How Vinyl Records Work (Amazing electron microscope video)

With vinyl records experiencing a massive resurgence  and overtaking sales of CDs for the first time, The Freaky thought it would be a good time to look at how vinyl records really work. After all, it’s pretty amazing and freaky to think that a needle moving across a piece of plastic, well polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to be precise, can generate the sound of a voice or band or orchestra.  

A vinyl record consists of a continuous groove, within which are a series of bumps. 

The bumps are the analog representation of the music and are the music’s unique fingerprint.

In essence, every note, every volume change, every sound that is on a record is a just a series of bumps etched on to a piece of vinyl. 

As the record spins, a stylus – which is essentially a type of needle with a tiny diamond or sapphire on its point – picks up the vibrations caused by the bumps in the grooves of the vinyl. These vibrations are then converted into an electrical signal that in turn passes through an amplifier and emerges as music. 

The best way to understand this almost miraculous process is to look at it at the microscopic scale where you can see the process in action.

In this amazing video you can see the stylus as it travels along the groove of the record and moves up and down over the bumps. 

This stunning imagery was filmed by Ben Krasnow from Applied Science and it wasn’t  an easy process to capture. He had to cut up a vinyl record into tiny pieces to fit under his electron microscope. The record he used was a CBS recording of Johann Strauss. You can learn more about how he it did it here.

How Are Vinyl Records Recorded?

You now know how vinyl records work, but how is the original sound created?

Well it’s pretty much the playing process reversed. A microphone captures the music in the form of sound waves which are then converted into electrical signals.

A diamond or sapphire needle arm then physically etches these signals onto the PVC record. This creates a master copy and from that all the other vinyl records are made. 

The process of producing the vinyl records themselves is fascinating and you can learn more here

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