Music to Whose Ears?

Quality at the center of digital’s decline, vinyl records’ resurgence

More music aficionados seem to be changing their tune when it comes to how they want to listen to the latest releases or classic recordings.

For the past decade or so, the convenience of digital music—available anywhere, anytime (in the car or on a jog)—has been winning over what’s considered by many to be the best sounding audio format: vinyl.

The tables were turned a bit last year, however.

According to financial reports from Nielsen SoundScan, a global information and measurement company that tracks music sales, vinyl record sales were at an all-time high in the United States last year since the company began tracking them in 1993. In total, the industry saw overall sales of 9.2 million vinyl records in 2014 in the United States, an increase of 52% from 2013.1

For the first time in nearly 20 years, more than 1 million vinyl records were sold in the United Kingdom in 2014, data from the British Phonographic Industry showed. The last time that milestone had been achieved in Britain was in 1996.2

Purchases of digital downloads (MP3 and AAC), meanwhile, dropped 9% for albums and 12% for songs in 2014. A German-based vinyl record manufacturer said it expected to press 18 million records this year. A new vinyl pressing plant is scheduled to open in Calgary, Alberta, later this year.3

Why the vinyl comeback and a dip in digital? Much revolves around quality—or the perceived high quality—that vinyl records deliver.

"Technically, the vinyl recording is a closer analog to the actual waveform produced by the music in that the wave is directly represented by the groove in the record," said James Paul Sain, a University of Florida professor of composition.4

Over the years, more low quality, quickly produced digital music with subpar, lossy encoding has been rushed to the music market. This has turned off many keen-eared music consumers who fondly remember the days of 33 1/3 LPs, 45s or even 78s.

"You can set up a digital music label for a (relatively) very low cost, meaning the market is flooded with record labels that aren’t particularly high on quality control," said Jon Lloyd, a music genre specialist at Juno Records, an international online shop that sells both vinyl and digital music.5

Developing digital

Responding to the decline in digital, some digital music providers are being forced to become more sophisticated and come up with higher-quality music files. Apple has talked about upgrading its iTunes offerings, even hinting at ways to prevent music piracy.

Recently sounding off on the topic of music quality was rock legend Neil Young, touting his PonoPlayer, a triangular portable music player that promises only the highest of fidelities.

Young, co-founder of Buffalo Springfield and member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, has become one of the most visible proponents of what’s called both "high resolution" and "high definition" audio. He’s bemoaned the quality of audio playback since the debut of the CD, and he thinks Pono, a company that raised more than $6 million through crowdfunding in a Kickstarter campaign, is the start of a "long-term reawakening."

Pono claims its $399 prism-shaped device can play music in higher resolutions and make it sound better than iPhones or Android phones can through the use of high-resolution audio.6

"Music makes you feel. You have goosebumps, you cry. You have a visceral reaction, and that’s what’s been missing. We are in a downward spiral and it has to end somewhere. We’re hoping it ends with devices that do what this device does," Young told an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last month in Las Vegas.7

Increased costs

Not surprisingly, Pono’s purportedly superior audio will come at a higher price. For instance, an album available on iTunes might cost $9.99. Through Pono, the higher-resolution version of the same album could cost $17.99 or more.8 Don’t forget that collecting these versions of songs and albums will lead to spending more money to store and play them on various devices.

Some critics aren’t so sure about Pono and the motives of Young, who they say is "peddling junk science, and supporting expensive gear and music files you don’t need."9

Maybe Pono isn’t the answer. Maybe it’s Sony, which announced a battery of new high-resolution audio products, unveiling its $1,200 Walkman and its high-quality sound at CES.10

"But let’s be clear about what is in decline," said Simon Cole, the CEO of 7digital, a U.K.-based platform for creating digital music and radio services. "What is in decline is the download of low-quality MP3 files. I don’t think many of us will regret its passing."11

Vinyl records’ recent resurrection seems here to stay, too. "While it is impossible to predict" the future of vinyl record sales, said Sain, "Consumption of vinyl is likely to continue to rise if past trends are followed."12

