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Audiophiles and background listeners: how do you listen to music?

The iconic
The iconic "Blown-away man," photograph, used in an advertising campaign by Hitachi Maxwell, a speaker manufacturer, in 1978.

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The way we listen to music is always changing -- from records to tapes to CD's to MP3's, music is something people devote time to, it’s at the forefront and in the background of our lives.

For serious listeners, records are something especially important, and although many audiophiles have been critical of a prevalent “background music” mentality, they may have something to celebrate. Vinyl record sales are up 725 percent since 2008, LP sales grew by 32 percent in 2013 to 6.1 million albums sold (digital sales were stagnant, CD sales declined).

Young listeners are driving record sales, even though vinyl is much more expensive than CDs and digital downloads. Some attribute the vinyl comeback to sound quality (fuller and warmer), aesthetics (the beauty of record players and paying for the album art), and the immersive quality of listening to a full record. Jack White’s new album just sold more copies than any vinyl record since 1991 (40,000 in the first week), and record stores are flourishing.

Still, digital music rules the market – it’s much easier and cheaper to download songs one at a time, skip the experience of a whole album and opt for a mix of songs and artists: music is frequently background noise.

Is the resurgence of vinyl an indicator that consumers are ready for musical immersion? Do you sit down with an album and dedicate time to pure listening? Is it a bad thing for music to be background noise, or is that equally special? How do you like to listen to music?


Mark Richardson, Editor-in-Chief of Pitchfork, his column Resonant Frequency has run on the site since 2001