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vinyl 101

The vast history of vinyl records spans over a century, with origins credited to well-known American inventors, such as Thomas Edison, and others worldwide. From humble beginnings during the era of the phonograph and the gramophone, vinyl formats continue to captivate music lovers all around the world.

Thomas Edison's 1877 invention, the phonograph, laid the groundwork for what later became modern turntables. Despite its manual crank mechanism and foil-coated cylinders, the ingenious technology served two purposes (recording and playback), paving the way for subsequent turntable innovations.

About ten years after Edison's phonograph was introduced, a new consumer-centric device was created: the gramophone. Emile Berliner, a German immigrant, designed the gramophone with music listeners in mind, and it closely resembles the turntables we’ve grown to love today, making vinyl more accessible to common consumers.

Image Source: Britannica

Early record player discs, crafted from shellac and rotating at 78 RPM, had limited capacity, allowing only a few minutes of music per side. Despite the superior sound quality at higher RPMs, the 78s became outdated as media companies explored larger, lower-speed albums, sacrificing some sound quality for more recorded music on each side.

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In 1948, CBS introduced the inaugural 12-inch, 33-RPM record. Since these larger albums accommodated a full album's content on each side, they gained rapid consumer acceptance across the board. 12-inch LPs (“long-play”) were made from polyvinyl carbonate (PVC), the substance behind the name "vinyl records," and swiftly became the industry norm. The same material was subsequently used for 7-inch and 10-inch records, which were used primarily for the release of singles and promos. 7-inch records are often referred to as “SPs” for “short-play”, and 10-inch records are often referred to as “EPs”, or “extended play”.

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Despite the lull in record sales during the 90s and early 2000s, the 21st century has ushered in an incredible resurgence for vinyl as a fan-favorite platform for music. Although there is endless discussion surrounding the reason behind its resurgence, we firmly believe that the collectability and experience offered by vinyl knows no rival. Only the beloved format of vinyl offers its listener the ability to hear the music as the artist intended, uninhibited by the ones and zeros of the 20th century. We at MRP continue to do all we can to help keep vinyl alive and well, making sure that everyone who loves music knows why vinyl is the best.

how vinyl is made

So you want to know how vinyl records are made, huh? Well, buckle up because it's a wild ride from start to finish, blending artistry with some serious engineering mojo.

First things first, you have to have top-notch source material. We're talking high-res files or classic analog master tapes to lay down the sonic foundation. It's like building a house—start with a solid base.

Image Source: The Vinyl Factory

Then comes the mastering phase. Skilled engineers tweak the audio frequencies to perfection, making sure the highs soar and the lows rumble just right. It's all about finding that sweet spot to avoid distortion or skipping during playback down the road. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has developed some important rules you can check out, from record length to mastering techniques. It's good to keep things consistent, ya know?

Once the mastering's done, it's time to etch the audio onto a master disc or a lacquer, aluminum discs coated with a soft material akin to nail polish. A delicate dance between a cutting ‘stylus’ and lacquer, a skilled lathe operator ensures every groove is just right by actually cutting the audio into the lacquer with surgical precision. It’s pure analog magic!

Jeff Powell of Take Out Vinyl cutting a lacquer. Source: Memphis Magazine

Next up, we get into the galvanic process. Sounds fancy, right? Basically, it's about turning that master disc into ‘stampers’, the molds for pressing records. This part is more science than magic, but involves silver, nickel, heat, and electricity. Stir those together, and bam! You're ready to cook up some vinyl.

In terms of plating options, there are two primary methods: 2-step and 3-step plating. The latter is preferred for its efficiency, allowing for the creation of up to 10 mothers from one father plate without the need for recutting lacquers, ideal for larger quantities of records.

Now, let's talk pressing. This is where the raw materials get real. PVC pellets go into a press, heat up, and get molded into what we call a "biscuit” or “puck”. You slap some center labels on each side, and then it's all about applying pressure (equal to the weight of about 50 elephants). Trim the edge, and, voilà! You got yourself a fresh vinyl record.

And let's not forget the fun stuff—innovations in pressing techniques mean endless possibilities. Splatters, color-in-color, glitter, holograms—you name it, vinyl can do it. It's like a playground for creativity.

But hold up, we're not done yet. Quality control is key. Test pressings and listening sessions ensure each record meets the gold standard. Plus, you’ve gotta have killer artwork and jackets to make your vinyl pop off the shelves.

So, there you have it, a quick lowdown on vinyl record making. It's a mix of art, science, and a whole lot of love for music. From start to finish, it's a journey that turns raw materials into mesmerizing musical treasures. Pretty groovy, huh?

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