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How records work

This is an archived copy of the article “How Do Vinyl Records Work?”

By Sounds et al – A record label and publisher exploring sound, collaboration and curation. Based in Portland OR.


The turntable is the circular rotating platter that the record is placed onto.


The tone arm is the lever, which holds the cartridge and stylus in place above the record.


The cartridge is a unit that holds a magnet, wrapped in a wire coil, attached to the stylus.


Stylus – The needle that sits in the grooves of the record; normally made from sapphire or diamond.


Playback – The record sits on the turntable, and is rotated at a constant speed – normally 33 ⅓ rpm for an LP, or 45 rpm for singles.

Both stylus and cartridge are lowered, by the tone arm, onto the spinning record. To preserve the groves, the stylus should be placed onto the lead in – a 6mm blank space at the outer rim of the record.


As the record turns, the stylus falls into the tiny cut grooves, causing it to vibrate.

vibrating_stylus vinvyl record player

As the stylus vibrates, so does the cartridge that it’s attached to.

The cartridge is a transducer, this creates an electrical current that changes depending on the stylus’ vibrations.

cartridge_output Vinyl record player

This electrical wave is fed into an amplifier, amplified (i.e. made louder) and fed into the speaker(s).

These speakers have a diaphragm which moves back and fourth, mimicking the stylus’ movements – recreating the sound that was originally cut into the record.

amplified_signal Vinyl record player

Playback vs Recording

The process of playing a record is essentially the opposite of recording the original sound.

When recording a sound, the microphone (also a transducer) converts sound waves into an electrical signal:

recording_sound from instrument to microphone

It is this signal that gets cut onto the lacquer disc:

Lathe Animation making a vinyl record
Hopefully that has helped explain the whole process, essentially:

• Microphone converts sound waves into an electrical signal

• This signal is converted into kinetic energy (i.e. vibrations) and cut onto a record

• The record player’s stylus reads these vibrations, and the cartridge converts this back into an electrical signal

• This signal then causes the speaker’s diaphragm to vibrate – producing sound waves

Related articles

Best ways to improve sound of vinyl records


How Vinyl Records Are Made. Discovery Channel.

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