REDUX: Vinyl – The Thing That Wouldn’t Die

blast-from-the-past-header April 28, 2011
Recently, I’ve written about visiting “hip” record stores and buying vinyl records. Make no mistake about it, I am definitely most interested in vinyl when I hit the stores. I have been for at least 18 years now. But you should hear where I’m coming from with this posting and a little background is in order.

Since The Monk is an old, crusty guy, of course I grew up buying vinyl records. I never bought cassette tapes. For one, they always sounded awful. Secondly, I couldn’t buy into the Walkman® when it came on the scene in the late 70s. Of course, I always recorded each album I bought on one side of a C-90. These were often decent, high-bias chrome tapes made on my nice Akai deck. I listened to those instead of playing the record repeatedly, thus saving it from stylus wear. Why didn’t I like the Walkman®? Two reasons. The constant purchase of batteries would take precious cash away from buying more records and secondly, I didn’t like wearing headphones and cutting myself off from my surroundings.

I vividly remember seeing the first CDs. These were Japanese/German imports in late 1982. They were in the glass case up front at the record stores and of only theoretical interest to me since the players were over a grand to start with. But by 1985, I was ready to buy into the compact disc world. The players hit $500 and I was ready. I started buying discs even before Radio Shack put their first player on clearance for five smackers. From 1985 to 1992 I bought a lot of compact discs and almost no vinyl, except for the occasional single. By 1986, CD singles started to get released and I was so there for them. By that time, the vast bulk of music coming into my home was in CD format. I no longer had to buy high-bias C-90s to record this music since the play medium was a nice and durable digital disc. As a bonus, I could play exactly the tracks I wanted to as easily as punching a button and I no longer had to put up with:

  • surface noise
  • stylus wear of the disc
  • wear of the stylus itself
  • paying the cost of C-90s to record my collection on
  • the Vangelis Effect®

The first several bullets speak for themselves. The last bullet bears some explanation. Back in the late 70s, Greek synthmeister Vangelis released a lot of albums where side two is a full composition. And as is his wont, these compositions tended to have looooong, slow, ambient fades over 8-10 minutes. At a certain point, the music was fighting with the noise of the stylus scraping the disc for dominance. And the surface noise always ultimately won. It really bummed me out! So in any instances of low decibel, subtle music, the mechanical effect of the stylus scraping on the record itself, made serious inroad into one’s enjoyment of said low decibel, subtle music.

It was some time in 1992 while attending a record show that my return to vinyl consciousness got rekindled. I saw a batch of Duran Duran/Arcadia UK 12″ singles in a bin marked 2/$5, so I bought them. I began to think that after ten years of the CD, there were a lot of songs, mixes, and performances that will not make the leap to digital re-issue. At the same time, the ability to digitally record from vinyl myself to optical media was imminent. In 1988 Radio Shack held a press conference for what they called T.H.O.R. and I waited patiently for that. In the mean time, I bought my first computer in 1993, and it had full CD quality digitization built in. I would be ready to make my own CDs one day! In 1994 my place of work bought a 2xCD burner that was as big as an early VCR. It would only reliably burn to gold CD-R media that cost a fortune. My number one priority became not buying CDs that I wanted to hear any more, but instead the singles by my favorite artists for their unique B-sides, remixes, and live tracks. Also the albums that were not ever popular enough to rate a reissue on CD.

And that still holds true today. I spend probably 50% of my music budget on vinyl. In the last month I’ve spent over $80 on just two singles! So you ask The Monk how it feels to walk into a hipster record store today in 2011 and see rack upon rack of not only classic albums re-issued on 180g vinyl, but scores of new releases? I’ll tell you how it makes me feel. It pisses me off. That’s what.

Maybe all of the hipster kids dropping heavy money on the new vinyl feel like they’re being rebels by buying the vinyl format, but it cuts me to the quick to see how this has played out. First [in the late 70s] they gut the quality of vinyl and offer even worse sounding cassettes. Cassettes become the dominant format by the early 80s. Then [mid-80s] they say “replace your worn out vinyl with pristine sounding CDs.” So you re-bought the album in a new, more expensive format. CDs became the dominant format by the late 80s. Then they started mastering the CDs to sound like noisy garbage [late 90s] and at the same time, the even worse MP3 format becomes widespread. The MP3 codec uses lossy compression to simulate 90% of the soundwave in order to get filesize down. It sounds lousy at low bitrates. At high bitrates it still doesn’t have the bandwidth or dynamic range of a CD. Now the coup de grace has been administered: vinyl is re-introduced [mid 2000s] in audiophile format that sells for $20 and upward! And these albums often come with a code to download the same music in lossy, digital MP3 format!!! The worst of all worlds at a premium price!

