SECRETS World of Vinyl

The vinyl record trade has accounted for the only growth of physical media sales in the music industry over the previous few years. In 2018, vinyl and playback component sales are predicted to hover around the $1 billion dollar mark. Quite a comeback for a “dead industry.” How did this happen? What spurred the resurrection?

That’s a raging debate, and one that likely won’t end soon. Some audiophiles swear by the sound quality, others prefer digital. Vinyl enthusiasts state that records can carry more sonic information than a CD: digital listeners will say that much of the information is lost in translation, usually during the mass production process or via playback equipment that can’t translate those details anyway. The difference in convenience is undeniable: records can take over your living space. They are easily damaged, and some are manufactured to more exacting standards than others. Digital files, on the other hand, are so easily transported, and stored, that they barely exist at all, and rarely does one encounter an outright defective compact laser disc. (We hear that they still make those, for some reason.)

Vinyl listeners often speak of an analog “warmth” that is hard to describe. One might gain a similar experience by asking a vintage electronics collector about the value and purpose of tube equipment. They will likely tell you that it sounds “better,” but struggle to tell you what the actual tubes even do. What if a record is produced from digital masters? How warm is that? What if you get your hands on a well-produced, all analog production that was gummed up by a poor pressing process? How do you know where a record was pressed in the first place? How much does it matter? Do some labels offer a higher quality of product than others? If so, which ones? These are some of the mysteries that we try to unravel at Secrets. We endeavor to do the legwork so that our readers can make more informed purchasing decisions (or simply be more informed).

Over the years, SECRETS has reviewed gear that is part of the vinyl world, including turntables, cartridges and phono preamplifiers. And we have published technical articles and editorials. SECRETS World of Vinyl assembles all of the vinyl recording reviews, product reviews and technical articles in one place. On the recording front, we will continue to explore more “pedestrian” or “fun” releases in addition to productions geared towards the more discerning listener and the true audiophile. And we will continue to discuss artwork and extras, availability, historical context, and production trivia. But mostly we will focus on the sound. The glorious details that an analog production can reveal, the depth and breadth of the soundstage, the three dimensionality of the listening experience, and the transparency. We look at reissued recordings and new works spanning many genres and eras. Mostly, we aim to have some fun exploring the vinyl medium, and hopefully discover some new music to enjoy as we go. Thanks for reading!

Review Categories

SECRETS World of Vinyl

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – September, 2009

When I think of Duke Ellington, I think of Big Bands and his "Live at Newport" album from 1956. I bought "Money Jungle" based on the album cover and the fact that it was released by Classic Records. The cover photo shows The Duke and drummer Max Roach commiserating at the piano while the formidable Charles Mingus looks on in the background with his bass. It's in black and white. The music is not.

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – August, 2009

At this point, I'm not expecting Son Volt to release any experimental electro-pop or klezmer-inflected jam funk. Son Volt makes straight ahead country tinged rock and roll music. Almost exclusively. Jay Farrar has the voice for it. He's good at it. He's known how to do it for decades, and he doesn't seem to have any interest in changing his ways this late in the game. Besides, Farrar got a little risky with some alternate tunings and unorthodox song structures on some solo releases a while back, and no one was buying.

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – July, 2009

I came to the Iron and Wine game late.  I bought 2007's "The Shepherd's Dog," amongst the disapproving howls of his audience who seemed to think he'd abandoned his sound.  You'd have thought he'd started rapping or something.  "Around the Well" is a collection of B-sides and rarities that span the length of his career, and I can kind of see his fans' point in retrospect.

conrad-johnson Classic Vacuum Tube Preamplifier with Phono Stage

conrad-johnson (lower case c and j) was formed in the mid-seventies, shortly after I became seriously interested in audio gear. I'm sure the two events were entirely unrelated. Their first product, a preamplifier, was immediately recognized as "state of the art," and so their storied history began. I encourage you to visit their website for more details. There, they provide a long list of products that have been reviewed as "Best of Class", and even "Best in the World."

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – June, 2009

There are few popular recording artists that have their very own genre of music. I mean, you can probably count them on one hand. Tom Waits comes to mind. That's about it, really. There are probably others, but even someone like Neil Young can't be said to have his own genre. His music is instantly recognizable, and derivative of no one's work, but it's still rock and roll at the end of the day. Junior Kimbrough played the blues. But he didn't play the blues like anyone else played the blues. He played his own style of Hill Country Blues, and it varied so severely from his neighbors' styles that you could almost say he created something new. He created something new that sounds like it pre-dates time. It's a sound that's as complex as the region that spawned the artist. It's a place and a sound that time seems to have forgotten in a lot of ways.

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – May, 2009

Now, Blitzen Trapper is a little more my speed. From the first note of their newest album, "Furr," you know that these guys are most assuredly not traveling minstrels. These guys like to rock and have a good time. They have song titles like "Fire and Fast Bullets," and "Black River Killer." They sing about shaking it on a Saturday night and their guitars are loud and appropriately distorted. They infuse elements of folk, country, soul, and more to form an original sound that never veers too far from the rock, and keeps the listener alert and on their toes until the last acoustic notes of "Lady On The Water."

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – April, 2009

Janelle Monae doesn't lack for ambition. That much is for certain after just a cursory listen to her debut E.P. "Metropolis: The Chase Suite." Monae has some heavy hitters in her corner, and they bring a lot to the production side of the recording. It's Monae's voice, however, that carries the day on this concept record. It gives the listener the impression that she can handle any style of vocal delivery that the job calls for, and many of those styles are accounted for during this brief first offering.

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – March, 2009

Dan Auerbach's new album is called "Keep It Hid." It starts out quietly enough, but anyone that is familiar with Auerbach's work with the Black Keys should know that this wouldn't last. The man is capable of beautiful melody and quiet interludes, but he can groove too and this is best done loudly. All of his most obvious talents are on full display on "Keep It Hid," and the results are intoxicating.

A Collection of New Vinyl Releases – February, 2009

Neil Young has been making music for well past 40 years now. His catalog is extensive. His disdain for his labels' expectations is legendary. The man was sued by his own company for making records that didn't sound like Neil Young. His live setlists are frequently populated by songs that the casual fan has never heard. His concept albums have been brilliant (see "Tonight's the Night") & confusing (witness "Greendale"). His next release is rumored to be an album about an electric car. I'm serious.

Marantz TT-15S1 Turntable

The Marantz TT-15S1 has me so excited about vinyl again that it has me scrambling to find old LPs. A friend recommended that I check out a used CD store, and, "Oh yeah," he says, "they sell vinyl too!" Tunes in Hoboken, New Jersey has become a favorite destination when I can find parking and have a bit of time to kill searching through their ever growing collection. I never stop to look at the CDs by the way, but go straight to the 12" x 12" disc-size.