Vinyl – A new hope

Vinyl – A new hope

Seemingly moribund with the onset of CD, vinyl, especially audiophile vinyl, is now enjoying, says Paul Rigby, both a cultural and marketing renaissance.

Vinyl was supposed to be finished. As a mass medium, that much was true. However, like any mature industry which has experienced an initial, gold rush grabbing, pile ‘em high-sell ‘em cheap frenzy, what remains are specialists that serve the niche. Take the UK as an example and look at everything from clothing to bicycles, from handbags to pottery. Once a mass market is bled dry, the money men either change the product (from vinyl to CD to downloads) or they change the territory to lower production costs (UK to China) or they go up market (Bags to Burberry). Often, the shock of an industry collapse: the media headlines, the job losses and the industrial change in direction dominates public awareness, leading to a perception that that industry is no more. Such was vinyl. The dramatic format change in the early ‘80s from vinyl to CD caused a shock that many music fans have yet to recover from. Just about all populist media references to vinyl are made in the past tense. However, that is far from the truth.

Tim Livingston, Sales Director for US-based Sundazed (www.sundazed.com) referred to his company figures, “Sales are going up at a steady pace every year for the past five years or so and a lot of younger people are getting in to vinyl now. The audiophiles are part of the market but younger kids, 18-25, are really into collecting vinyl now.”

German vinyl specialists, Speakers Corner (www.speakerscorner.de), also declared that, from its inception, it has never reported a growth in turnover of less than 10% compared to the previous year.

 

“…2008 was the best year ever for us,” reported company boss, Kai Seemann, “more than 20% above 2007 which was the best year up till then.”

Despite the current financial crisis, which has slowed sales somewhat, “2010 will be close to 2008 and then we will have the increases in turnover we are used to again. This is not because of new customers or new markets (although we note a new, considerable interest in South America) but the existing customer base is willing to spend. I believe in a constant growth of customers who are disappointed by the digital offerings and want to buy a high resolution, physical product,” Seemann added.

It seems, however, that, as a vinyl label, you don’t need to be already established with a loyal client base to survive in today’s market. Even in these harsh financial times, there are still plenty of people starting vinyl-based companies. Take the newly launched Music On Vinyl (www.musiconvinyl.com), based in Holland. According to the head of its UK office, Mike Gething, “[Vinyl] is a viable business. It’s a niche market but it’s a deep niche. There are people who grew up with vinyl and people who are becoming converted to vinyl which means that it’s a niche market that will continue for a long time.”

Vinyl reissues cover many categories. Major labels, such as EMI and Universal, and mid-sized independents, such as Ninja Tune and Warp, still produce new and contemporary vinyl of new releases as well as reissues of older works plus 12” and 7” singles.

Independent specialist companies tend to focus and specialise on reissues of classic or long forgotten albums and they do so while promoting an ‘audiophile’ standard.

The term ‘audiophile vinyl’ has, historically, encapsulated a somewhat negative and elitist image. Some music fans are even afraid to be associated with the term for fear that they will instantly turn into a serious, chin stroking academic.

In fact, a piece of audiophile vinyl is more a badge of quality, a Rolls-Royce of records, a class of product that gives you both value for money and, most importantly, a gateway to some of the most enjoyable music you have ever heard. So, what is audiophile vinyl?

The term is, actually, rather nebulous as audiophile or high quality vinyl encompasses many factors. Current reissues will cater for one, some or all of these supposed audiophilic prerequisites.

To begin, audiophile vinyl pressings tend to appear on thicker than normal vinyl, referred to by their weight: 180gm, 200gm, etc. The benefits of thicker vinyl are somewhat contentious. The theory is that you have the ability to cut a deeper groove into the vinyl that affords the possibilities of a greater dynamic range. However, many enthusiasts declare that there’s no audible difference. More, some users who own turntables with a built-in clamp (that sits on top of the record spindle and secures the record to the deck) prefer thinner vinyl. They say that the clamp couples the thinner, more pliable vinyl to their deck more successfully, improving sound quality that way. Whatever the truth, heavier vinyl does lessen the chances of warping and offers a psychological effect of better value for money.

Often, heavy weight vinyl is advertised in conjunction with the term ‘Virgin Vinyl’. This refers to vinyl that has not been used before and recycled. The audible benefits result in a much quieter playing surface.

Another major aspect of audiophile vinyl – arguably the most critical element – is the source. The better the source (that is, the original medium that the artist recorded upon), the better the chance of a great sounding LP. The preferred source is the analogue master tape: it offers no sonic limits and can produce stunning aural results. Other ‘lesser’ sources can still produce startling results, however, including acetate (for those pre-tape era recordings), vinyl-to-vinyl dubbing (often utilised for ultra-rare albums and private pressing reissues), even cassette tape (listen to some of the Vinyl-On-Demand box sets for proof, www.vinyl-on-demand.com) and even – dare to say it – digital (most modern recordings).

The mastering itself is another critical variable. Of course, any mastering engineer can make any form of recording shine and, on the flip side, he can absolutely ruin it. However, for an audiophile recording, one that arrives with a gamut of top-of-the-line specifications, the fine line between success and failure is that much more critical. It’s no surprise, therefore, to find that many audiophile record labels take a lot longer to produce their records than a standard LP as more care and attention is required. The audiophile genre is also the only recording sector where the top mastering engineers themselves become minor celebrities, featuring their own, largely online-based, fan clubs.

Finally, the process of cutting the record grooves to maximise sound quality is just as essential,  “Back in the heyday of vinyl, the ‘50s and ‘60s, vinyl cutting was very much an art,” explained Bob Irwin, founder and owner of the US-based audiophile outfit, Sundazed – whose audiophile releases include Bob Dylan and The Byrds. “There were people who cut records magnificently and there were people who didn’t. This is why there are collectors who will chase after original pressings such as Columbia 1As or Blue Note Deep Grooves. They are chased because of the superior sonics. Not because different master tapes where used, they probably used the same tapes, but a more experienced engineer tended to take more care and utilise more skill for that first pressing. Someone who regarded the cutting of the laqueur as an art form.”

Some companies have even attempted to push the technology further with varying degrees of success. Mobile Fidelity (mofi.com), for example, produces ‘Half Speed’ vinyl. This is a sub-genre of the audiophile standard. It refers to the album’s master tape which is physically played back and then recorded to vinyl at half the normal speed,  “This solves many inherent ‘tape playback’ problems,” commented Abbey Road, half speed expert, Miles Showell, “At half speed, the signal is cleaner as it passes through the system, especially for brass instruments. Also, it is not apt to cause any kind of power supply or slew rate distortion.”

