Making vinyl records even groovier

Audiophiles have reason to celebrate. Vinyl records are experiencing a comeback, and scientists are working to make their sound quality even better. An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, takes a look at how past inventions led to the classic vinyl record, or LP, and what the future might hold.

Matt Davenport, associate editor at C&EN, notes that early iterations of sound recording devices were actually tubular, dating back to Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877. His original cylinder wrapped in tin foil gave way to a wax version created in the lab of another great inventor, Alexander Graham Bell. New studies of wax cylinders suggest that the material is very stable over time when handled properly. But more convenient flat records eventually took over. Initially, they were made of celluloid and rubber, and then shellac became the industry standard until the more user-friendly format of came along in the mid-20th century. Then came cassettes, CDs and then MP3s.

But rather than going the way of the wax cylinder, LPs have weathered the digital revolution. Sales in the U.S. last year exceeded $400 million. It was vinyl's best year since 1988, even beating out revenue from one of today's most popular forms of music consumption, free online streaming. Now chemists are experimenting with different vinyl formulations to create records with higher quality sound. If they succeed, even more listeners could migrate back to the old-school technology.

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Citation: Making vinyl records even groovier (2016, June 15) retrieved 20 July 2019 from
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Jun 15, 2016
The fundamental problem with vinyls was that it takes immense care to keep the record player in good tune and condition to not scrape and carve the grooves flat over subsequent playthroughs. The average vinyl record in the average turntable lasted about 50-60 plays before the high frequencies beyond 15 kHz were just random hiss.

But due to psychoacoustic effects, that hiss was still percieved as "clarity" and "definition" by hi-fi enthusiasts, so while the objective quality of the recording was poor, the subjective experience filled the gaps. You can experience the effect yourself - take a pair of headphones and play high frequency noise through one earpiece - you start to hear weird stuff in the other ear that isn't really there because the brain expects to hear something by habit.

Of course there were laser-optical vinyl players that don't physically touch the record, but at that point you might as well resurrect the laserdisc, or just listen to regular CDs.

Jun 15, 2016
There was an attempt to make a quadrophonic vinyl that had two extra sound channels mixed in at ultrasonic frequencies, and which were heterodyned down to audible frequencies by the amplifier. That attempt failed exactly due to the realization that the record could only be played a handful of times before the ultrasonic part would be destroyed by the turntable.

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