Nostalgia is a powerful thing. When I reported and wrote the stories on vinyl record pressing machines, the memories came flooding back, of high school, college, spending time with friends.
The story on Newbilt Machinery in Germany came out in our Oct. 3 issue. I visited Newbilt back in May, on a trip to do some reporting before K 2016. My interview in Alsdorf, Germany, with engineers Detlef Seiffert and Erwin Neubauer was one of the most fun days I've had as a reporter.
A quick recap: Newbilt and a Toronto company, Viryl Technologies Corp., are making the first new, commercially available record pressing machines in at least three decades. Vinyl is enjoying a renaissance.
I had to interview Viryl on the phone. But I got to actually go to Alsdorf.
And in a leisurely interview that lasted several hours, Seiffert and Neubauer and I talked as much about what makes vinyl albums so special, as we did about compression molding technology. Young hipsters think records are cool. But to Baby Boomers, they represent the heartbeat of our collective youth.
The vinyl sound really is warm. You can crank up the volume — and the bass — and it sounds like you're in a bar listening to the band. It's great. (Try playing a CD really loud. Ugly distortion. Your head will feel like it's about to split open).
But here's the most important thing: Listening to vinyl records is a social experience
As a teenager, I didn't know much about rock and jazz music until I went to college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. It was fall quarter of 1979. My freshman-dorm neighbors had big record collections stored in stolen milk crates. Led Zeppelin. Neil Young. King Crimson. Pink Floyd. Jean-Luc Ponty.
Me and a few music-loving friends would walk up to a place called Haffa's Records, go down a flight of steps, entering a world of used records. Looking through the bins was calming. Therapeutic. You could try them out on a turntable, listening through cheap clunky headphones. Sometimes we would buy brand new albums over at Schoolkids Records.
Back in the dorm, we removed the album from the cover and placed it on the turntable. I remember pulling out the sheet of lyrics — often printed right on the sleeve — and reading along while listening to an album for the first time. We would pass the lyrics around. (We passed around something else too, but this is a family newspaper and it's only legal in a few states).
The key is we listened, together.
The Sony Walkman came out the summer of 1979, selling for $150. Outrageous, I remember thinking! Plus, who wants to listen to music all by themselves, in their ears, while walking around? As they exploded in popularity, I came to realize that the Walkman represented the End of Civilization, or at least the beginning of the end. (The real end came when music was reduced to digital numbers on CDs, then compressed down in MP3s.)
In 1979, Vinyl was King. CDs didn't even exist. Cassettes had replaced the 8-track tapes of my high school days; back in college we used them to record new albums, preserving the pristine vinyl from idiot damage by 18-year-olds in late-night jam sessions.
The album collections of my college buddies expanded my horizons. That was a big part of my OU education. Then there are the rituals: Removing the record. Putting it on the turntable. Cleaning it with that Discwasher pad and the D4 liquid. Blowing on the needle to remove any lingering dust. Checking the speed with that strobe light thing.
Dropping the needle. Turning up the volume.
Then you listen to an entire album and the songs play in the order actually intended by the band. It's analog, the original sound waves, maaan….
Vinyl is back! Vinyl is cool! But don't take my word for it; I'm 55 years old. Go to a record store and see for yourself: Young people buying vinyl records.