Black is Back, the vinyl resurrection

Black is Back, the vinyl resurrection

Black is Back is the new mantra these days. Santhosh Leelakrishnan is one of the earliest in the growing tribe of audiophiles who are going back to vinyl record versions of their favourite albums.

Vinyl was once the only way to listen to music, but then the audio cassette took over. When the digital era started with music Compact Discs being released into the market, it created a revolution. The CDs sounded crystal clear. Since the information stored on a CD is read by a laser beam, there is no physical contact and thus no wear and tear. This was in stark contrast to vinyls that would warp if the environment is too hot, dust would get into the grooves and produce scratchy music and many more such problems. With cassettes, tapes would crumple if the player’s mechanical moving parts were not in perfect alignment.

Then came mp3 and such other formats. One did not need bulky audio equipment. Even a mobile phone was good enough to listen to music.

This was the limit, or so the audiophiles thought. They wanted to listen to music as it was to meant to be listened in the analog way and not digitally manipulated so much that it sounds ‘great’ to most people. A casual music listener will not really miss the subtle things that are missing in the mp3 format. But for a keen pair of ears, it is the detail that matters.

This is when the demand for vinyl began to rise. Audiophiles abroad began to frequent thrift stores and look around for old records. Record labels began to press limited amounts of vinyls of latest releases. Entry level and audiophile grade turntables began to flood the markets. Listening to vinyls has become a cult of sorts. But the number is still small.

Audiophiles began to pair turntables with vacuum tube amplifiers and it was musical joy all over again.

“Vinyl is here to stay,” declares audiophile George Olapally, who has seen the best of the vinyl days.

“There are various technologies that are in the niche segment and vinyl is one of those. Vinyl is not mainstream, records are not cheap and nor is the equipment. Mainstream is something that sells in larger quantities and is the digital format,” he adds.

“There are people who have thousands of records, the equipment required is different. A turntable is way, way more expensive than a Bluetooth speaker.

“Everybody does not necessarily like vinyl, who may not be able to afford vinyl records and equipment, there might be people who don’t know about vinyl or those who do not desire to own vinyl.

“There is a very small percentage of people who listen to vinyls. Many still listen to CDs these days, but most of them listen to music in mp3 or such other formats. I can say that the number of vinyl lovers is less than one per cent,” he explains.

IT professional Santhosh Leelakrishnan owns six turntables and over 1500 records.

“Black is back and I swear by vinyl records,” asserts Santhosh. “The first time I heard a vinyl in a friend’s place, I was amazed. The sound was natural, the music sounded pure and there was a lot more detail. There was a certain warmth to it. That attracted me.

“When I held a record in my hands, I could relate to the music. It took me back in time. You can see the album art, the fonts, the names and lyrics as well. The CDs are so tiny,” adds Santhosh, who started his vinyl journey ten years ago.”

Santhosh explains that back in the day, there used to be a master record in analog format. These days, when there is a digital master record, the vinyls also tend to have that ‘digital’ sound.

“However, some Bollywood movie soundtracks are more listenable on vinyls than CDs, particularly the ones that are pressed in Europe. Some of the realism is lost but they sound good,” he says, citing the particular examples of Hindi movies Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun, Dil To Pagal Hai and some AR Rahman numbers too.

“Vinyl is a very special experience,” he says.

Brand new records are available from about Rs 800 onwards. Turntables can be bought from Rs 12,000 and can run into lakhs.

Quite clearly, vinyl records are for those who really love their music. They are for those who sit and listen patiently with good equipment as opposed to ‘hearing’ music on the go with earphones.

Vinyl is a cult that promises to stay on for some time.