Digital music is too easy for people to focus on it properly, according to the creators of the VinylLove iPad app, pictured above, which they claim restores key attributes of the vinyl age: digging through crates to find an album, dropping the needle on a particular track, and sitting back with friends as the record turns, with that familiar-to-some vinyl crackle.
After testing Color Monkey’s VinylLove ($5), we’re charmed, despite (or perhaps because of) the app’s limitations. Prop your iPad up near your speakers, and it does a fine job of playing your music with more intentionality than required by more digital-minded players, and looks great doing it.
“Today, in many cases, the digital version of a former analog product just becomes less — less of a lot of things,” explained Color Monkey co-founder and CEO Per Ögren (full interview below). “If you listen to Spotify, you have unlimited access to music, so you can hear everything. But you don’t really listen to it. One aspect of this app is that you should listen to music the way it was intended, in the order that it was recorded.”
Using VinylLove to listen to music is an oddly new way to listen to digital music stored on your iPad. It starts when you browse your music collection in the Record Collection view, crate by alphabetized crate — more or less in the way you would peruse your records if you were a hyper-organized vinyl fiend. And all of your music is imported automatically, so it’s there the first time you run the app.
Swiping the screen flips through the records in the crates. When you find something you want to hear, tapping it brings up the record player view pictured at the top of this post. VinylLove starts playing the first track automatically, with the warm, vinyl crackling sound so prized by fans of the format (if you’ve never heard it before, imagine the sound of a fire quietly smoldering). We didn’t notice the crackling sound once the music started, and Color Monkey applies no other audio processing. The crackle didn’t seem to interfere with songs once they got going — instead, they just added to the charm of the app, and made it a better party trick for your next get-together.
You can also drop the needle on any other track in order to play it instantly, as a handy slider view at the top of the screen shows you which track is which. After all, a return to this “analog” format needn’t mean a return to unlabeled vinyl tracks.
Meanwhile, an AirPlay mode allows listeners to queue up albums without walking across the room.
Still, this app isn’t perfect. For instance, like other playback apps (iTunes and iPod included), VinylLove is no good at figuring out that multiple tracks from different artists belong to the same compilation. And it only works with music stored on your iPad, as opposed to a music locker like Orb or on-demand service such as MOG, Rhapsody, or Spotify — an integration that would seem to complete co-founder Mikael Peterson’s vision. (He originally demonstrated this idea by playing a loop of vinyl crackling as music played on Spotify, as mentioned in the interview below.)
But VinylLove for iPad does accomplish its goal, which is to make music something you listen to intentionally after some deliberation, rather than just letting a playlist run its course or clicking the skip button every time you hear something you don’t love at first listen. It’s a bit gimmicky, and you might find it odd to spend money in order to limit the playback features of your iPad. However, we’d nonetheless recommend VinylLove for your next dinner party — assuming you feel it’s worth $5 to amuse yourself and your guests by picking out albums “by hand” and listening to them in order.
Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: How did the idea for VinylLove come about? What was missing from the usual digital audio players?
Per Ögren, co-founder and CEO, Color Monkey We were reminiscing, and realized there’s just something about that sound of old vinyl records. Actually, [Color Monkey co-founder and creative director] Mikael [Peterson], who’d just bought a bit-too-expensive turntable, wouldn’t shut up about it. He started to play this dust/crackle loop on his iTunes at the same time as he played regular music on his Spotify. We were all surprised by how well that worked. Even though wasn’t the 100 percent analog sound you got from a real record player, it was a 100 percent feeling of nostalgia. We set out to bottle that nostalgia and ship it to, well, everyone with an iPad.
We think that today, in many cases, the digital version of a former analog product just becomes less — less of a lot of things. If you listen to Spotify, you have unlimited access to music, so you can hear everything. But you don’t really listen to it. One aspect of the app is that you should listen to music the way it was intended, in the order it was recorded.
We are also very interested in bringing a dying format to a younger audience. Kids (toddlers) of today have never seen a turntable, and this will be a new and physical way for them to interact. They will not experience VinylLove at all the same as an adult who once had a turntable, but we believe that the tactile and physical aspects of the player will bring something new and make music mean more, even for the little ones.
Evolver.fm: What sort of audio processing happens? I heard some vinyl crackling. Is there any other vinyl-style audio processing going on?
Ögren: VinylLove adds an effect when you put down the needle and then you have this soft dust/crackle sound on for the duration of the record. You usually don’t hear it except for in between songs or during silent parts of a song. If you listen to the entire record, you will here how the needle bounces back over and over again at the end [reminding you to put the next record on].
We also added an effect for placing the arm in its holder, but we definitely didn’t want to over do it. It would have been so easy to just go crazy with effects everywhere, but then we feel people would get tired of it all. At least we would.
Evolver.fm: What file types are supported?
Ögren: VinylLove plays music from your iPad’s iPod app, so it can play all the formats your iPad can play. And it is all automatic [as in the music library is important automatically], so you don’t have to do anything but open VinylLove, and “boom, there it is.”
Evolver.fm: How did you decide to use record crates as the navigation mechanism?
Ögren: Is there another way of properly organizing vinyl records? In Sweden, everyone used to use old plastic crates used to package soft drinks in the super market. They came in a number of different colors, and they are the source of inspiration for the crate system.
Evolver.fm: What dooes listener and his or her friends gain from having to select each album (or single) that plays?
Ögren: Honestly? They will probably get annoyed at first. But then they’ll like how the needle bounces, and how it just feels right. Later, they will choose which record to listen to a bit more carefully, and they will not click next over and over [the way they do with a regular digital music player]. They will listen to all of the tracks on each album, and they will enjoy tracks they never would have listened to on their iPod. It’s hard to explain. There’s just something special about listening to music this way.
Evolver.fm: How do you envision people using VinylLove?
Ögren: We imagined it to be perfect for having in the dock next to your stereo-system — that it would become a nice interior design piece, rather than just a gadget/music player. We also envisioned it adding a cozy feeling to someone’s apartment as they walked around alone with a glass of wine in their hand (or something less cheesy).
But after talking to friends and users though it seems like it’s a quite social app. People play around with it and pass it around. Browsing through someone else’s record collection seems to be a big hit as well. Borrowing someone’s iPad, now, is like walking into someone’s old room at their parents’ house and sitting down next to the old stereo to find out what type of person they really are. And with the scratch functionality, VinylLove is even more playful that we first thought it to be. But the best part: Private or social, it works both ways.