Thursday, December 31, 2009

Death of the Vinyl Revival and the Technics SL-1200 MkII

I went on a road trip to Duluth with my cousin, who's a DJ and musician, for Christmas. I was shocked when he told me that Technics planned to retire the SL1200. How was such a thing even possible? Isn't this the default machine for every DJ in the world?

Matthew told me that digital has completely taken over the club world. Even though he has two SL1200's - a college graduation gift from his parents - he loves being able to DJ with digital tech. One thing he tells me is that today's equipment looks like you're spinning, like you're creating music. A DJ with a Macbook doesn't look like he's checking his email, and that's a pretty big deal.

He told me that Technics changed their minds about killing their turntables, but it's pretty clear to me that the writing is on the wall. I would love to believe that all DJs and music lovers want to hold on to their vinyl, but the advances in digital technology makes that a more attractive option.

I don't know how long the current "vinyl revival" fad will last, but I'm under no illusions that these machines will exist forever. The SL1200 is 30 years old, as are vinyl pressing plants. The hi-fi market caters purely to the wealthy, where $1,000 is considered a "budget" turntable. Meanwhile, an iPod Nano can be had for $150.

Technics would do well to lower their prices on the SL1200. $500 is still a lot of money for most people. I guess that depends on how aggressively Panasonic would want to sell their product, and what future they see in the medium. I do think the hi-fi market has failed spectacularly to capture the revival fad. Why are all the prices going up? What's the deal with that? A thousand dollars to play music is obscene. That's so far beyond most people's budgets - especially the young people who are fuelling the vinyl fad - that it's scandalous.

I love vinyl records and turntables, so I feel sad at the prospect of vinyl's passing. But DJs will continue to move from analog to digital, and unless turntable can be sold at the mass-market level, comparable to videogames consoles, this fad will pass and remain in the realm of aging nostalgia. If you grew up spinning records, you'll continue to spin records. If you grew up listening to iPods...well, that's different.

If the price of the SL1200 was cheaper, I'd buy one immediately. I would have been giving those out for Christmas presents, instead of Nintendo Wii. I may still buy a couple decks, just to save and preserve for the future. I'll give them out as holiday gifts for my grandchildren in the year 2040. They'll own the last turntables in existence and they'll be thrilled.

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