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Feels like it’s been ages when music wasn’t just a click away from us. Back then, playing music was a physical act of putting a record manually. Well, if you’re nodding your head in agreement or are getting fascinated with this, you’re in for a treat. The evergreen Vinyl records are once again back in the trend with their charm and warm sound, and there’s a reason why they’ve never faded into obscurity.
In this article, we’ll go through the A to Z of a Vinyl Record. From their making to playing them and even taking care of them, we’ll uncover everything that you’ll need to know before you head out to bring back the legendary music player.
So, let’s get to the bottom of it and start with what these Vinyl Records actually are.
Table of Contents
- What is a Vinyl Record?
- What are They Made of?
- What Does Each Component of a Vinyl Record Do?
- How to Play a Vinyl Record
- Taking Proper Care of Vinyl Records
- Factors to Consider While Buying a Vinyl Record?
What is a Vinyl Record?
A vinyl record is a flat and circular disc made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that simply plays and stores playback music through analog. The grooves are imprinted with spiral tracks that store the audio data. So, when it is played on a turntable, the stylus, a.k.a needle, starts tracing these grooves and translates the imprinted patterns into special vibrations that are converted into a sound.
This is how a Vinyl record with the help of a turntable plays the music, and there’s no doubt that its authenticity and such mechanics have given it so much love from music enthusiasts. These records also come in different sizes, but the most popular ones are the 12-inch, 10-inch, and 7-inch records. They even have the ability to play at different speeds, including 33 ⅓ RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM.
What are They Made of?
You must be curious how these records survive through the passage of time and are still able to deliver rich sound. Primarily, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a synthetic plastic polymer, is used to make these records. However, here’s a breakdown of all the materials and the manufacturing process as well:
1. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC):
As mentioned above, the main component of a vinyl record is PVC. The surface of the disc is coated with a thin layer of liquid vinyl before being pressed against a metal stamper with the music grooves etched into it. To enhance its properties, several additives are added to it.
In addition, additives added to improve the characteristics of the PVC may include stabilizers that prevent deterioration, plasticizers that increase flexibility, and pigments that add color to the vinyl. Vinyl records are traditionally produced in a shade of black, but they are also available in other colors and patterns. This is especially true for limited edition or special releases. Present in the minimum quantity, the carbon black mixture is sometimes supplemented with colorants and vinyl recycled from other records.
3. Master Disc:
Thanks to the Master Disc, which forms the mold that is used to create the vinyl records. This mold is formed by affixing a thin layer (usually silver or nickel) to the master disc’s surface. The silver or nickel layer is then applied to the liquid plastic material, which eventually hardens to form a solid shape and forms a negative impression on the audio recording. While not a material in the final product, the master disc does play a crucial role in the manufacturing process.
At the center of each record is a label, which is typically made of paper. All sorts of essential information about the track, such as the artist, tracklist, and record company, is written on these labels. They are attached to the vinyl while they are in the middle of the manufacturing process.
5. Protective Coating:
Just like any other beautiful thing, these records are prone to damage. Sometimes, even the minutest scratch can ruin a record. That’s the reason why some vinyl records may have a protective coating to reduce static. It also protects the grooves from attracting dust and debris, which can affect the playback quality.
Also Read: 7 Best All-in-One Stereo Systems With Turntables.
What Does Each Component of a Vinyl Record Do?
What makes these records timeless is their vintage design and historical relevance. Vinyl records have been a cherished medium for music enthusiasts for almost a century. Their analog sound is often described as “warm” and “rich,” which is different from the digital sound found on CDs and streaming services. To understand how vinyl records work, it’s essential for you to know about the components of a vinyl record and their functions:
Have you ever wondered what is the role of these grooves on a record? Well, for a vinyl record, they are like the musical highways that hold all the audio magic. During the mastering process, they are carefully carved on the surface of the record. These grooves contain all the tiny bumps and wiggles that encode the sound waves of your favorite songs.
When the needle (or stylus) of a record player traces these grooves, it vibrates according to the shape of the grooves, producing an enchanting sound quality we all crave.
Each groove corresponds to a single rotation of the record and contains audio for both the left and right stereo channels.
Keeping the label in check becomes important if you really want to keep your vinyl records to last for decades. Just make sure that the label is centered correctly, as this is a sign of a perfectly constructed record. It might sound critical, but this level of attention to detail will keep your vinyl records sounding great for decades to come.
