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Analogue Revival

Marie Yanaka

Analogue audio is making comeback as music fans are giving vinyl records a spin. When CDs came along back in the 80s, they quickly put records out of business. The shift happened fast.

The first CD player appeared in 1982. Five years later, CD production overtook vinyl. But in recent years, CDs have been giving way to streaming services.

Disc sales are down, but paradoxically vinyl is really making a comeback. Analogue records are becoming the sound of a new generation again.

One bar in Tokyo is in the vanguard of this new trend. High-fidelity is the selling-point, whether it's digital or vinyl. The music isn't confined to the background. It's all around.

Customers bring in their own records and have them kept behind the bar. The records are organized on the shelf for each patron.

Jun Hayashi says he came up with the idea to connect people through music and to provide them with a different way of enjoying it.

"More and more customers are bringing in records that they've just bought at nearby shops and asking us to play them," Hayashi said. "Younger people are discovering a fresh way of enjoying music. It's something different; a new experience."

People who make the music feel the pull of analogue too.

Momoiro Clover Z is among them. They're one of Japan's top idol groups. They hold concerts that fill stadiums and arenas. In 2014, they became the first female group to hold a live performance at the National Olympic Stadium.

The group's third and fourth albums will be released next month. The first single from the albums came out early not on CD, not through downloads but on records sold at live shows.

Junnosuke Miyamoto represents the group's record label. He says analogue stirs emotions.

"I used to collect records a lot myself, before I entered the music business, and I still love them," Miyamoto said. "As you can see, the jackets are nice and big. That's one of the reasons I like them. If I can, I want to share through acts like Momoiro Clover Z the same sort of excitement that I felt in those days."

Listeners who want to get even closer to the format can move in that direction by taking a tour.

A tour leaving Tokyo's Shibuya area on a Sunday morning was headed to a record factory. Radio personality Peter Barakan and family led the group, but the tour was organized by Sound Finder, an on-line shopping site.

"I feel that things you can touch are important," said Tadahisa Shinkawa of Sound Finder. "So, I thought visiting a record factory and seeing the production process would enhance the way people enjoy music."

The tour goes to Yokohama, the site of Japan's one and only vinyl record factory.

This is where the master records are cut. The visitors were all ears as an engineer gave them the technical details.

Then they moved to the stamping section where the vinyl is etched. Vinyl chloride, PVC, is the raw material.

Nightfall brings the factory part of the tour to a close. But there's still time for a DJ show, featuring the Barakans. It's titled "Bridging the grooves between father and son." They picked records according to various themes and gave them a spin.

"I think, in a way, digital technology has gone about as far as it can go in some ways," Barakan said. "Technically, everything is perfect. But at a lot of the times it gets very stale. And I think, perhaps, some people of younger generation and musicians, they probably realize this, and they kind of want to go back to something that's more organic."

The enthusiasm for analogue has also renewed people's interest in high-end audio products. The upscale audio store Sound Create opened a new branch. Record jackets set the tone as decor.

"Time passes more slowly," said Kyoko Takeda of Sound Create. "I find myself consciously listening to the music when I play analogue recordings. That's probably why I feel a different flow."

For customers who are able to make a significant investment of time and money the store has imported a 20-thousand dollar analogue turntable. The equipment requires delicate tuning. A technician sets it up carefully.

Shigenao Kan has been building his own high-resolution audio system. A vinyl record by singer-songwriter Masaharu Fukuyama led him away from digital to analogue.

"High-resolution sound may be better if you really need every detail," Kan said. "But records resonate with my soul. Once I start listening, I move from one to another, and another. I'm just addicted!"

In a setting as sublime as the sounds, we can easily get lost in this analogue world.

Marie Yanaka discussed the analogue revival with Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu.

Shibuya: Listening to that audio really puts me in a nostaIgic mood. I can feel the ambience of the room.

Beppu: You could buy a nice car with the money that man has spent on his sound system.

Yanaka: Maybe two. But he's on a quest for the best. You don't have to spend that much, though, to enjoy analogue. The technology makes good quality available at affordable prices.

Shibuya: Which do you prefer, digital or analogue?

Yanaka: Everybody has an opinion about that. But it's interesting that many people are being drawn to a format that had been dismissed as out of date. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

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