When it comes to music media over the last 60 or so years, you can’t deny that we’ve been through successive generations of come-and-goes. Since the dawn of the recording industry, there have been cycles of more advanced technology designed to bring greater accessibility or portability or reliability. Looking at those advances, you can honestly say each one stuck out as having cutting edge qualities and real pitfalls. Only tried and true vinyl has rebounded in a real way.
Vinyl was king throughout the ’60s and into the ’70s until auto manufacturers decided that they needed a way to bring the personalized listening experience to their younger marketplace. So emerged a portable means of dragging around albums in cartridge form. By miniaturizing standard audio tape on a single continuous spool, audio engineers produced music on 8 track tapes. Legions of motorized audiophiles ignored the inconvenience of their top 40 hits being split into two with the unceremonious clunk of the track change. They endured the inevitable warble that crept into the music as the tape stretched over time. Or they searched desperately for a matchbook to prop up the cartridge when it would misalign in the player. All annoying rituals of a bygone age.
Then came the '80’s refinement of the cassette, where you could not only listen to your tunes in the car but on boxy players that ate batteries like party snacks. Gone was the warble and the track changer. However, listeners would be burdened with flipping the cassette over to the “B” side after half the album, which was the same ritual response as listening to a record. Of course, newer players were equipped with “auto-reverse” as the big upsell.
With digitization came the compact disc, the media to end all media. In spite of audiophiles snorting about the loss of fidelity, listeners would gladly forego the clunking, whirring and hissing of the tech predecessors. With stacks of discs tucked under windshield visors, listeners were seemingly content about the occasional skip that came with a pothole.
But those old records are finding new life. And new music is being issued on coloured vinyl in specialty stores that are popping up like mushrooms in the wake of bankrupt CD and DVD outlets. The nostalgia of planting the tonearm, ceremonious wiping down the record surface with a microfiber glove, admiring from a distance the abstract and day-glow album art: they’re all back. All in panoramic hi-fidelity.
Maybe this means that Beta-Vision will make a comeback next.