Thursday, 7 January 2016

Turntables at CES

To go with the recent news that "Vinyl Is Saving Music!" (it isn't, it's 7% of the market that happens to be a more expensive product so makes up a lot of sales value),  Sony and Panasonic have turned up to the Consumer Electronics Show ("This is what you could have had for Christmas!") with a pair of turn-tables. And thus "Vinyl Is Back!" screams everyone who hasn't got a clue what they're talking about but this time hopes they're going to be on the Cool Train.

Now firstly, and I want to make this very clear, the two decks in question are "Nice!". As in 'audiophile says these things are good bits of kit' nice. The Technics are essentially a more modern version of the SL-1200G which everyone of "a certain age" and calibre in DJing has used, because they were actually that good. Even if you weren't of the right calibre you've played on a rip-off of them, because they were just that ubiquitous for a reason, and now they have a nicer direct-drive motor in them so you'll get a smoother mix IF you still use vinyl. Which most people stopped doing years ago, which was why they stopped being made.

The Sony offering PS-HX500 is different approach entirely; essentially the most tricked out version of the "convert you're vinyl to MP3" that everyone one in the days between after you started switching to digital and before you found out you could download someone else's better copy from Pirate Bay. It's got internal audio-to-digital conversion, edit/mixing software, and you can technically hook it up to a audio rig and play out on it at a real good quality.

But you won't if you're serious about your music, because it's vinyl and vinyl sucks. Or, at the very least, it does when compared to modern formats. Yes, vinyl had a very important place in the history of music, and, yes, there was something nice about going to a record shop and fingering through the album racks, and, yes, if you must be the kind of person who's most important format decision is how obviously you can show off that you bought a record, it's nice to have a large physical item with a big cover on the front. I know this, because I've got a collection of vinyl myself as I go weak at the knees being able to touch a bit of music history; it mostly sits on the shelf whilst I listen to the FLACs. Some people still DJ on vinyl, however the two biggest reasons to do this are because it's all part of the performance of that particular event or they are stubborn die-hards that also don't set the levels back when they've finished their sets. Anyone who does it because it's only available on vinyl has long since converted the music to digital, because it's the only way to keep such precious content from falling apart.

Vinyl is heavy, awkward to carry, deteriorates rapidly, and is expensive to produce, ship, and stock. The reason that CD and digital is doing so well right now is because it's about a million times better for most everyday usage, be you a DJ or a regular listener. At one time vinyl sounded the best for the period, before wear and tear kicked in, but those days are gone and you can demonstrably get a far better sound from digital now, as scientifically proved on a number of occasions. You can also, if you're into making music, get it out and about in minutes rather than months by using the magic of electronics.

What's happened with the recent vinyl boom is that a bunch of people decided to be hip and focus on the iconography of vinyl and the retroism of it. The novelty of buying something which a whole generation are just not used to seeing anywhere has kicked in, it's become a cheap luxury item and a means to show musical eliteness with the minimum of effort. And because of that boom Sony and Panasonic have gone "lets make the thing that everyone is asking us for, because everyone's got an MP3 player or streaming device and they all threw their record players away in 2005". They are adding either some minor technical innovation (because it's a technology that stopped advancing 20 years ago) or some consideration to how the technology is being used these days (because the other formats are just more convenient). But they are not going to break the bank with these devices, because vinyl is not going to come back as anything more than niche. No matter how much people scream about it.

Which is not to diminish the kit they are selling, because it is very nice.
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