Which gives you a glimpse into the complexity of creating a top quality audiophile record.

The ‘Half Speed’ followers are not the only splinter group in the audiophile market. Other successful technological improvements have been implemented by Classic Records (www.classicrecords.com) in the USA via its Clarity vinyl editions. Changes that make up this standard include alterations in the recipe of the vinyl itself, how it is pressed and modifications in the groove guard shape (the thick lip on the outside of the record). It also includes the implementation of a completely clear vinyl that the music arrives within. The milky-blue tone represents the total absence of Carbon Black, the substance that makes all vinyl black in colour. Carbon Black features metallic, magnetic impurities. It’s this magnetism – small though the reading may be – that can produce harmful effects on a sensitive turntable cartridge. It is noticeable, for example, how much more focused a ‘Clarity’ disc is during play when compared to a standard black version which sounds almost diffuse on the edges of the soundstage, in comparison.

One of the problems of the audiophile vinyl sector has been the comparative lack of variety and scope in the catalogue. This is not the problem of the independent but the outright miserly behaviour of the major labels who often refuse to grant a license for use on swathes of their precious archive. The independents are nothing if not persistent and ingenious, however, chipping away at this stubborn, culturally stultifying, behaviour.

Music On Vinyl, for example, has just managed to secure a deal with Sony/BMG, “Sony will reissue certain titles but, where they don’t, we now have the option to bring those titles into our catalogue. This means that, before the end of this year, we will have released around 20 titles from the Sony back catalogue. During 2010, in addition, we would hope to add a few independent labels to our roster to enable us to release a total of 50-100 records.”

Another advantage with this particular company is that it also owns its own vinyl pressing plant (the ex-Sony plant, based in Holland, in fact). Hence, the increasing catalogue, says Gething, will always remain ‘active’, far in the future because, “we can print little and often”. Unlike other companies who only press single, limited quantities and then delist them which only frustrates collectors.

Another new UK vinyl outfit, Three Black Feathers (www.threeblackfeathers.co.uk), which will start its existence by releasing a range of classic British folk albums from the likes of Martin Carthy and The Watersons, features heavyweight vinyl, remastered at Abbey Road by two of the engineers who recently worked on the recent Beatles box set remasters, featuring newly written liner notes. Each have been mastered with quality in mind so that some single albums, packed with music, have now been expanded and released as a double album to reduce the amount of tracks per side to just three. The reason being that, the fewer grooves on a vinyl side, the better the quality of the music therein: another audiophile trait.

The new Nic Jones’ English folk reissue, Penguin Eggs, illustrates the extra effort. Label owner, Chris Heard, had to approach the British Library to access the masters. The album is currently viewed as an artefact and is stored ‘for the nation’.

“We had to get permission to get the masters from the library. In fact,” added Heard, “we were not allowed to take them ourselves. They were sent, by taxi, by the head of the label, directly to Abbey Road. When the album was remastered, we even used the same console that Pink Floyd used to record Dark Side Of The Moon.”

The future of vinyl is especially healthy and, bizarrely, threatens to see out the CD and become the last physical format available for sale. As Heard himself states, because of the digital culture and downloads, “…people want something tangible, something that they can touch and feel. Never underestimate the hunter/gatherer urge in any male. A bloke needs something to collect. It’s something innate in us all and I don’t think that it will ever go away. It’s also a lifestyle choice: you either go the minimal route and store your MP3s in a digital space or, in this multimedia age, you can buy a heavy record that’s been pressed with care and love and you have all the sleeve notes, done to a high standard and with passion.”

Similarly, Sundazed’s Bob Irwin is extremely upbeat about the future, “I’m very optimistic about it – and I’ll take on anyone who isn’t!” whilst UK label, Pure Pleasure’s MD, Tony Hickmott, continues to believe that vinyl is the receptacle of the very soul of music, “As Ray Charles once said ‘The CD, it don’t got no balls’”

ALL OVER THE WORLD

One of the most remarkable features of the current vinyl market is the formation of a loose world confederation, almost a global cottage industry. Small, dedicated companies working on a small scale, each tending to find its own sub-niche of quality product. Here’s just a small selection of the companies involved.

The UK, of course, features a range of specialists including blues and jazz from Pure Pleasure (www.purepleasurerecords.com), heavy rock from Devil’s Jukebox (www.lamf.biz) and 80s classics from Vinyl180 (www.vinyl180.com)

Germany provides hard rock from SPV (www.spv.de). Spain can offer a selection of very rare Krautrock releases via Wah Wah (www.wah-wahsupersonic.com) or rare world folk – including British folk – via Guerssen (www.guerssen.com). The USA is chock-a-block with labels including Audio Fidelity (www.audiofidelity.net)  offering classics from a range of genres including rock, psychedelia and singer-songwriters. Italy provides classic 60s releases and exotica via Vinyl Lovers (www.abraxasrecords.com) while Russia’s Lillith can offer everything from 80s new wave, 70s prog rock and 60s classic rock. There are even respected, audiophile, labels in the likes of Greece (Missing Vinyl; www.veamusic.com) and Japan (Venus). There are many more that I’ve missed.

A tip for the future? The Chinese market is currently packed to the gills with dozens of specialist HiFi companies, 99% of which you and I have never heard of, offering niche products such as valve pre-amps and turntables of professional design and construction. Watch and wait for the Chinese and other Asian territories to break out in a rash of reissue record labels.

SPECIAL EDITIONS – FOR ALL

One of the joys of vinyl is the special, limited edition. That category often presented within a box set format containing multiple slabs of vinyl plus plenty of extra goodies. Newly released examples including Paul McCartney’s 4LP Good Evening New York, REM’s 4LP Live At The Olympia and Tom Waits’ 7LP collection, Orphans.

One of the experts in this field is the UK’s own Vinyl Factory (www.vinylfactory.co.uk) which focuses on new, chart-friendly, records. The company releases them as luxurious vinyl box sets, emphasising both design and artwork for an average £50 price point. They’ve already released Primal Scream’s latest album, Beautiful Future and the Damon Albarn, Monkey project.

