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    Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

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    deepee99

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    Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by deepee99 on Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:11 am

    Did a cut-and-paste from this a.m.'s Wall Street Journal. It is entitled, "Why Vinyl's Boom is Over" and makes some salient points.
    If you're a subscriber to the WSJ, here's the hyperlink: https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-vinyls-boom-is-over-1500721202

    Folk music duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were frustrated by the quality of vinyl LPs being produced today. So they decided to cut their records themselves.

    “What people do nowadays is take a digital file and just run vinyl off that,” says Mr. Rawlings, a lanky musician who plays a 1935 Epiphone Olympic guitar. “In my mind, if we were going to do it, I wanted to do it the way the records I love were made—from analog tapes.”
    Inside Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch's studio in East Nashville.
    Inside Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch's studio in East Nashville. Photo: David McClister for The Wall Street Journal

    The Nashville-based singer-songwriters, who gained fame with “O Brother, Where Art Thou” in 2000, spent $100,000 to buy their own record-cutting contraption in 2013. The cutting lathe makes the master copy of a record—the one sent to a pressing plant for mass reproduction. The couple’s first LP, a re-issue of their 2011 Grammy-nominated “The Harrow & the Harvest,” arrives July 28.

    Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings have gone to extreme lengths to solve a problem many music aficionados say is an open secret in the music industry: Behind the resurgence of vinyl records in recent years, the quality of new LPs often stinks.

    Old LPs were cut from analog tapes—that’s why they sound so high quality. But the majority of today’s new and re-issued vinyl albums—around 80% or more, several experts estimate—start from digital files, even lower-quality CDs. These digital files are often loud and harsh-sounding, optimized for ear-buds, not living rooms. So the new vinyl LP is sometimes inferior to what a consumer hears on a CD.

    “They’re re-issuing [old albums] and not using the original tapes” to save time and money, says Michael Fremer, editor of AnalogPlanet.com and one of America’s leading audio authorities. “They have the tapes. They could take them out and have it done right—by a good engineer. They don’t.”

    As more consumers discover this disconnect, vinyl sales are starting to slow. In the first half of 2015, sales of vinyl records jumped 38% compared to the same period the prior year, to 5.6 million units, Nielsen Music data show. A year later, growth slowed to 12%. This year, sales rose a modest 2%. “It’s flattening out,” says Steve Sheldon, president of Los Angeles pressing plant Rainbo Records. While he doesn’t see a bubble bursting—plants are busy—he believes vinyl is “getting close to plateauing.”

    When labels advertise a re-issued classic as mastered from the original analog tapes, the source can be more complicated. Sometimes they are a hodge-podge of digital and analog. Often “labels are kind of hiding what’s really happening,” says Russell Elevado, a veteran studio engineer and producer who has earned two Grammys working with R&B singer D’Angelo.

    Mr. Rawlings says a Netherlands-based label, Music On Vinyl, used a CD to make vinyl copies of Ms. Welch’s 2003 album “Soul Journey,” getting a license from Warner Music Group. Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings, who didn’t have rights to release the album in the U.K., found out when fans saw the vinyl selling on the Internet. They successfully convinced Music On Vinyl to destroy the 500 copies that had been pressed, reimbursing the firm 3,300 euros for its costs. “This is commonplace,” Mr. Rawlings says. A representative of Music On Vinyl could not be reached.​

    Major labels say they use original analog masters when possible. Sometimes tapes are too brittle to be used to make a vinyl master. Low-quality re-issues may be the result of less-reputable labels that can’t afford to shell out big bucks for engineering and record-pressing, says Billy Fields, a veteran vinyl expert at Warner Music Group. Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, the two other leading music companies, didn’t make anyone available to comment.
    Control room detail from Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch's studio in East Nashville.
    Control room detail from Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch's studio in East Nashville. Photo: David McClister for The Wall Street Journal

    Today’s digital files can sound fantastic—especially for hip-hop and dance music. But engineers say they need to be mastered separately for vinyl in order to have the right sound. To meet deadlines for releasing new albums, labels can’t always cut vinyl to the absolute best audio quality, says Mr. Fields, who declined to discuss specific examples on the record because it might alienate others in the industry.

