It’s been decades since families gathered round record players to listen to the new pile of records stacked among the torn wrapping paper on Christmas morning.
However, LPs will be crackling and popping in living rooms all over the country this year as Britons give new turntables a spin after the gadget became one of the must-have gifts of 2017.
Retailers including HMV and Richer Sounds have reported bumper turntable sales this year, while John Lewis has sold out of eight of the 20 models it stocked, as millennials and fortysomethings catch the vinyl bug.
Phil Jubb, purchasing director at hi-fi and TV specialist Richer Sounds, said turntable sales had increased by 70% in recent years: “This has been across the board at all prices. It goes to show that a great record player is part of any good sound system.”
The vinyl scene used to be dominated by male baby boomers reliving their youth through record collections skewed towards heritage rock acts such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Radiohead. But recent research by the BPI, the UK music industry’s trade body, found a broadening demographic with under 35s making nearly a quarter of all vinyl purchases and one in four records bought by female fans.
With record players costing anything from £25 to over £20,000, the appetite for vinyl among teenagers and students has encouraged manufacturers to produce cheaper models, including retro suitcase style players and brightly coloured ones costing less than £100.
HMV’s Simon Winter said the retailer will sell close to 60,000 turntables this year, compared with 50,000 in 2016. A turntable will be the top selling product in its technology department this Christmas, ahead of both headphones and speaker docks, he added.
John Lewis said its shoppers are increasingly interested in sound quality with slightly more expensive models, like those made by Japan’s Audio-Technica, in demand this year. “Sales of turntables have been steadily rising over the past few years,” said Will Jones, head of communications technology buying at John Lewis. “But we’ve seen a 20% increase in sales of higher end turntables this year.”
In recent years vinyl sales have rocketed as the shift to consuming music via streaming services hits sales of CDs and downloads.
The BPI predicts more than 4m records will be sold in the UK this year, the highest since it began collecting data in the early 1990s. Sales at this level would represent a 30% increase on 2016 and a remarkable comeback for a format that looked doomed in 2007 when just 205,000 records were sold.
With CD sales now in sharp decline manufacturers are expanding their turntable ranges to cater for the different types of vinyl buyer.
Last year saw the return of DJ favourite, the Technics SL-1200, which had been discontinued in 2010. The design classic is aimed at consumers who used to mix records in their bedrooms but have grown up and got more money to spend on their music set up.
Mike Burn, store manager of London based hi-fi specialist Infidelity, said the company never stopped selling records players albeit to an audiophile market where enthusiasts are willing to spend several thousand pounds on just a speaker cable.
“You can get into spending thousands of pounds because you can custom build them like a Rolls-Royce,” he said. “We’ve been selling record players non-stop for the last 25 years. There’s a ritualistic thing about it. It’s a bit more special than picking up an iPad to open a different app.”
The vinyl resurgence led to the reinstatement of official weekly charts dedicated to the format in 2015. This year’s top selling albums will be Ed Sheeran’s Divide, as well as the solo output of both Liam and Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis. Retailers are reporting growth across all genres as Britons use streaming services like Spotify to discover and then buy new music.
However, with just over a quarter of all vinyl purchases made in December and well over 250,000 bought this week alone, the last vinyl chart before Christmas gives a sense of what tunes may be spinning while the turkey is cooking.
Noel Gallagher’s Who Built the Moon looks to have secured the coveted number one slot but the top 20 is nothing if not eclectic, as Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, hangs on at number three after 125 weeks on the chart, while Eminem and Pink are also battling the might of the crowd-pleasing compilation Now That’s What I Call Christmas.