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Vinyl Gets Another Spin

Showing it has more lives than a cockroach, vinyl has been reborn, resulting in some beautiful music. But sometimes production values in records and turntables are lacking.

Brad Denison, an A/V engineer at College of the Mainland, is more blunt than Ebersbaker when it comes to vinyl. Vinyl fanatics, prepare to clutch your proverbial pearls.

"Records are delicate and you can wear them out. Dust and micro-cuts on the vinyl can cause pops in the playback," Denison says. "When it comes to digital audio, you get what you put in, so a clean recording will always be clean. I've just been spoiled by digital for too long."

Denison says he has never listened to his copies of the Beatles' "White Album" or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but they do make for great wall art in his apartment.

Vinal Edge owner Chuck Roast started selling records at punk shows in the ’80s.
Daniel Kramer
Vinal Edge owner Chuck Roast started selling records at punk shows in the ’80s.

Location Info

Map

Heights Vinyl

3122 White Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Community Venues

Region: Heights

Sound Exchange

1846 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Music Venues

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Vinal Edge

239 W. 19th St.
Houston, TX 77008

Category: Retail

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Cactus Music & Video

2110 Portsmouth St.
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Music Venues

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Vinyl Junkie

4202 E. Canal St.
Houston, TX 77003

Category: Music Venues

Region: East End

Details

And Google vinyl records on the Internet and you'll find a whole lot of classic bands who don't have as nostalgic a view of vinyl. Its space limitations sometimes led to truncated versions of songs. As Uriah Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley reportedly put it: "When we were making vinyl, we had a lot of time limitations for each record so songs were left off for a number of reasons. Now with CDs, much more music can be included."

Plenty of younger bands want their music to be pressed to vinyl, but what few realize is that versions mastered for compact disc and download vary from those that are to be used for vinyl. It may look cool to have your debut garage-punk release on delicious colored wax, but if it sounds awful and doesn't reflect what you recorded, then what good is it to press to vinyl? Titus Haag, who opened Vinyl Junkie in the summer of 2010 in East Downtown, weighs in.

"A lot of people want to press vinyl just because it's cool, but don't know anything about [it] or don't understand that for top quality, you should get your music mastered specifically for vinyl," says Haag. Things get even more complex once it comes to the actual running time of your album.

Two locals signed to Americana label New West Records, the Wilco-esque band Buxton and singer-songwriter Robert Ellis, both had their label debuts mastered separately for vinyl. As fans of the medium, they saw it as a given. Buxton bassist Chris Wise was insistent that special care was taken with mastering February LP Nothing Here Seems Strange specifically for vinyl.

"If it wasn't going to be mastered separately for vinyl, then we probably wouldn't have sought out a pressing. Your lacquer [from the pressing plant] is the template for the actual sound of your record. You're not burning a disc."
_____________________

The vinyl resurgence is bringing back the joy of physical discovery of music, the actual, communal, scavenging for treasures.

The wildly varied Vinal Edge is a drive for most Inner Loop dwellers, but it is the best in town when it comes to catering to collectors who really want to dig for great finds. Vinal Edge sells new records — mostly indie-rock, metal and experimental stuff — and its used vinyl is scattered throughout the store in heavy boxes stacked a few feet high. The used records come from those culling their collections or from confused families who don't know what else to do with a dead relative's stash.

Roast and most other record stores in town can't keep most of the bedrock used catalog stuff in stock for more than a few days. "The stuff from Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin turns over constantly. Every kid goes through a Zeppelin or Floyd stage, it seems," Roast says. (See "Vinyl Essentials.")

The resurgence of the 45 rpm single has figured into the uptick, too. In these times when the music industry is worshipping the holy hit single, it's nice to time-trip back to when singles weren't meant to be used once and then destroyed. Most record stores will have countless bins of 45s ripe for plundering or, in Houston, to be put to use by DJs.

Female collectors seem to feel somewhat out of place at record stores, as if they're nerdy man caves. They are looked at either as rare unicorns or as interlopers on the hunt for gifts for a boyfriend or husband. Jenny Selber, a twentysomething PR and social media account executive, deals with this during her buying binges.

"I'm not sure it's because I'm a woman, but I do think there's a lot of pressure to make the right choices and buy records that won't result in major judgment from the person manning the counter," Selber says. Mr. Roast at Vinal Edge notices the phenomenon in his shop almost every day.

"I would say our crowd is about 90 percent men and 10 percent women. Men are more apt to dig, while women just want to hear the music and aren't too concerned with what is rare. It's a geek thing," says Roast.

Some of Selber's male friends are astounded that she has the collection she does, let alone a record player. "I'm not sure if I should think this is awesome or utterly offensive," Selber says.

Many garage, soul and country DJs in Houston have been using vinyl exclusively for their sets at venues and bars. Former Houston Press staff member Brett Koshkin's soul-drenched Dirty Honey nights at Boondocks in Montrose were vinyl-only affairs. His younger acolytes in the Fistful of Soul collective have continued to follow suit with their monthly dance parties, since Koshkin moved to New York City recently.

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19 comments
Steve
Steve

Nice piece, esp. good at explaining the technology - nothing to this day sounds as good as old vinyl - i recently slapped on my original press of the first Stooges, then the remaster CD from 2005 - the difference is very clear; vinyl trumps even recent digitalJust for the record, the Mamas/Papas never recorded for Motown or at the Motown studios -

Rob
Rob

Ah, vinyl and religion: two great delusions.

