Going Vinyl in a Digital World

Vinyl is cool again(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/organisciak/)
Vinyl is cool again(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/organisciak/)

If you’re over 40, you probably have a dark, dusty, seldom-visited corner of your home where resides the historical record of the evolution of your musical journey in the form of row after row of 12″ record albums.

Some of us have sold all but the ones we just couldn’t part with, some couldn’t bear to let go of anything; maybe some of you have forgotten you even HAVE record albums.

Well, unlike your collection of unopened cans of Billy Beer, your vinyl records still have value. In fact, sales of vinyl have increased over the last several years, while CD sales have declined.

Yes, in the age of “if it’s digital, it must be better,” record pressing plants are ramping up production and having a tough time keeping up.

Now before you throw your I-phone, I-pod, or I-anything into the trash, vinyl is not going to catch up with portable players, on-line listening, etc. in terms of sales, but it does seem to provide a way for musicians, particularly indie groups and other niche genres of music, to better connect with their audience.

Those with discerning ears swear by the warmer sound inherent in vinyl recordings. Along with that, cover art suddenly becomes interesting again when it doesn’t need to be viewed with a magnifying glass.

I spoke with Bill Tennant, who runs Heinz Records, the label formed by the Portland, Oregon-based group Pink Martini. Their newest recording, Splendor in the Grass, is available on their website as a download, on CD, or on vinyl.

According to Tennant, who worked for years in the Classical division of Allegro Records, vinyl is a way to reach an audience which might otherwise never notice a group like Pink Martini – to get the attention of a younger crowd for a group with a fan base which skews slightly older.

You can also have your download and vinyl, too. When you buy a copy of a Pink Martini recording, an enclosed card gives you the recording in download form at no additional charge. So it’s easy and convenient to put it into your portable player AND allows you to have a great party at your house where you amaze everyone with how hip you are by pulling out your record collection and slapping it on the turntable.

“But Boyce,” you say, “My turntable quit working years ago. Now what?” Yes, Virginia, they’re still making turntables.

So pull out Charlie Parker, dust off Dusty Springfield, and pick up some Pink Martini.  Then next time someone says “What are we going to do this weekend?,” just say “Hey!  How about a record party?”

Later this week: what to do with those records you don’t want.

  • http://www.knowzy.com/usb-turntable-samples.htm Jeff Lawlor

    Hi Boyce,

    I really enjoyed reading your article.

    I hadn’t heard of Popsike or the 78 RPM Record page. Those are valuable sites to know about.

    Expanding on USB vs. sound card digitizing a bit- the simple fact is the best turntables on the market today don’t have USB outputs. But we’re also talking about turntables that start at $400 and quickly go up.

    USB turntables are typically cheap in every sense of the word. They are designed to meet the expectations of the the digital-age consumer who can’t understand why an audio component should cost over $100.

    A new, $50 CD player sounds fantastic. A new, $50 turntable sounds beyond awful.

    For anyone considering a USB turntable in the $100 range, the single most important thing to avoid is ceramic cartridges. In the article you so kindly linked, I’m catalogging every USB turntable I come across. Chart #3 reveals the type of cartridge, ceramic or the better moving magnet.

    Regarding plugging a turntable directly into your sound card, this requires two things: One is a phono pre-amp (your old stereo receiver may have one). The other is a “line-in” jack on your computer.

    Laptop-only households may be surprised to learn that their computer only has a microphone jack.

    Both problems can be overcome by a combo USB sound card/phono pre-amp box starting around $50.

    Enjoy your vinyl!

    Knowzy’s USB Turntable Comparison Guide

  • http://www.wosu.org Boyce Lancaster

    Hi Jeff!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. You are correct…everywhere I go, those in the know say not all USB turntables are created equal, so a great deal of research is needed. Your site gives folks the means to compare without spending days googling sites and wading through reams of marginal information. Thanks for writing!


    Boyce Lancaster