Unbroken record: the modern and unexpected resurgence of vinyl

Some things never go out of fashion.

There was once a little boy who was obsessed with records. Not the sort handed out after too many Guinnesses – rather the 7-12 inch PVC discs that reach speeds of up to 78rpm.

This boy would spend hours by the turntable listening to Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and Cheech and Chong. One day he hoped to buy his own record player and build his own record collection, likely ‘sourced’ from his parents when their backs were turned.

Then, in the late eighties, records fell from favour. Cassettes were smaller and easier to play in the car. Then compact discs sounded better than tapes and you could skip tracks with a push of a button. Finally the digital age meant music could be downloaded – properly or otherwise. Many people, parents included, gave away or threw out their collections.

Act in haste, repent at leisure. In 2008, a year that saw overall music sales drop 14 percent, sales of LPs in the US almost doubled from 990,000 to 1.88 million. The momentum has only picked up from there as the below graph shows.

Vinyl sales 1993-2012

While it’s still a niche market, vinyl is making up an increasingly large share of total music sales.

So why is vinyl back, and who’s buying it?

Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll witness a growing backlash against the ‘instantaneous society’ we live in. People are increasingly opting for the slower-paced, authentic experience of restaurants/cinemas/vinyl over the rushed, hollow feeling one can get from fast food/YouTube/mp3s.

Record buyers are people who want to touch the music as much as listen to it. They want to be able to admire the album artwork in all its glory and not as a jpeg on a computer screen. They appreciate the crackle and pop – although not the dreaded snap – that comes from owning and playing a record. And they don’t care if they have to listen to an entire side of music then get up and turn the thing over. Quite the opposite.

Sales figures suggest many of these folk are into a delightful mix of retro and indie. The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ topped the vinyl charts for the last three years and in 2012 lies in third place behind Jack White and The Black Keys. Meanwhile, the digital world is dominated by lyrical magicians such as One Direction and Carly Rae Jepsen.

My chat with Shane Taylor on acoustics the other week got somewhat sidetracked by our mutual love of vinyl.  Shane, who has owned the same copy of ‘Band on the Run’ by Wings for almost 40 years, says record listening is also a visual and physical experience.

“Vinyl’s more than music, vinyl is touchy feely,” he says. “You have to get up, you have to put it on and turn it on. I think that’s probably 50% of the connection, and even if it’s scratchy, you don’t care –you’ve already worked hard to listen to the bloody thing.”

Beatles Abbey Road album

Record fans join a long queue for the latest vinyl reissues.

Many love the warm sound that comes from an LP and want to experience classic albums the way their parents did. Simon Sweetman, newly published author and prolific music blogger, is one such person.

In an email to Open2view Simon wrote: “I grew up with LPs and I think, in some way, my record collection is an attempt to honour and continue my parents’ record collection. They were silly and gave away a lot (most) of their records. All dad’s Beatles LPs.

“I salvaged what was left, mostly the material from the 1980s that I grew up with and then from there I grew the collection.”

Once driven underground, LPs are well and truly re-emerging.

“For a while,” says Simon, “it seemed that record collections were the exclusive domain of DJs and collector/trainspotter types. Now I have loads of friends turning to vinyl, starting collections.

“It’s fun. Listening to music and collecting music was always meant to be fun I thought – and there’s something special about thumbing through someone’s record collection. I always look through albums and books in someone’s home. That’s how I feel like I’m getting to know them.”

Simon’s advice to those wanting to get into – or back into – vinyl? “Get a good record collection while you can. Buy up the good stuff as you see it, when you can afford it. And then build up a decent-enough stereo. You can always upgrade your playing equipment later.

“Better to have the best music – sound is key, sure. But you can always fix that later. I’ve noted a lot of hi-fi buffs with amazing stereos and they sit and listen to Enya. No thanks.”

Simon had much more to say on records, audio gear, writing and his brand new book. But that, as they say, is another story. Actually, it will all be in our next blog on Thursday.

