Vinyl is making a comeback.
The foot-wide records, which had to be carefully handled and could only be played with precisely placed needles, were long ago replaced by cassettes and later smooth-sounding, hand-sized compact discs.
But now vinyl is back, embraced by teenagers who beg for a record player as a birthday present. Local vinyl store owners say their sales are so strong that they’ve kept pace even in the recession.
The resurgence led Niskayuna resident Bruce Northrup to open what may be Schenectady’s only vinyl record store. He sells used books and records at The Old Book Surfer at 2334 Guilderland Ave.
He’s aiming mostly for the adult crowd — “the collector population that are looking for memories of the past” — but other store owners say the real market is children.
“The big thing right now for kids on their 16th birthday is to get a turntable,” said Biff Bach, owner of Blue Note Record Shop in Albany.
Current artists, including Kanye West, Ne-Yo and 50 Cent, have released their latest albums on vinyl, recognizing the interest in the format.
Most artists now release on both vinyl and CD, except Miley Cyrus, who sticks to electronic formats, Bach said.
“I think it’s because they want the videos. With her, it’s the whole package,” he said.
He sells her CDs as well, but he’s loyal to vinyl.
“If you play a CD, it’s either too bright or too bass. You play the vinyl, it feels like they’re right next to you,” he said. “It has a warmer and richer sound. You hear a fuller song.”
Northrup, who is banking his retirement plans on the power of vinyl, thinks the unique sound will allow it to continue when CDs are long gone.
“The download frenzy will eat CDs, probably, before it eats records,” he said.
He decided to start selling records when his personal collection threatened to take over his entire home.
“The volume increased to the point where I had better sell them or I’d be surrounded and inundated by them,” he said.
He retired from the state last year and began plans for a used books and records store, which he opened inauspiciously the day after a blizzard, when National Grid crews were too busy to turn on his heat and lights.
Then the city learned that he had opened without first bringing his project to the planning commission. He finally got permission last month.
While he’s hoping to make a “post-career career” out of vinyl, the resurgence may also save the livelihoods of owners who started selling music before the first cassettes were made.
Bach has owned Blue Note Record Shop for 61 years, transitioning from records to casettes to CDs — and then weathering the storm when customers began buying and downloading songs from iTunes and other online stores.
But now he’s doing well.
“I’d say we’re in the upswing, especially with vinyl,” he said. “The biggest sellers are coming out on vinyl. And a lot of old things are being reissued. We’re seeing all age groups buying it.”
Many of his customers buy a record and then return with a dusty turntable that they can’t remember how to use. He’s teaching the old tricks and selling needles at a fast clip. The younger customers usually just need a turntable — no instructions required.
“Kids generally can figure it out. That’s the beauty of it — it is low tech,” he said. “You don’t have to have an instruction book in five languages to learn how to turn it on and off.”
When customers waiver between the same artist on vinyl and CD and are unconvinced of the sound quality, he argues that the defining difference is the artwork.
“All the artwork is large [on vinyl] so you can really see it,” he said. “And the liner notes are actually readable, so you don’t need an electron microscope.”