Sales of LP records are showing no signs of slowing, with the latest figures showing a 70% increase on the previous year, after seven straight years of growth. In the shop, record players are walking out the door, with customers of all ages getting into the groove.
Australian music lovers are not alone - in the UK and USA a similar trend is occurring. Have a look at the graph below to see how LP sales have taken off in the US since 2007:
What's behind the vinyl revival?
We think there are a few factors at play: Firstly the sound quality of vinyl on a good system is just magical, especially to younger people reared on a diet of compressed digital music. We get a lot of 'oohs' and 'aahs' when we fire up a good system for some of our younger customers.
Secondly, there's the retro factor - a hankering for nostalgic items perhaps as an antidote for the fast-moving disposable nature of modern consumerism.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the fact that an LP record is a large, tangible item in a world where most music has become intangible - a downloaded file or streamed song... It seemed the very thing that contributed to vinyl's downfall - its size and handling requirements - is what people enjoy about it today.
The flip side - the state of digital music
The flip side to vinyl's booming sales is the marked drop in digital download sales in 2013 vs 2012. Sales have fallen by 13% in just 12 months, and the finger is being pointed squarely at the multitude of streaming music services that have sprouted in Australia over the last two years. Services like Spotify and Pandora provide easy, unlimited and affordable music access and that's appealing for most consumers, but they provide meagre earnings for artists.
Smart artists and record labels are turning to vinyl to boost sales, and packaging downloadable files with the LPs to give buyers the best of both worlds. The majority of our customers are analogue / digital hybrids - enjoying a mix of sound quality and convenience - and that's typical of music lovers today. We've never had so much choice in both music availability and ways to enjoy it, anywhere and any time.
Our top picks
For hi fi stores like us, the vinyl revival has meant big sales of record players and 2 channel amplifiers. Below are our top picks of turntables and amplifiers - for entry level, upgrades and ''go-all-out' systems, each representing the best value for money in their class:
The hands-down pick for best entry-level turntable is Rega's RP-1
. At $599 it's incredible value for a quality UK-made turntable. Its minimalist design focuses on what is important - the sound.
It's hard to go past NAD's new D3020 $799 digital amplifier
as our entry level amp pick - even though it lacks a built-in phono stage. By adding NAD's PP-1 at $179, you've got a highly expressive and incredibly flexible amp that handles your digital sources (Bluetooth included) as well as analogue.
Going to the next level in turntables we recommend the $1799 special edition Rega RP40
. This model is a limited run produced for Rega's 40th anniversary and its performance is stunning, with an external power supply, Elys40 cartridge and combination of titanium, stainless steel and aluminium materials providing for a purity of sound unmatched at the price.
An ideal amplifier match here is Rega's Brio R
. At just $1,249 it's a nimble, detailed and rhythmic performer and has an excellent phono stage too. It sounds a lot bigger than its diminutive case and 50w per channel output suggest. Consider also adding Rega's DAC
, at $1,099, to give your existing digital sources a new lease on life.
Go all out
As an 'all-out', no compromise system (that still delivers value for money), the Rega RP8 ($3499) is our pick. This turntable takes Rega's design and manufacturing prowess to its limit with the 'skeletal plinth design' using innovative materials and processes that result in a turntable like no other. The rationale and physics behind the design best explained by Rega themselves here
, suffice it to say that this is one superlative turntable.
The RP8 turntable has recently been selected by Apple's Sir Jony Ive & designer Marc Newson to feature in their list of ‘18 of the best designs of all time’.
An excellent cartridge match for the RP-8 is the Van Den Hul MC-10 Special
, at $1499.
We've stayed within the Rega stable for our amplifier match here, picking the Rega Elicit
($3499), a stunning 80W x 2 integrated amplifier that punches well above its weight. As ‘Tone’ magazine put it, “I defy anyone to put together more performance with a separate power amplifier, preamplifier and phono preamplifier at this price point.”
While the Elicit has an excellent phono stage, those seriously wanting to go 'all-out' should also consider the Aria MM/MC phono stage
which at $1799 will raise the performance of this system up a few rungs!
Have your say
What do you think is driving this new interest in vinyl? And got any tips or picks for products that rock your world? Let us know by posting a comment below!