Originally created 04/28/97

Back in the spin

It's not just a sound, it's an experience.

For Brent Weidman, no recorded music sounds as sweet as when the needle drops onto a vinyl disc.

Mr. Weidman, of North Augusta, is part of a small but growing number of music lovers who prefer the sound of vinyl to compact discs and cassettes.

To many people, vinyl records are as eccentric a throwback to past times as lava lamps. Though once the dominant form for recorded music, they can hardly be found in most record stores now - with CDs and cassettes taking up the lion's share of display space.

But Mr. Weidman and folks like him say the pursuit of vinyl is worth a special order or a trip to record stores that carry them.

"A vinyl record has much more resonance than a CD," said Mr. Weidman, whose vinyl collection includes more than 800 records. "To me, CDs sound flat and tinny. If you have good equipment, and a good cartridge, a vinyl record sounds much better."

The growth of the CD has been the real story of the last 10 years in the recording industry.

As recently as 1989, music lovers bought almost twice as many full-length cassettes as CD and vinyl albums combined. Now CDs are by far the dominant music medium. Last year, companies shipped out more than 778 million CDs to distributors, compared to 225 million cassettes, according to statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Only about 3 million vinyl units were shipped, but that represented a 31 percent increase over the previous year.

"There has been some real growth and interest in vinyl," said John Ganoe, a vice president for the recording industry association. "I think there's every reason to believe that vinyl is going to survive indefinitely as a niche market."

Although the black plastic discs may seem outdated to some, many listeners and artists have an emotional attachment to them, Mr. Ganoe said. "When an artist gets a gold record, he doesn't want a gold CD or a gold cassette. He wants what looks like a gold vinyl disc."

Infernal Racket, on Eighth Street, is one of the local stores that carries vinyl. "They have never gone away, though some people consider it a dead issue," said co-owner Harry Grimes.

Mr. Grimes is himself a big fan of vinyl, not only for the sound but for the look. Like many vinyl fans, he prefers the cover art on 12-inch records to the art on the much smaller CDs.

"Look at an album like Sgt. Pepper's," he said, referring to the colorful Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album that is noted for its rendering of celebrities on the cover. "You see that on a CD cover and 90 percent of the detail is lost," he said.

Not all albums are released on vinyl. Both Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish have included a vinyl pressing on their recent releases. Many other groups are now releasing 10,000 to 20,000 collector's edition runs on their new issues, Mr. Ganoe said.

Mr. Weidman said he can find about half the new albums he's looking for on vinyl.

So who buys vinyl? All kinds of music fans, says Robert "Flash" Gordon, owner of Pyramid Music and Video on Broad Street.

His vinyl clientele includes collectors, gospel fans, blues fans and jazz fans. "Those are the folks who claim it sounds better and clearer," he said.

It's also mostly older listeners who grew up on vinyl and haven't given it up since. "If they can't have what they want on vinyl, they won't have anything to do with it," he said.

But a number of young fans are also interested in vinyl. Many rappers, for example, find spinning the large vinyl discs easier than trying to mix music with CDs, Mr. Gordon said.


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