It also helps protect the spindle hole and provides a place for the user to grip the record without touching the grooves.
3. Run-in and Run-out Grooves:
Just like how a good track contains a smooth intro and end, the run-in and run-out grooves are designed to do the same for a record. These grooves are located at the beginning and end of a record, and they allow the needle to smoothly find its way to the music and back again at the end of each track. Without these grooves, the needle could scratch against the hard edge of the vinyl, causing damage to both the record and the needle. The run-in groove gives the needle a smooth landing before it hits the intro, whereas the run-out groove prevents the stylus from drifting onto the label after the track is over.
3. Spindle Hole:
This small hole at the center is designed to fit onto the spindle of a record player. Without this small component, the vinyl won’t rotate smoothly and at the correct speed. On top of that, the record would not be able to play correctly, or worse, it could break from the strain of an improper fit. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
4. Lead-in and Lead-out:
Located just before and after the run-in and run-out grooves, these areas help guide the needle onto the record and back off again. The lead-in is especially important because it creates a gradual slope that helps the needle gently settle onto the grooves of the record.
To put simply, The lead-in provides a smooth transition for the stylus to move from the run-in groove to the first track. At the same time, The lead-out guides the stylus from the last track to the run-out groove.
This is the portion of the disc that contains the label and provides information about the music. The amusing thing about it is that these can also contain additional grooves that may have hidden tracks or sound effects. Some records have a beveled or rounded edge for easier handling.
6. Stylus (Needle):
If you’re not familiar with it, think of it as a tiny needle that makes the records play the music for you, although it isn’t a part of the vinyl record itself but of the whole record-playing system. The stylus is like the detective on your turntable as it carefully scans and reads the grooves on the record. As it moves along, it vibrates, and those vibrations get transformed into electrical signals and further into warm sound.
Unfortunately, these styluses have limited playtime. So, it becomes necessary to replace them from time to time.
Also Read: Best Turntables Under $500.
How to Play a Vinyl Record
In this section, we’ve got you covered with this beginner-friendly guide on how to play a vinyl record. So, let’s dive in and get grooving!
1. Find a Stable Surface:
Before you start, you must make sure that your turntable is placed on a stable surface. Preventing any unwanted vibrations that could affect the sound quality isn’t a bad idea, right?
2. Dust Off Your Vinyl:
Use an anti-static brush to gently clean your vinyl record. Removing any dust or debris that might be lurking in the grooves ensures smooth playback with minimal interference.
Position the Vinyl:
Carefully position the vinyl record on the platter of your turntable, ensuring that the spindle goes through the center hole of the record. This leads to a pleasurable listening session.
Select the Correct Speed:
Different records require different speeds. Here’s how you can determine and set the correct speed:
1. Check the Label: Thanks to the labels, they have speed indications imprinted on them. Common speeds include 33 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM for different types of records.
2. Set the Turntable Speed: Match the speed setting on your turntable to the indicated speed on the record. This ensures that the record will play at the correct speed, avoiding distortion or pitch issues.
Start the Turntable:
Turn on the power switch of your turntable, allowing the platter to start spinning. Feel the anticipation building as the vinyl comes to life!
Position the Tonearm:
If your turntable has a cueing lever, gently lift the tonearm using it. This helps you guide the tonearm smoothly to the edge of the record, where the grooves begin.
Lower the Stylus:
Now, the moment we’ve been waiting for – getting the stylus to contact the grooves:
1. Engage the Cueing Lever:
Gently lower the cueing lever, allowing the stylus to make contact with the record’s grooves. Exercise caution and ensure a gentle touch to avoid damaging the record.
2. Tracing the Grooves:
As the stylus traces the grooves, it picks up the physical patterns and converts them into delicate vibrations, beginning the process of producing sound.
Listen and Understand:
Let’s explore the journey of the stylus vibrations turning into audible music:
1. Cartridge and Electrical Signals:
The cartridge translates the stylus’s vibrations into electrical signals. These signals are then sent to a phono preamplifier, which boosts their strength for the next stage.
2. Amplification and Speaker Output:
From the phono preamplifier, the amplified signals travel to the main amplifier, which further enhances the audio quality. Finally, the signals reach the speakers, resulting in the delightful sound that fills your room.
