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This is How Vinyl Records Work

Vinyl records are perhaps the best way to record and play music. They offer lossless listening, which means there’s not any sound quality lost in the recording process. Many people know vinyl records are positioned on a record player, but how are they recorded, and how do those little grooves make music?

Vinyl records work by etching sound wave grooves onto a metal disc. The grooves are pressed onto a vinyl disk and convert into shallow ridges. When the needle goes over the vinyl ridges, it moves a magnet inside a wire coil that creates an electric current for the speakers to play.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the details about how vinyl records are recorded, produced, and played. We’ll also cover how you can put your music on a record, why they crackle, and how long they last.

How vinyl records work

How Do Vinyl Records Work?

Vinyl records are some of the oldest forms of modern music recording. However, they’re made through a much more complex process than most forms of digital content. Many parts are involved in their creation, including a metal-cutting lathe, a machine press, lacquer stamps, magnets, and more.

Here’s the five-step process of how vinyl albums are made:

  1. Mixed audio is sent through a record-cutting lathe. These machines are specifically designed for making vinyl records, so you can get one and use them at home. However, it’s much cheaper to buy premade vinyl records without incurring the machine’s cost. The lathe has a small point for cutting disks.
  2. A lacquer disk is cut with grooves matching the audio clip’s sound waves. One of the most interesting parts of the process is that the grooves are an exact replica of the sound waves. You can look at them under a microscope to see a mirror image of the music’s digital version.
  3. The completed disk is copied as a stamp, which is compressed. These stamps are made to transfer the initial cut from the lathe onto a vinyl disk. The lathe slices the sound waves into a metal surface, which can’t be played on a record machine. Thankfully, the stamp is pressed onto vinyl, which is compressed to form the necessary shape and size.
  4. Most records are tested to ensure they pass the test. It only takes one play-through to know if there are any issues. Small groove deviations, bumps, issues with the stamp and other components, or improper care can ruin the vinyl record before it’s sent to the customer. These trial runs ensure your new records are good to go.
  5. The vinyl record is stored in a sleeve for safekeeping. It’s best to store your records in a sleeve or case. Make sure they’re sitting vertically since horizontal storage can cause long-term damage. As you’ll soon learn later on the page, proper care is immensely crucial.

As you can see, it’s not as simple as recording on an MP3 player or downloading music from the internet. Vinyl records maintain a classic recording and play-through, making them nostalgic and timeless.

If you want to watch a helpful video to learn how vinyl records are made, check out this YouTube video by BBC Earth Lab:

How Do the Grooves On a Record Make Sound?

If the procedure of producing a vinyl record wasn’t interesting enough, you’d enjoy the way it’s played through speakers. So, how could a thin needle possibly gathered sound from a vinyl disk and amplify it? Let’s explain the most common method below.

  1. The needle rolls over the vinyl record’s ridges, which move a magnet connected to the needle. Each ridge sends a vibration through the magnet and needle to help it produce the sound you hear through the speakers. This step might sound complicated, but it takes a fraction of a second.
  2. There’s a wire coil inside the magnet that converts it to electrical signals. Without the magnet or wire coil, you’d never hear anything recorded on a vinyl album. It’s possible to record something onto a vinyl record without ever being able to play it back. That being said, these components are essential in every modern record player.
  3. The signals are sent to a speaker system, which changes the signals into audio. The electrical signals gathered from the sound wave-shaped ridges on the vinyl record are sent from the needle to the magnet to the wire coil, then they finally make their way to the speakers.
  4. Each ridge changes the sound produced by the record, which plays the recorded audio. As the ridges go up and down, you’ll hear a different noise. These ever-changing sounds create the songs and other audio clips you’ll hear. Some record players have built-in speakers, while others allow for external speakers for surround sound.

The type of grooves is the main difference between mono and stereo vinyl records.

After covering the ways vinyl albums are recorded, pressed, and played, you know most of the basics. They work through a series of electrical signals and metal gadgets to play your favorite music.

That being said, you’ll learn more about what they’re made of and why the material matters in the following section.

