How Do Vinyl Records Work?

How Do Vinyl Records Work?

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Here at Hamilton Max we have a passion for anything vinyl. The joy of listening to that needle hit the record or the novelty of flipping the record over to listen to more music. To best describe how it all works, we've written this little blog.

Vinyl records work through a process of converting analog audio signals into physical grooves on the vinyl surface. Here's a step-by-step explanation of how vinyl records function:

  1. Recording the Audio: The audio recording process begins by capturing sound waves using a microphone or other audio input devices. These sound waves represent the analog audio signal, which is continuously varying in amplitude and frequency.

  2. Mastering: The recorded audio is then taken to a recording studio, where it undergoes mastering. During mastering, audio engineers optimize the sound quality, adjust volume levels, and ensure the best possible representation of the music.

  3. Creating the Master Disc: Once the mastering process is complete, a lacquer-coated aluminium disc, known as the "master disc," is cut using a lathe. The lathe's cutting needle moves laterally, guided by the audio signal's amplitude, and vertically, following the low-frequency grooves.

  4. Stamping the Vinyl Records: The master disc is used to create a stamper, which serves as the mold for vinyl records. The stamper is made of metal and has the inverted grooves of the master disc. It is placed into a vinyl press.

  5. Vinyl Pressing: Vinyl records are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pellets, which are melted down and then pressed between the two stampers under high pressure and heat. This process forms the grooves into the vinyl as the PVC cools and solidifies.

  6. Grooves and Audio Playback: The grooves on the vinyl record represent the analog audio signal captured during recording. When the record player's stylus (needle) is placed on the vinyl's surface, it follows the grooves, and the undulating movements of the stylus translate into varying electrical signals.

  7. Turntable Mechanism: The turntable spins the vinyl record at a constant speed (typically 33 1/3 or 45 RPM) while the tonearm holds the stylus and moves it across the record's surface.

  8. Electromagnetic Conversion: As the stylus moves along the grooves, it vibrates, converting the mechanical movements into electrical signals. The stylus is connected to a tiny magnet inside the cartridge, which generates these electrical signals through electromagnetic induction.

  9. Preamp and Amplification: The electrical signals produced by the cartridge are very weak and require amplification to be audible. If the turntable does not have a built-in preamp, the signal is sent to an external phono preamp. From there, the amplified signal is sent to an audio amplifier or a set of powered speakers.

  10. Sound Reproduction: The amplified electrical signals are sent to the speakers, which convert them back into sound waves. The sound waves are then heard as music, faithfully reproducing the audio content stored on the vinyl record.

Overall, vinyl records provide a unique and nostalgic way to enjoy music. It has a warmth and character that modern music listening will never attain.