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. Graham Hall, "Vinyl Records Back on the Turntable in 2014, Data Shows," Independent Florida Alligator, Jan. 13, 2015, www.alligator.org/news/local/article_eae4f9ea-9ae8-11e4-b102-e3ef97222049.html.
  2. Megan Gibson, "Here’s Why Music Lovers Are Turning to Vinyl and Dropping Digital," Time Magazine, Jan. 13, 2015, http://time.com/3663568/vinyl-sales-increase.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hall, "Vinyl Records Back on the Turntable in 2014, Data Shows," see reference 1.
  5. Gibson, "Here’s Why Music Lovers are Turning to Vinyl and Dropping Digital," see reference 2.
  6. James Cook, "Tech Companies Want You to Buy Your Music All Over Again at Higher Prices," Business Insider, Jan. 13, 2015, www.businessinsider.com/high-resolution-music-prices-2015-1.
  7. Cathy Applefeld Olson, "Neil Young Explains Pono Once More Ahead of Its Retail Launch," Billboard Magazine, Jan. 7, 2015, www.billboard.com/articles/business/6429598/neil-young-pono-ces-2015.
  8. Cook, "Tech Companies Want You to Buy Your Music All Over Again at Higher Prices," see reference 6.
  9. Mario Aguilar, "Don’t Buy What Neil Young Is Selling," Gizmodo design and technology blog, Jan. 12, 2015, http://gizmodo.com/dont-buy-what-neil-young-is-selling-1678446860.
  10. Takasha Mochizuki, "A $1,200 Walkman? Sony Pins Its Hopes on High-Quality Sound,"
    Wall Street Journal Digits blog, Jan. 9, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/01/09/sony-pins-hopes-on-high-quality-sound.
  11. Gibson, "Here’s Why Music Lovers are Turning to Vinyl and Dropping Digital," see reference 2.
  12. Hall, "Vinyl Records Back on the Turntable in 2014, Data Shows," see reference 1.


Manufacturers Expect More Revenue Growth This Year

A strong majority of manufacturers—83%—said they expect revenue growth this year, up from 64% of manufacturers who anticipated growth in 2014, according to results from ASQ’s 2015 Manufacturing Outlook Survey.

The manufacturers’ positive outlook for 2015 seems warranted as 75% said they experienced revenue growth last year, up from 65% in 2013.

Manufacturers still face challenges, however, with 41% saying the economy is their greatest hurdle. Another 26% cited the shortage of skilled workers as a challenge. In the 2014 survey, conducted at the end of 2013, 46% of respondents named the economy as the greatest hurdle, followed by the shortage of skilled workers at 18%.

Other roadblocks identified by respondents include competition, falling crude oil prices, managing growth and raw material shortages.

"Driven by gains in 2014, it’s encouraging to see manufacturers’ positive outlook for revenue growth for 2015," said ASQ CEO William Troy. "Manufacturing is a key sector of economies worldwide, and the use of performance excellence and quality systems can help organizations accelerate their growth by improving efficiencies and increasing customer loyalty."

ASQ conducts the survey annually to gauge manufacturing professionals’ outlooks on the year ahead. Survey respondents represented various manufacturing sectors, including aerospace, automotive, food, medical device and utilities.

For more results, visit www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2014/20141217-asq-survey-manufacturers-outlook-positive-2015.html.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Ray A. Klotz.

RESIDENCE: Carlsbad, CA.

EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in quality management from the University of Phoenix.

FIRST JOB RELATED TO QUALITY: Klotz’s first job in quality was working for the vice president of quality at a large aerospace company. Klotz was a spot-welder helper, a dirty job in which he laid on his back under the aircraft assembly to inform the spot welder when the spot weld tip got dirty. He quickly suggested the company replace his role with a TV camera to monitor the process. Management liked his approach to quality and cost of quality and moved him to the quality department the following week. He has worked in quality for 41 years.

CURRENT JOB: Senior quality consultant and president and CEO of World Class Quality Consulting. He is also an International Organization of Standardization auditor, conducts training on lead and internal auditing, and evaluates quality management systems.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Klotz was a guest speaker at various ASQ division and section meetings and at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement. He also was section and division conference president and a technical reviewer for QP and Journal of Quality Technology. He has been involved in ASQ’s Quality Management Division and Electronics and Communications Division, and is a member of Section 703. Klotz also is a senior judge for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the Defense Contract Management Agency’s Commander Cup.

OTHER ACTIVITIES/ACHIEVEMENTS: Registered professional engineer; International Register of Certificated Auditors lead auditor for ISO 9001:2015 and AS9120 Rev D; total quality management instructor.

RECENT HONORS: He was recently named a judge for the ASQ Performance and Recognition Innovation Award Program.

PAST HONORS: An ASQ fellow, Klotz is a past E.L. Grant Medalist and former member of ASQ’s Board of Directors. He held various ASQ division positions and was a deputy regional director and an ASQ/U.S. delegate to the Fourth Symposium on Quality and Assurance in Paris. He was also a two-term president for the San Diego Quality Council.

QUALITY QUOTE: When quality comes first, satisfaction is guaranteed.


