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WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Wall Street Journal says Vinyl's Fad is over:

By Neil Shah  July 22, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-vinyls-boom-is-over-1500721202?mod=e2tw

"Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings have gone to extreme lengths to solve a problem many music aficionados say is an open secret in the music industry: Behind the resurgence of vinyl records in recent years, the quality of new LPs often stinks.

"Old LPs were cut from analog tapes—that’s why they sound so high quality. But the majority of today’s new and re-issued vinyl albums—around 80% or more, several experts estimate—start from digital files, even lower-quality CDs. These digital files are often loud and harsh-sounding, optimized for ear-buds, not living rooms. So the new vinyl LP is sometimes inferior to what a consumer hears on a CD."

The WSJ article contains obvious falsehoods as statements of fact. It's a black mark on the WSJ's otherwise enviable reputation. The first sentence in the article has two glaring faults: "Old LPs were cut from master tapes, that's why they sound so high quality."

The first problem is that the last 10 years of LP production prior to the introduction of the CD (old enough?) were increasingly cut from digital masters, not analog master tapes. At the time, many music lovers applauded this because it did have a great potential for improved sound quality.

 The second problem is that in general, CDs simply sound better than LPs because they are generally more accurate, technically speaking. No tics and pops, for openers and that is just the beginning. This does not have to be true because of the application of mastering, which involves making changes that may reduce a CDs sonic accuracy in the interest of being louder.

For a more balanced view:

Why CDs May Actually Sound Better Than Vinyl

http://www.laweekly.com/music/why-cds-may-actually-sound-better-than-vinyl-5352162
"
Even purely digital music is now marketed using the trappings of vinyl. When U2 distributed 500 million digital copies of its new album to iTunes users — a reach unimaginable when the band released its debut in 1980 — the artwork depicted a vinyl record inside a sleeve with the initials "LP" scribbled on the exterior. And when Neil Young launched a Kickstarter campaign for PonoMusic, a digital music player and online store, his company's stated mission was to "re-create the vinyl experience in the digital realm."

Baked into the vinyl resurgence is the suggestion — fed by analog apostles such as Young and White — that an LP's analog playback produces honest, authentic sound, while digital formats like the CD compromise quality for the sake of portability and convenience. Young articulated this sentiment earlier this month at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where he told Rolling Stone's Nathan Brackett that the vinyl resurgence is due to the fact that "[vinyl is] the only place people can go where they can really hear."
...
In 1968, a 23-year-old audio engineer named Bob Ludwig at New York's A&R Recording was asked to create a test pressing of The Band's debut, Music From Big Pink, so that the producers could hear what it would sound like on LP. During the process, he especially tried to preserve as much as possible of the deep low end of the band's sound, which he believed was critical to its music.

But when he heard the final LP that was released, he was stunned. "All the low, extreme low bass that I knew was there, was chopped right off"

Years later, when Ludwig was hired to provide the final edit (known as mastering) for a greatest-hits package for The Band, he got the album's master tapes back from Capitol Records. On the box was a note from the cutting engineer who'd made the original vinyl master, saying the album's extreme low end had to be cut out.

Of vinyl's inherent deficiencies, reproducing bass is one of its most glaring. The other is that the last track on each side of a record sounds worse than the first, due to the fact that the player's stylus covers fewer inches of grooves per second as it gets closer to the center

The vinyl disc is a steadily collapsing medium," says Ludwig, who went on to become a Grammy-winning mastering engineer, with credits on Patti Smith's Horses, Steely Dan's Gaucho and White's Lazaretto, among many others. "The closer it gets to the label, the more the information is getting compromised, the high frequencies getting lost."

Ludwig's colleague Bob Clearmountain is one of the industry's most respected mixing engineers, responsible for setting the levels of a band's performance before it's sent to the mastering engineer. He has worked with everyone from The Rolling Stones and David Bowie to Ricky Martin and Lenny Kravitz.

When Clearmountain mixed vinyl albums for Columbia Records, he says the label required the test pressing of each LP to play on an old, cheap turntable without skipping, or it would have to be mixed again. Too much bass in one speaker could make the needle skip out of the groove, as would too much sibilance — a harsh "s" — in a singer's voice.