End of Playback:
After enjoying your vinyl, it’s time to wrap things up:
1. Run-Out Groove:
As one side of the record finishes playing, the stylus will eventually reach the run-out groove. Some turntables are designed to automatically lift the tonearm and stop spinning, while others may require manual intervention.
2. Lift and Rest:
Using the cueing lever, carefully lift the tonearm and return it to its resting position. Take a moment to appreciate the music you just experienced.
Flip or Store:
If you wish to listen to the other side, flip the record over and repeat the process. Otherwise, store the vinyl in its protective sleeve to keep it clean and safe.
Taking Proper Care of Vinyl Records
A little care will go a long way in preserving the longevity of your collection and ensuring your records sound as good as when they were first played.
1. Handle with Care
Only a true music enthusiast knows the value of taking care of their collection. You never know if your favorite record will turn out to be vintage or out of stock. Vinyl records are delicate, and it is natural for the grooves to easily accumulate oils and dirt from your fingers. If you want your records to last decades, always hold them by the edges and the labeled area. Handling your records cautiously prevents any potential damage to the grooves, which are the most vital part of the record. Over time, even small amounts of dirt or oils can degrade the sound quality, so it’s essential to be mindful every time you pick up a record.
2. Clean Before and After Playing
Cleaning isn’t just about maintaining the aesthetics; it’s about preserving your records’ sound quality. It hardly takes a moment to clean a record before and after it’s played. Even a gentle object like a Carbon Fiber brush can effectively remove dust and static that can interfere with playing. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more thorough, especially if your record has been subjected to a great deal of dirt or if it’s been stored in an improper manner, you can use a combination of record cleaning solution, microfiber cleaning cloths or even a record cleaning machine. With regular cleaning, you’ll have a crisp and clear sound that won’t have any pops or skips caused by dirt.
3. Store Properly
Proper storage is paramount when it comes to vinyl records. These records are delicate, so you can never stack vinyl records horizontally like we store books or CDs. To avoid warping, which makes the record unplayable, always store them vertically, ensuring they aren’t packed too tightly together, which can cause unnecessary pressure. To further protect the record from dust, static, and potential scratches, you can even use polyethylene or acid-free paper inner sleeves. For those who are willing to go the extra mile to preserve the artwork and the outer sleeve, outer plastic sleeves are a worthy investment.
4. Play with a Clean Needle
By now, you know how important a stylus is. If your needle is dirty or damaged, it will not only affect your turntable’s sound quality but it will also cause physical damage to the record’s grooves. Needless to say, it’s important to keep your needle clean and in good condition. Even the best needle can deteriorate over time, so it’s a good idea to replace it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or if you notice a drop in sound quality.
5. Avoid Direct Sunlight and Heat
Just like how excessive sun can damage our skin, direct sunlight, and heat can be detrimental to vinyl records. Exposure to these elements can cause the vinyl to warp, rendering them unplayable. They should be kept in a cool, dry place, ideally anywhere out of direct sunlight and humidity.
6. Maintain a Consistent Environment
High temperatures and humidity may damage your records in the long run. To avoid that, try to keep your records stored in a room with a stable temperature and humidity. This might seem too much, but even a small effort can make a big difference. Keep your records away from windows and any areas that are wet.
7. Avoid Stacking Equipment
Stack these records anywhere, like your ordinary CDs, and pay the price. These casual things can affect playback and potentially harm the record or the equipment itself. Always ensure your turntable has a dedicated spot, preferably a stable surface free from external vibrations.
8. Regularly Check Turntable Settings
A well-calibrated turntable is key to getting the best sound out of your vinyl records. Regularly check settings like the tracking force anti-skate and ensure that the turntable is perfectly level. These might seem like minute details, but they can literally make your overall listening experience ten times better.
9. Avoid Playing Damaged Records
Playing damaged records can permanently harm your vinyl collection, degrade sound quality, damage your turntable, and even be hazardous to your health. The smart thing to do would be to treat and store records with care and to avoid playing records that are visibly damaged or scratched.
10. Invest in Quality Equipment
Investing in high-quality turntables, speakers, and related equipment can significantly improve sound quality and reduce the wear and tear on your records. It is important to remember that the aim is to experience the rich sound of vinyl, and high-quality equipment is the gateway to that experience.