You must now pay a king’s ransom for a degradable playing medium that offers lots of sound other than what the musicians recorded as well as a download file that you must now keep backing up for the rest of your life since it does not physically exist and your hard/flash drive will eventually fail. Worse yet, the new vinyl issues are crowding music that I am interested in buying out of the store! Between the overall death of the music industry [21st century] and the growing trendiness of vinyl, CDs are looking like the odd one out. There is almost no desire to re-issue material I am interested in on CD, apart from the once-more-to-the-till deluxe reissues, which only happen to the most popular albums. Where’s that first Tourists album already?

Finally, there’s only so much room in hip record stores. When a proprietor has to choose between stocking 12″ bins full of 20-30 year old records at chump change or a deluxe vinyl re-issue of something that never got an LP release during the CD era for $20+, guess what he’s going to devote his resources to? The sight of The Monk waving his slim wad of bills over some obscure New Wave 12″ers gets the short shrift next to some noveau hipster’s waxing on 180g vinyl [with code for free 256KBPS MP3 download inside] that is an all together much more profitable consideration for his investment of store space and resources.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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11 Responses to REDUX: Vinyl – The Thing That Wouldn’t Die

  1. Tim says:

    8 tracks had the Vangelis effect x 3. We had them for a while in the 70’s and there would often be a fade out of a song at the end of track 1 and when you advanced the track to #2 it would fade back in. Same with the end of track 2 into 3 and 3 to 4. if I am not mistaken we have Malcolm Forbes to thank for this glorious invention.

    Our accountant is a bit of a packrat and one wall of her waiting area is stacks and stacks and more stacks of 8-tracks.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – The irony is, with 8-tracks, the fade out/fade in technique that the labels preferred was far more obtrusive that the very slight dropout that occurred when the head changed tracks. My first stereo could record to cassette and 8-track [I was set for life, yes?] and as late as 1985, it delighted me to record 8-track compilations from CD sources! These we would play in my friend Tom’s legendary van, The Loooooooooove Machine®, which had an 8-track player in it. We would go “8-Track Cruising®” as we called it with 8-tracks I’d dub from my CDs at the time. Petula Clark was was a favorite, as I recall. I once had an 8-track of Kraftwerk’s “Ralf + Florian” album, which my lovely wife once bought for me at a garage sale back when she was antiquing. It was a delightful, paradoxical object. The last 8-track I played was about 17 years ago. By then, I no longer had a player, of course, but again, my wife found me an 8-track of Link Wray’s “Live At The Paradisio” and while antiquing, she found one of those iconic Weltron 2001 stereos.
      Weltron 2001 8-track stereo
      So it worked fine and I played the 8-track, which still functioned [!] and made a cassette dub of it. We sold off the Weltron in the antique booth, but I still have the Link Wray 8-track. Mine is now autographed.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I’ve owned every format over the years – I even have a Frank Sinatra 2 track cassette which looks like someone whittled down an 8-track to about the size of a cassette and put wings on one end to grasp it with…

    Vinyl will always sound richer to me than cd’s – cassettes get absolutely no love from me unless I made them with Denon Ferri-chrome blanks myself. I was a walkman fan, I enjoyed my “anti-social device” as I nicknamed it. For me it was all about getting it from the size of a brick to one the same size as the cassette – I was successful by the late 80’s…

    CD’s have always enraged me because of the lackluster highs. I have a 3 cd’s of David Sylvian’s Gone To Earth which are recorded with a great deal of attention to the spaces between the music and the volume of the instrumentations. When I play the 1986 version all those quiet spaces are filled with electronic noise from the mastering. When I play the early 90’s Weatherbox version it is only a little bit better. A more recent version – not sure of when it was released has closed up this dead space a bit but it’s still there. The same issue has often occured with the deep lows in the cd mastering as well. I’m not an expert but I figure it has something to do with the mastering or what the cd was being mastered from. I used to be a nut about attempting to find ADD or DDD cd’s figuring the quality would be superior. Some bands spent the advance to record in digital – ABC, Scrtti Politti, Heaven 17 only to have the label master in analog and then master the cd of course digitally – DAD. ABC’s How To Be A Zillionaire even has the nerve to say it’s a DAD cd!!

