How Do Vinyl Records Work?

Modern record players are making a comeback with more in search of yesteryear vintage vinyl records. Developed in the 1877, the record player (or turntable) has remained an integral part of music culture and Hi-Fi history.

Their increased popularity has largely been attributed to their exceptional sound quality, unique look and the increased desire for home offices.

A modern quality record player features a high-resolution sound that stems from different subtle calibrations and moving parts.  You’ll be impressed at their impact once you understand how they operate.

In this article we will cover the record players history, how vinyl records work and their impact on the industry.

Explaining Record Players

Vinyl refers to a tool that relies on a stylus to form sound waves from engravings on a surface or physical etchings. It then translates them into audible sounds. As noted earlier, Thomas Edison was the inventor of record players back in 1877. By then, they were referred to as phonographs. With a hand crank, this initial iteration modified a metal cylinder such that it could record sound and then play it.

A decade later, the ‘phonograph’ invention has undergone massive transformation. Alexander Graham Bell made some improvements, hence the name ‘graphophone.’ But all the variations were not using present-day flat discs; instead, they used etched-groove cylinders.

The initial version of the vinyl-spinning record player was produced in the 1890s by Emile Berliner. The original invention was referred to as ‘gramophone’ and ever since, the turntable has been subjected to countless improvements. Some brands such as Clear Audio and Pro-Ject Audio have pioneered technological advances, design, and materials. The current turntable is more efficient, durable, and affordable.

Best Turntables Under $500: Affordable Budget Record Players 2021 - Rolling  Stone
From Rolling Stones

Vinyl Records History

With the booming success of record players that use disc format to substitute the initial cylinder design, the vinyl record has transformed dramatically to meet the demand. Since the first innovation, we’ve seen several varying sizes and playing speeds. The first records to enter the mass market could play at 78RPM. These were composed of shellac, but they were brittle and noisy.

During the 1930s, Columbia and RCA Victor companies launched the chief commercially available vinyl discs. However, these had narrower grooves and slower playback time. But they used to stock more music. As a result, they were termed ‘LPS,’ which means ‘Long Playback.’ Twenty years later, both Columbia and RCA Victor started to compete again, and this time, they released a new playback speed (the 45).

The 45 was affordable, small, and robust, with 12 inches and 7 inches options. As a result, it shook the record industry. And many years later, the 45 is still the most famous record.

How Exactly Does a Vinyl Record Work?

Various sophisticated parts and mechanisms are involved in the modern day record player or turntable. Small vibrations from the stylus are collected and vinyl record contact point and translate the vibrations to sound energy.

The process begins with the vinyl record- this is printed and pressed using tiny sequential grooves. The sound is then ‘recorded’ in the sequential grooves resembling microscopic indents on the right and the left side of these grooves. This represents the right and the left channels. The indentations are usually pressed in a similar form and shape with the sound waves procedure when in touch with the stylus. 

Sound vibrations or waves are released at the point of contact when the turntable stylus tracks spinning vinyl record grooves and then runs over the indents.  At the turntable cartridge, the waves are then translated into electrical signals.

The electrical signals move from the cartridge to the pre-amplifier. At this point, the signal is transferred to the amplifier, and it gets amplified and then passed on to your speakers. While most vinyl enthusiasts concentrate on the end product, the process is the key.

4 of the Best Books About Vinyl Records | Book Riot
From Epigram

Primary Parts of a Record Player

You’ll understand how turntables work if you are familiar with the different parts that make up a record player. That way, you can easily purchase since you are aware of what you are getting into. See our picks of the best turntables or record players out there. Besides, you’ll know which part needs replacement or repair if you know each component and their functions in case your player develop technical issues.  Record player parts include the following:

  • Turntable
  • Stylus
  • Amplifier
  • Cartridge
  • Pre-amplifier
  • Tone arm

Below is a breakdown of each of these parts and their functions.