15 Members Named 2014 ASQ Fellows

The ASQ Board of Directors has named 15 ASQ fellows. The 2014 class includes:

  • Norma H. Antuñano, University of Phoenix.
  • Lloyd O. Barker, Alcoa Inc., New York.
  • Amit Chatterjee, ASQ India, New Delhi.
  • Mun Ping Minda Chiang, HealthBaby Biotech Co. Ltd., Hong Kong.
  • Luis Miguel Fonseca, ISEP-IPP, School of Engineering Polytechnic of Porto, Portugal.
  • Sandra Brumback Furterer, Park National Bank, Columbus, OH.
  • Milton Krivokuca, California State University Dominguez Hills, Carson.
  • Steven C. Leggett, American Axle and Manufacturing, Detroit.
  • Stephen N. Luko, UTC Aerospace System, Windsor Locks, CT.
  • Bob (Bhavan) Mehta, GMP ISO Expert Services, Mission Viejo, CA.
  • Aimee H. Siegler, Benchmark Electronics, Winona, MN.
  • Chao-Ton Su, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan.
  • Himanshu M. Trivedi, Bosch Rexroth India Ltd., Ahmedanad.
  • Bharat Wakhlu, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, CT.
  • Jay Zhou, Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, MI.

ASQ News

LSS EVENT SET The 2015 Lean and Six Sigma Conference will be held March 2-3 in Phoenix. This year’s theme is "Leading the Quality Journey Through Lean and Six Sigma." Focus areas include fundamentals, implementation, nontraditional applications, sustaining results, and establishing and sustaining a culture of quality. For more details on speakers and the programs, visit http://asq.org/conferences/six-sigma.

APPLICATION DEADLINE APPROACHES Applications for the 2015 Chuck Carter International Inspector of the Year Award are now available through ASQ’s Inspection Division. For more than 40 years, the division has offered this award for those who spend more than 50% of their time in inspection, test, audit and calibration functions to ensure conformance to engineering, manufacturing, quality and customer standards or requirements. For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/inspectoraward. Applications are due Feb. 15.

NEW CASE STUDY ASQ’s Knowledge Center released a new case study that illustrates how manufacturer Boston Scientific operation used the define, measure, analyze, improve and control method to improve service and efficiency, safety, quality and cost. Read the case study at http://tinyurl.com/bostonscientific.

STATISTICS SCHOLARSHIP OPENS Applications for the 2015-16 Ellis R. Ott Scholarship are now available through ASQ’s Statistics Division. The $7,500 scholarships are for students in master’s degree or higher programs with concentrations in applied statistics or quality management. The 2014-15 scholarship recipients were: Daniel Severn, University of Waterloo, Ontario; Matthew Plumlee, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta; and Marie Liley, Montana State University, Bozeman. For more information and an application form, visit http://asq.org/statistics/about/awards-statistics.html. Applications are due April 1.

SURVEY ABOUT ENGINEERS To help mark National Engineers Week—held Feb. 22-28 in the United States—ASQ surveyed teenagers and adults nationwide about their perceptions of engineers and the profession. The short poll asked adults and teens to identify the skills and traits they believe engineers possess, including being problem-solvers, earning high salaries, working long hours or being socially awkward. Teens also were asked to identify which profession they would want to accompany them in different situations. The survey was designed to be a light-hearted approach to exploring the perceptions—and misconceptions—about engineers. ASQ member engineers were also surveyed to compare data from the adult and teen survey. Survey results will be shared in the March edition of QP.


A NEW EXECUTIVE director for the American Society for Nondestructive Testing, the world’s largest technical society for nondestructive testing professionals, was named. Arnold "Arny" Bereson started his new role Jan. 5. For more information, visit www.asnt.org/minorsitesections/asntnews/newexecutivedirector.

THE AMERICAN STATISTICAL Association (ASA) is accepting nominations for its 2015 Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award (ESRA). The award honors reporters whose work displays an informed interest in statistical science and its role in public life. ASA members can nominate a reporter for the honor. Award criteria, submission instructions and a nomination form can be found at www.amstat.org/awards/excellenceinstatisticalreportingaward.cfm. Nominations are due March 1.


Patients Would Pay More For Safer Hospitals

When patients are shown both hospital safety score grades and cost information, the vast majority will choose safer hospitals regardless of cost, according to a recent study by the Altarum Institute’s Center for Consumer Choice in Health.

The study, titled "The Effects of Hospital Safety Scores, Total Price, Out-of-Pocket Cost and Household Income on Consumers’ Self-Reported Choice of Hospitals," measured the influence of three factors on consumers’ choice of hospitals: total cost, out-of-pocket cost and safety.

The study was based on a survey administered to 2,357 online respondents. Results showed 97% of respondents would not sacrifice greater differences in safety for a lower price. More information from the study can be found at http://altarum.org/about/news-and-events/consumers-will-choose-safer-hospitals-97-of-the-time-regardless-of-cost.

Excellent I will apply this in my organization
--Matiur rahman, 02-12-2015

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