Related article: 9 Best Budget Micro Hi-Fi Systems With a Turntable

What Is a Record Made Of?

Vinyl records are often referred to as vinyl, albums, records, disks, and so on. With so many names, it might be confusing to know what they’re made of and if they refer to the same thing.

Contrary to popular belief, the process of making and recording a vinyl record doesn’t start with its namesake material.

Records Start as Metal Disks

Since they use a lathe, companies can’t use vinyl for the first step. Vinyl is much more fragile than metal, so it’d be crushed under the lathe’s force.

Furthermore, a record player can’t scratch a metal disk, or it’d sound horrible! The metal disk is necessary for the production process, but it’s unneeded after the lathe does its job.

They’re Converted into a Lacquer Stamp

Lacquer is pressed onto the metal disk to create a mirror copy of it. However, lacquer smears and can’t be placed under a record player’s needle, or it’d break, crumble, or spread all over the place.

Much like the previously mentioned metal disk, the lacquer stamp is necessary but not the final product.

The Stamp is Pressed Onto Vinyl

Vinyl is the perfect material for record players because it’s lightweight, durable enough to handle the needle, and impressionable.

It can be compressed from all sides without crumbling, but it won’t screech or scream as metal would. When the vinyl is stamped and pressed, it’s ready to use immediately.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to produce record albums with vinyl from start to finish. Instead, all three materials serve a unique purpose in creating new albums.

The good news is the metal disk is reusable, so you can use a lathe to cut one disk and produce several lacquer stamps and vinyl albums with it.

Why Do Some Records Crackle?

Some people believe the crackling of a vinyl record is intentional or adds to the classic feeling. However, vinyl records aren’t supposed to make a crackling noise.

Unless the musician added the audio effect, your records should sound as clear and crisp as when they were recorded.

So, why are your records crackling?

  • There was an issue during the pressing process. The cutting and pressing part of making a vinyl record can permanently damage it. Fortunately, companies take the hit if they ship damaged goods. However, that doesn’t help if you produced the record at home.
  • The lacquer stamp was made incorrectly. If the lacquer isn’t an exact replica of the sound waves cut through the lathe, you’ll hear crackling, warped sounds, and all sorts of other issues. Again, this likely won’t happen if you purchase your records from a reputable company.
  • There might be a scratch on the vinyl record. Scratches are often the most common cause of crackling. Whether you didn’t store it properly or someone scratched it while moving it from one place to another, this damage will wreak havoc on your vinyl collection. Always grab records gently and from the furthest point from the center.
  • The speakers could be at fault. Don’t be too quick to blame the record if you hear crackling. Countless speaker issues can cause audio distortion, including blown subwoofers, tweeters, loose wires, and more. It could also be caused by loose fabric surrounding the speaker’s cones.
  • You might find debris or oil on the record. Dust or oil from your fingerprints is more than enough to take a toll on your vinyl records. Always wear gloves or wash your hands before handling a vinyl album. Also, make sure there’s no dust or debris before setting it on the record player to prevent the crackling noise.

Whether you enjoy or dislike the crackling sound coming from your record player, it’s best to find the source of the problem. Leaving it unchecked for too long can cause it to become irreversibly damaged.

Can You Put Your Own Music On a Vinyl Record?

After learning all about how vinyl records work and how they’re made, you might want to make some albums for your record player. There are two ways to put your music on a record:

  1. Purchase a record-cutting lathe, metal record disks, a lacquer stamp, lacquer for the aforementioned stamp, a record press, and vinyl. As you could imagine, it gets quite costly.
  2. Send your music to a company like Vinylify to have them take care of the whole process for you. We’ll break down the three-step solution below.

Choose the Audio You Want On the Record

You can pick your favorite songs or music you’ve made at home. Another option is to record interviews or other clips you’d like to listen to.

As long as it uses digital audio, you can send it in and have it converted into a vinyl record.

Design Your Record Album’s Covert Art

It can be a solid color, custom logo, or something you have designed by a friend or third-party service. Ensure it doesn’t violate copyright laws if you intend to sell the album.