As for that little boy? This year he finally bought himself a cheap turntable and is building his collection with music old and new.

And how about you – have you discovered (or rediscovered) records? Or do you prefer CDs/downloading? Flick us your feedback below or over at our Facebook page.

The Great Digital Switchover: why we’re leaving analogue TV behind, and how to make the most of it

At midnight last night, Northern Ireland switched off its old analogue television network and joined the rest of the UK in going digital.

Did you know we’re following suit? Any West Coast and Hawkes Bay residents who weren’t aware found out the hard way last month. The rest of the country has some more time, with the upper North Island being the ones to switch off the lights on 1 December 2013.

For you, dear viewer, there are positive spinoffs in switching to Freeview or Sky. You get much clearer pictures than with the ol’ rabbit ears, access to many more channels and programmes, and a user-friendly on-screen TV guide.

With MySky you can also pause, rewind and record with the press of a couple of buttons. Even better, whenever the Kiwis play league against the Aussies you can switch to Ray Warren’s masterful commentary:

Remember: that’s Setup>Audio language>English alt.

Most importantly, the analogue network will be auctioned off and used to build awesome fourth generation cell phone networks. The 4G network is between 10-100 times faster than 3G – important in a world that’s switching more and more from computers to mobiles and tablets.

The economic benefit of the switchover and move to 4G? Anywhere between $1.1-2.4 billion over 20 years, according to a study by the Ministry of Economic Development.

Going Digital is the website with all the knowledge you need and then some. With most people clued up on the basics – 83 percent of New Zealand households have at least one digital set and of those, 91% know they do – the rest of this blog will seek to answer some of those questions you may not have thought to ask.

Got more than one TV?

Going Digital releases a quarterly report into how good their missionaries are at converting the masses. The May-July 2012 edition of Digital Tracker shows that while most households have switched over their main set, 36% of households with more than one have yet to digitalise the others.

If you want digital television on every set, every set needs to have digital television. You can always connect more than one set to a single box but then, if auntie wants to watch The View, then everyone has to watch The View. Sky customers with multiple sets may want Multiroom before they wind up redefining the term ‘nuclear family’.

Yessir, just don’t hurt us.

If you’re a Freeview subscriber you can hook your TVs up to the same box; however for the same reason you’ll probably prefer a separate receiver for each TV (provided they don’t already have Freeview built in).

Can you get special assistance?

That depends on your circumstances, funnily enough. The Government has funded a Target Assistance Package for those who are:

–       75 or older with a Community Services Card;

–       Receiving a Veteran’s Pension or Invalids’ Benefit; or

–       Former recipients of those benefits who transferred to New Zealand Superannuation upon turning 65.

This assistance will provide a set-top box for one TV, installation and training in using it.

Is this going to be expensive? Not really – Digital Tracker reckons 10% of households have people aged 75 or older, and 5% have people on Invalids’ Benefits. With just 14% of the nation yet to switch, it’s estimated it’ll cost the taxpayer between $12-18 million – not a bad price to help those facing the most barriers.

If you fall into one of those categories but have already made the switch, you can’t claim backdated help under this package. Just find something fun to watch and try not to think about it.

What should you do with your old TV?

Keep it – you don’t need a new TV set to get digital television.

If, however, you are marking this momentous occasion by purchasing a 70-inch plasma, recycle the old set rather than chuck it. Televisions and computer monitors contain aluminium, glass and copper, which can all be reused. They also have not so nice things like mercury, lead and barium that have no business in our landfills.

The Government – yep, them again – established the TV TakeBack programme to provide a home for these orphaned tellies. This scheme launched in Hawkes Bay and the West Coast on 1 October. If you live in either region, recycling your set is free until the 28th (hurry!) and after that the cost “will be kept as low as possible.” The scheme will be rolled out around the rest of the country alongside the switchover.

If you can’t wait that long, contact your local council or e-waste specialists to find out where you can dispose of your TV thoughtfully.

Anything else on your mind?

Got any other questions about the digital switchover you’d like answered? Going DigitalFreeview and Sky TV are all pretty thorough.

