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Vinyl records have a place among high-tech gadgetry

January 13, 2010 |  3:38 pm

Crosley records

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas acts as a sort of barometer of what's to come in gadgets and technology. This year, exhibitors were obsessed with 3-D television and open software platforms. But in some areas of the Las Vegas Convention Center last week, vinyl records, a century-old technology, were a hip centerpiece. The vinyl resurgence has been written about before, but it was largely exclusive to hipsters and fogies, not tech geeks or clarity-focused audiophiles.

Yet, after being supplanted by three formats, vinyl lingers.

Crosley, which licenses the name from the legacy manufacturer, drew crowds as onlookers continually recited lines about vinyl being cool again and the peculiarity of Best Buy carrying records. About half of Crosley's sizable booth was devoted to record players of varying types. Some are delightfully retro, with a brown, wooden finish, while others are cutting-edge (as progressive as you can be while still housing those giant Frisbees).

"This is our business," said Crosley spokeswoman Meagan Hardin. "Every singer that releases a CD also has it on vinyl. Stores might not sell it, but you can find it."

Retro lovers and devout music listeners will seek out their favorite bands' records at thrift shops and in the darkest corners of eBay.

ION, which also had a booth at the CES, has built a business on the vinyl revival. It recently introduced a number of turntables, some stand-alone. ION's flagship product converts records into digital audio files.

ION spokesman Winston Eade said astute listeners appreciate having the vinyl versions of their albums. It produces that signature "warmer" sound versus the colder audio of its digital counterpart. And that warmth even comes across in digital conversions.

The ION Profile turntable contains an iPod dock that lets you transfer tracks from the record directly to a portable music player. The ION Profile Flash is the high-end device, containing an SD card slot. It instantly cuts tracks into separate files, so that while the transcoding process is happening, you can "get yourself a cup of tea," Eade said.

The newest product is the ION Profile Play LP, a consumer-entry model that is powered by a computer's USB connection. ION is hoping a cheap turntable will encourage an entirely new generation to jump onto the vinyl fad that's proving to be anything but.

-- Mark Milian

Photo: Crosley's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times