Seminar: The Vinyl Resurgence—late 2014 And Beyond

High drama accompanied the full-house "Vinyl-Resurgence" panel I ran at The New York Audio Show yesterday, though only I was aware of it. I'd just welcomed the SRO crowd and was about to introduce the panelists, VPI's Mat Weisfeld, Acoustic Productions' Chad Kassem, Audioquest's Stephen Mejias and Sound-Smith's Peter Ledermann when my cell phone rang.

Back story: I'd had an annual check-up and one of the test results was not what the doctor was expecting, so tests were ordered including the invasive ones at both ends of the G.I. tract and a CAT Scan this past Wednesday. I was awaiting the results apprehensively, never before having been in this unnerving position.

I joked to the audience that it must be my wife because she often calls at inopportune moments. In fact, once at an L.A. Show I was awarding prizes at a Musical Surroundings event when my phone rang and it was my wife. I had the crowd yell "hello Sharon!". I told her I'd call back later. About five minutes later while I was still giving out prizes the phone rang again. This time it was my ex-girlfriend! That set off a round of laughter you can be sure and the crowd said hello to her too.

So with those memories springing to the surface I removed the phone from my pocket expecting to produce a similar episode but the message was "CALL DR. ......".

Putting the phone back in my pocket and continuing with the seminar was the only viable option, so that's what I did, putting the call as far to the back of my mind as I could. No one noticed and it turned out to be an informative and entertaining panel.p> The timing was particularly good since that morning I'd read a story by Ben Sisario in The New York Times headlined "Music Sale Drop 5%, As Habits Shift Online". Buried in the story was this paragraph: "Among physical formats, CD sales continue to plunge while vinyl records grow into a surprisingly robust niche. Sales of albums on CD fell19% by revenue to $716 million, while LP sales grew 43% to $146 million. A decade ago, LP sales were barely significant. But with vinyl now firmly established as a premium-priced collector's item and an audiophile favorite, they represent about 4.6% of the total."

I think if Mr. Sisario mistakenly continues believing that sales are being driven by "collector's items" and "audiophiles" he will continue to be surprised. In fact, I contend that most audiophile record purchases are still not counted by Soundscan and that the sales spike that is measured results from robust sales to young people who just plain love records and if true, that is the best news of all.

I was hoping that Mr. Mejias would provide insight into that and he did. He said his vinyl obsession isn't necessarily sound-based but rather inspirational-based. He said that vinyl inspired him to buy more music for whatever reasons: sonics, packaging, story-telling, etc. and that's precisely what i had been instinctively thinking.

Mat Weisfeld talked about VPI's excellent growth curve and his pressing father Harry to produce an entry-level turntable despite it being a low profit item. Mat convinced dad that if VPI didn't provide the upgrade entry path, others like Pro-Ject and Rega, with their entry level and higher priced rigs would grab the bottom of the market and keep buyers on those companies' upgrade paths. The Traveler, he said had been "tremendously successful".

Chad Kassem talked about his QRP pressing plant, how it developed and what the company did to produce some of the highest tech presses modified from the low tech originals including separating and isolating from the press bodies the vibration-heavy generators and putting the presses on heavy, industrial grade elastomer feet much as you'd put under your playback gear. Kassem's QRP is going to a double shift to attempt to keep up with demand but all agreed demand will outstrip press supply.

Peter Ledermann explained that natural diamonds once used to create styli are no longer used because the supply has dwindled due to vapor deposit technology that can relatively inexpensively produce artificial diamonds. The problem, he said, was that these diamonds are softer than natural ones and so stylus life is shortened. That's not good news but it does make more important keeping the stylus clean and tracking it properly. Ledermann also announced that Sound-Smith plans to produce in-house its own diamond styli and cantilevers and he said, he currently has fifteen well-trained cartridge builders, needed to keep up with the demand for Sound-Smith cartridges.

Judging by the smiles and applause at the end, it seemed that everyone who attended had a good time and gained some insight into the vinyl business from multiple perspectives.

Once I'd had a chance to get beyond the crowd and into a quiet area I listened to the phone message from the doctor's office: "all test results negative, you are good to go". WHEW!

et88b's picture

Good news for vinyl and great news on your health!

mraudioguru's picture

Mike, nice to hear you'll be okay. Waiting for the doctor to call, really can be a stressful ordeal!

teachscience's picture

Congrats on the clean bill of health.

Cam08529's picture

Mat is a smart guy. When I jumped back into vinyl 8 years ago I got a Scout. When I upgraded to a Classic 3 last year I never considered changing to another brand.

QRP is a world class pressing plant which hails from my home state of Kansas. Chad is a great guy who has contributed much to our hobby.

Glad to hear that Peter is training cartridge builders. I have a Paua on the Classic 3 and it gets a lot of playing time. Somebody needs to be there to rebuild it properly when the time comes. Peter won't be there forever.
Any guesses how many new jobs these 3 companies have created from this resurgence in vinyl? Bet we are talking a few hundred.

Lastly, great news only your test results Michael. These are good times for your favorite passion. You need to be part of the fun.

Jeff Camden

Jay's picture

I'm happy to hear that you got the all clear Mikey. I had the full range of test about 7 years ago and the fortnight while I waited for my results were a time I wouldn't wish on any one.

DLKG's picture

Bust my Britches and jump for joy. I got a clean bill of health from Dr. Mccoy !!

dhaskell's picture

Confused about the diamonds used for Stylii. When were "natural" diamonds phased out? And are the softer ones better/less harsh on the vinyl? Are they synthetic diamonds?

Bluejimbop's picture

Rock on, Mr. Fremer