Entry 406: Forward to the Past

Do you know what one of the biggest–in fact, one of the only–growth areas of the music industry is?

Vinyl. As in records. Sales are up 40% this year.record[1]

People who claim to hear the difference are looking to reclaim the depth of sound they say has been lost in digital recordings, and so they’ve backtracked three or four formats to LPs. And it’s not just for old records; new recordings are being released in “Limited Edition Vinyl” versions.

Well, I can’t hear a difference, and even if I could, that record wouldn’t do me much good on a plane. And I don’t think Apple has plans to introduce an iTurntable anytime soon.

beatlesmonoofficial(3)[1]That means I just won’t be able to listen to the new Beatles boxed set. Yes, the Beatles have released THE BEATLES IN MONO VINYL BOX SET…on “fourteen 180-gram vinyl LPs with faithfully replicated artwork, newly mastered from the analogue master tapes.”

Just as a reminder, we’re still here in the year 2014.

This new boxed set, by the way, is an update for the old THE BEATLES IN MONO VINYL BOX SET that was released way back in 2009. That set was newly mastered from the digital master tapes, and so did not sound bad enough for the true audiophile.

The advertising for the new set tells us that “this is how most listeners first heard the group in the 1960s, when mono was the predominant audio format.” Yes, that is correct. And then something better came along.

My first experience with going online was through a 1200 baud dial-up modem. Remember that? There was that quaint noise that resembled an elementary school band tuning up, followed by the relaxing wait for pages to load, during which you could have listened to an entire Beatles album. Who among us wouldn’t give up our broadband in a nanosecond for a return to those good old days?transistor-radio[1]

If you follow the logic of the marketing materials, then the only truly authentic way to listen to these Beatles recordings is through an early 60’s model transistor radio. I know that’s how I first heard the group in 1963. Or maybe it was on the AM car radio in my parents’ Rambler.

I can make the case, albeit a tortured one, that just about any new technology is inferior to an old one. Texting and Tweeting, for instance, have greatly diminished our ability to communicate in English and have, I think, reduced the depth of our thinking. So maybe the  next generation of iPads should look like this:


You can still send a text; you’ll just need an envelope and a stamp.

And what about the art of conversation? We avoid it at all costs, preferring a stream of 20 emails to accomplish what could have been done with one phone call. So maybe this should be the design of the next iPhone (the shape is right, anyway):candlestick[1]

Look, I don’t claim to be on the cutting edge of anything. I make it a personal quest to resist new technology as long as possible. As documented in this blog, I was a Kindle denier for the longest time until my wife gave me one, and even then I refused to buy digital versions of new releases by authors whose full collection of titles already occupied my shelves. For this reason, I schlepped around all 849 pages of Stephen King’s “11/22/63″ for a couple of weeks a few years ago. But you know what? I just bought his new book, “Revival,” which is only half the size, on digital. I actually felt a bit guilty doing it, as if I was forsaking the printed page forever. And I guess I am.

Can someone make the case for the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands, and turning actual pages, and owning an artifact that you will be able to access even when the great Electromagnetic Pulse comes along and wipes out everything that runs on electricity? Sure, I suppose.

But that doesn’t outweigh (pardon the pun) being able to carry it in my pocket today.

I don’t know if there’s a legitimate reason to buy music on vinyl and vinyl in mono. I suspect it’s more of an innate desire to want to recapture some of the soul we’ve given over to technology, some of the imperfections that mean we’re still human.

Those clicks and hisses on the record don’t make it sound better, but they may make us feel better.

See you soon.

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One Response to Entry 406: Forward to the Past

  1. Vinny says:

    I am one of those who can hear the difference Mark. Purchasing albums is not to take the place of buying digital because you can’t carry around an album as you stated. But while at home listening to the warmth, and yes there is a want to vinyl that digital has lost, does give the listener a better experience. There is also that tactile feel of holding an album jacket in your hand and being able to read the words without a magnifying glass that is lost with the new packaging where the jewelbox or six panel digipak for compact discs.

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