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Vinyl records enjoy resurgence with younger fans seeking ‘more natural’ sound

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At 20, Betty Wyndorf is a product of the digital age, with its computers, cellphones, apps and iPods. She’s a fan.

But when she wants to wind down with some tunes, she goes retro and puts a vinyl record on her turntable, listening to music the old-fashioned way – in analog.

Likewise, 29-year-old Hadley Kenslow of Albuquerque began collecting records at age 15. He came to like the format so much that he turned it into a full-time business buying and selling records – yet, in a nod to the digital age, he does most of his transactions via the Internet.

Find it, buy it
New and used vinyl can be purchased locally from:
• Charley’s 33s and CDs, 7602 Menaul NE, 296-3685
• Krazy Kat Records Tapes & CDs, 1307 Eubank NE, 294-5644
• Mecca Music & Books, 1404 Central SW, 243-5041
• Natural Sound, 205 Wellesley, 255-8295
• Nob Hill Music, 3419 Central NE, 266-4200
• Record Roundup, 2529 San Mateo NE, 881-9877
• SloLow Vinyl (a home-based business), 217-4222, hadleykw@gmail.com
• We Buy Music, 5203 Lomas NE, 256-2524

Wyndorf and Kenslow are among the growing demographic of people under age 30 who prefer the sound of analog music to digital, so much so that many local stores have responded to the increasing demand by stocking vinyl. This younger demographic also appreciates the more hands-on turntable listening experience and the larger format presentation of liner notes and LP cover art.

“I was always fascinated with vinyl because it seemed wonderfully antiquated,” says Wyndorf, of Albuquerque. “We had a lot of CDs at home when I was growing up, but when we listened to vinyl, it was like a ceremony. I had to be careful handling them and had to treat them as something valued and important.”

Wyndorf also has affection for vinyl’s weaknesses. “There’s something really great about buying a record and listening to it so much that it develops its own pops and scratches. The analog just feels more natural.”

That’s because it is, says Mark Cleveland, an assistant manager at ListenUp Audio Video, in Albuquerque, formerly Hudson’s Audio.

Analog music is recorded as sound waves etched, or pressed, into the grooves of a vinyl record album. As the needle of a record player passes through the grooves, it vibrates in a manner corresponding to the etched-in sound waves, he explains. Those vibrations are then amplified and played through speakers.

Digital music starts as analog sound waves but it’s then converted and stored as sets of numbers – about 44,000 numbers for each second of music. When it is played back, the numbers are re-converted back into a bitstream that “approximates an analog wave.” In other words, he says, “it’s a digital interpretation of analog sound.”

People buy turntables every week at ListenUp, an indicator of the ongoing analog renaissance that began about five or six years ago, Cleveland says. “At that time I was working at a ListenUp store in Boulder, Colo., and we began seeing more college and high school kids coming in and buying turntables and then going to used record stores and thrift shops to buy vinyl. I think it’s a backlash to digital compression. They absolutely can hear the difference.”

Vinyl on demand

This younger audience is also turning up in greater numbers each year at the biannual Albuquerque Record Convention, now in its 31st year, observes promoter Mike Walsh.

Natural Sound music store in Albuquerque has noticed and responded to that renewed interest. “We hadn’t carried vinyl in about 15 years, but demand started building up, so we got back into it about four years ago,” says owner Paul Hartsfield. Now vinyl represents 30 percent to 40 percent of Natural Sound’s overall sales. Of those purchasers, he estimates half are under age 30.

“They didn’t grow up buying vinyl, but many did get into their parents’ vinyl collections. That was an entry point for them. I hear that pretty frequently, so there may be nostalgia for vinyl even among some younger listeners.”

Nostalgia motivates Wyndorf, too, who recalls her mother would play artists like Elton John, Gary Numan, Marshall Crenshaw and the Pretenders. Her dad, Dave Wyndorf (guitarist-vocalist-frontman for New Jersey-based band Monster Magnet), listened to early ’60s and ’70s metal and psychedelic groups like 13th Floor Elevators, the Standells, King Crimson and Hawkwind. “The more obscure the better,” she says.

The sound quality is the big draw for vinyl, but the cover art and liner notes are an important part of the package, says James Bongard, owner of We Buy Music in Albuquerque. “It feels like you’re holding something. The miniaturization of CD covers makes (LP) record album art seem enormous to people new to vinyl, and those who do digital downloads are missing out on even more.”

Some of his customers have purchased albums to be framed as wall art, he says. Liner notes also get more attention in the bigger album format, something that often gets shortchanged on CD reissues and is pretty much ignored by those who favor digital downloads.

“It’s encouraging to see new and younger vinyl buyers,” says Bongard, who estimates that 75 percent of his store’s space is taken up by record albums and 30 percent of his customers are in their teens and 20s.

A real trend?

Not everyone buys into the notion of a growing “trend” among younger fans of vinyl. Rocky de la Vega, manager at Mecca Music & Books, says “record companies are making it sound like there’s a resurgence because CD sales are down,” as a result of digital downloads. The biggest profit margin for record companies is on new vinyl, which have far smaller sales by volume but sport an individual price tag of $20 to $25.

Not surprisingly, younger audiences tend to be more interested in the newer groups, many of which release their music on vinyl as well as CD. This, in part, explains the uptick in vinyl purchases among that age group, de la Vega says.

In addition, some vinyl albums include a coupon with an access code, allowing the buyer to download a free digital copy of the album off the Internet, yet another incentive to purchase music in vinyl.

“I think this latest wave of ‘vinyl mania’ is great, but it’s sort of artificially generated,” he says. Still, about 70 percent to 80 percent of Mecca’s sales are in vinyl.

Over at Charley’s 33s and CDs, store owner Colleen Corrie says younger listeners who grew up with digital tell her that they find analog “less sterile,” especially newly released records and re-releases made from thicker 180 gram virgin vinyl.

Virgin vinyl has no recycled plastic with impurities that can create noise. The thicker 180 gram records are less prone to warping and have deeper grooves so more analog sound information can be pressed into them, she says.

“To actually put on a record and hear the entire thing is to go on a journey,” Corrie says.

But younger vinyl aficionados like Wyndorf do not reject digital music. “I have an iPod for convenience, and it’s wonderful,” she says. “My main modes of transportation are walking and cycling, and I do like to take my music with me. If it were convenient, I’d carry a turntable.”

Kenslow, who started SloLow Vinyl about two years ago, says nearly all of his younger clientele tell him they own a turntable with a USB connector so they can plug it into a computer and turn their analog music into MP3 digital files to store on their computer or download to their iPod or other digital player.

“Categorization is easier on a computer and there is the convenience factor of taking your music with you as a digital file,” he concedes. “But if you’re in a situation where you’re sitting down and relaxing and the music is the focus, then you really want to listen to it on vinyl.”

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