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Spin cycle: Vinyl records win over new generation of music fans

Spin cycle: Vinyl records win over new generation of music fans

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VERMILLION, S.D. | Austin Kaus, a University of South Dakota student pursuing a master's degree in English, has some unusual morning rituals to rev himself up before a hard day at school.

The 34-year-old Wessington Springs, S.D., native pours himself some coffee and slips a vinyl recording of New Jersey-based punk band The Bouncing Souls, on a record player he bought at a pawn shop.

"I can't start my morning without my caffeine or some punk playing in the background," Kaus says.

Similarly, Mike Anderson cues up a vintage, vinyl recording of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on a Technics SL-1210MK5 turntable in the living room of his rural Jackson, Neb., home.

"I bought this album at a thrift store years ago," the 38-year-old registered nurse says while glancing at the cover for the 1973 recording of Frank Chacksfield And His Orchestra. "It probably sounds as good today as it did when it was first recorded."

Anderson and Kaus are both audiophiles who prefer listening to vinyl (analog recordings) instead of the more current digital sounds of CDs and MP3s.

Anderson says digital recordings can't capture complete sounds. Instead, they approximate them with a series of steps. For instance, a CD can distort a drumbeat or a wail of a trumpet while vinyl can capture it fully.

"With vinyl, you feel like you're in the same room as the band," he says as the Moody Blues play in the background. "It's pretty awesome!"

More than six million new or re-released vinyl records were sold in the United States in 2013, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Although that's minuscule compared to the number of MP3s (118 million) and CDs (165 million) sold, it still represents a 20-year high for vinyl sales.

Sales for digital music and CDs, on the other hand, were both down in 2013.

Brian DeWolf, owner of DeWolf's Non-Sport Cards & Junque Shoppe, says he has seen increased interest in vintage vinyl records at his 1420 Villa Ave. store.

"The market for vintage records has really exploded over the past four or five years," he says. "College kids may hear their parents or teachers talk about certain music and that sparks their own interest."

DeWolf says that interest in music from the '70s, '80s and '90s often leads twenty-somethings to peruse the vintage vinyls he sorts by decade in his store.

"When kids see they can get an entire album for as little as a buck, they think it's a bargain," he admits. "There are times when they can get 30 albums for the price of a single new CD."

This thrill of discovering something different appeals to Anderson.

A music fan since childhood, he says he has "gone through 8-track phases, cassette tapes phases and CD phases" before reverting back to his initial love.

"My friends think I'm some sort of geezer when I mention my record player. That's before they realize I have a terrific record player and I also have the ability to play my music on just about every other format," Anderson says inside his electronic, gadget-filled living room.

From the vantage point of his couch, he can hear more than 6,000 songs -- ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Radiohead -- emanating from seven different, strategically placed speakers.

"My wife Tammy can't tell the (sound) difference between vinyl, cassette or an iPod but she puts up with my obsession," Anderson allows. "Tammy also knows I buy one piece of equipment at a time, so I'm not breaking the bank on anything."

Set to graduate in May, Kaus has to be even more frugal.

Storing approximately 700 of his more than 1,000 records in a corner of the Vermillion trailer he shares with a 3-year-old cat nicknamed The General, Kaus says his musical tastes can range from classic rock (Bob Dylan, also a particular favorite of his music-loving mom) to more edgy alternative fare (as in experimental rockers Faith No More) to stuff that's seemingly inexplicable (the "Police Academy 4" movie soundtrack comes to mind).

Yet it's "pop-punk" bands like the California-based NOFX and the Washington-based The Melvins that excite Kaus the most.

"I went through a 'metal' phase for a while but I've loved punk since I was a kid," he says. "Punk really spoke to me as a teenager because the music could be ferociously angry but never desolate. They'd yell about things but wouldn't be all whiny about it."

That's important to Kaus since he says music has the ability to take him back in time.

For instance, the Beatles' "The White Album" will always remind him of his mom while the Foo Fighters' "The Colour and the Shape" will always trigger feelings of breaking up with his first college girlfriend.

Anderson also looks to the past for musical inspiration as well as keeping an open mind for artists he previously overlooked.

"I used to think Stevie Wonder was cheesy until I heard him again and became a fan," he says.

Anderson lovingly brushes off the dust of the vinyl records he has collected over the years. He also buys new LPs from retail stores like FYE or through online vendors like Amazon.

"It's strange that new vinyls are sometimes more expensive than new CDs," he notes. "I think it's because vinyls are now less mainstream and are geared towards hard-core music fans."

That hasn't been the experience for Kaus, who says new 7-inch 45s are still reasonably priced.

However, he doesn't mind splurging on vinyl albums that contains extra features.

"I love the cover art and the glow-in-the-dark colors some groups use for their records," he says. "I even love the liner notes that come with vinyl albums. That's pretty cool."

As the Bouncing Souls spins away on his turntable, Kaus reflects for a moment.

"There's just something about taking a record out of its sleeve and manually putting a needle to vinyl that makes you feel connected to both the music and the band," he says. "That's a connection you won't get from a CD or going on iTunes."

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