Clearmountain, who now works out of Mix This! in Pacific Palisades, says that when he heard the vinyl test pressings of the albums he'd worked on in the studio, he always felt the same way: depressed.

"I'd just listen and go: 'Jesus, after all that work, that's all I get?' It was sort of a percentage of what we did in the studio," he says. "All that work and trying to make everything sound so good, and the vinyl just wasn't as good."

Not only did records provide only a sliver of what he'd done in the studio but they also came with plenty of sounds that hadn't been there in the first place: ticks and pops.

"If you're a musician like Bob and I," Ludwig says, "and you get to do a mix and you listen to it and you love the way it sounds, and then it's transferred to vinyl and suddenly it's got noise and ticks and pops, for me that's an extremely unmusical event."

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #1
Thanks for the insights, apart from all the noise that comes with vinyl, my reasons are much simpler, I just can't be bothered with all the rigmarole of dealing with it. Having music at your finger tips and being able to easily select individual tracks, albums or genres at the touch of a button from a hard drive is bliss.

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #2
You can find videos right now on YouTube where engineers like Alan Parsons and Trevor Horn are interviewed and they talk about how great it was to switch to digital recording methods, which increased the dynamic range and lowered the noise floor without losing any quality.  In Trevor Horn's video he says everyone should do a full analog workflow just once in their life, so they'll never want to do it again.

When CDs came out, there was a lot of praise from artists about how you can finally hear what they hear in the studio.  As a teenager in high school, I couldn't wait to buy my first CD player.  When I got my first job in 1988, the first thing I did was buy a CD player and 3 CDs (Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery, Boston - Boston, and I forget the third one).  I was immediately blown away by not having to drop a needle, not needing rewind the CD and being able to switch tracks instantly.  I also knew that CDs didn't wear out, so buying used CDs was a pretty safe bet.

CDs won me over in about 5 minutes.  The next paycheck, I was already upgrading my favorite albums to CD.

Then, years later, my wife bought me a 20 GB iPod, and I could carry a good chunk of my music collection in my pocket.  Once again I was blown away by how much music I could have on me at any given time.  Life was really good for a music lover.

I find it silly that a lot of modern music's problems are blamed on iPod earbuds and the industry's need to master albums for that device.   I think that's crap.

Modern music is seriously dynamically compressed.  New vinyl releases don't sound as good as old ones, because they're LOUD.  And they don't have to be.  The vinyl fad is not commercially successful enough to warrant a record label cutting a completely different master just for the vinyl release.  So the same LOUD master that is used for the CD/Digital release is used for Vinyl.

I remember reading an interview with Steve Hoffman talking about how they made master tapes back in the 70s.  They would create a master tape and then chop off the high and low end to preserve as much mid range as possible in the 60 dB dynamic range of an LP.  The original full range master was labeled "DO NOT USE" and locked away in a vault.  Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and Audio Fidelity claim that they strive to find that "full dynamic range" "DO NOT USE" master tape to make their CDs/SACDs.  I don't know if that's a marketing  gimmick or not, but I do know that their releases are not nearly as loud as the standard commercial release.

Now that that vinyl resurgence may be at a standstill, I expect at some point CDs will make some kind of comeback for a short time.  It would not surprise me if record labels started to create "audiophile" releases of albums that have a much higher price point than a standard release.

Supposedly, cassette tapes are now making a comeback...

  • bandpass
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #3
The second article contains the following:
Quote
as CD sales eclipsed and nearly exterminated vinyl, the format was plagued by accusations that its sound was inferior, that it was merely a convenient alternative to the LP
Hmm, my understanding is that CD’s success came from the classical music sector, where convenience (and cost) were far less important than sound quality.

Are there articles in ’80s music listener’s magazines urging readers to stop buying CDs for fear of killing the supply of music on LP?

  • lithopsian
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #4
Shame on you, WSJ, for not at least questioning the industry pap you were fed.

I'm not sure CDs will have any resurgence. It might be just my age group, but I can see nostalgia for cassette tapes, and even for vinyl if you're really old or a snob, but CDs were just this modern thing that worked (not so well on the move). Or maybe someone younger (older?) would see a CD as that great thing you could actually own before MP3s and Spotify? And how long before we get a comeback of MP3s, didn't they sound so much better than tracks that are just streamed?

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #5
Or maybe someone younger (older?) would see a CD as that great thing you could actually own before MP3s and Spotify?

