Putting a New Spin on Vinyl Records



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CD sales are declining, but there has been a resurgence in vinyl. Audiophiles are drawn to records because there aren't any anti-piracy restrictions and people claim they just sound better than their digital counterparts.

John Sepulvado reports for member station WUSF in Tampa.

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Oh, let's talk about another dramatic change in American life, really dramatic. Sales of new vinyl records are up about 10 percent this year. Industry analysts say they're not exactly sure why, but sales appear to be fueled by a new record player that makes it easier to turn analog records into digital MP3s.

John Sepulvado of member station WUSF in Tampa reports.

JOHN SEPULVADO: When Stephen Vincent(ph) first started his job at the Tampa Guitar Center selling pro-grade turntables, he says his customers were mainly DJs wearing baggy pants and bomber jackets. But now, he says, a different customer wanders over to his department.

Mr. STEPHEN VINCENT(ph): The guys with the khakis, you know, with the white button-up t-shirts with the pants all the way up with the belt, you know, the penny loafers, those are older the guys I get that come in.

SEPULVADO: In fact, Vincent says, a diverse group of people stops by for one thing: a USB turntable. Basically, it's a standard record player with a cord that plugs into a computer. Vincent says he gives prospective buyers three to four demonstrations like this one every week.

Mr. VINCENT: Lay the needle down on the record. What I'm doing is, I'm going to press play or whatnot, set the speed, 33 rpm. From there, you adjust the speed to whatever. And then record your record onto your computer.

(Soundbite of music)

SEPULVADO: And then music can easily be converted to CD or downloaded to an MP3 player. And at about $150 a pop, that versatility to both play and record vinyl records appears to be a big hit. Meanwhile, used records stores from San Francisco to Albany, New York, report a spike in used records sales.

New vinyl sales are expected to approach nearly a million this year, although that's small compared to the half billion CDs sold last year.

Mr. JIM DONIO (President, national Association of Record Merchandisers): I don't know if I would call it a resurgence.

SEPULVADO: Jim Donio is president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. He says vinyl sales are up and the new turntables are popular. But because his organization stopped tracking analog records long ago, Donio says he can't explain how big the trend is or why it's happening.

Mr. DONIO: I don't know. We've not really done any research on that. We're really actually in the midst of a consumer research study right now.

SEPULVADO: Donio speculates the renewed interest could have something to do with how vinyl sounds. Enthusiasts say it's warmer than binary audio captured on CDs, and, unlike some compact discs and digital downloads, there are no anti-piracy protections with vinyl. Still, not everyone is sold on the new trend. Some album collectors say the new computer-aided turntables sound too tinny.

And then there's 20-year-old Patrick Price(ph), who says listening to vinyl records is just too much work.

Mr. PATRICK PRICE(ph): I'm more into CDs. It's easier to access and listen to. Vinyl seems like it's more - it's a process to put it in the start and get the needle on and everything.

SEPULVADO: Many independent retailers say it's not a process but an experience that can't be bought online or downloaded. With CD sales slumping, industry watchers say it's natural to try and bring back vinyl. Brick-and-mortar music storeowners, after all, have to turn a profit somewhere.

For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in Tampa.

INSKEEP: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.