Remembering The First Time

Do you remember the first time you heard a recording by Led Zeppelin. If you are my vintage it would have been in the late 60’s, and it would have been either on radio (AM only – this was well before the advent of FM in Australia), or on vinyl LP (it was also way before cassette, CD, Mini-Disc etc.)

Earlier this year, under the watchful eye of Jimmy Page, the first three Zeppelin albums were remastered and re-released. However this time round the formats of choice are a little more varied, with a variety of packages available encompassing Vinyl (high quality 180gram pressing), CD and High-Definition download. This was the first release of the entire nine studio albums which will be re-released over time (the next two are due in October), and which also includes a considerable repertoire of previously unreleased material.

The fact that Vinyl features so heavily in this release is probably not surprising to many, the return of vinyl as a format has been well documented by the press in recent times. What is significant is that irrespective of how cherished the memories of your first introduction to Zeppelin is, you now have the opportunity to revisit their music at performance levels never available before. Before you correctly surmise that given the march of technology this should be expected you need to remember that ours is an industry that insists on striving for increased convenience at the expense of performance. The claims that CD was an inferior format to vinyl are justified. Cassette was a further step backwards, but nowhere near the giant leap backwards in performance with the ultra-popular MP3 formats championed by Apple etc. (We also managed to do the same for TV, blundering from Plasma to LCD to LED/LCD).

The resurgence of vinyl is as much about the backlash to the performance limitations of MP3 as it being ‘retro and cool’. There is an entire generation of people who are discovering what it is like to hear music that is well recorded and faithfully reproduced (a considerable proportion of people investing in new turntables were not even born when CD was released.) It was interesting to read that Jack Whites recent release Lazaretto was the biggest selling LP of the last 20 years, and that the LP accounted for an astounding 25% of the total sales of the album (the vinyl offering sold 40,000 copies in the first week!)

But it is the third format mentioned above that will have greatest impact in the future. The Digital Download option has little in common with more traditional MP3 ‘iTunes’ style offerings, other than the method of delivery. There are still some legal ‘copyright’ issues to get out of the way before High-Resolution downloads become commonplace in Australia (although many are finding ways to circumnavigate this annoyance), and the range is music is still somewhat limited. At the same time there is no doubt that this will become the music medium of the future. Hi-Res downloads offer resolutions in excess of CD, and rival the performance of Vinyl. The convenience of the delivery and storage format will ultimately make it a more appealing format than LP’s.

For the first time in a couple of decades there appears to be revival in ‘listening’. We have been spoiled in recent years with almost unlimited access to more music than we could even hope to consume. The downside has been that the performance offered limited any real emotional involvement, and in most cases this music simply became background noise. A growing number of people are once again ‘connecting’ with their music. They are actively listening, be it on Vinyl, CD or increasingly from Hi-Resolution downloads. There is a worldwide resurgence in ‘Hi-Fi’. No longer content with iPod based devices and Bluetooth speakers consumers are once again going out and purchasing good quality component systems. In other cases this may simply be a high performance pair of headphones, with a good quality Headphone Amplifier/DAC. Many are hearing, for the first time, to what the artist intended to be conveyed at the time the recording was made.

Obviously as a speciality retailer this is music to my ears (sorry!). However – and possibly more importantly – it takes me back to why I became involved in this industry in the first place – simply a love for music.

By Len Wallis

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