COMMENTARY: Is the vinyl boom creating a new generation of audiophiles? – National

If you’re from a certain era, you probably spent a large portion of your disposable income on stereo equipment. In the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, everyone was looking to have the highest quality sound systems they could buy for both their home and car. The goal was to have the loudest, clearest and most accurate sound reproduction possible to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of those vinyl records and CDs.

There were shops selling stereo equipment everywhere. A cheap way to spend an afternoon was to hop from store to store auditioning your favorite albums with gear you read about in magazines like Stereo review, Hi-Fi, Y Audio that you couldn’t afford. And, of course, no trip to the mall was complete without checking out the more modestly priced stereo at Radio Shack.

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Alan Cross Explains How Vinyl Record Sales Have Soared In Canada (May 21, 2021)

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But then came the digital music revolution of the late ’90s. There had been recessions before, but this was different.

The convenience of MP3s and other digital codecs was impossible to ignore. Compact discs had already pushed vinyl to the fringes and the final members of Generation X and early members of Generation Y soon moved en masse to file sharing, iTunes, iPods, and eventually smartphones. Buying digital players and headphones became the priority, not stand-alone stereo systems.

Meanwhile, the factory systems that began to appear on cars continued to improve and were also much more integrated into the vehicle’s electronic nervous system, making aftermarket upgrades difficult. The last vehicle to come with a cassette player was the 2010 Lexus SC430. In-dash CD players hold up, but just barely.


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Stereo retailers that sold both home audio and home audio equipment were in crisis. Some were able to adapt by moving into the new home theater market, which meant selling more TVs and other video products like DVD players. Others scaled back, focusing on the wishes of Baby Boomer audiophiles who could afford expensive esoteric equipment. Those that couldn’t compete, everyone from mom-and-pop stores to big box-change retailers like Majestic Sound Warehouse and Future Shop, disappeared while many dedicated audio dealers went out of business.

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This was the Age of Good Enough Sound. Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z generally agreed that as long as their songs were accessible and portable, the quality of the audio was secondary. Listening to music through laptop speakers, cheap headphones, an Alexa unit, or a mono Bluetooth speaker was fine. And certainly a lot cheaper than shelling out for a full stereo system. There are literally generations of people who have yet to experience their music collections through true high-fidelity audio.

That, however, may be changing.

After a near-death experience that lasted nearly a decade, people rediscovered vinyl. Since 2008, we’ve seen double-digit year-over-year growth in vinyl sales across the globe. It is to the point in several countries where the dollar value of vinyl sold dwarfs that of compact discs. And while there are signs that CDs are beginning to regain some of the lost love, the main driver of recorded music sales is the venerable vinyl record.

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This seems to be creating an interesting side effect. If you’re going to have a vinyl collection, you need something to play them. Yes, you could go to Urban Outfitters and buy one of those crappy portable turntables (please don’t; you’re just defeating the purpose). Or you could visit one of the remaining high-end audio dealers and pick up a stereo system similar to the one we used in the ’70s. And that seems to be happening.

One of the most common requests I get from listeners is: “I want to buy a record player. What should I get? Others are curious about speakers and amplifiers. Some chats with audio equipment retailers say that a growing number of people are looking for two-channel audio systems, equipment designed solely for listening to music. We may be seeing the birth of a new generation of audiophiles and people who appreciate music in all its hi-fi glory.

Mark Mandahlson of Bay Bloor Radio in Toronto told me: “We have seen demand not only for high-quality sound for listening to records, but also from people rediscovering their CD collections during the pandemic and also adding streaming to existing hi-fi systems. or build systems around high resolution digital music”

Much of the credit (?) has to go to COVID-19. With so many millions of people locked up and alone for months, his music collections became his rock. A TON of vinyl was purchased and half went to people under 25. Once a new record entered the house, curiosity grew as to how good the music could sound. Evidence points to a large number of these young music fans buying proper stereo equipment for the first time. Meanwhile, older audiophiles seem to be committed to upgrading equipment, perhaps as many as 95 percent of them.

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Where do these new audiophiles start?
“Headphones are often the gateway,” says Mandhalson, “and we see this in particular at our new headphone bar, where young people frequently come by to try on headphones and find their preferred sound.”

Not everyone switches to a full-fledged stereo. Bay Bloor Radio is among several retailers that know they need to help people enter this new world. A starter system for beginners can be as simple as a turntable with a pair of powered speakers.

This also appears to be a long-term trend. By 2026, the global market for home audio equipment is forecast to be worth US$49.9 billion. And that’s not all thanks to the purchase of cheap headphones and portable Bluetooth speakers for the beach.

Of course, there are more things driving the market than people going back to the kind of stereo systems everyone had in the ’70s. Manufacturers are investing heavily in R&D. Not only is the quality of equipment improving, but there are also things like smart homes, voice control, wireless technology, and better streaming solutions. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that exciting innovations, “new features” in industry parlance, have been hitting the market on a quarterly basis.

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As someone who still has some of the gear that once inhabited my bedroom, hello, my Akai AP-001C belt drive turntable purchased at Krazy Kelly’s in Winnipeg’s west end c. 1978: this news makes my heart happy. Long live hi-fi audio systems!

Alan Cross is a broadcaster for Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s ongoing new music podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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