Well hello there.  Younger by what?  Might fit the definition.

  • KozmoNaut
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #6
CDs are going to continue for a while, if nothing else then as physical merch for sale at concerts. The simple reason is that it's much better for the bands to sell a CD rather than a download code for Bandcamp or something, because people want to take a physical object home with them, and they probably have more than enough t-shirts already.

Imagine the guy at the merch stand going "yeah, we don't have any CDs, LPs or tapes for sale, but you can listen to the album on Spotify". It's not really gonna fly, is it?

  • bennetng
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #7
Some people have obsoleted physical digital media fetish like DAT and (Hi)MD as well.

  • KozmoNaut
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #8
No other format ever reached the massive dominance of the CD, though.

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #9
No other format ever reached the massive dominance of the CD, though.

I feel like CD was the first format that was a huge improvement over what came before.  Tapes and 8-tracks were just a side step.  8-tracks let you take your music in your car.  Cassettes, when the Walkman came out, let you take your music with you on your person.

But CDs improved sound quality, didn't wear out, and eventually became portable.

No more needle drops.  No more pops and whistles.  No more rewinding.  No more flipping the album or tape over.  I really think Sony and Phillips got it right with CD.  The only thing it was missing at launch was portability.  The thing would skip like crazy if you jostled it.

  • krabapple
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #10
The second article contains the following:
Quote
as CD sales eclipsed and nearly exterminated vinyl, the format was plagued by accusations that its sound was inferior, that it was merely a convenient alternative to the LP
Hmm, my understanding is that CD’s success came from the classical music sector, where convenience (and cost) were far less important than sound quality.

CDs were certainly a success in the classical market, and it was the classical market  (and classical recording/producing professionals) that was pushing hardest for improved audio quality in the first place. 

BUT that doesn't mean the 'CD success came from the classical music sector'.  Classical sales have always been a minor segment of the music market.  CD success derived from the rapid increase in sales to  people who listened to rock and other forms of popular music.

  • DVDdoug
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #11
Quote
I feel like CD was the first format that was a huge improvement over what came before.
Yes.  As far as sound quality, it was a huge leap from imperfect to perfect!   Or more precisely, from a variety of formats that had audible limitations & imperfections to a format that was better than human hearing with no audible defects/limitations.  There's no more need for incremental improvements and that changes everything!

The other features were "nice", but I bought my CD player because of sound quality and I eventually replaced all (most) of my records because of sound quality.   The thing that was missing in the beginning was the ability to record.    I wasn't a "the first on my block" to get a CD player (my plan was to wait 'till the price dropped to $200, but I prices dropped suddenly and I paid around $100) but I was an early-adopter with CD burning...  I paid about $1000 for my CD burner when blank CDs were $12.

Quote
The first problem is that the last 10 years of LP production prior to the introduction of the CD (old enough?) were increasingly cut from digital masters, not analog master tapes. At the time, many music lovers applauded this because it did have a great potential for improved sound quality.
I had forgotten about that...     I never thought the "studio side" of the process was the big problem, but I do remember having a few records where I could her the tape hiss kick-in following the lead-in groove (when listening with headphones).

I also believe there was a general improvement in sound quality simply driven by demand, pushing the record companies to do better, beginning with the disco era where records were being played on big systems with full-range speakers, in public.      By the time I got my 1st CD player and stopped buying records, they were generally "getting better", but exceptional-sounding records were still... the exception.  ;)

  • Last Edit: 24 July, 2017, 01:14:27 PM by DVDdoug

  • ajinfla
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #12
Quote
I feel like CD was the first format that was a huge improvement over what came before.
Yes.  As far as sound quality, it was a huge leap from imperfect to perfect!  Or more precisely, from a variety of formats that had audible limitations & imperfections to a format that was better than human hearing with no audible defects/limitations.  There's no more need for incremental improvements and that changes everything!
Can't tell if you're joking or drank too much Sony kool-aid, but no. Close to "perfect" for 2ch in homes, sure.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

  • Atmasphere
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #13
Huh.

According to Forbes, LP sales are projected to be over a billion$ US this year, first time this century.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanpassman/2017/01/12/vinyl-is-officially-booming-the-new-billion-dollar-music-business/#79e813834054

There's more of course; google 'Vinyl sales 2017' and just look at the hits on the first page.

