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.
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.
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.
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:
It is this signal that gets cut onto the lacquer disc:
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
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2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework
ETS 1: Engineering Design
HS-ETS1-2. Break a complex real-world problem into smaller, more manageable problems that each can be solved using scientific and engineering principles.*
ETS 3. Technological Systems
HS-ETS3-1(MA). Model a technological system in which the output of one subsystem becomes the input to other subsystems
HS-ETS3-2(MA). Use a model to explain how information transmitted via digital and analog signals travels through the following media: electrical wire, optical fiber, air, and space.
Appendix VIII Value of Crosscutting Concepts and Nature of Science in Curricula
Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science and engineering is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts or design solutions.
College Board Standards for College Success: Science
Standard PS.1 Interactions, Forces and Motion
Changes in the natural and designed world are caused by interactions. Interactions of an object with other objects can be described by forces that can cause a change in motion of one or both interacting objects. Students understand that the term “interaction” is used to describe causality in science: Two objects interact when they act on or influence each other to cause some effect. Students understand that observable objects, changes and events occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic investigations.