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Puttin' it on wax

The feeling of smooth cold plastic graces your hand as you remove the large black circle from its cardboard sleeve. While gently laying down the disk and lowering the needle onto its spinning surface, Lightning Hopkins' first note rings, transporting you to a smoky blues bar in the heart of southern Chicago.

In today's age of impatience, instant gratification and technology, music comes as a soothing relief for the stresses of everyday life. Compact discs, audio cassettes and even eight-tracks count as viable alternatives to seeing your favorite musical act in concert. However, only one medium can accurately replicate the emotional experience of a live performance: vinyl.

For most, vinyl signifies an obsolete technology. Its cumbersome size, less-than-crystalline sound quality and extreme fragility are liabilities when compared to a CD. Some perceive these traits as shortcomings, while collectors argue they give records their unique charm.

Many audiophiles disregarded records after the advent of cassettes. Even more people deserted the format after the invasion of the compact disc. To go even further, some music aficionados claim that a re-mastered version of their favorite album on CD easily bests the fuzzy, unclear sound that comes from a record.

These hasty technological conversions were soon reversed by the argument that records are the only way to listen to artists like Duke Ellington, Credence Clearwater Revival and James Brown and still hear the artist's musical intentions. Freshman Derrick Jeffereies, a devout record collector since the age of 13, feels "more connected to the artist" when he listens to a record.

"There are certain types of music that just sound better on vinyl. Old blues artists cannot be heard the same way on a CD versus a record," said Kyle Yates, Jeffereies' roommate and also a long-time collector of records. Though digital recording relays the delicacies of musical composition more accurately, older artist's true intent can only be realized through the warm, muted tones of an analog record.

Aside from appreciation for its sonic honesty, many vinyl fans have a romantic connection with their collection. Jeffereies stresses that the romance of searching for a rare record is well worth the effort. Taking a new discovery out of its art-plastered sleeve and gently laying it on the turntable for the first time far surpasses pushing a tape or CD into your stereo and hitting the play button.

The attention demanded by vinyl ensures that its owner cherishes his collection and addresses the process of decay. Like small children, records have to be cleaned and handled tenderly to avoid damage. They demand vigilance while on the table to make sure they aren't damaged by circumstances out of their control (like a malevolent needle). This kind of babying produces a special kind of relationship between collector and record.

Many recordings, especially those of older artists, can only be found on vinyl. Demand for rare, older recordings has been steady. Since the early '90s, there has been a surprising resurgence in the demand for contemporary pop music on vinyl. Vinyl's newly found popularity results from influences of underground music (which has always had an allegiance to the medium), the increasing age and nostalgia of bands like Pearl Jam, electronic and hip-hop DJs in need of good sampling and scratching material, and the fetish-like qualities of everything retro.

As America's population steadily ages along with the baby-boomers, the aging technologies of their generation gradually recede in obsolescence. Though the fads will come and go, the emotional connections collectors have with their records can never be replaced.

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