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.
The widest distribution in the universe
Perhaps 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, and 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 now more than 11 billion miles away from Earth.
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.
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 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.
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. Read more about the sound characteristics of vinyl colors at Gotta Groove Records.
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.
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.”
Vinyl records revival
Considering the term “vinyl revival” is an actual Wikipedia entry, we can declare it’s a legitimate phenomenon. In 2013, vinyl albums grew to more than 6.1 million records sold, topping a steady six-year run of ever increasing sales. This was up 33% from 2012’s record-breaking total of 4.5 million. (Sales from January through June 2014 were charted at 4 million). Billboard reported that 66% of vinyl records were purchased at independent record stores and that rock was the dominant genre purchased, making up three out of every four LP record sold.
2014’s Top 5 vinyl sellers
2014’s best selling vinyl album was Jack White’s sophomore solo LP Lazaretto, which sold over 75,000 copies on vinyl alone. It’s the highest selling release in the vinyl LP format since Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy in 1994. Arctic Monkeys (AM), The Black Keys (Turn Blue), Lana Del Rey (Born to Die), and Beck (Morning Phase) rounded out the top five sellers of 2014, each selling at least 25,000 LPs. Read “These were the five best selling vinyl records of 2014” for more.
National Record Store Day
National Record Store Day is on April 18th, 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 CD releases made exclusively for release on RSD. Special performances and promotional releases are also part of the celebration, and Disc Makers is the official vinyl pressing sponsor. We 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.
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Disc Makers is the official vinyl pressing sponsor of Record Store Day!