Bidder dismissed the notion that luxurious vinyl is aimed at the 40+ market and that teenagers are ignorant of vinyl, “The common perception is that young people don’t buy music but only download free tracks,” said Vinyl Factory’s Sean Bidder. “That’s not true. Young people don’t bother buying anything on CD. If they’re going to buy anything it’ll be on vinyl where they want a certain amount of care and detail to the record.

“For us as a company, we are engaging with music that is viewed as ‘popular’ in its broadest context. We also plan to publish box sets which may be viewed as more cult or marginal in their appeal.”

Look out for a special edition 12” single from Massive Attack, Air’s Love 2 and a special edition box set featuring Massive Attack, to come next February.

ON RETAIL

It’s all very well banging on about vinyl and how good it sounds but, with the collapse of the record trade on the High St, where on earth do you buy it from? Top of the list is Diverse Vinyl (www.diversevinyl.com), an online retailer that still runs its own High St. record shop. Despite the recession, business is relatively good, “When that limited edition comes out that the collector needs for their collection, they’re finding the money for it. Our sales are index linked to the amount of releases that come out. As soon as product arrives, then people are right onto the phones,” said MD Paul Hawkins.

Despite a dip in sales, this year, due to a quiet Summer of releases, the company has reported excellent sales previous to that, up 20% over the previous two years, up dramatically from the 5% for the earlier two years. “I would put that down to some impressive reissue campaigns. For example AC/DC put their entire back catalogue out and the Travelling Wilburys box set did really well for us.”

Online business has been, on the whole, a good thing, “Yes, it has robbed us of a lot of shop trade but then it’s given us lots of international mail order trade, in return. We’ve gained more than we’ve lost. In fact, 90% of our revenue comes through mail order channels.”

One startling fact revealed by Hawkins is the current stock of world-wide, new releases and the choice and variety now on offer, “There’s more choice in the vinyl market now then there was in the mid-80s, when everyone was beginning to say that vinyl was on the way out.”

He does reserve his ire for the major labels, however, who, he feels, haven’t helped to create this now bountiful market, “It’s taken an age for the big guys – Universal, EMI and the like – to see the potential of vinyl. And how stupid because they’ve been in it from the start. They react so quickly to trends in the market but they take their eye off what they’ve already got.”

Thanks goodness for the independents, then. Yet, even Diverse Vinyl is getting in on the act with its own vinyl imprint. Two of its most recent releases include Idelwild’s Post Electric Blues and The Duke And The King’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Also look out for other retailers such as Stamford Audio (www.stamfordaudio.co.uk) and Classic LPs (www.classiclps.co.uk)

161 Comments

  • Peter Schultheiss says:

    I enjoy vinyl very much and I think that there will always remain a niche market for it. There’s something about the overall experience and the richness of the sound that cannot be replaced.

    Digital music sounds great, it’s covenient, and thanks to my music server I’ve rediscovered hundreds of artists that were previously collecting dust on my shelf.

    So, I agree with Apex (above) that we’ll see CDs disappear before vinyl because the same music can be delivered digitally. Currently, I buy used “Like New” CDs on Amazon because they cost about $7 or $8 (cheaper than an album on iTunes) and I get to rip them to Apple Lossless for playback. It’s also the environmentally friendly way to do things.

    When lossless and 24-bit files become easier to purchase online I will never buy a CD again….but I will continue to buy my favorite recordings on Vinyl for the full experience.

  • Baxter says:

    I loved vinyl, collected it for many years and possibly still would except that I cannot cope with pitch variation due to off-centre pressings. (The vast majority, I’m afraid – even the so-called audiophile editions.)

    Now my daughter’s boyfriend has begun collecting vinyl and I feel a little of that urge…..

  • Sven says:

    I like vinyl very much and enjoy my old records now and then.

    But I do not buy any new records. In majority I use my Logitech Squeezebox network player when I listen to my music and getting the songs an HD for this device ist far more easier with the CD.

  • Joe 90 says:

    I am desperate to go back to vinyl- memories of skipping school to listen to Trick of the Tail and admiring the album artwork- I don’t think that it is an age thing though!

  • Stefan says:

    I’ve got some 500 vinyl records on storage, so some day I might listen to them again, and the little kids won’t scratch them. I love to hold a really big cover in my hand – but then: how great is it to take your music with you wherever you go, listen to it in the car, on the sofa, in the plane, on the walk, while running, skiing, cycling… No – I do not want to go back to the days of vinyl, I’ll prefer digital music.

  • Alan says:

    I guess in the 80′s record companies thought vinyl was dead.. here in New Zealand they dumped the vinyl pressing machines in the Wellington harbour… CD was only meant to replace cassettes… lack of vision (hearing?) on behalf of the people who should know and still looks like that mindset continues today.. little more than marketing companies that might as well be selling biscuits. I own a few thousand LPs and rarely play cds these days.. visitors can’t believe the sound of an LP

  • Yoss says:

    I love it but still wont get a new LP player and replace my digital collection.
    I love to play vinyl at my firends house as they have all the DJ equip but dont see myself going back to it.
    I still buy CD’s but mainly purchase online at emusic or itunes so i can easily work with my iphone, in house/in car and anywhere ;)

  • Simon says:

    I love Vinyl and personally don’t believe the medium has been bettered as yet!
    Higher quality downloads are getting better and better, especially now better quality DACs are available to play them through.
    I still love an evening in spinning record after record on my Linn LP12, sheer bliss to my ears.
    Yes, digital music is easier as a format, and you can store hundreds of albums in no space at all and easier to search and play at the touch of a button.
    But for me Vinyl just has that edge, better base and transients and I am always hearing that extra music I miss on digital.

  • Jim Tavegia (USA) says:

    For those of us who never left vinyl, we are not surprised at the resurgence. If, when the software (LPS) are pressed right, the sound is magical. It was also never about convenience, which is what most young people are about with their downloaded music.

    This is not a slight of those who download, but why would you want to listen to half of the performance, or often, less. The missing information that mp3 codecs kick to the curb is what make a performance truly magical. Those of us who spent money on great CD players while continuing to play our records have always wanted more, not less.

