“Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, “Listen, mate, life has surface noise.”John Peel
The modern day music experience is designed to be as quick and easy as possible; plug in some earphones and with a few quick touches of a phone screen you can have the whole world’s music collection in your hands (well, most of it at least). This is perfect for the modern day audience that demands convenience and accessibility, but what about those times when we want to sit down and really experience an album in its full glory?
The whole ritual of finding, purchasing, opening and finally putting on your favourite record is something many of us will find nostalgic, even if it’s not something we necessarily grew up with. Everything from the smell and feel of a record in your hands to the crackling as the needle hits the groove creates a warmer and more immersive musical experience than the cold convenience of music streaming.
The first record player was released to the public in 1895 and they steadily grew in popularity, particularly during the 30s and 40s but it wasn’t until the 60s and 70s, when Dual released turntables that provided stereo playback, that it really hit the mainstream. This high-fidelity sound reproduction was a new and innovative feature that encouraged many more people to invest in record players. They had hit their peak popularity but by the 1980s they were beginning to get overtaken with the introduction of the cassette tape, compact disc (CD), and the start of digital recording formats.
The record player continued to decline throughout the 90s and 80s, being mainly kept alive by record enthusiasts, DJs and niche music audiences. The rise of music streaming apps like Youtube, Soundcloud and Pandora seemed to spell certain death for the record player. However in 2007, there was an unexpected but slight rise in record sales which started off small but by the early 2010s it was growing at an exponential rate. So steady was the growth that 2017 marked the tenth consecutive year of record sales growth.
In 2020, Vinyl sales contributed £86.5 million to the UK’s recorded music revenue which is a 10% increase on the previous year and the highest number in 30 years. UK record labels are now expecting to earn more from vinyl than CDs for the first time since 1987, with income generated from LP sales rising a massive 30.5% in the past year. This is thought to be partly as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, with more people looking for ways to enjoy music at home as concerts and festivals were cancelled. With a steady increase year on year, it seems as though records are here to stay and will continue to exist as one of the most popular formats for music consumption, alongside streaming.
So why are record players still so popular? Well, we already touched on the experience they provide, having something tangible to show for the album makes it feel so much more special than some files on a phone screen. Even the journey of going to a record store and sifting through the vast collections before coming across one of your favourite records or perhaps discovering a brand new band, it all adds to the excitement and event of listening to music.
Not only this, but there’s something to be said for the artwork on a full size record cover. Artwork can hardly be appreciated from the small image we get when we shuffle through a music streaming app, but when we experience it on a record, you get to appreciate all the small details that you might not have noticed or paid attention to. It’s as if we get to experience the original art itself and once you build up a collection, the wide range of art can be enjoyed just as much as the wide range of music.
Another big difference between record players and other formats is the differences in sound quality and dynamics. There is no tone loss with vinyl, which occurs due to compression of music files, so you gain the full experience of the song rather than the compressed version on digital platforms. It’s also well-known for producing a warm sound that feels more ‘full’ and closer to the sound of a live performance than the digital counterpart, a purer reflection of sound.
“Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away, or sitting next to the turntable listening to a song at a time via 7-inch single is enjoying the sublime state of solitude.”Henry Rollins
Finally, many say that a big reason they are interested in a record player is because they are ‘cool’, with the aesthetic nature of turntables and record collections, they are considered to be very ‘instagrammable’. This may be why they are popular with the indie rock crowd, who tend to pride themselves on being a bit alternative or different, although they do also have association with ‘hipster’ type of audiences. Of course, record players also appeal to an older audience for whom it may be a nostalgic trip down memory lane to get back into playing records. But ultimately there is no one type of audience or crowd that it is intended for, it can appeal to anyone who’s passionate about music and that’s partly why it continues to be so popular today.
There are many benefits to owning a record player over other formats and this is reflected in its increased popularity, as well as the emergence of more record stores. This is also a positive sign for the future that not everything we love will be completely taken over by tech and digital versions, as sentiment, nostalgia and a purer overall experience will still win people over. Hopefully the record player continues to be a presence in people’s homes for many more decades, providing an enjoyable and rewarding music experience for generations to come.
Chloe is a content creator with a passion for writing, photography, graphic design and making music. She loves experimenting with creative media and has a desire to work in the music and media industries in the future.