09/13 2019

How Vinyl Records Work

Vinyl records are making a huge comeback these days; most people who consider themselves knowledgeable music lovers have a record player with several vinyl records of their favorite bands from the 80s. While it is fashionable to own them and play them when your friends come over, it should be even more fashionable to know very well how they work and why the idea of owning them is more attractive than simply putting on a Spotify playlist.

The Technicalities

Some terms that a person who owns at least one vinyl must be familiar with:

  • Turntable – a rotating circle that you put the vinyl on
  • Tonearm – a lever on the side of the turntable that makes sure the cartridge and stylus are both in place above the record.
  • Cartridge – a magnet with some wire coil around it, attached to the stylus
  • Stylus – a needle that is placed in the grooves of the record

So basically what happens is when the record gets placed on the turntable, it rotates at a constant speed of 33 ⅓ rpm (revolutions per minute). As the stylus and cartridge are lowered onto the spinning record, they should be placed onto a 6mm blank part at the outer edge of the record, also known as lead in. The stylus moves across small cut grooves and causes vibration. The cartridge is a transducer and thus the different vibrations it receives create varying electrical currents. The current passes through an amplifier which makes it louder (amplifies) and feeds it to the speakers. They have a diaphragm that moves back and forth and recreates the sound that was originally represented on the record by cutting the grooves.

This is the process that helps the music travel from a still black circle known as record to your ears. And the big magic surrounding the fad that vinyl has become is that its sound quality is considered to be better than digital.

Vinyl vs CD and other digitals

The answer to this debate is rooted in the difference between an analog and a digital recording. Analog is by definition the original sound. The grooves in which the sound on the vinyl is stored mirrors the direct representation of a sound wave, which means that it preserves the entirety of the information (music). Digital, on the other hand, is snapshots of the analog taken at a certain rate. Thus it is evident that digital recordings are merely parts of the complete sound wave and proves that those who claim the superiority of vinyl sound have merit.

Vinyl vs CD and other digitals
Vinyl vs CD and other digitals

However, the downsides of vinyl have to be addressed as well. It is a lot more susceptible to dust and other types of damage than a CD. Whenever that happens, background noise (especially during quiet places of the song) and static sound is unavoidable and can certainly ruin the experience. On the same note, the companies that specialize in digital record production are working hard on increasing the sampling accuracy of digital records and making them as close to the original sound quality as possible.

All things considered, it is not necessarily the sound quality itself that is making the vinyl such an attractive option; only a very perceptive ear can hear the difference between the two easily. It is fair to say that the return of the analog records has a lot to do with the sense of authenticity they offer, and the vintage feel they have attached to them.

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