    Vinyl does have its issues. First it takes more money spent on a good turntable, cartridge, and phono preamp to equal even half as expensive an cd player. Yes, you can buy a $99 Stanton and throw a $89 Shure M97 on it, but you will not hear anywhere near what was stamped into the vinyl LP. In fact I would dare say that you must spend at least $1K to begin to realize what magic lies in the micro-groove lp. Looking at a combined package nearing $2K and you can really begin to extract the magic. A Rega P3-24 with a ClearAudio Wood with a Gram Slee phono stage is the beginning to know what all the fuss is about. How about at Music Hall MMF 7.1 with a Gram Slee…now the fun is about to begin.

    Once you really get into it, a wet-vacuum record cleaning system from the likes of VPI or Nitty Gritty will remove the ramaining debris from the gooves to give your stylus a clear path to pure excitement.

    The mechanical medium of the “record player” has its issues, but there are so many quality turntables on the market these days at under $400 it is not surprising the the LP is coming back. I honestly believe that the math that went into the creation of the CD, SACD, DVD, and Blu-Ray is remarkable, but not any more so than the combined sciences and math that make the LP a true mechanical marvel. There is no way that the sound has any right to be as good as it is.

    In no other field is taking a step back in time considered a “step-forward” as the resurgence of the LP has become. When the music really matters, then one has to consider that the LP is not old school, it is like the graduate school of audio playback. Now that there are talented people doing all they can to press vinyl in the best possible way, the record is here to stay. The discovery is there for the taking.

    Jim Tavegia

  • John says:

    Although I have a lot of nostalgic romance associated with vinyl LP’s, I finally made the transition to all digital a few years back. The ease of sampling and purchasing music in a digital format is great for a music lover. With the higher bit rates now available from many sources, the quality is not as much of an issue as in the past. I have become spoiled at the ease of grabbing my ipod and Shure ear buds and taking thousands of songs with me wherever I go. And I don’t have a panic attack when a visitor or family member handles my collection. Glad I was able to experience LP’s (along with 35mm film), but I’ll stick with digital format going forward.

  • Joe Lubow says:

    When I was a kid buying Peter Gabriel albums in the ’70’s, every kid I knew was a music lover and an audiophile. We all saved our money from delivering newspapers or scooping ice cream to by the highest fidelity system we could afford. Most of us spent about $1,000 in 1970’s dollars. That is equivalent to many thousands of dollars today. And we weren’t fabulously well to do. I drove a beat up Chevrolet Chevette that was worth less than my “stereo” as we called it. My first apartment (flat for you Brits) had no furniture. Not even a bed. I slept on the floor on a palette made from a few blankets. But I had a great stereo. And a stereo meant a pair of speakers, a receiver, and a turntable.

    In the spring of 1983 I was in a hi-fi shop where a friend of mine worked. We were both disc jockeys at our college radio station, so he knew what I liked. He played “Lay Your Hands On Me” from the Peter Gabriel album that had been released the previous fall. It was the first time I heard a CD. I was blown away. But I was deceived. A few years later, when I discovered how much better vinyl records sounded than CD’s I realized what had happened.

    I still remember what my friend said before he cranked up “Lay Your Hands On Me.” He said “notice how quiet it is.” And it was. There was no surface noise, no scratchiness. Just quiet, and then music. But the main thing was the quiet. Later I realized that if we had actually compared the CD to a vinyl record and listened to the MUSIC, the record would have won (especially if we’d had access to those great Classic Records remasterings of the PG albums done in this past decade, but that’s another story).

    Now that I buy mostly audiophile pressings (many from the great labels listed above!) and have a better rig (a Linn LP-12), it turns out that my vinyl records are pretty quiet too. At enormous volumes there is a small amount of surface noise during very quiet passages, but most of the time the background on my records is black as night.

    The CD was the first step in the destruction of the universal audiophile. By being more convenient, more portable, less obviously fragile (and precious), they sold themselves on the premise that convenience was more important than quality. The mp3 was the final tragic culmination of this insidious idea. I am a big fan of Apple products, and I own not only their computers, but also an iPhone full of 24-bit Apple Lossless music (converted from 24-bit FLAC). But I have to acknowledge that the iPod destroyed the ubiquity of hi fidelity as a goal. “How many songs can you fit on it?” This is all that matters to the vast majority of people. No matter that “how many” is in direct opposition to quality. Lower the bit rate, lower the sample rate, and you can fit more.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that records will bury CD’s, but they may outlive them. What will bury CD’s are digital downloads.

    But the technology that brings us mp3’s also brings us 24-bit audio files (and may one bring us 32-bit files or raw files).

    I see no purpose to little aluminum discs with the advent of fast broadband. Lossless music can be downloaded to a hard drive in bit rates and sample rates that bury CD’s – and anything that can be put on an SACD or DVD-A can be put on a hard drive as well. But records… ah records. The sound cannot be replicated, and the only thing that’s better is live music. And it’s not just the sound. The artwork, gatefolds, and even the ritual of removing them from their sleeves without touching their faces… The 20 minute side is a perfect segment for dividing a larger work. There is something disorganized to me about a 70 minute CD having no divisions. I actually prefer dividing it up into four album sides.

    Hopefully the resurgence of vinyl records will be accompanied by an increase in hi fidelity downloads and mp3’s will come to be recognized by more and more people for the poor approximation of music that they are. But I fear the days of the universal audiophile are history.

  • Matteo says:

    have a lot of vynil, jazz, rock and blues, but also some 180 gr of classical music. Vynil is better, i play them with a thorens with a goldring legend, connected witha marantz 1060 classic and a couple of audio research 5. More bass, more vibrations, more musicality, more life. It’s only difficult to find them new .

  • Dave Atkinson says:

    I have thousands of both LPs and CDs and enjoy the vast majority during daily listening sessions. I have a dedicated listening room and that helps too.

    My experience in the CD v LP sound quality (and/or ‘listening experience’) tells me that you have to spend big to enjoy the sonic benefits of vinyl. Do it on the cheap and it’ll disappoint you.

    I’m very lucky – a Clearudio Champion II with and SME V, played through an EAR V20 tube amp and super-sensitive Zu Druid Mk IV 08 speakers. The expericne is frequently awesome and CDs just doesn’t get anywhere close.

    However, I’ll be keeping (and adding to) both collections well into the future.

    Back to my ‘listening room’ – playing vinyl is an ‘active’ experience. CD or playing music from my several iPods does a job, but doesn’t thrill.

    Vinyl for me.

  • Dave Atkinson says:

    I should also add (for the B&W fans out there) that my second system runs 805 Sigs and my third system, CDM 7NTs – both sets are just great, although the 805S is a tad bright.

