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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.

"I deejay with vinyl because most of the songs I play have never made it past the 45 rpm format and even if they were, something would be lost in translation if they were played off a computer," says Koshkin.

"If I wanted to see you play on a laptop, I'd just come dance at your office while you type up those TPS reports. It carries the same amount of stage presence," Koshkin adds.

When it comes to the future of vinyl, there are some cold, hard truths. The parts and presses are not being made anymore, but most plants have machinists staying busy on site or near each facility making various repairs, usually fabricating certain parts from scratch if they cannot be pulled Frankenstein-style from other out-of-service machines. Getz says there is a close-knit community of pressing plants that hook each other up in the event that something is needed.

Stanley Getz II of A&R Records and Tapes holds a piece of vinyl hot off of one of the presses at his Dallas-area plant. He's been a part of the music industry for his whole life. His father recorded and pressed albums for polka bands.
Mark Graham
Stanley Getz II of A&R Records and Tapes holds a piece of vinyl hot off of one of the presses at his Dallas-area plant. He's been a part of the music industry for his whole life. His father recorded and pressed albums for polka bands.
These vinyl pellets come in a wide array of colors and are melted down and pressed to become records.
Mark Graham
These vinyl pellets come in a wide array of colors and are melted down and pressed to become records.

If newer start-up pressing companies do not have access to original machines that have been around for years — along with the experience behind them — they probably aren't able to handle their production runs with complete care. This is where complaints from collectors, label heads and shop owners have become the norm.

"We get our share of screw-ups just like everyone else, but we try to keep it to the barest minimum possible, and if something happens, we go back and fix it," says Getz.

"It's a common misconception that this process is only machine-based. Plants are still creating product by hand, meaning the artwork, inserts and the cutouts for the digital downloads," says Aaron Sainz, head of local label Team Science and the boutique management company Savory Music. He's been in charge of getting a lot of local bands' music onto vinyl.

Now that major labels see that they can turn a buck on reissuing some of their more high-profile artists' catalog on vinyl, some stores are feeling the hurt. Kurt Brennan of Sound Exchange off Richmond is sitting on defective product that he cannot send back.

He says that although only 2 percent of their vinyl comes from major labels, it's those records that account for almost all of Sound Exchange's customer returns due to defects. The store has stacks of records from major label acts like Metallica, Thin Lizzy and Portishead that are defective. Since the majors won't allow returns, the stores have no other choice than to sell them at deeply discounted prices.

"The indie labels are, for the most part, doing an excellent job of pressing records. These are labels run by people who are vinyl lovers themselves and the quality of the record and packaging is generally a thing of beauty," says Brennan. He names 4 Men With Beards, Sundazed and Light in the Attic as some of the best to work with.

Of course, just because the label throws "remastered" on the packaging of a "new" old album doesn't mean you are getting a primo experience. Majors are banking on emptying the wallets of novices and diehards alike. A sticker on a record touting it as "remastered" or as being on heavier, "180-gram" vinyl should be a red flag.

"The biggest deal with 180-gram is that it reduces turntable rumble. The same metal parts are used to make the record anyway. It's a security issue for collectors. I disagree that the sound is superior," says Getz. Most records are cut using 140-gram vinyl. He used up to 160-gram materials for the Lips project.

If it's originally recorded on analog equipment and then remastered from a digital source, then you are essentially getting a large, expensive compact disc or MP3. And even though these records are heavier and thicker — evoking a feeling of security to shoppers — if the material used and the equipment to make the record are shoddy, be prepared to be disappointed.

"We took the Pepsi challenge on a brand-new copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the 180-gram press on Capitol, which you can get at Best Buy for about 30 bucks. We compared it to the 1973 Harvest Records pressing that was in very good shape," says Brown at Heights Vinyl.

"With five of us in the room, there was no debate. Although the new Capitol pressing certainly was shinier and had less occasional pops or crackle, the overall sound was flat and cold. It didn't have nearly the same dynamics or warmth as the 1973 pressing." If you're curious and want to hear for yourself, one of these Harvest pressings can be easily obtained on eBay for anywhere between five and a few hundred dollars depending on the rarity and the version of each LP.

Quinn Bishop runs the popular and influential Houston record store Cactus Music, and has been a loud voice in the industry when it comes to making sure the plants that have been pushed into commission in response to the vinyl craze are sending out quality product and are in general treating his and their customers correctly.

He rattles off a list of problems he has seen since the revival began a few years back: seams on LP jackets that split when heavyweight 180-gram pieces are shoved into standard sleeves, and corners that get crushed and bent because some distributors are not shipping their product in the proper protective boxes. Bishop says that most of the time these issues occur when smaller labels license major-label material for limited-edition runs.

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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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