    Another culprit for vinyl’s slowdown is cost: Mr. Sheldon estimates vinyl has gone up four to six dollars per album in recent years. So-called “180-gram” or “audiophile” records, marketed as higher quality, can cost $30 to $40. Their heaviness makes them more stable during playing, Mr. Sheldon says, and such records might last longer. But any sound differences are “very marginal.”

    As low-quality vinyl proliferates, Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings are taking the high road.
    Read more:

    The Biggest Music Comeback of 2014: Vinyl Records

    It took five years to get their record-cutting equipment up and running. Once they bought their lathe, they found a tech who gave up his job at a particle accelerator for the new job. “The scientists who developed how to cut good stereo were the brightest people in our country at that time,” Mr. Rawlings says. With their trusted mastering engineer Stephen Marcussen, the team customized the lathe for Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings’ sparse, haunting acoustic music.

    Songs are generally recorded in a studio digitally today. (In Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings’ case, they chose to record using analog tape.) A mastering engineer then fine-tunes the recorded music to ensure the album, often the product of myriad studios, sounds consistent. Using a lathe, the music is engraved onto a “lacquer,” the technical term for the master copy from which copies are pressed in plants.
    A cutting lathe, like this one, is a rare, arcane piece of equipment. It makes a ‘lacquer,’ or original copy of a record, which is sent to a pressing plant to be duplicated. Only a few technicians still know how to fix cutting lathes. Most of them have died.
    A cutting lathe, like this one, is a rare, arcane piece of equipment. It makes a ‘lacquer,’ or original copy of a record, which is sent to a pressing plant to be duplicated. Only a few technicians still know how to fix cutting lathes. Most of them have died. Photo: Bishop Marcussen

    The goal is to put as much sonic information on the record as possible. A high-quality LP can give listeners the sensation of instruments or sounds occupying different points in space—a “three-dimensional” quality that Mr. Fremer says evokes a live performance. Ms. Welch likens it to the difference between “fresh basil and dried basil.”

    The vinyl version of “The Harrow & the Harvest” is “mesmerizing,” says Mr. Fremer, who heard a test copy. On Aug. 11, the couple, which often records as “Gillian Welch,” will release a new album, “Poor David’s Almanack,” under the “David Rawlings” name, before re-releasing more old albums. Having launched a label and souped up a derelict Nashville studio years ago, they may cut and re-issue albums by other artists, they said, effectively becoming a full-service, vertically-integrated—if tiny—old-school music company.

    Ms. Welch and Mr. Rawlings, whose careers took off as the CD era crashed into the age of iTunes, feel like putting out vinyl now brings them full circle. “It’s like an author who has only ever released an e-Book,” Mr. Rawlings says. “You see a book in print and bound and you feel like you’ve finally done what you were aiming to do.”
    Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in their studio in Nashville.
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    arledgsc

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by arledgsc on Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:38 am

    Seems silly (to me) to cut vinyl from digital masters.
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    peterh

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by peterh on Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:46 am

    Yes, especially when many re-issues on CD had vinyl as their source.
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    deepee99

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by deepee99 on Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:51 am

    arledgsc wrote:Seems silly (to me) to cut vinyl from digital masters.  
    I would agree, generally, and have bought some real crap finding out. But Mobile Fidelity did well with Ry Cooder's "Bop Till You Drop" and I believe  with Little Feat's "Waiting for Columbus" as well. How the microphone-to-vinyl loop ran, I don't know, but there was either digital recording or mixing involved and the original pressings were fantastic.
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    arledgsc

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by arledgsc on Sun Jul 23, 2017 11:02 am

    I have MoFi's "Waiting for Columbus" from the early 80s and there is no indication it was recorded in digital and then mastered to vinyl. That would be contrary to MoFi's 1/2 speed master process. But oh, what a glorious sounding record! Who knows what MoFi did for the later GAIN2 discs from the late 80s/ early 90s.
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    corndog71

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by corndog71 on Sun Jul 23, 2017 12:10 pm

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    deepee99

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by deepee99 on Sun Jul 23, 2017 12:35 pm

    arledgsc wrote:I have MoFi's "Waiting for Columbus" from the early 80s and there is no indication it was recorded in digital and then mastered to vinyl.  That would be contrary to MoFi's 1/2 speed master process.  But oh, what a glorious sounding record!  Who knows what MoFi did for the later GAIN2 discs from the late 80s/ early 90s.  
    I think you're prolly right about Mo-Fi. I got both albums at the same time and I know Cooder's was digitally mastered. Either LP was the pinnacle of vinyl, that's for sure.
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    Ernstmach

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    Recording vinyl

    Post by Ernstmach on Sun Jul 23, 2017 1:00 pm

    Has anyone watched:http://www.pbs.org/wnet/american-epic/

    Dogstar

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by Dogstar on Sun Jul 23, 2017 1:32 pm

    To me the convenience of CD's along with the lack of click and pops make listening to digital much more enjoyable. However I do own about 300 LP's of which many are ones I've purchased new in the 70's and 80's.

