Record players have had a long history that dates back to 1870’s. Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, there has continued to be revolution after revolution of well-built record players and sound systems. But no doubt, the technology has improved and looks set to continue improving with each passing year.

What started as an idea to simply give people something to listen to, has now grown into a full-grown multibillion dollar entertainment industry. The record player has continued to grow by leaps and bounds and has undergone numerous upgrades up until now. But many have been wondering how this magical music instrument works.

To understand how the record player works, we need to understand first how the vinyl records used with the record players are made. This is where the music content is stored.

The development of vinyl records

Vinyl records were developed and they replaced Berliner’s rubber discs. To create these vinyl records, which are later played on record players, is quite easy. The master copy is duplicated in large numbers by placing a lacquer on a recording machine.

The master copy then sends electrical signals to the turning record cutting machine through what is called a cutting head, which holds a stylus and cuts a groove in the lacquer that coils to the middle of the round disc.

The cut lacquer is then sent to a production company where it is covered in metal to make a metal master copy. This disc is a negative imprint of the lacquer and is ridged, and not grooved. The metal master is used to make a metal record that will later be used to make the stamper, a negative-like film of the end product.

The stamper is then placed on a hydraulic press with vinyl placed on either side. The vinyl is then softened with steam, stamped over the stamper and cooled off with water to create a finished vinyl record.

Inner working of a record player

Without doubt, the design of the record player has undergone several conceptual changes and enhancements. Despite, the changes, the basic components of record player have remained intact.

Turntable

The vinyl record is placed on a circular plate known as the turntable. Positioned at the center of the turntable is a rod that is used to hold the record in place. Due to the cover on a metal turntable, the vinyl record is protected from metal scratches. A turntable rotates or spins, depending upon the mechanism used.

The turntable drive system controls the rotation. There are two key types of drive systems: the belt-drive system and direct-drive system. The belt-drive system, as its name suggests, has an elastomeric belt designed to absorb low frequency sounds and vibrations. The direct-drive system, by contrast, does not use gears, wheels, and belts, but rather strong motors and pitch control sliders that have made them the favorite of DJs for many years.

Stylus or needle

It is the smallest of the main components in a record player, but it is extremely vital. It is responsible for producing the sound from the vinyl record. It is placed in a manner that allows the stylus to make contact with the surface of the record. It picks up the vibrations from the spiral grooves and converts them into sound. To guarantee quality sound, the stylus is made from high-grade materials such as diamond and other hard materials.

Music experts advise that the stylus material should be replaced between 1,000-2,500 hours of listening. To add on, the grooves found within a record are not straight lines, but rather a series of numerous curves. It is within these grooves that vibrations are contained which later end up making the sound.

Tone arm

It is located on one side of the record player. Its main function is to carry the pickup and enable the stylus to follow through the grooves. It sits parallel to the surface of the record and travels across it in an arc picking up vibrations by means of wires. The tone arms come in two shapes: straight and curved tone arms. Some record player owners and users love the curved ones as they claim they produce a better sound quality compared to the straight ones.

Cartridge

This important component is located towards the end of the tone arm. Its main role is to convert the vibrations picked up by the stylus into electric signals, through the wires in the arm tone; then the cartridge receives and converts them into electric signals via a magnetic coil. Some record-player cartridges make use of electricity to convert sound vibrations from the vinyl records to electric signals. Other cartridges have tiny electrical coils and a magnet inside them, which are responsible for conversion of vibrations into sound.

Amplifier

The amplifier, or amp as it is commonly known, has a simple task which is converting electrical signals from the cartridge, that are passed to it through wires, to the sound wave that are eventually heard through the speakers. To further improve sound quality, some speakers contain preamplifiers to boost the sound.

Summary

In a nutshell, the vinyl record is placed on a revolving platter. As it turns around, the stylus bumps up and down within the groove, picking up and sending the vibrations along metal wires located within the tone arm and into the cartridge.

Once in the cartridge, the vibrations are converted into electrical current using a magnetic field. This current is sent into the preamp, which boosts the signal on its way to the speaker. When the amplified current hits the speaker we are able to hear the music or whatever is recorded on the vinyl record

The nostalgia, coupled with tastes and preferences for the sound quality, has kept the use of vinyl records alive, and DJs together with hip-hop artists still use turntables as part of their music-making ventures.