Also Read: 10 Best Home Stereo Systems.
Factors to Consider While Buying a Vinyl Record?
1. Music Taste
For starters, your primary concern should be your music taste. You can’t just expect to head out to buy a random record and get one that you actually like listening to. Find out if you’re into jazz, classic rock, or pop or have multiple genres that you like. Only then can you find a Vinyl record that you’ll actually listen to.
2. Record Condition
The vinyl industry goes crazy for vintage pieces, and you need to determine whether you’ll go for them or trust the newer, fresh records. Although these brand-new records come with a pristine sound quality, the older ones deliver that vintage vibe and a nostalgic charm. In any case, make sure to check the record for any damage like scratches, cracks, or warps on used records.
3. Album Artwork
The artwork is the one thing that makes the records even more desirable, and that’s why the cover art and the posters or even the lyric books enhance the experience of the users. In fact, there are people who are not interested in vinyl records but in their artwork.
Vinyl records can be so expensive that they can even empty your pockets. Yes, that’s true. That’s why you should always have a budget in your mind before you head out for shopping.
Pressing has a strong influence on the sound quality of your records. Not only that, different pressings of the same album can even have different sound quality. So, make sure to find out the superior pressing and go for it.
There are different editions to a record. They can be limited editions, special releases, or even colored vinyl, and they all have higher prices to back these claims. That’s why you should check the editions of a record before making up your mind.
This is a no-brainer when it comes to buying records. There are tons of fake copies of the original vinyl, and you need to avoid them as much as possible. Keep a close check on the seller if you’re buying online, and look out for their reviews. Even if you’re buying it offline, make sure that you go to a reputable and verified store.
8. Playback Speed
Records come in different speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. Ensure you have the equipment to play the record you’re buying.
9. Mono vs. Stereo
Many people don’t notice this, but there were many old records that used to come in mono. However, in recent times, most of these records are in stereo. So, depending on your preference and requirement, choose the piece that fulfills all your needs.
A vinyl record is engraved on a vinyl disc and produces a playable record. So, unlike the vintage vinyl pressings, where you had to create a master disc and press multiple copies, this recorder creates individual records in real time. These records are more frequently used by artists and music enthusiasts who use them to make unique or one-off records. This machine simply captures the analog warmth and tactile experience of vinyl, which allows personalized and unique recordings. It’s simply a treat to have in this young generation.
The value of vinyl records varies based on rarity, condition, demand, special features, and historical significance. Rare releases, especially in pristine condition or by popular artists, can fetch high prices. Features like first pressings, colored vinyl, or unique cover art can boost value. Original pressings usually surpass reissues in worth. However, while some vinyl can be worth thousands, many common albums have modest or merely sentimental value. For potential high-value records, consulting a specialist or price guide is advisable.
There are three different types of Vinyl RecordsThey are based on their sizes, dimensions, and materials. Here they are:
– LP (Long Play): 12 inches in diameter
– EP (Extended Play): seven or ten inches in diameter
– Flexi disk: Thin, flexible disc often given away free with magazines.
With this, we come to an end for our guide on Vinyl records. After covering all this, I can say with confidence that you now have a lot of ideas about these legendary products. In fact, you can now help out someone in getting a good piece of record.
I hope that this guide helped you understand the very basics of a vinyl record and how it works. This will help you determine the solution for a cause that you might face while playing it.
Not just that, you can also simply navigate to this piece whenever you’re stuck and can’t play a record. We even have a section that talks about playing a vinyl record from zero.
Lastly, from listing down the components that comprise this record to covering a detailed buying guide, I’ve tried my level best to brief you about everything that someone needs to know before buying their first vinyl record.
So, what’s stopping you? Go out there and implement everything that you learned here, and grab your favorite piece of record.
Since the time I got my first pair of headphones in 2012, I’ve been fascinated by these little gadgets that have the power to change our moods through our favorite music. Whether it was the cheap $5 earphones or the premium JBL headphones, I have played my favorite music on tons of different audio devices for all these years.
At AudioReputation, I test and review headphones of all kinds. From popular earbuds like the Airpods pro to the expensive HIFIMAN Susvara, I always perform a deep test and present my honest and unbiased opinion to my readers.