ALPHARETTA, Ga. — It takes some nerve to open an analog business smack in the middle of the “Technology City of the South.”
But, Comeback Vinyl owners Karen and Alex Vernon think it makes perfect sense to locate their record store at 1 N. Main in downtown Alpharetta.
Besides, said son Alex, analog records – good pressings – use some of the best audio technology ever created.
Though he grew up in the digital age, Alex, 26, is a big fan of vinyl, and he can tell you just about everything that makes its sound reproduction superior to digital products. While the wave of CDs and MP3 music virtually erased the vinyl record industry after 1990, Alex said the analog recordings have been making a comeback.
Indeed, the Recording Industry Association of America has reported that shipments of vinyl albums rose 4 percent to $430 million last year and made up 26 percent of total physical shipments – a market share not seen since 1985.
But, for Karen, whose first job was working at a record store in Mississippi, there’s much more to it than pure numbers.
“I think there’s a general throwback to a lot of things that are not digital now,” she said. “I think there’s an interest in cameras that use ‘real film,’ to typewriters with a ribbon on them and letter writing. I think we reached a generation of people who did not grow up with those things, and there’s some value that they see in it.”
She said record stores never really went out of existence, many just reduced inventory and adjusted their businesses to the compact disc. Nevertheless, she added, there aren’t many in north metro Atlanta.
She says Alex is the brains behind the business, and he understands everything from production to consumer sentiment.
The two began selling records from a table at a local antiques market over four years ago. When they drew more customers than they could comfortable handle, they leased retail space for a small shop on South Main in 2015.
“We thought ‘What’s the worst that could happen? We end up with a great record collection,” she said.
But the little shop soon drew a loyal following, and that base of devotees has followed them downtown.
Their new store at the corner of Main and Milton Ave., is three times the size of the old store, with 2,000 square feet of space. Their collection of some 8,000 titles includes new and used selections in jazz, pop, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop and a little country. They have another couple thousand records on order to fill up what remains of the empty bins.
That gives Alex more area to sell a product he’s grown to appreciate since he first discovered some old jazz recordings when he was in his teens. He still loves jazz and listens to it all the time.
“Vinyl is superior to digital because a compact disc is a compressed file – you’re going to lose highs and you’re going to lose lows,” he said. “Vinyl is analog. So you’re getting the closest thing you can to the tape that the music was recorded on.”
While virtually any vinyl record outperforms a compact disc for sound, there are some LPs – audiophile records – that raise the quality to maximum heights, he said.
Alex said he hopes to concentrate on building the store’s collection of audiophile LPs.
“Those records are cut 100 percent from the original analog tape and remastered for vinyl at some of the highest-end mastering centers in the world on multi-million-dollar mastering systems,” he said. “Some of them are cut at 45 rpm, so you might get a single LP coming in two discs at 45 rpm. But the grooves are wider on 45 rpm records so they can hold more information, which leads to better sound quality.”
High quality audiophile pressings are those in which the manufacturer limits the number of LPs it produces on a single “stamper” – a metal plate embedded with audio information directly from the master tape of the original recording. While some stampers can be used to press over 7,000 vinyl LPs, audiophile issues limit each stamper to 1,000 pressings, keeping the metal grooves fresh.
“There’s nothing better,” Alex said.
With an eye on the bottom line, Alex said he still enjoys seeing customers find that one disc they hadn’t seen in years and whisking it out of the bin. Better yet, he said, are those who discover something they’ve never heard of, take it home and return with rave reviews.
It’s an experience people don’t get with Spotify or Pandora, he said.
“That’s the experience we’re trying to give to people, the experience of being at your house and flipping through your records that are on your shelf or in your crate and pulling a record out and putting it on,” he said. “That’s an experience. That’s something you do, that you can share with friends and family. It’s not flipping through your phone.”