Some people enjoy making vinyl records of their music and selling them at local stores.

Send It to Vinylify

Vinylify makes it easy to produce vinyl records because they take care of the machinery. You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on equipment.

Once you’ve designed the cover art and sent in the audio clip, they’ll ship a vinyl record to your home for you to use whenever you’d like to.

Does Vinyl Actually Sound Better?

Many people argue vinyl sounds better, while others say it’s all in the idea of owning a record. Does it actually improve the audio quality, or are people influenced by their passion for vinyl music?

Anyway, vinyl records are coming back and are definitely a sound source to count on in the future as well.

Truthfully though, vinyl does sound better than other formats. Here’s why:

  • Vinyl records are recorded without losing their quality. Digital interference can change the way a song or other recording sounds. Thankfully, you don’t have to deal with any of these issues if you’re playing a vinyl record. The production process doesn’t involve digital signals other than mixing the audio beforehand.
  • Records are made via lossless technology. Lossy recording means something loses audio quality while it’s being made. It’s compressed or clipped, influencing its final sound. Since vinyl records don’t use digital tools, they’re considered lossless, which means no quality is lost.
  • You don’t rely on WiFi or an external digital device to play vinyl records. WiFi, smartphones, computers, TVs, and other audio devices are subject to their environment. The internet can tamper with their sound, which means you won’t get reliable quality. Again, vinyl records are susceptible to this issue.
  • Vinyl albums are the exact copy of what was recorded. Anything recorded from the musician or interviewer is transferred into sound waves and placed on the lathe to cut. You won’t miss a single sound, which is as true to life as it gets. There’s no clipping or editing once it’s pressed.
  • You don’t have to deal with audio compression when using vinyl. Many sound files have to be compressed to fit on a computer or other storage device, but vinyl uses a record that can store the music without a need for gigabytes or megabytes. The result is an album that doesn’t need storage space, so it can be as long as needed.

There’s no comparing vinyl records to modern music. Perhaps the only advantage of modern files is the convenience of carrying them wherever you go. However, if you’re listening to music at home or in an office, there’s no reason to choose anything other than vinyl albums.

How Many Times Can a Record Be Played?

Much like all audio equipment, vinyl records have limitations. They can’t last forever, but you’d be surprised what they can go through before you need to invest in another record.

Below, you’ll find five must-know tips about how long they last and how they’re influenced by how they’re made.

  1. Vinyl records are designed to play over 100 times. That statistic isn’t bad, considering the fact that you can play an entire album every day for over three months without experiencing any technical difficulties.
  2. Many records can be played over one thousand full play-throughs. The previous estimate considers low-end maintenance and mid-tier albums. Countless people have owned these vinyl records for decades without dealing with issues. Also, vinyl records can always be played past their prime.
  3. Your record player’s needle can impact its lifespan. If it’s off-center, wobbly, or too close to the record, it can cause plenty of unwanted issues. Keep the needle in good shape to preserve the record player and your vinyl albums. You’ll thank yourself in the long run!
  4. Proper care will increase its life expectancy. Clean the records, store them upright, handle them with care, and always ensure the player is on a flat surface. These minor suggestions will drastically improve your records’ performance and longevity. Those who do otherwise will notice crackling almost immediately.
  5. High-quality records can play more cycles than low-end records. The materials used to create these records change how long they last. If you invest in high-quality vinyl, you can keep them in top shape for many years. Nevertheless, proper care and maintenance supersede any of these tips.

Are you thinking about getting a vinyl record, or are simply curious about how they work? Vinyl sounds better, feels much more classic, and lasts for quite some time. There’s no beating the timeless appeal of vinyl records!

Conclusion

Now that you know how vinyl records work, you can appreciate the classic appeal and artistic design behind every album you find.

Vinyl records might not be as common as digital downloads, but anyone who’s listened to a record knows how beautifully clear and wonderful it sounds.

From the metal disk pressed into a vinyl record to the magnetic system, vinyl records are much more complicated than they seem on the surface. However, they’re easy and fun to listen to on a record player whenever you get the chance.