I have 1200 LPs and nearly 1000 cd's. Anyone who argues that a nicely mastered CD is inferior to even a nicely mastered LP is a complete idiot and probably tone deaf. I used to work in record stores, too, in the 1970's and 1980's. You have to make so many sonic compromises with vinyl that it is the musical equivalent of punching yourself in the face because doing so has somehow been deemed hipster (and most hipsters are the most musically bigoted, tone deaf assholes I've ever known) cool. The political equivalent is voting against your own interests.

MASSMURDERMEDIA
MASSMURDERMEDIA

i have a friend who "thinks" he likes music... when i say "thinks", he's the type of person that bought the CD's for the hit singles, loaded hundreds of them into his fancy-ass multi-disc player, and pre-programmed it to play the hits... he does this with MP3's now... he wasn't patient enough to give the "filler" on some decent CD's a second listen and doesn't get the appeal of experiencing a good album in it's entirety...

furthermore, he couldn't get why i would want to take the trouble of dropping platters and needles, so i gave him, as a muscle car enthusiast, an analogy he could understand... which would be more fun to drive, his standard transmission mustang or an automatic transmission?... my decks are my muscle cars...

WestSideBob
WestSideBob

Can't understand why no dap for the Black Dog shoppe here in H-town. Also, right around the corner on Alabama is Sound Exchange. I've bought many an LP from each and make regular stops as the stock changes frequently.

I've got to agree with the comments on big label re-releases. Give me the old time first or second pressings every time.

Steve
Steve

Its bizarre having something have a resurgence that you have never stopped playing. I have had vinyl records since I was 5 and when everyone was getting into cassettes and later cds, I still kept buying vinyl. Sure, over the years I bought some stuff on cd, things I couldn't otherwise get-or recording my band pre-digital era on cassettes) but even now I still have well over 1,200 LPs (down from a DJ era high of 6,700) that have never been issued on CD or any other digital format. Still have 2 working record players with 2 replacement needles each and I keep the records clean. On a quiet day here, they sound virtually the same as cds. Newer issued records just sound colder because a lot of the mastering and recording is done from digital to digital using synthesized instruments so they are both taking in less sound frequency and outputting on systems not made/specialized for analog sound reproduction to begin with. Most of these newer plastic 'traveling' players are not great anyway. an older deck has real steel beneath the wheel and way better deals even if you have to fix em up yourself.

Think I'll go play a Flipper 45'.

Geezy
Geezy

I remember when I was a kid, my parents used to come home and we'd sit together while they put on the newest record, dancing, singing all the while expanding my palate from country, tejano, soul etc. This is what always made vinyl so attractive to me, it made the music being played an interaction, a presence in the room. I have no beef against cd's or ipods, shit I have them myself- but they take the interaction out of music. The vinyl jackets gave the records a face, although some were mundane there was some very heavy cover art produced both inside and out which I always have found fascinating.

I've been buying vinyl since I was a kid, I must be about 6-7K deep collection wise. Two tech 12's with pioneer mixer grace an upstairs room in my house with a fully converted closet to house my stash. It's an amazing treat to be able to take my 5 year old up there and have her put on something simple like those old Winnie The Pooh, Charlie Brown or Betsey McCall records from back in the day. Takes me back to when I was kid, and where my affection for vinyl started.

Fantastic article here Craig. Good to see vinyl still being bought and listened to too, and the interaction being put back into listening again.

Craigley
Craigley

Oh vinyl, I never left ye. And my Sony TT hooked up to my Bose SoundDock sounds great.

Starquest
Starquest

I have to agree. CDs do not impede how the music was intended to sound. But I still prefer vinyl because it's more fun.

Also, and this may sound bizarre, but as a result of the loudness wars I have a new appreciation for the first generation of CDs. They really sound much better than all the critics say. Audio engineers knew less about analog-to-digital conversion back in the 80s, but that also means they knew less about how to ruin a recording by destroying its dynamics. Which is pretty much what they do now with the ninth remastered deluxe limited version of everything. Certainly there are many remastered discs that sound great, but a lot of them are just overblown.

Finally, some of the very first CDs are somewhat collectible now.

Craigley
Craigley

Black Dog reminds me of a store that sells records vs. a record store. I just don't feel the connection between the folks working there and the music.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

The owner of Sound Exchange is quoted in the piece though?

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Exactly! Listening to vinyl isn't a passive exercise. There's the ritual of picking out the record, displaying the cover, and flipping the record when one side is done. There is no "set it and forget it."

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Now you need a vacuum tube amp. We call ours "our fireplace."

James
James

And why is that such a positive thing? I kind of like being able to put on some music and walk away and do other things, or sink into my chair and listen to the entire album in one sitting, not having to be disturbed midway through to get up and turn it over, but rather to close my eyes and experience the album from start to finish. I don't know, that always seemed like a weird ancillary reason to like vinyl.

Rick
Rick

Why not have both vinyl and digital?

Some folks would take the plastic disc digital is "better" and more convenient to the next extreme - that you are speaking ancient and should be streaming that digital source material from solid state memory "hard drives". In that sense it is said, the jitter, clocking sync problem, and error correction anomalies of plastic discs is a sonic problem.

Many recordings are only available on used vinyl, they were never transferred to digital disc. In that sense there is a wealth of music open to folks willing to use them and hunt them down.

Tubes? there used to be a saying by the tube-analog folks vs. solid state-digital:

Digital finishes what the transistor started - killing the sonic purity of all tube analog playback...

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Don't discount ritual. It's a big part of the appreciation for many things in life.

Craigley
Craigley

Depends. There are some cool concept albums out there where you HAVE to flip the side. Changes the mood and the trip. And albums should be a journey, where the songs connect; otherwise, play a 12".

I think the invention of the CD negatively impacted the concept of arranging songs together in a logical order. Seems not much tough it put into it other than making sure the best song is at Track 5 or 7 on the CD.

 
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