How Is Music Stored On Vinyl Records?

Have you ever wondered how sounds are recorded onto disks and records?

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If you're a music fan, you probably take it for granted, but have you ever wondered how something as complicated as a song get put onto a flat, round disk of vinyl in the first place? It's something that took scientists years to figure out. In the 19th century, as scientists were just starting to figure out how sound waves move through the air and how our ears were able to hear them, a French scientist named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville tried to re-create the ear drum by attaching a stylus to a thin membrane. He was able to trace sounds onto paper and glass. In the 1870s, Thomas Edison was the first person to successfully record the human voice and play it back. He attached a thin membrane to a needle touching a cylinder covered with tin foil. Sound waves hit the diaphragm and jiggled the needle which etched the vibrations into the cylinder.

At the same time, Emile Berliner was developing a similar system, but instead of a cylinder, he used a flat disk. A needle cut three-dimensional grooves directly into it, and another needle could read the grooves by running along the grooves, producing a sound that was amplified by a horn or cone. In 1887, Berliner invented the gramophone, which pretty much how analog sound is played today. Records are recorded onto a master, and then pressed into vinyl. Record players have a stylus, usually made from diamond or sapphire, which is attached to a tone arm (the thing you pick up and move to start playing a record). The sound isn't amplified mechanically: it's carried through the tone arm to a cartridge containing coils in a magnetic field. These coils take the vibrations and amplify them electronically through speakers. Many record collectors say the sound is "warmer" than digital music. They believe records sound better because of their fidelity. This is debatable; the recent rise in popularity of record players might be simply because people have an emotional connection to records. Some attribute their popularity to a nostalgia factor, while others like that records are so tangible.

Do you prefer to listen to old vinyl records? Do you think they produce a "warmer" sound? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn More:

The Written Sound (The Economist)
"In February 2006 a news report echoed around the internet, purporting to play back 6,500-year-old voices and other sounds from a clay pot."

How Do Record Players Work (Live Science)
"The phonograph could record sound and play it back. The receiver consisted of a tin foil wrapped cylinder and a very thin membrane, called a diaphragm, attached to a needle. Sound waves were directed into the diaphragm, making it vibrate."

Do Records Really Sound Warmer Than CDs? (Mental Floss)
"Opinions aside, what we can all agree on is that there is indeed a difference in the sound that comes from vinyl versus that of digital media, both in the way it is produced and heard."