Vinyl Records Set To Outpace CD Sales For The First Time In 30 Years, Even Though They Suck

While streaming content has displaced all forms of physical media as the preferred medium for sonic consumption, nostalgia-driven audiophiles have driven Vinyl sales through the roof - at least compared to CDs. 

According to the RIAA's 2019 mid-year revenue report published by Rolling StoneLPs are on pace to outsell CDs this year, making them the most profitable form of non-streaming music for the first time since 1986.

Vinyl records earned $224.1 million (on 8.6 million units) in the first half of 2019, closing in on the $247.9 million (on 18.6 million units) generated by CD sales. Vinyl revenue grew by 12.8% in the second half of 2018 and 12.9% in the first six months of 2019, while the revenue from CDs barely budged. If these trends hold, records will soon be generating more money than compact discs. -Rolling Stone

That said, vinyl accounted for just four percent of total music revenues in the first half of 2019, while paid subscriptions to streaming services accounted for 62% of industry revenues according to the report. 

"We welcome [the growth in vinyl]," said Warner Records co-chairman and CEO, Tom Corson. "It’s a sexy, cool product. It represents an investment in music that’s an emotional one. [But] it is a small percentage of our business. It’s not going to make or break our year. We devote the right amount of resources to it, but it’s not something where we have a department for it."

Rolling Stone notes that the resurgence in vinyl has been a boon for rock groups in particular. "The Beatles sold over 300,000 records in 2018, while Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Queen all sold over 100,000."

Opining on why vinyl sucks and the weird phenomenon of hipsters buying records is a 2016 article from Home Theater Review.


So what's the hype about vinyl these days? Vinyl is part of the cliché world of hipsters. If you don't know what a hipster is, I might suggest you don't read any further--as your world is likely better not knowing about this phenomenon. Those of us who have been to Brooklyn, Portland, or Silver Lake (and practically anywhere else in the country) in recent years can tell you that hipsters are a group of people who follow a certain "we're different" vibe, yet ironically they tend to follow many of the same trends. The men grow lumberjack beards, and they drive electric cars when their quirky bike has a flat. They enthusiastically eat Quinoa and kale and report to like it. The men wear berets (not raspberry or the ones you find in a second-hand store) and carry trendy messenger bags. The girls are apt to tattoo any and every part of their body and sometimes embrace hairstyles like "grandma hair"--where one bleaches out all of the color of one's hair and then dyes it gray, silver, or blue. Don't forget, any card-carrying hipster has his or her pair of thick-framed Warby Parker glasses.

On the plus side, hipsters love music, which is just fantastic. Live music--specifically, music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo--draw hipsters from all over the world to flaunt their style.

What's a head-scratcher about this new breed of music lover is the idea that, in every other aspect of their lives, they rock cutting-edge, high-resolution digital technology. They can't look away from their HD smartphones for any meaningful length of time. They've made the video-game industry bigger in terms of top-line sales than the motion-picture business. They love the potential of virtual reality, yet they are also the ones behind this resurgence in vinyl.

It's time for people who love music and have a taste for great-sounding audio to teach these young whippersnappers about HD music--because vinyl is a standard-definition, low-resolution format. Here, specifically, is why vinyl sucks.

Dynamic Range
Vinyl has a dynamic range of about 65 to 69 dB. In the days when vinyl ruled the world, much energy went into mastering vinyl releases to have better (or, at least, better perceived) dynamic range. If you go into a recording studio, mic a snare drum, and then hit it as hard as you can, you will record something in the 120- to 125-dB range. Vinyl reproduces roughly half of those dynamics. Compact Discs do drastically better in dynamic range, while HD files can reproduce ALL of the dynamics of a snare drum.

Many listeners find the stereotypical sound of vinyl to be comfortable and reassuring. That "warmth" is because of second-degree harmonic distortion created by the stylus in the groves. This distortion is what keeps one from hearing all the pristine sound recorded on the master tape. Analog master tape in the studio doesn't have this kind (or volume) of distortion. The cracks and pops heard in vinyl come from flaws in the actual vinyl, as well as wear and dirt on the record. Hardcore vinyl lovers go to great lengths to keep the records clean and protected, which is wise on their part. The sad news is that, unlike a high-resolution digital file, vinyl will degrade over time as it's played.

My question is, given the amount of noise and distortion coming from an age-old source, why invest in a great, audiophile-quality amp or preamp? In effect, one is feeding it with a distortion-laden source component with poor dynamic range. It's tantamount to pumping 50-octane fuel into your new Lamborghini Aventador. Perhaps it's time to try out the higher-grade audiophile fuel, even if it costs a few bucks more, so that you can realize the potential of your music playback system.