Believe it or not, the vinyl records that boomers grew up with are making a comeback, with many recording companies releasing freshly pressed issues of all types of music, from the work of ’60s rock groups to that of contemporary indie bands whose young members think it’s cool to be able to say they’re out “on vinyl.”
For sure vinyl is not going to displace digital music on iPods, smartphones, and laptops, but demand has been strong enough for major electronics companies, including Sony and Ion Audio, to start making old-fashioned turntables again.
“Vinyl has had its share of ups and downs, but people just keep buying them,” said Reed Lappin, co-owner of the In Your Ear used-record stores on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and at Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge.
Lappin, 59, has never lost faith in vinyl records — or their accompanying turntables and stereo systems. His stores sell nothing but used LPs, CDs, DVDs, and even eight-track cartridges.
You want it, Lappin has it. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, classical music, jazz, the blues — all music on used LPs, tucked in their original jackets. The In Your Ear store in Boston even has stacks of old, sometimes dusty stereo equipment and turntables for sale.
“A lot of students are buying more [vinyl] records,” she said. “Something just sounds different when it’s on vinyl. You have to sit down and listen. You’re not walking around with earphones and listening. You’re sitting, and you just listen.”
And it’s not just used-records stores that are experiencing the back-to-LPs trend.
Newbury Comics’s 28 stores now sell LPs, including recently re-released vinyl recordings by Al Green, the Talking Heads, the Black Keys, Bon Iver, Deltron 3030, and others. Those vinyl records were exclusively pressed for Newbury Comics by major label companies, including Warner Brothers Records. The retail prices range from $17.99 to $29.99 per album.
Due to the popularity of its reissued LP offerings, Newbury Comics has negotiated deals with label companies for 10 more vinyl releases, said Carl Mello, the senior buyer at Newbury Comics, who stil uses his 20-year Sony turntable at home.
Though still a “fringe” business, Mello said vinyl records are just under 3 percent of the company’s business, enough to warrant selling new turntables at Newbury Comics stores.
Built by Crosley Radio in Kentucky, the new turntables retail from about $100 to $150 each. One is the Crosley Cruiser, a portable player in a retro suitcase-style box with built-in speakers and can be found online for as low as $79.95. The company also sells turntable consoles that resemble wood-rimmed radios from the 1930s.
A spokeswoman for the privately owned Crosley Radio would only say turntable sales have seen a substantial increase in recent years.
Other manufacturers are also churning out new turntables, usually with USB ports to covert LPs to digital formats: the Audio Technica AT-LP60USB, the Sony PS-LX300 USB Stereo Turntable, and the ION Profile LP Vinyl-to-MP3 Turntable.
Of course, you can always buy a used turntable dating back to, well, when you were young. Used turntables — without USB ports — are anywhere from $40 to $125 at In Your Ear.
There’s more than mere nostalgia by boomers at work here.
Many young bands today want to record on vinyl because of both the retro popularity and prestige associated with having an LP album, said Tom Chiari, whose Run for Cover Records in Allston is a business and label manager for small bands in the eastern United States.
Until recently, a new vinyl record could be pressed and delivered within a month or so. “But the turnaround time now is taking longer, a number of months, because of the popularity of vinyl,” said Chiari, 28.
That’s music to the ears of people like Chad Kassem, 51, owner of Acoustic Sounds Inc. in Kansas, where his company and its subsidiaries own a recording studio and four vinyl record presses.
His company, which presses nearly one million vinyl discs per year, makes LPs for major record labels, including reissued albums by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
“Yeah, man, it sure is returning,” Kassem said of LPs. “It’s happening. Even the major labels are finally going back to LPs. Some people say it’s just a craze. But I always felt LPs would survive — and they have.”
By Jay FitzGerald