Vinyl Records: The Science Behind the Disc

vinyl record

Music has existed for as long as we have. It is an important part of human life and emotional expression. Throughout the centuries, music has taken many forms from wind-up metal music boxes to records to music apps we can listen to on our phones. In today’s blog, we’re talking about the might vinyl which has seen another rise in popularity. Plus, uncover how they actually work. 

What is a Vinyl Record?

A phonograph record is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. This groove starts near the edge and ends near the centre of the disc. Firstly, these records were made from shellac. But, stating in the 1940s, polyvinyl chloride became the common material. Thus, the nickname “vinyl”. 

Its History

To understand the birth of the vinyl record, we must first look at its predecessors.  

In 1857, Léon Scott patented the phonautograph — a vibrating diaphragm and stylus used to graphically record sound waves as tracings on a sheet of paper. However, this was purely for visual analysis as there was no intention of playing them back. 

Although there is no record of them being related, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. First, he tried recording sound on wax-imprinted paper tape — similar to the telegraph repeater he was also working on. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this experiment reproduced sound. Next, he wrapped tinfoil around a grooved metal cylinder. Then, a sound-vibrated stylus indented the tinfoil while the cylinder rotated. The recording could be played back immediately. 

A decade later, Edison developed a new and improved phonograph. This type used a hollow wax cylinder instead of a foil sheet. Thus, providing better-sound and being a more useful and durable device. This invention established the sound market at the end of the 1880s and dominated throughout the early years of the 20th century. 

This reign ended with Emile Berliner and the “gramophone”. This hand-rolled machine was small and thus used smaller records. Although at first it was more a novelty, in 1894 Berliner started marketing records that had more entertainment value. However, these vinyls still had poor sound quality. 

Success struck with Berliner’s manufacturing associate Eldridge R. Johnson. And, by 1903 12-inch records were introduced. Thus, allowing a playtime of more than four minutes. 

By 1919, the basic patents for these vinyl records expired. Therefore, opening the field for countless companies to produce them — leading to their domination of the home entertainment market until the digital compact discs emerged in the 1980s. 

How Do The Work?

Vinyl records were new technology at the time. But, how exactly do they work? Check out this science!

  1. The need of a record player is one of several parts that make up a transducer. This is what changes mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. The electrical energy is sent to the amplifier and then out of the speakers. 
  2. But, what it is reading? Well, when a vinyl record is made, a needle creates grooves in the disc that is the information of the desired sound. A similar needle is also used to read the information and play it back. On the left and right side of the grove are channels of audio information which makeup stereo sound. 
  3. A “master copy” of a record is ridged rather tan grooved. This is because its “negative” imprint forms a stamp. Thus, multiple records can be made of the same recording. 
  4. A vinyl is played on a record player. These turntables spin wheels using an electric motor. It is important that it spins at just the right speed other wise the music sounds weird. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo, a tutoring membership that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers Math, English, SAT, Coding, Spanish tutoring, and more.