February 05, 2013
| by Robert Archer
It wasn’t that long ago that analog audio and vinyl recordings were given last rites. But toward the end of the last decade, just as digital downloads were becoming the norm, a funny thing happened: vinyl sales inexplicably began to surge.
Now several years later, the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) reports that vinyl shipments increased by about 34 percent during 2011 to account for $119 million in sales and more than over 5 million units shipped (and indications are that 2012 went even better).
Supporting the RIAA’s numbers, Nielsen SoundScan says that 2011 vinyl sales were up more than 36 percent over 2010 figures. Interestingly, Nielsen notes that three quarters of the albums sold are classified as rock music and the top selling acts are a mix of classic and new artists, from the Beatles and Radiohead to Adele and the Black Keys.
Reading into these figures a case could be made that a new age of younger audio enthusiasts are discovering vinyl after realizing the limitations of low-resolution digital audio file and driving the format’s revival. It’s also worth noting that the used vinyl market is thriving because of organizations such as the Boston area-based New England Record Collector’s Club, which holds regular sales events. These used sales don’t factor into the figures tallied by trade groups like the RIAA or Nielsen, but they fuel interest in LPs whether they’re classic artists like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, who command more premium prices, to rare and hidden vinyl gems seekers or bins full of dollar LPs waiting for some TLC to be played by their new owner.
Stepping up to fill the need for new, modernized turntables, the electronics industry reacted through through notable manufacturers such as Clearaudio, Pro-Ject, Rega and VPI offering consumers a broad choice of solutions. These industry stalwarts have been joined by relatively newer companies like Music Hall and SOTA to provide consumers with a choice of products that deliver a discernible step up in performance and industrial design from entry-level models that may have pulled listeners back into the analog fold.
Each of these companies’ product lines offers everything from entry-level to top-of-the-line flagship products. The good news for vinyl fans is that these manufacturers have a number of products in the attractive, mid-level $900 to $2,000 range, and many of these products also allow users or audio dealers to choose their favorite moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC) phono cartridges to form a complete and customizable analog solution.
Click here to check out six mid-level turntables with high-performance pedigrees.
Related: Sound Setups: Three Great Audiophile-Grade Listening Rooms
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Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.