For a Merrifield company, vinyl records are still hot

Putting a new spin on vinyl, from left: Manish Naik, Mark Reiter and Eric Astor.
Putting a new spin on vinyl, from left: Manish Naik, Mark Reiter and Eric Astor. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/fairfax County Times)
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By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, November 5, 2009

For one Merrifield company, vinyl records never lost their groove.

Furnace MFG Media Duplication Solutions touts itself as the "sole U.S. provider of high-performance vinyl records."

The company, as part of its overall compact disc, DVD, Blu-Ray and USB duplication business, also manufactures vinyl records for major labels and artists such as Tom Petty, Neil Young, Green Day, R.E.M., Metallica and Madonna.

Eric Astor, Furnace's president and chief executive, is also the company's top audiophile and vinyl proponent.

"Record albums are an experience that can't be duplicated digitally," said Astor, 38, of Falls Church. "I remember saving up for them, smelling them, reading the liner notes, admiring the artwork on the cover. It was an event."

A new generation is discovering vinyl. Based primarily on the sales of vinyl records, the company this year has already doubled its 2008 revenues and moved into a new facility three times larger to accommodate climbing record sales.

Astor declined to reveal how much the privately owned company has made this year, saying only that Furnace is a "multimillion-dollar" business.

"We are on track to make 1 million records this year," said the company's chief operating officer, Manish Naik, of Vienna. "Part of my job is to see that we don't let vinyl take over the entire business."

Vinyl record sales are spinning upward. Nielsen SoundScan reports show that vinyl record sales increased 85.8 percent between 2006 and 2007 and 89 percent between 2007 and 2008.

Naik says that many Best Buy electronics store locations dedicate space to vinyl records. "Go to the Tysons Corner location and see what they've done there for yourself," he said.

"Vinyl never died," Astor said. "What happened was that sometime in the late 1980s when compact discs were all the rage, all the major record labels put out an edict that discs were the way to go."

Astor said because MP3s and music downloads have brought down CD sales, vinyl records are being looked at as profitable once again. "Vinyl is more expensive to make than a CD, but you make more profit than you do from selling downloaded music," he said.

But Astor said the vinyl experience is the real selling point. "Music used to be fun and dangerous. There was a level of insanity that was unpredictable. A vinyl recording captures that much better than the limited frequency range that digital recordings are capable of. People are hearing music again the way musicians actually made it, and the way they wanted you to hear it."

Doug Roach, 57, owner of Herndon antique store Roaches in the Attic, agreed. He estimated his vinyl record collection at about 2,000 albums.

"The younger generation is starting to acquaint themselves with the vinyl experience," he said. "There were some records made in the 1970s called 16-track audiophile albums. In my opinion, the clarity of those albums is even better than digital CDs."

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