The resurgence of vinyl has taken both college campuses and Urban Outfitters by storm. Undoubtedly, the format is seeing a second lease on life — but why?
The format’s return is interesting partly because, technically speaking, it is an inferior way to listen to music. Compared to an iPod, Long Plays are large and cumbersome, and the highest quality version of an album or song will be found on an uncompressed CD or audio file. These digital media will sound pristine for time eternal. What’s significant is that vinyl’s faults lead to its appeal. People love it for its imperfections, not its technical superiority.
The medium’s crackly, imperfect sound can’t be forgotten. The warmth often associated with the vinyl sound is due to its technically inaccurate analog nature, which nonetheless sounds beautiful to the human ear. Much like 16mm film or analog photography, it’s the imperfections of the medium that adds life to what could have been a sterile and pristine digital file on a computer.
Vinyl humanizes music outside the listening experience. Record collecting is in many ways a lifestyle. Avid record collectors develop relationships not only with other collectors, but with shop owners, store clerks and everyone else involved. It’s a social act that rewards communication and curiosity in a way that the digital sphere has yet to truly match.
Vinyl’s comeback is more than just a shift in consumer preference. It’s a sign that people are disillusioned with the impersonal and lifelessly instant digital era which has rapidly taken over society at large. Vinyl collection is a way of long lost self-expression in an increasingly cold world. Buying records takes much more commitment than listening to the same song for free online. Each record often comes with liner notes, full sized album artwork and song lyrics from the band. As cliche as it may sound, these are the kinds of intimacies that are progressively being lost as everything is gradually being streamlined into a one-click action on an iPhone.
That being said, New York City was and still is a haven for vinyl lovers. Those interested in starting or adding to a collection have plenty of store options to choose from. A personal favorite is Human Head Records in Bushwick. This shop proves that quantity isn’t always everything. It features a wide-ranging collection of records ranging from pricey original pressings to cheaper reissues that span countless genres. It rotates its selection often, so repeated visits will be reliably rewarded with fresh finds.
For those living in the East Village, Turntable Lab is a treat. If you can get past the store’s consistently high prices, you’ll be rewarded with a mesmerizing selection of both new and old releases, bolstered by an impressive offering of audio and DJ equipment. Keep an eye out for in-store live performances, as well as their yearly record store day event (just make sure to get in line early).
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 6 print edition. Email Connor Gatesman at [email protected]