Or you can ask us in the comments below or on our Facebook page, as your humble blogger has learned almost all there is to know about this topic. We also know a thing or two about real estate photography. So go on, try and trip us up.

Getting your house acoustically correct: sound ideas for better audio


Almost everybody owns a television and/or stereo. Many people then attempt to enhance the sound by buying a home theatre system.

But how many of you are getting the best out of these pricey assets? A large screen plasma TV is useless if you have to keep adjusting the volume. A CD player is no good if it makes Jimi Hendrix sound like Jimmy Buffett.

Odds are it’s not your equipment to blame, but rather your room. Good acoustics are the key to getting your money’s worth from all that hi-fi gear. Many modern homes, with their low gib ceilings and large windows, are very acoustically unfriendly.

Acoustic expert and musician Shane Taylor, of Hamilton’s Sound and Picture Specialists, has a knack for explaining complex sound issues to technically illiterate folk like myself.

Shane Taylor

Shane Taylor

Shane witnessed first hand the decline in acoustic quality when playing live gigs. He looks back on the 1980s wistfully: “every pub was carpeted – you’re stuck to the floor because of the booze on the floor – there were heavy heavy curtains everywhere, and you could belt it out in there and it sounded great.”

The nineties, however, were a different story: “suddenly all the curtains disappeared, the carpet got ripped up for a polished concrete floor, and when you did a gig there it sounded terrible. You had everything turned right down, and you could hear the people more than yourself because everything’s amplified.”

To restore these venues to the good old days could cost publicans tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, with some creativity, the rest of us can fix our home acoustics for much less.

‘Soften’ the room

The worst sounding rooms are built from brick or plastered with gib. Shane describes gib as “your worst enemy, because it’s basically a thin piece of concrete nailed onto very thin pieces of wood. It’s a trampoline.” Wood itself is better because it has a “more natural tone.”

The most effective step you can take is softening the room. Get creative: audio waves will hit a brick wall hard – something known as ‘slap echo’ – but will sound far nicer if it instead bounces off a soft Mexican rug that’s been hung on the wall. This was, incidentally, all the rage back in the seventies.

Curtains, especially pleated ones, are also great. “Pleated curtains are your best friends,” says Shane, “the heavier the better. A mat on the floor if it’s concrete, a soft couch, maybe a few puffy pillows – they all make a big difference.”

What about a wooden table instead of glass? “No table!” Not even a coffee table? “A coffee table in the middle of the room is the worst thing you can do actually, because the sound ‘pings’ off it: it’s called ‘filter comb effect’ – it pings off it and comes up to you.”

Shane’s a realist however. “The first thing you learn in this game is ‘be practical’. I’ve got a recording studio – you can be stupid in a recording studio – but at home you have to just be practical.”

One customer’s wife used her veto power to keep their coffee table, so hubby simply threw a big woolly rug over the table whenever he wanted to listen to music. “The voice just sprung right out, it made a huge difference right away.”

Have the right speakers

Shane has seen many cases where people have opted for small, inconspicuous, unobtrusive wall speakers. The end result is a sound system that is neither seen nor heard unless turned up loud.

Castle floorstander speakers

These sound even nicer than they look

Floorstanders provide a more solid sound for those who are more interested in what speakers sound like rather than how they look. “The floorstander sounds great at very, very, very, very quiet volumes. Those things [wall speakers] only sound good if they’re loud. So it’s the opposite to what they’re actually aiming for.”

A set of good-looking floorstanders is a no-brainer; they will improve both the room’s aesthetics and acoustics.

Get your room in shape

If you are lucky enough to have a choice of potential living/listening rooms, go for the one that’s not simply a square box.

The acoustic room at Sound and Picture Specialists is not only rectangular but has wall supports and parts of the ceiling lower than the rest. This is good for sound, says Shane. “The more odd shapes the better, because all those random shapes are breaking up the reflections and scattering them in odd places, whereas if the room was just a cube with nothing in it then everything would be very uniform. It’d be like shutting yourself in a toilet and singing.”

