Vinyl is dead. Turntable sales drop. Long live vinyl.

VINYL-IS-DEAD
Long live The King.

I love headlines like this, they always grab people’s attention. And in all seriousness, I felt this worthy of a punchy title.

Internet prognosticators are reporting that turntable sales dropped five per cent in 2017 over 2016 based on numbers reportedly being supplied by industry watchdog GfK. Does this mean vinyl lovers – new, old, or steadfast through the decades – are all re-upped for ‘tables? Or is it merely a blip on an otherwise healthy spreadsheet of growth over the last several years? Or does it mean that more black-disc lovers are turning to the used market, or the web for their ‘tables?

Or is it just that sales that are reported and tracked by some of these companies whose job it is to keep an eye on this sort of this thing aren’t looking at the big picture in an accurate manner? I mean if you’re going to look at vinyl sales for example, the market for used LPs is staggeringly large, but none of these companies seem to tout numbers which tracks those sales (and in all honesty, it would be nearly impossible to do).

The world’s largest turntable manufactures don’t seem to think that the future holds decline, just the opposite as giants like Pro-Ject spin up new factories, and introduce new decks like the Debut III S. Rega reportedly is shipping as many as 4,000 turntables per month, but I guess the question remains “are these number sustainable?

Project-Debut-IIIs
The brand new Pro-Ject Debut III S.

Heinz Lichtenegger, the President of Pro-Ject Audio, and CEO of Audiotuning had this to say when I contacted him regarding this news (edited for spelling, and grammar):

“We think the numbers are inaccurate because the model being used is an imprecise model, as it only tracks the main retailers who report, but not the niches.

Analog sales are happening in a lot of channels such as audiophile dealers, record stores, and also online – so our info is a little bit different.

Yes, while the traditional trade has seen a dip in sales, we see a huge move to the Internet and to many new brands which are everywhere popping up, selling more or less variation of the same factories who supply Teac, AudioTechnica, Onkyio, etc. These are turntables you can only buy online, they are mostly plastic, with terrible cartridges. So what we’re seeing is a huge move from traditional €400 models to €200 and less models.

Also all the DJ variants which nobody needs at home (who needs scratching, stroboscope, quick start or detachable head shell?) have been largely increasing due to romantic association with the Technics SL 1210.

So business is up, but not in the good way, because we feel all this stuff creates a disappointed customer, who will think, “Analog does not sound better then my MP3.” So in the end there seems to be a larger harm to that beautiful flower of analog we have grown up now for so many years.

I hope there will be lot of people who stand up and tell people what is crap, and what a good quality turntable experience is: Manual operation, good cartridge, good stiff arm, no plastic whatsoever.

I swear, Pro-ject will fight for our idea of what makes a great analog experience. That’s for sure.”

So, is the analog-return juggernaut slowing? I guess time will tell, that or at least an ability to more holistically track sales that takes into account used marketplaces, online sales, and a better metric for discerning who is buying exactly what could prevail. Because in all honesty, I don’t feel that those buying cheap, plastic – basically throwaway – turntables are really contributing to anything in the analog revival. Rather, they are contributing to the landfill because that’s where 95 per cent of these disposable ‘tables end up after a few months, and they’ve fallen apart. I think it’s a shame that the same music value system that brought us the MP3 (and it’s disdain for fidelity) are also now capitalizing on the new found appreciation for true fidelity in vinyl listening, and flooding the market with the equivalent of a $30 MP3 player. But hey, that’s just my two cents.

–Rafe Arnott