Forget streaming services the best way to listen to music is still vinyl

Everyone remembers their first vinyl record.

For me, it was the original Batman movie soundtrack, written and performed by the one and only Prince.

Years wore on and vinyl records gave way to Compact Discs, which gave way to digital music and eventually streaming music services - like Pandora, Deezer or Spotify – vinyl records began to disappear into the far corner of your local record store. Despite being sought after by a dedicated few, many thought we were witnessing vinyl's slow demise.

What goes around, comes around

However, this year's Global Music Report, from international recording industry body, IFPI, shows that not only is the music industry experiencing it's fourth consecutive year of growth, but that the continued rise in vinyl records shows no signs of stopping.

"Some would say that vinyl never went away," said Suzanne Bennett, co-owner of Melbourne record store, Basement Discs.

"I think it's primarily a younger demographic [driving increasing sales], who perhaps previously have been listening to music via streaming services, discovering the joys of vinyl; the physical product, the way it's presented, the cover art, the tactile pleasure and the warmth of the listening experience.

"We've also got people who are dusting off their turntables and re-engaging with their record collection and starting to add new releases."

In Australia, IFPI indicates vinyl record sales in 2018 increased by roughly 11.7 per cent. Australia's own recording industry body, ARIA, indicates a slightly higher growth in this market, especially over the last few years, starting with a dramatic jump from $8.9 million in sales, in 2015, to $15.1 million the following year. Sales in 2018 hit $21.7 million.

The signs of authenticity

With more recognition of the vinyl renaissance coming in a recent announcement from ARIA that vinyl sales will now be tracked in a dedicated music chart, it begs the question why this analogue medium has bounced back after being read its last rights only a few decades ago.

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"With streaming, the quality is just not there," said Keiran Stafford, owner of Sydney record store, Birdland Records. "It's great for record companies and convenient for people in the same way that radio used to be, but it sounds kinda gritty.

"But you can't get the quality you get with physical media, like vinyl - the audio quality is astounding. There are some recordings around that are so good, you can practically see the band in your living room."

Ask an audio engineer for their opinion about the compression used to produce tiny files that can be sent over a mobile network or swiftly to your home computer, and they will likely begin with a grimace.

The reason is, the process usually results in the loss of tiny audio details found in analogue recordings – usually a massive amount of data - which usually disappear entirely. A vinyl record will retain all of these details, offering an authentic reproduction of the original recording.

"The attraction, I think, why so many people believe that vinyl provides a superior listening experience, is that it's a warmer sound and is easier on the ears," said Bennett.

Dipping your toe

This sensory experience may be largely missing from digital music streaming, but with a few pieces of audio equipment, you can enjoy all the authenticity and warmth of vinyl, and experience music as the artist originally intended.

"If you buy a turntable from Aldi for $50, it won't sound great," explained Stafford; his advice as pragmatic as it is practical.

"Many people aren't aware of how good things can really sound with a good system."

"First thing: go to a specialist Hi-Fi shop and speak to them about what you want, within your budget. [Start with] an entry level turntable, like a Rega, then a good amplifier and good speakers. Then buy some records."

Get the gear

The brand Stafford mentions, Rega, recently released the top-of-the-range Planar 8 turntable, which will set you back around $3500. If you want to be a little more conservative, you can accomplish a similar outcome with the Planar 1 Plus, for $699, which can connect directly to any speaker with an aux in.

Other top-shelf brands of note to consider when creating your turntable, amplifier and speaker system combo are Bryston, KEF, Sonus Faber, Dynaudio, Cambridge Audio and McIntosh; along with more ubiquitous brands, like Bose, Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer and audio-technica.

As for the albums you buy, Bennett has some sage advice:

"I recommend buying an album from a contemporary band and classic album, and try to gradually build up your collection while you keep up to date with what's happening in music now. To build up a well-rounded collection you need to think outside the box."