Wags enjoy poking fun at people who spend money on vinyl LPs and the equipment that plays them. “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience,” says a hipster in a droll New Yorker cartoon.
Maybe the mockers have cloth ears. How else can they miss the richness of sound, and the sense of being there with the artists that any decent hifi system delivers?
The vinyl revival is here to stay. For equipment manufacturers, the future is less assured. The price-sensitive end of the market enjoyed two pandemic years of soaring sales. Now inflation and the cost of living crisis are hitting revenues and margins. Sales at the top end are holding up, for those manufacturers able to deliver.
Bang & Olufsen of Denmark, one of the few listed manufacturers, covers the full range. Its sales collapsed in the year to May 2020 as the world shut down, then recovered as people diverted spending from services to goods. Its latest figures show a slight decline. Yet sales of its most luxurious products, such as its Beolab 90 loudspeakers (from £85,750 a pair), have continued to rise.
B&O has not made a profit since 2019. To do that, it must sell more of its most expensive products, which means investment in scaling up. A shortage of cash will make this hard to do in the next 12 months.
At the other end of the market, capacity has also been a problem. At Rega Research, a privately held UK manufacturer, sales of entry-level turntables (£300 to £700) soared in the pandemic. That created “the most difficult period I’ve ever worked through” for Simon Webster, head of marketing.
Sales last month, of about 2,400 turntables, were less than half the monthly peak and 1,000 below their pre-pandemic level. Sales of Rega’s high-end turntables (£1,000 to £6,000) have also retreated but held their pre-pandemic level.
Now the company has spare capacity but tight margins. This year it made its first across-the-board price rises since its birth in 1973 after struggling to absorb rising costs for parts, raw materials, packaging and shipping.
Enthusiasts today can buy a decent system at a fraction of the real-terms outlay in the mid-1970s, the heyday of the vinyl LP. But for all but the few wishing to take their first steps, that knowledge will do nothing to relieve squeezed budgets.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Have you invested in new stereo equipment recently, perhaps as a pandemic era exercise in rebuilding a lost record collection? Please share your experiences in the comments section below