It doesn’t have to be rocket science

As long as you soften those hard surfaces, have some decent floorstander speakers and a room that isn’t beyond redemption, you can transform it from a ‘slap echo chamber’ into a place where music and voices come to life, a site where you can hear something new and interesting with every listen.

Shane sounded a word of warning before I left: “It [acoustics] is a very, very intense subject, and there’s a lot of real strong opinions on it.” Many of those who feel strongest work out their acoustics using all sorts of formulae and instruments.

For us non-tech folk, says Shane, just try stuff. “If you do something and it sounds better you do it more; if it sounds worse you go back to square one and try something else.”

Do you have any suggestions for stuff to try? Let us know in the comments section or over at our Facebook page.

For more good info on acoustics check out Sound and Picture Specialists’ website, and you can listen to some of Shane’s own music at shanetaylor.co.nz.

A guide (and bribe) to using the Open2view search function

Hi guys and girls. If you’re here, it might be because you spotted one of our Facebook posts or ads. You know, the ones offering a chance to win one of these:

As with any competition there is one small catch. To be in to win one of two Panasonic compact stereo systems, or a 47 inch Panasonic television, you must first master the search engine on Open2view.com.

Really it is hardly a catch at all because, thanks to our awesome tech team, it is ridiculously easy to use.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Most house hunters will be interested in the ‘Residential’ category – which is conveniently enough the first place you land on our homepage.

From there you can make your search very exact indeed, using the following fields:

  • Region > District > Suburb
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Price range
  • Price type – i.e. is there a suggested price, is it being auctioned, or are they calling for tenders?
  • Type of property – do you want a house, an apartment, a lifestyle property or something else?
  • And, of course, there’s also the keyword search for any other criteria you can dream up.

By using this array of tools you can narrow your search down to pretty much anything you want.

Let’s say, for example, you want a house in Albany or Browns Bay with 3-4 bedrooms, two bathrooms and a garage, and all for between $600-900,000. Easy found. Here’s one we prepared earlier:

Once you’ve filled in all the necessary fields (hold down ‘Control’ if selecting more than one suburb), press ‘Search’…

…And presto – you have yourself a nicely narrowed down list of homes to check out.

Oh yes, see that ‘OpenNotice’ link on the right hand side? That’s super useful too: click the ‘Notify Me’ button and any future listings that match your search criteria will be emailed to you.

If you’re searching for a rural, commercial or rental property, we have search engines specially tailored for those too – just click the appropriate tab and you’re away laughing.

Lesson over. Now, for those of you who haven’t already, it’s homework time.

If you live in New Zealand you could win one of those awesome Panasonic prizes just by using Open2view’s search engine. It’s this simple:

  1. Pop over to www.nz.open2view.com
  2. In keyword search, type ‘entertainment’ then click ‘Search’
  3. Go to the first property in the search results and get the six digit property ID number
  4. Head to our Facebook app and enter the draw, using that ID number as the answer!

Remember, although we love you all, this competition is open to those in New Zealand only. Our website, on the other hand, is open to everyone; so jump on, find a house you like, move on over, and you’re definitely welcome to enter our next competition.

A warning of blog posts to come

As part of this promotion we’ll be peppering the blog with a few pieces on home entertainment and related stuff between now and the end of November.

The idea of writing a series of posts on this topic presents, for me, a slight challenge.

Walk into my house and you would see a 32 inch television with no attached speakers or subwoofers to be found. If you wanted to play my (awesome) music collection you would either chuck a CD into my laptop or play one of my seven records on my turntable with 100 percent bass-free internal speaker. Finally, you probably got into my house because I often accidentally leave the keys in the door and why am I telling you this?

Anyway, former Prime Minister Mike Moore once said something like “when I don’t know anything about a topic, I write a book about it.” It’s impossible not to be inspired by a man who was our nation’s leader for over seven weeks.

He is right: the best way to learn about something is to read widely and talk to the experts, and that is what I plan to do.