    I find it kind of funny to see millenials at the Half Priced Books stores buy used vinyl and paying more that they cost when new. I can only imagine how scratched and noisy they are.
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    deepee99

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by deepee99 on Sun Jul 23, 2017 2:11 pm

    Dogstar wrote:To me the convenience of CD's along with the lack of click and pops make listening to digital much more enjoyable. However I do own about 300 LP's of which many are ones I've purchased new in the 70's and 80's.

    I find it kind of funny to see millenials at the Half Priced Books stores buy used vinyl and paying more that they cost when new. I can only imagine how scratched and noisy they are.
    Yep and then they go out and buy a thousand-buck record-cleaner from VPI or some such hi-brow other.
    CDs, when the recording engineers got their arms wrapped around the new technology, became a very good medium.
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    jfine

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by jfine on Sun Jul 23, 2017 3:20 pm

    If EMI or Capitol gives the vinyl mastering engineer no choice but to use digital files, then he does his job. Certainly grab analog tapes if they let you and they're in good shape.

    If someone like Kevin Gray gets ahold of it, digital or no, the vinyl likely will sound excellent. Given the right mastering moves to the lacquer, I'll take that over digital any day.

    Do I have as much $$$ invested in a DAC than my analog front end? Nope, hope I never go down that road either.

    Heard a very high end system (well it was certainly expensive) about a month ago using digital source, and to me, it just felt like an exercise in sound sampling, no connection to the music whatsoever, but impressive in it's own way. But that's just me, if it sounds good to you, that's all that matters.
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    jfine

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by jfine on Sun Jul 23, 2017 3:22 pm

    BTW I take what Michael Fremer says with a grain of salt.

    Dogstar

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by Dogstar on Sun Jul 23, 2017 7:16 pm

    Granted a lot of the new cd's with new music by new bands are digitally mixed to maybe sound better through earbuds...but I don't know. I never really listened to music enough through them to make a call. They're annoying to me. And I just can't get into most new music...I can't relate. I turned into my father.
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    Dave_in_Va

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by Dave_in_Va on Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:13 pm

    Take half as much care picking out your LPs as you do your tubes and all will be well.
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    Peter W.

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by Peter W. on Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:53 am

    Dave_in_Va wrote:Take half as much care picking out your LPs as you do your tubes and all will be well.
    4

    Take half as much care picking out your LPs (Cds, Cassettes, R/R Tapes) as you do your tubes and all will be well.
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    corndog71

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by corndog71 on Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:10 am

    Dogstar wrote:Granted a lot of the new cd's with new music by new bands are digitally mixed to maybe sound better through earbuds...but I don't know. I never really listened to music enough through them to make a call. They're annoying to me. And I just can't get into most new music...I can't relate. I turned into my father.

    Just like they can't relate to being old as dirt. farao Amazingly, I still find new music to love. But I'm only half as old as dirt.

    GP49

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by GP49 on Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:51 am

    jfine wrote:BTW I take what Michael Fremer says with a grain of salt.

    Quite frankly, Michael "The More It Costs The Better" Fremer is so full of himself, I find it best to ignore him completely.

    Dogstar

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by Dogstar on Tue Jul 25, 2017 7:31 am

    To me I find it once again hard to believe that the sonic difference between digital and analog would be detectable if the sources were not playing side by side with the same exact song playing.
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    corndog71

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    Re: Why Vinyl's Boom Is Over

    Post by corndog71 on Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:13 am

    Dogstar wrote:To me I find it once again hard to believe that the sonic difference between digital and analog would be detectable if the sources were not playing side by side with the same exact song playing.

    I've made comparisons with vinyl, CD, and MP3 and depending on the quality of the original recording and mastering the vinyl was neck and neck with CD and on some recordings better. I especially like older vinyl which sounds smoother and more dynamic.

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