The return of vinyl

In an era dominated by digital downloads, music streaming and portable media players, it's hard to see where the traditional LP record fits in.

Although much loved by generations of music fans, the rise of the audio cassette and then the compact disc propelled vinyl into a seemingly terminal decline.

Since the 1980s, it has most commonly been found in charity shops, at jumble sales or in dusty attic corners - hardly befitting resting places for much-loved classic records.

Over time, the format has become increasingly niche and - despite remaining in production - been largely forgotten about by the man in the street.

But with the industry focusing its attention elsewhere, vinyl is mounting the most unlikely of comebacks.

Phoenix from the flames

The medium is gradually turning the tables on technological innovation, with LP sales soaring in recent years.

According to the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI), 40 per cent more vinyl records were sold in 2011, returning the format to a welcome degree of prominence.

At the same time, pressure from the internet has seen CD sales fall off a cliff – making the about-turn in vinyl demand all the more unlikely.

Independent record stores, pushed to the brink of extinction over the last decade, are slowly seeing customers come back through their doors.

Getting back into the groove

The virtual, on-demand music experience simply does not sit easily with everyone - and the nostalgia and romance of vinyl is being viewed as a popular antidote.

Fans want something tangible that they can keep hold of, not merely a few digital files and a thumbnail to store on their computer hard drive.

Sound quality is also an issue, with many convinced the trusty old phonograph can still not be beaten. Scientific arguments aside, all that matters is the ear of the beholder.

Perhaps it's the whole vinyl experience which lures people in - paying for your album in cash, carefully transporting it home, removing it from the sleeve, placing it on the platter and lowering the needle.

When the music starts, there's almost a sense of grand achievement - certainly something which just can't be replicated online.

From start to finish, the vinyl process is fiddly, long-winded and inconvenient - but to millions of people around the world, glorious beyond belief.

Making the most of great records

Think of all the great vinyl LPs - not just the performers and the music they created, but also the timeless artwork on the sleeves.

It's an endless list - 'Abbey Road', 'Sgt Pepper', 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'The Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Back in Black' to name just a few.

These classic albums were made for vinyl, and the same goes for the great jazz and blues records played out in so many clubs and dance halls.

Each one is available on CD and over the internet, but somehow it doesn’t quite do them justice.

Vinyl remains relevant

Even in vinyl's less prosperous age, the medium has remained relevant to a certain extent.

Turntable mixing has helped DJs rise to prominence and global fame, not just in the dance genre but also metal and hip hop.

And proving there is more to the vinyl comeback than nostalgia alone, take a look at the biggest vinyl sellers in 2011.

We're not talking ABBA, The Stones and The Who here - but the likes of Adele, Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver and Radiohead.

The future of vinyl

Vinyl still only accounts for a small fraction of overall album sales, but there is enough evidence to suggest the format is on the way back.

How far the current growth trend will go remains to be seen - ultimately much rests on the interest and enthusiasm of younger fans.

Will exposure to vinyl encourage them to put down the iPod Nano and head over to the local record store? And will they like what they find?

Having been written off long ago, and appearing wholly out of place in the digital age, there does seem to be a future for the traditional LP.

In fact, vinyl is not just surviving, but starting to thrive once again.