9 groovy facts about vinyl records

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Modern vinyl records have existed for over half of a century, and while they almost faded into obscurity, the vinyl record revival is picking up steam every year.

This post was updated April 2017.

1. The widest distribution in the universe

The Golden LP recordPerhaps the most famous records in the universe are the two copies of the Golden Record placed aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts. The Golden Records feature musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and other messages. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and how the record is to be played. Today, Voyager is nearly 12 billion miles away from Earth.

2. Da-da-da daaaaah

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, was the first 12-inch recording released by RCA Victor in 1931. Victor’s new vinyl-based Victrolac compound, which was used for this recording, provided a much quieter playing surface compared to the shellac typically used for 78s.

3. Inner groove distortion

Songs closer to the label and spindle hole on a record can sound audibly different than those on the outer edges due to what is known as inner groove distortion. At the beginning of the LP, on those outer grooves, the audio signal is cut across a relatively long section of vinyl, and the longer a signal is spread out across the medium, the higher the quality. When you get to those shorter grooves near the spindle hole, the signal is transferred to a much shorter section. The audio information, in the form of ridges and valleys, is closer together, and the more dramatic curve of the groove can affect the needle’s ability to track and read the information accurately. When producing a record on vinyl, the recommendation is to keep the louder, bass-heavy tracks at the front and the softer tracks for the end of the programs.

4. Sound and color

Turntables can track color vinyl differently than black vinyl, and some people report skips on color record copies which do not happen on the same record if pressed on black vinyl (typically on lower-end turntables). Some people say the music itself can sound slightly different on color vinyl versions versus black vinyl versions of the same record. However, since the grooves are the same, this likely has more to do with the type of turntable or cartridge being used. Standard black vinyl is the quietest in terms of surface noise, followed by transparent colors and opaque colored vinyl. Random (recycled) color shades, split or splattered, glow in the dark, and glitter records are comparatively much noisier.

5. Spontaneous skipping

While audio mastering engineers preparing a recording for transfer to vinyl will adjust the groove pitch to account for dynamics in the program (i.e., louder and softer sections of your music), there are maximum and minimum depths permitted. Too much low frequency information combined with a lot of information spread across the stereo field can result in the stylus jumping out of the groove and skipping. Too shallow and narrow a groove, and the recorded sound can lose its stereo image and suffer from low volume.

6. Changing speeds

On June 21, 1948, Columbia Records put the needle down on history’s first successful microgroove plastic, 12-inch, 33-1/3 LP in New York. According to the Wired.com article “Columbia’s Microgroove LP Makes Albums Sound Good,” engineer Peter Carl Goldmark “set out with his staff to evolve the 78-rpm record to 33-1/3 rpm” in an effort to “extend playback time to more than 20 minutes per side and shrink vinyl grooves to an accessible, acceptable millimeter size.”

7. Vinyl records revival

Considering the term “vinyl revival” is an actual Wikipedia entry, we can declare it’s a legitimate phenomenon. In 2016, vinyl albums sales were up 26% over 2015, marking the ninth consecutive year of sales’ growth. According to Consequence of Sound, which posted the 25 top selling vinyl releases of 2016, combined rock music genres represented 63% of vinyl albums sold.

8. 2016’s Top 5 vinyl sellers

From the aforementioned Consequence of Sound post, here’s a teaser taste of the top five vinyl sellers of 2016:

  1. Twenty One Pilots: Blurryface (49,004 album sales)
  2. Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (41,087 album sales)
  3. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (39,861 album sales)
  4. The Beatles: Abbey Road (39,615 album sales)
  5. Adele: 25 (39,512 album sales)

9. National Record Store Day 2017

National Record Store Day is a day where you can join in and celebrate the enduring importance and coolness of the independent record store. According to the Record Store Day website, RSD is a “day for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Record Store Day is a global event, with special vinyl and CDs made exclusively for release and special performances being part of the celebration. For our part, Disc Makers started pressing vinyl records for Philadelphia R&B bands in the late ’40s, and we’re continuing that tradition as vinyl maintains its surge into mainstream popularity and accessibility.

The Musician's Guide to Vinyl

Read More
How vinyl records work
Back in the vinyl records business after 15 years!
Designing for vinyl: make your album cover pop
Wax is back – and the vinyl record revival is good news for indie artists
Why do you love vinyl records?
Audio mastering for vinyl

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10 thoughts on “9 groovy facts about vinyl records

  1. This is very interesting. Something you need to bring up which is very important, is as follows. You mentioned volume, low frequencies, and jumping out of the groove. Here is something very important, something you may have had to experience and not read about it in books. When mixing the bass guitar track of the song, and/or bass drum, you mix it to the center of the stereo field. Years ago it was found if you mix the low frequency to the right or left, and the song will be recorded to vinyl, the needle jumps out of the groove. Regardless of volume, listen to any record from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc. The bass and bass drum are always mixed to the center.

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