  • davide miele says:

    well, i have thousands of vinyl records and cds, and now i’ve decided to stop buying cds to buy liquid music and vinyls. vinyl is dead? i don’t think so. it sounds better? i don’t think so too. it depends on a series of factors: the recording, the mastering, the printing and the quality of the vinyl itself. it will be the most selling support again?uhm…i don’t think so. vinyl is a great way to listen to music, but it is a real pain in the bottom sometimes: it requires a lot of storage space, it requires great care in usage, for a lot of listeners standing from the sofa to change side is boring, it sounds bad with a bad turntable or a good turntable with bad settings (a cd sound decently good even with a poor player). so what can i say? i took my decisions, and i hope i decided good!!!

  • Gi Reyter says:

    Sure vinyl needs more care than a cd . But i was very afraid that i could never hear the music again that i had once on vinyl, but i found a lot of them on cd. So i bought all cd’s that i have found. Others are there but i am afraid they sound not so good as the were at the beginning, when i bought them. Changing now all for vinyl again is a good question. But beneef the wonderfull handvoll covers Music is like digital phography. So a vinyl is much more deeper so as a photgraph witout a digital instrument, and warmer an there are more differences in the sound. I learned say never never but for the moment i deedn’t stared up my thorens diskplayer. Perhaps one day but i heard talking about vinyl here and really it is motivating. Thanks.

  • Dave says:

    When will record companies GET it? Vinyl is popular beacuse it sounds better. But what is the main reason it sounds better? ironically, in a round-about-way, it is because of its limitations. You see, vinyl cannot take constantly loud recording levels – this would cause the stylus to keep jumping off the record. And so, when preparing a vinyl master, the engineer cannot emply the kind of compression overkill that is typically applied on recordings prepared for digital formats. The result? Beautiful, dyNAmic recordings! CD CAN sound this good too. Just listen to a Steve Hoffman-mastered CD (check out his masters of The Doors, Miles Davis, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, etc, etc) or MFSL-mastered CDs, or Sony Mastersound – there are plenty of truly audiophile CD manufacturers out there.

    Then listen to the digital formatted stuff from Peter Gabriel or REM or any of the stuff released on this site. Even the 24-bit FLACs sound horrible by comparison to those audiophile 16-bit CDs. The music doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t MOVE. It’s just a wall of in-your-face noise. It doesn’t matter how hi-res the end format is if the master is compressed to hell. It could be 64bit/128kHz. It will still sound constrained and fatiguing. Just listen to those dreadful Genesis SACDs. Completely unlistenable, from an audiophile perspective.

    So, record companies: WAKE UP! Stop making LOUDNESS your goal. Stop worrying if your latest release is not as loud as the latest Rhianna single. It’s senseless. Give us DYnaMICs, give us music that is full of LIFE! Something that is truly music to our ears!
    Employ tried and tested audiophile tools like valves – and even reel-to-reel tape if it helps! Discard those nasty VST “plug-ins” and “analogue emulators” and “exciters” that never really work and always sound like a facsimile of the real thing. Then CDs – and 24-bit FLACS – can sound as good as (and even better than) vinyl. Steve Hoffman has proved as much.

  • Dom says:

    A lot of debate over this. Personally I’m finding myself moving back to vinyl after the past ten years of quick disposable digital releases. My preference right now is to buy the vinyl and on first play record it all to digital at a high bitrate. I find the sound more pleasing than digital purchases.

    This also forces me to listen to the music and catalogue my iTunes – which in recent times has started to resemble a musical free for all!

    D

  • Dave Atkinson says:

    Can I just say that ‘Dave’s comment of Wednesday 10th March beautifully sums-up the listener frustration. Right on the money. Well said Dave.

  • Bill says:

    I’ll turn 50 this year, unless something bad happens, so I grew up with various forms of analog recording. I have fond memories of watching the tape move through the transport of a Hosho tape recorder, with, yes, tube electronics and a tube which was the level indicator viewed from the top of the tube.

    Let’s see, analog formats:
    1. reel-to-reel: physical deterioration of the media, tape hiss
    2. 8-track: physical deterioration of the media, tape hiss, ridiculously small area of 1/4-inch tape being used at any one time
    3. cassette: physical deterioration of the media, small format, relatively low tape speed past the head limiting frequency response
    4. 33 1/3 RPM vinyl recordings: limited bandwidth with reasonably low distortion levels, physical deterioration of the media with every playing, outside influences like dust, scratches. off-center pressings as astutely pointed out by an earlier poster, mechanical limitations of turntable, belt-drive vs. direct drive, moving coil vs moving magnet cartridge, tonearm length, stylus pressure, turntable speed variations, and, did I mention physical deterioration resulting in reduced sound quality upon every single playback of the media?

    I got a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1982, so I studied things like Nyquist’s Theorem which deals with the minimum sampling rate necessary to reconstruct a “perfect” copy of an analog signal. This was employed in coming up with the original 44.1 kHz sampling rate used in digital recordings. Around 1984 when I bought my first CD player, I recall telling my wife while listening to Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on CD…”this is what I’ve been waiting for.”

    She probably thought, “if this is what you’ve been waiting for, then I’ve married the wrong dude.” What I meant was no hiss, no pops, no aberrations, no anomolies, no audible distortion, no sonic or subsonic power use due to low frequency rumble, huge dynamic range, no change in quality based on whether the track was on the outside of the LP versus toward the inside…all that stuff was resolved by humans who took on the task of reproducing audio in the most accurate way.

    The talk about the “warmth” of tube amplifiers and the unsurpassable quality of vinyl recordings is a combination of nostalgia for an earlier, simpler, and more tactile time, and the preference for a sound that has a certain type of distortion that some find pleasing to the ear. However, the most accurate reproduction of the live performance is sacrificed.

    I visited an audio show this past weekend which had some systems being demonstrated that cost $130,000 US. Usually, the media being played in these demos was lossless digital audio. Interestingly, in most of the demo rooms, I noticed a turntable spinning in a nostalgic manner in the equipment area while the actual source being sent through the amplifiers was lossless digital.

    So the solution for ultimate enjoyment…an esoteric incredibly heavy-looking turntable with a high end cartridge and tonearm spinning on a vinyl record for visual enjoyment while actually listening to a lossless digital recording of your favorite artist via the highest resolution digital medium you have available. A whisky over ice is a pleasant option.

