Things you didn't know about vinyl records

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Across the universe

Perhaps the most famous records in the universe – certainly the ones with the widest distribution – are the two Golden Records aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts. The Golden Records include spoken greetings from Earth-dwellers in 55 languages, musical selections from different eras and cultures, and other messages and information. Each record is housed in an aluminum jacket, along with a cartridge and a stylus. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain how the record is to be played and tell of the origin of the spacecraft. Today, Voyager 1 is 11.7 billion miles from Earth, and Voyager 2 is 9.5 billion miles away.

Plead the fifth

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

Inner groove distortion

Songs closer to the spindle hole and label on a record can sound audibly different than those on the outer edges of the disc due to what is referred to 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: the longer the signal is spread out across the medium, the higher the sound quality. When you get to those shorter grooves near the spindle hole, the signal is transferred to a much shorter section. The ridges and valleys that make up the audio information are closer together, and the sharper curve of the groove can affect the needle’s ability to accurately track and read the information. In fact, when producing a record on vinyl, one recommendation is to keep louder, bass-heavier tracks in the beginning and include softer, less dynamic tracks for the end of the programs.

Sound & color

Turntables can sometimes play records cut on color vinyl differently than those cut on black vinyl: some people report skips on color record copies which do not happen on the same record pressed on black vinyl (a problem typically reserved for lower-end turntables). Some people say the music itself can sound slightly different on color vinyl 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.

Skipping and jumping

Mastering engineers, when 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 the music), but there are minimum and maximum 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.

Changing speeds

Columbia Records dropped the needle on history’s first successful microgroove plastic, 12-inch, 33-1/3 LP on June 21, 1948. 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, I guess we can declare it 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.

2016’s Top Five vinyl sellers

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

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

National Record Store Day 2018

National Record Store Day, which will be on April 21, 2018, is a day where you can celebrate the enduring importance 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.

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