    Now as for the rip off that is 180g vinyl… HELL NO is say! I won’t ever pay $20 for a vinyl record that didn’t need to be shipped across an ocean for me to purchase it. I have kept my vinyl in immaculate condition and it sound wonderful. I still spend stupid money on stylii because its better on the record. As much as I love the large format graphics, I cannot pay that kind of money just because some hipster is willing to. I agree that MP3 and AAC are not great, but I will use the format to explore new music to decipher what I want in physical format.

    So for collecting, give me (pre-audiophile) vinyl and cd’s, for everyday listening I will stick with digital (the cassette format of the new milennium) and let’s hope that specialist shops and bargain bin stay for as long as we need them.

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  3. Tim says:

    Nice 8-Track player. I had the Panasonic model that looked like the detonator plunger for some TNT. Ahhhh, the 70’s. I miss them and I say that with no snark, irony or attempt to be hip.

    Echorich’s comments on Gone to Earth are interesting. I missed the Weatherbox version of it…could kick myself on that one. We had a Rose Records go under and they were selling it on close out for something like $25 but at the time it was $25 that I just did not have. I ripped my vinyl over to mp3 and that was my go-to version until the recent cd re-re-re-release of it which I bought largely to have an official cd pressing of it. I never really noticed the sonic differences but I don’t listen to it that often. They futz around with this stuff sometimes too much and often when I see the word REMASTERED I just think “why?”

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Ah! So you had the other iconic 8-track player from the 70s! I daresay the ultimate of such iconic devices! I can’t say I miss the seventies at all, except for the records that I didn’t have the money to buy at the tail end of it. I have never listened critically to “Gone To Earth. I dislike headphones. I only have been living with the initial UK CD so I have not even heard all of the instrumentals! I never bought “Weatherbox” either. The one copy I ever saw I bought as a gift for a friend. I seem to recall that it was about $80 or so. Back when I could drop that amount casually on a friend!! As someone who remasters from vinyl, the technology is always improving! Realistically, one could probably do this every 5 years, minimum. At least three times. I have remastered some of my projects and ideally, would be constantly doing that work if I were “underwritten.”

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      • Echorich says:

        Tim, I had a blue Panasonic Dynomite 8-Track player myself…uh yup, I still do…can’t part with it or my Dart’s Live At CBGB’s 8-track either… As for the annoying hi end of Gone To Earth, I didn’t even need to listen with headphones or mess with an equalizer, it just seems to be missing a whole layer of tracks in the top end that end up being faint white noise…my JBL speakers are more than enough to prove that.
        I have to say that Weatherbox, along with Sakamoto’s Sakamoto Plays Sakamoto Bento Box release are two of my most prized music possesions. These two releases are just gorgeous and very complimentary to each other.

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        • Tim says:

          I keep trolling ebay for people selling the Panasonic 8 Trackp plunger players for parts (i.e broken ones).
          I think that I may be able to convert one to an external hard drive case. Damn they sell for a lot of money whenever I spot one for sale. Too much at least for experimenting.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – What functionality would you assign to the track plunger if you did concert it to a hard drive housing?

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            • Tim says:

              None. I got the bug a couple of years ago when I saw a photo of one on a music blog and it gave me some real pleasant nostalgia for my childhood. I looked them up on eBay and thought, no, I am not spending $40-50 on something I can’t use just because it reminds me of being a kid. And then I started to think of ways to repurpose it. Before we did a wifi network in the house I was thinking of having my friend who builds PC’s make one for my wife to use in the kitchen using a midcentury modern breadbox as the case. It never happened but to this day I am enamoured of the idea.

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  4. chas_m says:

    My dad had one of those “dynamite” 8-track players as well. We also had a deluxe cassette rig that came in a kind of portfolio case with wired speakers that could be set far enough apart for actual separation of sound (!!). May happy days swimming in our pool listening to Beach Boys, Three Dog Night, Jim Croce, Jim Stafford and whatever else my parents liked of “popular” music in those days.

    My only interest in 180gram vinyl was been for the pristine large-format artwork — I’d probably throw away the vinyl if I ever bought one of these things!

    As for truly digital presentations, I am a heretic and find 256-bit AAC perfectly acceptable for most music — but there are “lossless” format digital music stores that offer key albums that really ought to be listened to purely if you really want to. For some albums, I’d say its definitely worth it.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chas_m – Funny you should mention Three Dog Night as they were a favorite of mine in the early-mid seventies due to their electric organ sound. Even as a nine year old, it was all about the keyboards for me!

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