  • AJ says:

    I finally moved to a space where i could keep my turntable isolated and truly enjoy the sound again. I had a bunch of vinyl in storage but kept my telos discs in the house as to protect them. After finding a good vinly cleaning system I was I business. My friends can’t believe what they missed over 20 years of straying from superior sound. I suppose if not for DJ’s we’d really be aout of luck!

  • Bry says:

    “The theory is that you have the ability to cut a deeper groove into the vinyl that affords the possibilities of a greater dynamic range.”

    This statement is incorrect. Even normal weight records are capable of being cut at levels which no cartridge could track without distortion. The theoretical advantage to thicker vinyl is that as the stylus vibrates in the groove, some of the energy travels out into the record. The added mass dampens this energy. Since it is also the job of the record mat and platter to dissipate this energy, there is dispute over the advantages of heavy pressings.

  • John says:

    For me it is not so much a question of the end medium, but what happens to the music along the way. Most modern recordings involve a LOT of post-processing of the original source: compression, pitch correction, noise gating, equalisation, digital effects of all kinds. Most of these ‘adjustments’ are done digitally, and leave their mark in terms of artefacts in the signal. The final mix is also a compromise which takes into account that the product will often be listened to in bad acoustic environments: in cars, lifts, restaurants, on radio.

    A clean, carefully recorded source, delivered onto digital media with a minimum of ‘fiddling’, produces a superb result with an accuracy, noise ratio and dynamic range that is unachievable on vinyl. In the old days, the fiddling process was much more limited, so the chain from studio or concert hall to disc was much shorter. Lacking much of the technology to ‘fiddle’, engineers had to get it right at the source. This is why some vinyl recordings sound better than CDs.

    In summary, question the process first, then worry about the medium.

  • vandenbussche says:

    Since the 60′s I listen to vinyl records .I get a huge collection of rock,blues ,pop ,classic records .i love the sound which is a kind of voluptuous vibration ,better than cd which is more like a punch in the stomac . I don’t buy them any more because of their prices in france .Maybe some times one that I don’t get until now form the old catalogue .

  • Gothmeister says:

    A bit off topic probably, but I’m a little confused. Sound is analogue. We create sound by analogue means and we can only listen to it in an analogue form. How can recording an analogue wave-form, converting/breaking it down into lots of chunks, fannying around with these bits, re-converting them back to an analogue form so we can hear it again, be better/more realistic than the original analogue signal? Surely, by definition one has changed the original sound?

  • Eesau55 says:

    In my opinion mechanical recordings belong to the history and museums.

    All explanations about “analog technlogy” should be changed to mechanical technology. In a perfect mechanical system you naturaly should not use any electronics at all since all conversions seem to be bad.

    Mechanical vinyl recordings were state of the art at the latter part of previous century, not any more.

    I am personally fed up with this “vinyl revival” and my interest in high fidelity seems to be in decline due to this very reason. I don’t buy magazines with stories about how to improve playback since I read those stories already in the 70es.

    Esa

  • Lawrence de Martin says:

    The vinyl paradox shows the error in the “scientific” model of hearing. Vinyl sounds better than CD, which superiority can be measured by polygraph or number of hours listening before fatigue sets in rather than machine based numbers in the specification sheets.

    My experience indicates the problem is decimation of time. 96Ksps is obviously better than 44.1 and I hear a major transition in perception of recorded acoustic between 192 and 384Ksps (DXD).

    I collect SACDs and have begun downloading DSD files, which have a clarity like vinyl. I simply feel better listening to them. DSD files can be played through a Sony PS3 or a Korg MR-1000.

  • George says:

    Over the years (I’m pushing 70) I have listened to a lot of recorded and live music. Early on it was vinyl only and the playback equipment I had was not state of the art or even near the top. I had a love/hate relationship with vinyl. It was frustrating to hear how much the sound quality could change from cartridge to cartridge and turntable to turntable no to mention the combinations. Equally frustrating was how to judge the differences or try and remember them from place to place. Then along came CD the great equalizer. CD’s had good balanced frequency response and dynamics. And they sounded pretty much the same from player to player when compared to the differences in turntables. Finally, no big decisions to be made. it was all there. But it was not to be! Soon the lifeless, two dimensional, sterile truth came to emerge. Vinyl, for all its warts, had something CD’s did not. Call it whatever you want but it was there. Something was lacking with the CD. As time went on, vinyl playback kept getting better , CD’s got way better, and surround which was almost around since the beginning of vinyl got better. There was surround with rear speakers being wired in various ways long before the quad stuff, video and SACD stuff. I have to say that my old ears find the differences less striking today then in the past for these formats. I am excluding FM and MP3′s since the lack of or creation of artificial dynamic range is apparent to even those with compromised high frequency hearing.

  • Allan says:

    This Analog versus Digital is rather silly, bordering on religious cult like rhetoric. A record has a definet limit to what it can reproduce, a needle has limits to the groove it can track, it isn’t limitless resolution, it’s that the resolution isn’t easily defined in hz. and bits. The cd is from 1983, the only digital standard for media we still have. Sony as usual managed to screw the market with competing formats. The DVD*a SACD war should never have happened, I have a PS3 that will play SACD, the playstatioin refuses to output more than 2 of the tracks, thanks Sony for your excellent support of YOUR FORMAT! There is no reason for a universal player to cost what it does, the audio and music industry should have worked together, but each is obsessed like jealous lovers over having dominant control. Digital has become a dissapointment because it has not progressed like it could, or should have. The genius of digital is that no degradation happens in it’s storage, duplication, or transmission. The signal degradation is negated at each stage. Any damage to an analog signal is accumulative, forever part of it. The technology is available to take data densities to levels that overwhelm any argument of analog versus digital. 512k/32bit anyone? While admiring Sharon Stone’s facial hair in Basic Instinct on bluray, I realized that maybe seeing lifelike is overrated. Audiophiles go on about ‘lifelike’, and ‘real’. Maybe tubes and records have staying power because they provide just enough ‘softness’. In the end the true test isn’t if it is more accurate, life like, or better. The real test is if it makes you smile! Beyond a certain point it’s all opinion and bullshit. I’d prefer if audiophiles were going with the high bit rate downlodas, but having been shopping for a good way to play flac files, I see why it isn’t going to catch on. Basicly, there is no convenient way to play these files in a fashion like cd’s. Apple has decided cd quality is all anyone will ever get out of their apple tv, despite having a hdmi 1.3 connector. Apple, of all companies is in a unique position to take this whole sound quality thing to the masses. A firmware update and agreements with the record labels they already deal with could transform things overnight. Digital has the potential to allow unprecidented access to music. Digital play back has the advantage of becoming better and less expensive over time. To buy directly from the artists the very same digital files they created as a master in the studio, the files used to make the records and lossy downloads. I think some standardization in the recording industry like what the movie industry has done would be a big step forward. Two of my best recordings are bluray concert disks, clearly better than the cds. High bit rate multitrack should be the future, but it would take a visionary industry leader to get us there. The embracing of ‘good enough’ of the record isn’t really any different than the ‘good enough’ mp3′s of the younger generation.