Audio Nexus: New Jersey Turntables Tonearms Phono CartridgesStereo Home  Theater NJ Audio-Video New York NY Projectors NYC Loudspeakers Stereos  Receivers Electronics
From Audio Nexus

Let’s look at the primary components of a record player. They include:

The Plinth and the Motor

The ‘plinth’ is the base of a record player and offers a framework for different components. Furthermore, the plinth adds mass and weight to the record player, thereby reducing vibrations, and houses an integral part which is the motor.

Turntable motors come either in a ‘belt drive’ or ‘direct-drive. A direct-drive motor is typically positioned underneath the turntable platter, and it’s attached to the platter directly. On the other hand, a direct drive sits on the side and is attached to the platter using a belt. Both designs play a crucial role, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The plinth comprises a composite plastic or timber. A good plinth is thick, acoustically inert, and level, so it doesn’t pass via any vibrations that could alter the sound.

The Platter

This is the disc found on the plinth and spins referred to as ‘turntable.’ The platter refers to where you place your vinyl record and comprises various materials including metal, glass, plastic, or acrylic. This one is designed to eliminate several interfering sound vibrations. Most people opt to add cork, leather turntable mat, or rubber to place your vinyl and prevent interference.

Vinyl records come in various sizes and require the platter to rotate at varying speeds to enhance clear playback. Shifting the rate at which the platter rotates alters your record’s playback speed as well as the extent to which your stylus can pick details. Record sizes have undergone tremendous transformation throughout history to match customer demands. This explains why the 45 is the most prominent format.

Stylus

The stylus may sound familiar if you are a classic movie fanatic.  Stylus refers to the needle found on the player record, and while playing, its spins in the grooves. Various stylus manufacturers derive them from diamonds, and they take a cone shape. Diamond is commonly used as it’s natural and extremely hard as well. Still, some manufacturers choose to use sapphires as they are tough enough to withstand scratches in the vinyl.

Regardless of the material used to make your stylus, it would help if you replaced it after some time. A single stylus’s maximum usage capacity ranges from 1000-25000 hours.

A stylus is either spherical or elliptical. The latter attains more significant contact with the groove hence leads to excellent sound reproduction. While the spherical style tends to be more sensitive, it doesn’t produce similar sound quality.

The stylus connects to the tonearm via a strip of metal. The strip is highly flexible, allowing the stylus to move freely within the player recorder grooves.

The Tonearm

At one end, the tonearm is connected to the record players and houses the stylus and the cartridge at the other end. It’s a crucial part since it’s responsible for holding the stylus and joins it to the turntable housing with the right amount of pressure to enable it to track the record grooves perfectly. A wrongly connected tonearm does not apply adequate pressure causing the stylus to dig into the vinyl, causing damage or skate through the record causing poor playback.

The Cartridge

 A turntable cartridge is also referred to as a ‘phono cartridge.’ It’s found at the backside of the tonearm. It’s responsible for converting physical stylus movements into electrical signals, which are later transferred to the pre-amplifier.

Cartridge exists into two main types: the ‘moving coil’ (MC) and ‘moving magnet (MG). MCs cost more, and are of higher quality, and perform much better compared to MGs.

You’ll find that some tonearms are S-shaped, curved, or straight, and none is better than the other in terms of shape. Generally, most DJs opt for straight tonearm precisely because the shape makes it easy to scratch. However, some people believe that you’ll get a better sound quality if you use a curved tonearm.

Preamplifiers and Amplifiers

Preamplifiers and amplifiers relay signals from the turntable to the stereo speakers. They are behind the various sound frequencies.

The speakers that receive the sound data are external and attached using a cable or are inbuilt. Typically, the amplifier takes the form of a preamp, but powered speakers (containing their amp) can connect to the speakers directly without a turntable receiver.

Initially, audio receivers had a phono pre-amplifier to intensify the audio signals from the record player to a similar level with the regular audio signal. However, modern turntable receivers lack a preamp.