FWIW, most of the LP pressing houses are about 6 months backed up in the US. I agree the WSJ is wrong, but for very different reasons! First, the fad ain't over; 1993 was the era of least vinyl sales and its been on the rise ever since. That the LP is still around after all this time is because its not a fad. Second, they got it wrong about digital audio too. I love to cut LPs from digital files. The resulting cut is much quieter than if I use an analog tape.

I've yet to see a project that has required compression or any processing. I suspect that about 95% of all LPs sold these days have digital masters; that's simply not a problem.

In my town, your band simply has not arrived until it has a vinyl release. There's lots of local bands with LP titles and its been that way for 20 years. It might be different in other towns, but I can name a few other metro areas where the same thing is happening- New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle...


  • lithopsian
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #14
Always worth remembering that new CD sales still outnumber new vinyl, something like five or ten to one depending on which region you look at. And are still comparable to "album downloads" (excluding streaming). Out of the three, only vinyl is increasing (with blips) but it would be massively premature to think it is going to be the major player any time soon, even given the inflated prices for new vinyl. I guess that doesn't make for good headlines ...

  • DVDdoug
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #15
Quote
Can't tell if you're joking or drank too much Sony kool-aid, but no. Close to "perfect" for 2ch in homes, sure.
No, I'm not joking, and of course I'm talking about 2-channel stereo.  And, I'm talking about the traditional understanding of "audio quality" ... Noise, distortion, and frequency response.

Quote
According to Forbes, LP sales are projected to be over a billion$ US this year, first time this century.
Is anyone making the equipment?  Cutting lathes, etc.?  From what I understand they are maintaining old equipment and there is a "shortage",  but maybe not enough demand to stimulate new production.  Is that true, or can you buy a brand-new LP-lathe?

Quote
In my town, your band simply has not arrived until it has a vinyl release. There's lots of local bands with LP titles and its been that way for 20 years. It might be different in other towns, but I can name a few other metro areas where the same thing is happening- New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle...
And of course, that's the LAST format AFTER you've "arrived".

Quote
According to Forbes, LP sales are projected to be over a billion$ US this year, first time this century.
And, I'd guess half of that is probably purchased as a collectible, never to be played as music...  That's fine, but compare it to T-shirt or poster sales, not music sales.    
  • Last Edit: 24 July, 2017, 04:10:41 PM by DVDdoug

  • Atmasphere
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #16
Is anyone making the equipment?  Cutting lathes, etc.?  From what I understand they are maintaining old equipment and there is a "shortage",  but maybe not enough demand to stimulate new production.  Is that true, or can you buy a brand-new LP-lathe?

The problem area is actually pressing machines, not lathes. But there is at least one new pressing machine now in production.
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/inside-jack-whites-new-vinyl-pressing-paradise-w468376
Seems to me I saw an automated machine in production as well.

Quote
And of course, that's the LAST format AFTER you've "arrived".
Not sure how to interpret that. Remember a band called Arcade Fire? They had a number one hit a couple of years ago. They were on an independent label, but you could find their LP at Best Buy, Target and almost any record shop, nation-wide. Google...

Quote
And, I'd guess half of that is probably purchased as a collectible, never to be played as music...  That's fine, but compare it to T-shirt or poster sales, not music sales.   

Although an obvious strawman, are you seriously suggesting that $500,000 is going to spent by (mostly) kids on recordings they will never play? On its face, that sounds pretty ludicrous. Do you have any evidence for that?

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #17
Although an obvious strawman, are you seriously suggesting that $500,000 is going to spent by (mostly) kids on recordings they will never play? On its face, that sounds pretty ludicrous. Do you have any evidence for that?

I have a couple of friends that are still analogue hero's and they always proud to show me their super thick LP's still in their cellophane wrapping, often multiple copies that are "worth a mint" but they never trade, only collect.

  • polemon
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #18
As long as we don't experience another information cataclysm similar to the library fire in Alexandria, I don't think we have too much to worry.

Vinyl never really went dead as such, so the "revival" thanks to hipsters was just an increase and now it dies down, but I doubt it'll be discontinued completely for many years to come.