    The three things that need to happen are,

    1- FLAC is the format, period. Monopolists deal with it! That’s you Sony, Warner Bro’s, Apple, etc.

    2- Download services are the future, FLAC is the medium to enable this. NO DRM!

    3- Disk players need to play FLAC files that are simply burnt as data disks, no proprietary disk formats! Meta data supported, all album art embedded in the files and displayed,

    Imagine hearing about a great recording from a friend or else where and, with a few clicks of a remote from your listening chair, to listen to the actual master recording the artist and engineer created in the studio. The technology is waiting right now for people to catch up.

  • Hugo says:

    I love vinyl… whether it sounds better or not compared to digital formats.. up to the one that listens to that piece. I have viny, old tapes, cds, sacd, dvd-a and of course mp3, aac and flac . I enjoy every format as I really see it as an experience to my ears.

    However, the sound quality is not only determined by the audio source but also the equipement you have, the speakers, your room setup and room materials. Many tracks may sound terrible in some setups and beautiful in some others.

    So, up to my taste, I enjoy every format I own since it’s part of my musical experience. Although, I have to say that a good, bad or outstanding recording starts from the mastertape… and the engineer that made the equalization.

    My two cents…

  • harry horsman says:

    long live vinyl, can anyone comment on those lazer beam record decks i once saw in a magazine. although very expensive, i’m just wondering if they could be any thing to do with vinyi revival?

  • Stefan L says:

    Vinyl is more than listen. It is ‘feel’ and ‘look’ too.
    Pushing a silver disc into a black box to make it invisible is stupid in a hard disk age. The silver disc only takes storage space.
    You can’t skip tracks on a vinyl, unless you stand next to the record. A vinyl is used to listen to all tracks. Cd’s just ‘random’ or play a program. RIP cd’s. Never liked them anyway.

  • Jens (not DK) says:

    A few weeks ago I chanced upon a hifi shop in whose back room a huge vinyl collection was stacked up against the walls. I’d long since mothballed my own vinyl, but in a nostalgic moment I popped my ehad round the corner and what I saw quite frankly astonished me. In the centre of the back wall was a Clear Audio turntable that was very nearly as tall as the bloke stood next to it. I’d seen in on pictures before but because I’d rather buy a Porsche 911 for the same money, never mind the dact that I no longer play vinyl, I figured I’d always wonder if magnetic levitation of the platter counterweighted by an enormous brushed steel pendulum really makes a difference. So when the aforementioned bloke said “would you like a listen” I decided to skip lunch. They put on one of my favourite “evaluation” albums and without a shadow of a doubt this was one of the most sublime listening experiences of my life. Playing the same tracks again on a top end Stela upsampling CD player made me wish I could get my vinyl collection out of storage in the UK and shipped out to Hong Kong immediately.

    Then — again by chance — I came across an SACD rip of the same album and put a slightly downsampled* version onto my iPod and listened to it with a pair Shure SE520s and I stopped worrying about vinyl. (*my iPod will play 24 bit/48KHz files, and the original rip is 24 bit/96KHz)

    OK, it definitely isn’t as good as the vinyl version played on that Clear Audio monster, but I can’t stick it in my pocket and drown out Honkyconcretetown with it on my daily commute. And the 24 bit rip is very nearly as good as vinyl in terms of detail, texture and space, and it doesn’t snap. crackle and pop. Since then I’ve acquired 24bit/96KHz recordings from vinyl, and if it’s a good, clean original ripped via a good turntable/ADC combination with sympathetic click/pop reduction it’s better than a CD. But if it’s a rip made with a cheap USB deck and a scratchy original by a spotty youth in Rickmansworth it’s just as awful as vinyl always had the potential to be, or possibly worse.

    In my view the answer, ultimately, is to do a Beatles and make a high resolution digital version of the old analog masters (or whatever the best medium still available happens to be). That way you have the best of both worlds.

    On a final note, we need to bust the recording industry’s irrational fear of letting go of low resolution CDs. I’ll pay a decent premium for a high res digital version of the music. The industry is kidding itself if it will lead to increased piracy. It won’t. For the same reason iTunes works. Piracy is largely engaged in by people rich in time and poor in money. People who actually care about high quality recordings will pay up if they are conveniently available, because they are time poor and cash rich. They are not spotty youths in Rickmansworth.

  • JACK says:

    An i-pod is just so much more convenient than vinyl, with all my favourite albums compressed digitally and being played through a Zeppelin, both the storage and sound quality don’t even come into question. All i need is my i-mac, i-pod and Zeppelin and no need for a seperates hi-fi with a thousand wires and vinyl records all over the place. Vinyl has had its day, and was great at the time but time moves on.

  • loius says:

    Apple now has Rhapsody as an app, which is a great start, but it is currently hampered by the inability to store locally on your iPod, and has a dismal 64kbps bit rate. If this changes, then it will somewhat negate this advantage for the Zune, but the 10 songs per month will still be a big plus in Zune Pass’ favor.

  • HiFiAficionado says:

    Vinyl records are an excellent source of high-fidelity recordings for consumers, and so are CDs. In some ways vinyl is a more forgiving medium than CD.

    Just think of that impaired low-frequency response: which tone-arm/cartridge combination reproduces much below 20 Hz that isn’t affected by the tone-arm/cartridge resonance? What’s the stereo separation that a recording on vinyl is capable of? It might be only as much as 30 dB or so, versus 90 dB or more for typical high-quality amplification. The lack of 100% stereo separation changes the reproduction quite a bit. Then there’s the inherently low signal-to-noise ratio of vinyl, its inability to handle high-level bass response (requiring talented mastering on the disc cutting lathe), mistracking of the stylus as a result of not using a linear-tracking tone-arm.