Some turntables come with in-built preamps, and in case yours doesn’t have, it’s essential that you get an external preamp to intensify the signal before it gets to the receiver. Note that dedicated preamps are better.

What Is a Turntable Receiver?

A turntable receiver is a device that enables easy processing of electromagnetic waves consequently enhancing your turntable’s sound quality. It is advisable to purchase one if your turntable lacks an inbuilt one in order to obtain the best audio performance. Since, there are many with wide-varying features and price – this guide aims to make it easier highlighting the best on offer in the current marketplace.

The process of using a record player

Using a turntable is not complicated. You only need to master a few points and strategies to get exceptional sound quality. Also, it would help if you learned how to avoid damaging your records. Here’s a step to step guide on how to run a record player;

Step 1: Step up

You start by placing your record player in a safe location away from other items or potential falls.

Step 2: Turn it on

Connect your record player and then switch it on. The ‘on’ switch usually is at the center of the box or the front. Where your switch is located will depend on your model.

Step 3: Lift the wooden top

Just lift the dust cover connected using hinges.  Let it lie on the in-build prop bar. The wooden top protects the device from destruction.  Make sure it remains open when being used.

Step 4: Remove the record

You can now remove the record from the case carefully. You should use gloves or tissue to touch the record to remove it. You’ll damage the record if you choose to handle it with your hands.

Step 5: Insert the record

You can put the record on the player for the middle metal bar to slide via the hole during the record.

Step 6: Move the needle

Move the needle gently on top of the record and put it on the furthest part of the record.

Step 7: Drop the needle

Wait until the needle gets over the record. Then use a lever beneath the needle and push it down to insert it in the record. Be gentle throughout the process to avoid damaging the record.

Step 8: Enjoy the music

After completing all these steps, you can start playing your music. You can increase or reduce the volume using the volume switches.

From Project-Audio

Why Should You Purchase a Record Player?

Following the recent rediscovery of record players, vintage music lovers prefer to use record players to produce authentic sounds.

Below are reasons behind its sudden popularity;

Record players appeal

Record players are almost two centuries old, but they have withstood the test of time. Not even the revolution in technology has been able to outsmart turntables. Although MP3 players, iPods, and smartphones command more attention in the music industry, record players still manage to maintain their uniqueness. That’s because it combines tradition with style making it one of the best options. Record players are appealing in that they keep traditional music alive in the most classic way.

Exceptional sound quality

Modern record players feature an exceptional sound quality, unlike the old phonographs. And this is the feature music lovers appreciate the most. That’s because record players’ great sound will give you the pleasure of listening to your favorite music. A record player compresses and edits music audio files greatly. As a result, listen to the original composition of the singer. It creates room to enjoy top-quality music.

Bring to life the ancient and dusty records

With player records, you can resurrect the old records lying on the shelves of your grandparent’s house. In other words, you can play old music most fashionably. If you want, you can play any old record and even include it in your music collection.

Excellent sensory perception

You get the liberty to select a record that compliments your present mood and put the record in the player. The experience is rewarding and uplifting. Record players allow you to enjoy timeless music even without the company of your friends.

Listen to ancient songs

Some great singers produced fantastic music that cannot be found on digital platforms. Record players have brought back those songs. Note that these songs are rarely found online or on CDs, or even in music streaming apps. So, you’ll get the opportunity to listen to traditional music.

Enhance home value

Given the current popularity of player records, having one will improve your home aesthetic value. Vintage lovers who love everything old and aesthetic will find the idea of owning a record player enticing. You can purchase one if you like collecting antiques to place them in your home. A record player will improve your home’s beauty. Besides, present-day record players are portable, compact and more appealing compared to the old-style phonographs.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the record player is an incredible invention. While technology fades once a newer or superior model hits the market, vinyl and record players have stood the test of time regardless of the countless inventions in the audio sector.

With the exceptional sound quality produced by the record players, most prominent artists are now making vinyl-based recordings and considering all these factors, it’s worth giving turntables a trial.

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