I see no reason, why a company making a couple lathes per year and a couple pressing machines per year cannot keep churning them out. There are lots of niche products similar to that, the demoscene comes to mind.

I don't see why making a low-volume run pressing machine wouldn't be all that viable. I can almost imagine it being a kickstarter project, or whatever.

Vacuum tubes are still being produced, albeit for a niche application, too, etc.

  • greynol
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  • Global Moderator
Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #19
Why do people in this forum erroneously assume that vacuum tubes are only made for audiophile products?
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

  • botface
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #20
Just to address the reasons for CD taking over from vinyl one that is usually overlooked is the power and influence of record company accountants. Faced with out-dated equipment needing replacing and an old factory in a desirable area one UK major simply shut down its vinyl manufacturing and sold the site. 

Then of course there's the zeitgeist - CD came along at the right time and was well promoted by Philips and Sony. And it's true that classical music lovers were the most enthusiastic early adopters but the main reasons mentioned at the time were a lower noise floor and the ability to play a complete work without having to turn over rather than sound quality itself (though you might consider lower noise a quality improvement). Having said that I'm sure there were many lured by the promised improvements in sound quality

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #21
Just to address the reasons for CD taking over from vinyl one that is usually overlooked is the power and influence of record company accountants. Faced with out-dated equipment needing replacing and an old factory in a desirable area one UK major simply shut down its vinyl manufacturing and sold the site. 

Then of course there's the zeitgeist - CD came along at the right time and was well promoted by Philips and Sony. And it's true that classical music lovers were the most enthusiastic early adopters but the main reasons mentioned at the time were a lower noise floor and the ability to play a complete work without having to turn over rather than sound quality itself (though you might consider lower noise a quality improvement). Having said that I'm sure there were many lured by the promised improvements in sound quality

Having been there at the time, I see the above as an obfuscation of the fact that the CD fully addressed many longstanding technical failings of the LP, almost too many to list.


 People in the industly who had been fighting bravely for decades with with the audible and obvious failings of the LP knew full well that there was no way to address the failings of the LP without starting over from pretty close to scratch.

For example, the technical and business implosion of RCA's Selectavision showed that not only was a fresh piece of paper required, it was an absolute necessity and even the paper had to be dramatically changed.

The path to the CD was beaten out by the overwhelming technical and business success of digital telephone switches about 10 years earlier. As I have pointed out in another post, even the production of LPs was becoming more and more digitally-based.

If it was not for a brilliant hate/slander/lies campaign of the usual suspects in the murky world of high end audio, this thread might not even exist.  They saw digital audio as an existential threat, and geared up their propaganda mills.

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #22
Why do people in this forum erroneously assume that vacuum tubes are only made for audiophile products?

Other than musical instruments, which is really an area that shares a lot with high end audio, what else is there but a few esoteric tubes for broadcasting, radar and the like? Even most of those application have gone over to "The Dark Side". ;-)

 We used to be able to point at CRTs, but those are now getting carried out to the trash by the dumpster-full, even as I type.

Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #23
Although an obvious strawman, are you seriously suggesting that $500,000 is going to spent by (mostly) kids on recordings they will never play? On its face, that sounds pretty ludicrous. Do you have any evidence for that?

A lot of the vinyl I buy at estate sales seems to have been in the possession of its owner for a long time, but pretty pristine, perhaps lightly-played to unplayed.

FWIW, I've also picked up a number of NIB CD's with the shrink wrap and seals in place.

Quote
I have a couple of friends that are still analogue hero's and they always proud to show me their super thick LP's still in their cellophane wrapping, often multiple copies that are "worth a mint" but they never trade, only collect.

That, too. 

How intoxicated do you have to get a vinyl advocate before he admits that the ritual gets old for him, too? ;-)

  • polemon
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Re: WSJ asks Why Vinyls Boom Is Over
Reply #24
Why do people in this forum erroneously assume that vacuum tubes are only made for audiophile products?
Not sure if you're referring to me, but I never said they're used only for audiophile applications.

High power broadcasting and some systems that must pass a certain compliance testing use vacuum tubes, for instance. Obviously they're still are being produced, and I don't see production ending any time soon...

Similar to a TO-92 package, vacuum tube "packages" are used for other applications, like ray emitters, sensors, etc. Similar to how tube sockets get reused for all sorts of things (except Nuvistors, perhaps).