Why Vinyl’s Boom Is Over

As purists complain about low quality and high prices, vinyl sales taper off; Gillian Welch and David Rawlings cut their own records.

Old LPs were cut from analog tapes—that’s why they sound so high quality. But the majority of today’s new and re-issued vinyl albums—around 80% or more, several experts estimate—start from digital files, even lower-quality CDs. These digital files are often loud and harsh-sounding, optimized for ear-buds, not living rooms. So the new vinyl LP is sometimes inferior to what a consumer hears on a CD.

.. “They’re re-issuing [old albums] and not using the original tapes” to save time and money, says Michael Fremer, editor of AnalogPlanet.com and one of America’s leading audio authorities. “They have the tapes. They could take them out and have it done right—by a good engineer. They don’t.”

.. When labels advertise a re-issued classic as mastered from the original analog tapes, the source can be more complicated. Sometimes they are a hodge-podge of digital and analog. Often “labels are kind of hiding what’s really happening,” says Russell Elevado, a veteran studio engineer and producer who has earned two Grammys working with R&B singer D’Angelo.

.. Major labels say they use original analog masters when possible. Sometimes tapes are too brittle to be used to make a vinyl master. Low-quality re-issues may be the result of less-reputable labels that can’t afford to shell out big bucks for engineering and record-pressing,

.. Today’s digital files can sound fantastic—especially for hip-hop and dance music. But engineers say they need to be mastered separately for vinyl in order to have the right sound. To meet deadlines for releasing new albums, labels can’t always cut vinyl to the absolute best audio quality

.. “The scientists who developed how to cut good stereo were the brightest people in our country at that time,”