    It’s amazing to think how good a medium vinyl records actually are considering all their inherent engineering difficulties and limitations. The signal on vinyl needs to be decoded by the RIAA equalisation curve, and how accurate is the frequency response of that phono cartridge that you’re using?

    All in all, vinyl sound reproduction offers plenty of opportunity for the addtion of euphonic colourations to the original master recording. is that why vinyl is so popular? The album cover art is also larger, which is nice, too. Of course, digital isn’t perfect, as it can have recording/reproduction problems as well. I just think that these are lower than what happens with the vinyl reproduction chain. Just play a vinyl record multiple times and hear the ticks and pops increase in both number and severity, and the rumble of surface noise increase as well. That’s something that doesn’t happen with digital reproduction.

    I’m glad that there are still artists putting out their recordings on vinyl. I just hope that they don’t forget about those who prefer CDs. Creating 24-bit 96 kHz files of music for purchase and download would probably increase people’s enjoyment of their music. However, music today is a commodity, and small-scale high-quality production is only of interest to a small section of the market targeted by the major music labels. Thank goodness for the independents who cater for the more discerning music listeners.

  • Audiophile says:

    Jack… Sorry mate but …. How little you know…. The B&W zeppelin is a great iPod dock system but it’s nothing like my b&w 804s combined with McIntosh c220 valve pre and monoblock mc 275 power amps. Sources include clear audio emotion tt, arcam cd36 as well as apple tv and iPod. quality is often only perceived once heard. So a word of advice….get out of the apple store and visit a true hifi store. Dont get me wrong…. My entire house is a shrine to apple as i have imac, apple tv, macbook pro two iphones and ipad. When it comes to music you can’t beat the feeling of owning a tangible medium. Besides putting a record on the tt has a real zen feel about it. Personally I love the process of getting the record out of the sleeve, putting it on the tt, clamping it, doing the antistatic brush then dropping the needle on. This beats the hell out of simply picking a song out o a playlist etc.. Even though I do that times.

  • Jake Purches says:

    I like them all – Record LPs as we used to call them, CDs are no doubt better in bass response but not so good in the upper reaches, SACD is as good as it gets and the nearest to the perfect vinyl. The sad thing is the lack of take up of SACD. Its still out there folks, and its still being pressed. Go and get some and the debate of vinyl / digital rather disappears. But CDs of today are so much better recorded than they were. Back in 1983 there wasn’t any means to record 96khz 24 bit so the recording engineer had to carefully squeeze a dynamic record into 16 bits without peaking. Now it doesn’t matter as the 24 bit master can be tuned down to 16 bits perfectly. And it shows. I just hate MP3 – this is a real disaster for listening, and has threatened the availability of the physical format. Anybody tried Laser discs? They are cool!

  • Jack says:

    I can’t believe the amount of money people spend to get a decent sound from vinyl, when similar levels of sound quality ARE available from digital products now! I truly believe a LOT of it is down to audiophile snobbery, magazine hype, the need by some to get ‘retro’ and the placebo effect of how much one has spent on one’s rig, what it looks like spinning the black stuff etc etc.

    I’ve owned a Garrard 301, several 401s, a Rega, A Linn LP12, and – lattery – a Technics SP-10 Mk.2. I do NOT dislike vinyl, but I do not worship it either and recognise all to well it’s failings. On a GOOD vinyl pressing (well mastered) there is a pleasant sense of presence/body/ambience which is hard – but NOT impossible – to get on much digital gear. Some of this ‘body’ is also due to vinyls idiosyncrasies – it’s technical deficiences actually sound nice in most cases! One CAN get awsome sound from digital which is just as good/better than vinyl. Secondly, good though it sounds, vinyl sounds different EVERY time you play it. It does not offer a repeatable performance. So it can NOT be described as an accurate medium despite what the die-hards might have you believe. Even the ambiant temperature in the room can have an effect on the tracking. What you hear might be ‘nice’ – and lets face it look VERY cool in action – but it’s NOT accurate. CD (when done well – key point this, as MANY aren’t) is far more representative of what’s on the original master, and the sound the original musicians spent much time/effort to achieve…

    It would be interesting to see how many people preferred the sound of an LP, to the original master… Masters often sound extremely ‘immediate’ and hard hitting. VERY much like…. good digital….!!!

    Lets also look at cost – a brand new vinyl LP costs anything from £18 to £50+ (for an audiophile release). For one album. If one wants to avoid snap, crackle & pop, people then need to hunt for MINT condition original pressings (and lets not forget the quality worsens with EACH LP pressed…!). This costs a lot – just check out the prices many Beatles or Led Zeppelin LPs command. Of course some like the fun of the ‘hunt’ – more power to them. I’ve got to the point (at 38) where I just want to get on and enjoy the MUSIC. Not play hunt the mint pressing! There’s not just the price of the record deck, a decent arm, a cartridge that can track well etc, you also need to factor in a phono stage too (critical to good sound) and a record cleaning machine too. All this is fine if you’re more into the gear than the music (at least it seems that way to me, somtimes), but a well mastered digital release (particularly some of the original 80s CD releases – before DNR and brickwalling ruined things in the 90s/00s) allows me to get lost in the music without having to worry about tracking force, acoustic feedback, how many hours use the stylus has gotten, how many are left, is the tracking spot on or need adjusting slightly again, whether the LP needs cleaning again etc. I’m sorry, but occasional ticks and pops, inner groove distortion (it IS audible if you know what to listen for with all but the very BEST gear – and that ain’t cheap), pressign quality, varying performance levels etc to NOT constitute high fidelity to me, pleasent though it may ‘sound’.

    Something else to ponder in 2012, this vinyl resurgance is potentially killingthe chance for formats like SACD which NEED staunch backing/demand from consumers if we’re to finally see a mass-adoption of a high-res digital format. If enough people clamoured for SACD, the companies would see $$$ signs and go with it.

    Vinyl has it’s place (particularly with recordings not available digitally) and cn sound extremely nice, but really, lets move forwards folks & support the new formats, not backwards…

  • animation 19 says:

    Depuis la découverte de Vinyl – A new hope | Bowers & Wilkins | B&W speakers, mes temps de recherches ont été réduites.

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