Vinyl albums Q&A: Five reasons why LP sales are booming
Sales of vinyl LPs are at the highest level since 2003. Why is plastic still so fantastic?
REPORTS of vinyl's death have been greatly exaggerated. Buoyed by the release of LPs by Daft Punk and Arctic Monkeys, sales have reached their highest level in a decade. More than 500,000 vinyl albums have been sold in the UK already this year, a threshold that hasn't been crossed since 2003. Here are five reasons why vinyl is still the best way to listen to music:
You get proper cover art
The fact that LPs are packaged in cardboard sleeves measuring 12.375 inches square creates a perfect canvas for artists. The iconic covers of recordings such as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and the Andy Warhol-designed The Velvet Underground & Nico have been endlessly analysed and discussed. The gatefold sleeves wrapped around albums such as Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans allowed cover art designers to get even more ambitious (some would say pretentious). A few CD-era covers proved memorable – Nirvana's 1991 release Nevermind, for example – but when was the last time you heard anyone discussing the jpeg attached to an MP3?
It just sounds better
The alleged superiority of vinyl's analogue sound over digital formats – let's not even get started on file compression! – has generated enough articles to fill a stadium. Is the 'warmth' of vinyl's sound real, subjective or a complete myth? It depends who you ask, basically. Berlin-based mastering engineer Christoph Grote-Beverborg told Boing Boing that vinyl does have an edge over digital recordings. "In terms of uncompressed digital audio versus vinyl, I can only repeat what has been said before: with digital audio the resolution is more limited than with analogue audio," he said. "The same goes for frequency range. But the real thing is what you hear. With vinyl you get a certain kind of saturation and added harmonics that you don't have with digital. The sound has a body;' it's just more physical."
Putting a record on a turntable feels good
It's hard to get a rush when you download an MP3. But vinyl lovers find the process of slipping an album out of its sleeve and dropping the needle into the groove almost erotic. Forbes' Michele Catalano says she loves the way a record "feels in my hands, the symmetry and pattern of the grooves, even the imperfections – the scratches and skips – are part of what makes vinyl matter so much to me and what makes each individual album unique to its owner".
Surface noise is sexy
It may just be nostalgia, but plenty of people miss the pop and hiss of vinyl LPs. "My copy of Led Zeppelin IV had a little pop at the start and that pop became the intro to the song, the thing I always wait to hear right before Robert Plant's 'Hey, hey mama'," says Catalano.
Brevity is the soul of vinyl
Vinyl LPs could only contain about 20 minutes of music on each side. That imposed limits on musicians which evaporated when music became digital and opened the door to great swathes of aural dross. Even truly great albums often have one or two tracks which let the side down – eg: Sloop John B on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds - but vinyl keeps 'em more honest than other formats. ·