How Do Vinyl Records Work?
Vinyl record players are electromagnetic devices that change sound vibrations into electrical signals. When a record spins, it creates sound vibrations that get converted into electrical signals. These signals are fed into electronic amplifiers. Electric amps vibrate and feed the resulting sound into speakers, which amplify it and make it louder. Record players still use the whole needle and groove methodology that a phonograph used, although record players today are much more high tech.
So how do they work exactly? The needle, or stylus of a record player is one of several parts that make up a transducer. A transducer is what changes mechanical energy into electrical energy and changes electrical energy into mechanical energy. The whole system contains a stylus, magnets, coils, cantilever, and a body within a cartridge. The mechanical energy from the sound waves is converted into electrical energy, which is then sent into the amplifier and out to the speakers.
When a vinyl record is made, a needle is used to create grooves in the vinyl that is basically recorded information of the desired sound or music. A needle (or stylus) is also used to read the information contained in the grooves, playing it back so that we can hear the recorded information. On the left side of the groove and on the right side are channels of audio information that makeup stereo sound.
Fun factoid; once upon a time, records were made of rubber. Now, they are vinyl. Another fun factoid; the little grooves in a record would be roughly 500 meters long if you were to unwind it into a straight line.
A master copy of a record is made using a stylus to cut grooves into a round disk. It's sent off to be formed into a master copy of the record. The master copy is ridged instead of grooved. It's basically the “negative” imprint of the record which is formed into a stamp of sorts. The stamp is pressed into steam-softened vinyl, using a hydraulic press. The vinyl disc is cooled with water and viola… a finished vinyl record is born.
Once a vinyl record is made, it is played on a record player. A record player is sometimes called a turntable. Turntables spin wheels using an electric motor. Some are called direct-drive turntables, which use gears to turn the table, and some are called belt-drive turntables, which use a rubber belt and central axle to turn the table. It's important that the turntable spins at just the right speed, because a turntable that spins too fast makes a sound resembling The Chipmunks, and a turntable that spins too slowly makes a sound resembling Eyore.
The cartridge and stylus of a record player trace the groove in the record to reproduce the sound information contained there. The tip of a stylus (also called the needle) is made of industrial diamond, a hard, impure substance that's molded into a point that's shaped like a cone and attached to a little strip of flexible metal.