The CD hasn't yet killed the vinyl record as audiophiles keep going back to the black disc

Krishnan Menon, a young advertising executive working in Singapore, recently seated his wife before his new turntable. It had his favourite record on the platter, Dire Straits's Brothers in Arms.

But before putting the stylus in groove, he played a snatch of the compact-disc version of the album. When the vinyl finally came to life, his wife sat up. “This sounds different,'' she said. “It sounds more real.''

Another analogue convert is born.

Many people believe the CD killed the vinyl record and, if so, something strange is happening today … it appears as though the MP3 is bringing it back to life. Consider some signs:

  • When the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their album Stadium Arcadium last year, apart from the CD and MP3s, they issued two analogue versions: an “audiophile'' edition and a “super value edition'', each over four vinyl records.
  • Chris Walla of influential indie band Death Cab for Cutie loves the sound of vinyl and insisted on a high-quality LP version of their 2003 album, Transatlanticism. Many young bands have followed.
  • Rega, a British hi-fi company, has recently doubled turntable sales in the US and has been selling them by the “thousands'', according to Steve Daniels, owner of The Sound Organisation, Rega's American representative. On October 17, website started a “vinyl-only'' section.

Dark digital days

When the CD was introduced in 1983, many people, tired of noisy turntables and perpetually dusty records, readily made the switch to this new medium that promised “perfect sound forever''.

Not everybody was convinced. CD sound was criticised as being “sterile'' and “harsh'' — common complaints by digital detractors even today.

Several high-end audio companies held off manufacturing CD players — some for nearly ten years — until they were able to produce a sound they were happy with.

And in the 1990s, the digital industry showed us, speciously, that “perfect sound'' was a relative term, with the introduction of the “hi-res'' formats HDCD, SACD and DVD-A.

CD not guilty

So, though the CD came close, it didn't actually kill the vinyl record.

The analogue medium merely retreated, Voldemort-like, in the early 1990s; living on through DJs, indie-music enthusiasts and audiophiles.

Today, while a huge portion of record sales is of used titles, there are plenty of new releases, too.

Bands and musicians such as The White Stripes, Neil Young and Bob Dylan are staunch vinyl supporters.

Re-releases of classic albums, whether Miles Davis's Kind of Blue or Joni Mitchell's Blue, are readily available (though expensive) — both online and at large retailers such as Virgin Megastores.

And, in the US and Europe, record fairs are popular. Record enthusiast Steven Brunner, for example, started the monthly Greater Orange County Record Show in California in 1987.

He has seen attendance go up and down only slightly over the years: There was a dip as CDs became mainstream and another dip when DVDs came out, but it's up again.

“The last couple of years have been good,'' he says, but adds, this may be because many record stores have closed down, giving enthusiasts fewer places to go to.

He has seen a marked increase in interest for turntables though. He used to have 135 decks that he could barely sell some years ago, but today, he turns over nearly that number at every show.

Analogue advocates

Steve Daniels's Texas-based The Sound Organisation supplies Rega turntables ranging from $350 to over $5,000 (Dh1,285 to Dh18,358) and says that “every sector is buoyant''.

The market for the vinyl record, he says, is like that of the fountain pen. In a facile world of ballpoints, there are always people prepared to put up with a bit of inconvenience for quality.

This certainly explains the doggedness of the market, but why a resurgence? Steve says: “People are becoming anti-technology; they want something simpler.

New music just sounds very loud on an iPod and people are waking up to vinyl as a quality medium.''

Indeed, Krishnan — with the fervour of a new convert — says: “I have decided, I will not listen to music [at home] other than on LP.''

His CDs are reserved for the car and the digital section of his home system sees only DVDs.

Steve has similar views. “If I really wanted to listen to music, I would put on a record. An artiste is telling a story, but people who listen to CDs, pick a track or jump tracks.

"Digital music is seen as a convenience product, though it can sound good.''

But does a resurgence mean that the turntable will again be a common sight in regular homes?

Steve doesn't think it'll go that far. “It's always going to be small. It's not going to come back as the mass medium.''

Krishnan, after apologising for being about to sound like a “typical advertising guy'', says of the resurgence: “Analogue music has something that most brands can only aspire to have: advocacy. Digital has loyalists, analogue has advocates.''

“It's all coming together,'' Steve says.

“When the economy is bad and there are troubles in the world, people tend to go into their homes and listen to music.

Sitting down and watching a record play … it's the hands-on fountain-pen experience,'' Steve adds.

Gautam Raja is a US-based freelance writer

Buy online
Good online sources for records include,,, and now,

Dubai's music enthusiasts speak
“Back in the day, vinyl records were mainly used by pro- and semi-pro DJs and over the years, as these DJs started to travel a lot, it became impossible for them to carry so many records.

"So, many moved on to Mp3 players and other new technology. Today, turntables and vinyl records are seen as a lifestyle feature — and having them in the house is a way of making a statement. I believe vinyl never really went away — it's just about technology repeating and re-inventing itself.''
Satyen Choksi
Managing partner, OHM Records, Dubai.
(OHM records sells all genres of music in vinyl format, including modern electronic music, R&B, Drum and Base and Dance.)

“Looking through my collection of old records takes me back to the good old days. The sound you get from listening to vinyl is one that is romantic. So, there is no comparison with the new technology.''
Priyanka Roy
Music enthusiast

“Any DJ will agree you cannot beat the feeling of vinyl. If you have great equipment, the sound is amazing and you have that freedom to mix and scratch.''

However, DJ Flex (whose collection adds up to more than 800 records) also said there has not been a massive shift back to vinyl in the UAE.

“There aren't many places to buy vinyl here in comparison to the UK, for example, where most big music outlets still sell them,'' he said.

Nowadays, popular software packages such as Serato and Final Scratch, allow people to transfer music from their music players to their laptops and play like they are using vinyl, but obviously it is not the same.

“When it comes to music styles such as hip hop, vinyl is a major part of the culture and particular art [forms]. So, that particular technique will never disappear.''
DJ Flex of Radio 1

Buy lines
The Linn Sondek LP-12 (left) is considered to be one of the world's most successful hi-fi products providing the ultimate sound for vinyl devotees.

Adil Anwar, director of Dubai Audio Centre, believes that although CDs are booming in popularity, old-fashioned records never really disappeared.

“This product is different from what you see in clubs. It is so high-end that you can't really scratch on it,'' Anwar said.
The Linn Sondek LP-12 can set you back by almost Dh80,000 if it features full specs — taking music enthusiasts on an impressive audio experience.

It is no wonder the EISA (Europe's largest multimedia press organisation) named it the winner of the 2007-2008 European High-End Audio category.

“For high-end music lovers, vinyl will always be a major factor. There is nothing like this product and that's why we receive many inquiries,'' Anwar said.

If you have a tighter budget, other options include the Numark ProTT2, sold at Sonia Electronics which will set you back approximately Dh1,700.

However, the most popular model at the store is the X2 Hybrid which can play vinyl plus CDs. The price starts from Dh3,500. Otherwise, head down to V.V. & Sons for a Denom DT 300F that sells for Dh1,195.

If you want to purchase vinyl records, OHM Records in Dubai is a good place to start (Phone: 04 3973728).

Maey El Shoush, Staff Reporter