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Record players make comeback with Ikea, others pitching tricked-out turntables

The Obegränsad is the company's first record player since 1973

Ikea is introducing a fresh take on a product it hasn't sold since 1973: The record player.

Introduced as part of the upcoming Obergränsad collection, the turntable was designed in collaboration with Swedish electronic music group Swedish House Mafia, and serves as a reminder of how much vinyl has surged in the past several years. 

Record collecting has been growing in the past few years to the point where in 2021, Statista said, LP sales jumped by more than 50 percent year-over-year to beat both digital and CD album sales. Keeping it in context, that figure shrinks to a meager 4.7 percent when streaming and downloading of music is included.

Over the past year, vinyl sales spiked another 61 percent and topped $1 billion for the first time in more than 35 years, with the top-selling records coming from new artists like Adele, Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish.

Photographs of the device show what appears to be a replaceable Audio-Technica needle cartridge, manual arm, RCA stereo out jacks, and a USB port that provides power. It also has a built-in preamp and works with Ikea's Eneby Bluetooth speaker, though without Bluetooth: the turntable only appears to support wired speakers.

In other words, those who are serious about actually owning a physical music collection are reaching into the analog past for the technology to do it, and most weren't even alive when records were the standard format. It's young people buying the records and the players, boosting not only vinyl sales, but the new turntable market as well - it reached $361 million in 2020.

Compared to vintage turntables, modern ones aren't that different - there's only so many ways to drag a needle over a disk. Where they differ is internally - modern players will often include a Bluetooth antenna and support for external media stored on an SD card or USB drive, or additional options to fine-tune the sound. 

Just as they did in the past, modern turntable and record player prices vary wildly. A basic all-in-one record player from Crosley starts at less than $100, while roughly equivalent models from Audio-Technica, a well-established turntable maker, cost just a bit more. Technics, a Japanese Panasonic subsidiary and long-time maker of high-end turntables, offers models that run well into the thousands of dollars, as do other manufacturers. 

Victrola, which has also long made and sold record players, said that vintage players are often less expensive, though that isn't always the case. When vintage players are cheap, buyers beware.

"Often, vintage record players, which have been used heavily during their lifetime, have flaws that must be addressed (read: paid to fix) before they can be used," Victrola said. 

New players, on the other hand, cost more up front, but will probably come with a full set of functional parts. In addition, the parts for modern players are still readily available - yet another element in their favor. 

But what of sound quality? According to Victrola, modern players aren't manufactured with the same attention to detail when records were the primary source of home music, meaning modern players don't sound the same. That doesn't mean worse, necessarily: New players are generally considered to sound cleaner, while vintage ones are described as sounding "warm."

Whether an Ikea record player will find a spot among other brands is unknown, especially without a price. or any idea how it sounds. For what it's worth, Ikea hasn't made a record player since the year Lynyrd Skynyrd released Freebird. ®

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