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Vinyl Records: How Are They Made?

Vinyl Records

I remember discovering music as a teenager way back in the 1970s. In those days everything was available in one format only – the magical slab on black vinyl. No CDs, no downloads. Records (we we called them) were magical thanks to the wonder of vinyl, which is making something of a comeback these days. But just how is a record made. Let me tell you it’s not what I first though it was and a series of many, many small grooves cut in to it.

I soon learned that what I thought was lots of grooves – I couldn’t figure out how the stylus moved between them for starters – was in fact one continuous groove which the stylus tracked through with the music somehow being cut in to that. It’s still the same today with the diamond in the stylus picking up the music and transferring that through to the speakers however the process which actually makes the vinyl is an education in itself.

It’s quite a complex thing to make and reproduce vinyl records. Lots of technical stuff so let’s try and strip it down to the basics so you have an overview and can appreciate what goes in to putting together what you enjoy listening to. It’s not changed that much since Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph all those years ago. He was, if you will, the father of vinyl.

First what’s known as a master recording is made in the recording studio. Think of this as the template from which everything else happens. Things then move in to what’s known as the cutting process. Here a special lacquer is introduced to a record cutting machine. As the machine rotates at the right speed, electronic signals from the master go to the stylus which is housed in the cutting head. The stylus (or needle) then etches a single spiral groove in to the lacquer starting from the outside edge continuing to the center. This places an imprint of the music in to the lacquer ready for it to go to the next stage.

Now the imprinted lacquer is coated usually in silver or nickel, to make a master disc which is then separated from the lacquer. The master disc contains ridges rather than grooves and is now used as the template from which the actual vinyl records will be produced. Think if the metal master as you might a photographic negative or a mould in a way. It allows the production of the real thing. What is known as a “stamper” is created from the metal master disc.

Just as the name suggests, the “stamper” stamps out the vinyl records which will go on sale. It goes in to a hydraulic press together with vinyl blanks. The blanks are softened to allow the surface to be shaped by the stamper which, via the hydraulic press, pushes an impression of the master disc in to the softened blanks surface. The ridges in the master make the groove in the blank and thus the music is embossed on to the blank.

The embossed blank is cooled and you now have a fully functional vinyl record ready to be played and listened to. Record pressing plants mass produce in this way all stemming from the master recording and master disc. The finished records and then married up with the cover artwork and find their way to your turntable should you buy. There’s still nothing like the magic of a vinyl record and now you have an overview of how one is made.

Source by Andy Machin

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