If anyone in a similar boat learns something over the next few weeks that would be great. Experts: you probably won’t learn a darn thing, but you’re most welcome to share your knowledge in the comments or on our Facebook page.

September’s property report in short

A family of ducks waddle off to another open home.

Spring: a time for flowers, cute baby animals and daylight savings, as we say “good riddance” to the cold and hit the warm(er) months.

It’s also usually a time for more property listings and increased real estate activity. Last month showed little change from August however: September reinforced the fact we have largely a two-speed house market, with demand exceeding supply in our two biggest cities and activity less heated, though still pretty busy, elsewhere.

The market has a slight spring in its step

Listings did indeed increase with the change in seasons. The NZ Property Report from realestate.co.nz shows a whopping 7.6% increase on August (boom!), though this is up on last September by just 0.3% (aww). These few extra listings did nothing for Auckland’s inventory level, which dropped to a new record low of 17.5 weeks.

The asking price nationwide dropped by just 0.3%. Wellington and Canterbury rose a little while Auckland dropped slightly. More fun was to be had in the regions; four of them rose by over five percent, with Coromandel (9.3%) and Nelson (10%) topping the table.

There was also a leap in lifestyle property listings – 29% up on August and 8.3% over last September. An opportune time to mention that if you’re interested in finding a lifestyle property, Open2view’s search engine makes it easy as.

For more on what’s happening in your area check out the full property report.

Season of new life (and one notable death)

Our banking sector was quick to dance on the grave of the National Bank – although not its dearly departed horse, Cody.

Advertisements have been popping up all over the place to entice unhappy National Bank customers to change teams. It’s just another reason why the great Mortgage War of 2012 looks set to rage well into next year.

Case in point: on Monday the BNZ lowered their 18 month fixed mortgage rate to 5.25%.

Then on Tuesday, ASB also went and cut their home loan rate. But wait, there’s more: fix your mortgage for two years and not only will you be charged 5.25%, but ASB will also give you a free Samsung Galaxy tablet and up to $1000 cash.

Could ASB’s free gift+cash offer be the start of a trend? It could serve as a way for banks to cut their rates by less while still dangling a tasty carrot in front of potential customers. Time will tell.

Affordability forecast: lots of wind but mostly fine

Even with the Mortgage Wars still raging, home affordability has taken a hit as rising prices blunt the effect of those low low interest rates.

The median house price in New Zealand jumped from $361,000 to $370,000. It now requires 53.5% of a single after-tax income to service an 80% mortgage on a median house – up 1.2% on July.

It’s still pretty sweet for first timers however – affordability there only decreased 0.2% on July. If spending 45.1% of a median income on a lower-quartile house sounds steep, remember it took 64.7% just four years ago. For all the ‘new house bubble’ talk that still comes up from time to time, in many ways we’re far off where we were just five years ago.

We recommend checking out the full Roost Home Affordability Report for August and its companion report for first home buyers.

Fresh out of spring metaphors

In conclusion there are few surprises: more listings are on their way and Auckland and Canterbury are still where most of the action’s at. As we’ve been saying since this blog started, it’s a great time to get on the property ladder.

Mind you, we also said in that first blog post that interest rates “must go up at some point”. They will – just not, it seems, for a long while yet.

In these conditions, the next few months will see business blooming. (Ah, I knew I could find one more bad spring-related pun!)

 

UPDATE:

Massey University just today (9 October 2012 AD) released the latest of its quarterly Home Affordability Reports. It’s a valuable bit of information which shows affordability, according to their calculations, improving everywhere except Auckland. Even then, Auckland only deteriorated 0.4% over the past year.

Nationwide, the national affordability index dropped by 4.9% since this time last year and 2.8% since the last quarter. This index is dictated by median house prices (up $1000 this quarter), the average wage (up $6.25) and the average monthly mortgage rate, which has dropped from 5.99% to 5.84%. The latter two factors more than canceled out the house price rise.

For more details on how your region is doing, just click here.