because it will save them money in the long run.”

As it turns out, top of the line equipment at a reasonable price may not be so impossible after all. Sweet Livin’ Antiques, Art, and Records, of 1565 S. Gilbert Street, has retro equipment for every level of listener. From turntables and receivers to speakers and records all tested and offered at a fair price.

“It really bothers me to see young people spend hundreds of dollars on cheap three-in-one players,” said Paul Young, Owner of Sweet Livin’ Antiques, Art, and Records. “When they could get a far better system secondhand for half the price.”

Young has been in the antiquing business for almost 20 years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. In his time as an Iowa City store owner he’s bought and sold countless turntables, speakers, and stereos, however he says he can’t stand Crosley brand turntables.

“Folks would bring in their Crosley’s and ask me what they could get for them,” Young said. “I felt terrible turning them down, but I just wouldn’t feel right selling [them].”

According to a 2014 data set from statista.com, vinyl sales are at a record high since the seventies, and it seems the younger generation is hugely responsible for their renewed rise in popularity.

With the overwhelming majority of buyers being between the ages of 18 and 24, it appears the millennials have personally resurrected what was considered an archaic form of entertainment only years prior.

Walther says that the indie labels have been putting out their material on LP forever, and that only recently have more mainstream acts and labels started returning to a physical form.

Moreover, it also seems that an increasing number of record buyers are switching their business from buying records in-store at local shops and chains, to online distributors such as Amazon, eBay, and discogs.

“Amazon has a huge selection of new records from businesses and private sellers that just want to get rid of stuff,” said Gardarsson. “If I can’t find what I’m looking for on Amazon, somebody usually has it on eBay in great condition, but for twice the price.”

In addition to buying online, more collectors have started listing their prized pieces on websites like discogs to sell to other vinyl fanatics.

“Discogs shows how much certain records have sold for in previous transactions, and also lets me list my collection online to anyone searching,” Austin Washburn UI Senior said. “I’ll check out garage sales around town and buy up their old vinyl to resell. I’ve bought and resold thousands of records, but there’s usually one or two worth something to somebody online.”

The arguments against vinyl record collecting are always the same. Critics will say, “Physical records deteriorate over time,” or “the bitrate is far lower than mp3 format,” or “the album was mastered for CD.” Yet these things are just not true.

Physical records may deteriorate over time, but with a decent needle and regular care and cleaning the sound quality should still be impeccable even as the album art fades.

While the bitrate, or sound quality, may be slightly lower than mp3 or FLAC, as FLAC files don’t deteriorate in quality over time. The fact of the matter is, if the record was properly mastered for vinyl and kept in decent condition the audible difference to even a serious listener is miniscule at most.

It’s hard to pin point what exactly signaled the triumphant return of vinyl records, whether it was the nostalgic value, or perhaps people just liked having something concrete to hold on to. One thing collectors and sellers can both agree on, is that vinyl is here to stay.

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Author: Graham S. Bly

Multimedia Journalist, Filmmaker, Bathroom Reader, Part-Time Crossword Solver, Full-Time Cyclist

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