How The Record Player Works

Most people don’t know how a record player works. They think records are round because they look like CDs, and they believe that records are flat because of the large label on one side. However, both assumptions are wrong. Records actually play from the inside out; you start at the center and move outward until you reach the edge of the disc. The grooves in these discs allow for sound to be played back through an analog process in which vibrations are converted into electric signals—which is then sent through cables to speakers or headphones where it sounds like music coming out of your speaker system.

In this article I will explain in detail how a record player works. First, I will talk about what sound is and how records produce it. Then, I will explain the mechanics of moving the needle over the grooves in order to play back music.

What is Sound?

what's sound

Sound consists of vibrations that are sent through material mediums like air or water (or in this case, a vinyl disc). These vibrations can be heard by our ears which pick up the external sound and send it to the brain where we interpret it in various ways. The rate that these waves travel is measured in Hertz (Hz), which is calculated by multiplying the frequency of each wave by its period. Frequency is determined to be how many times a vibration occurs within one second; for example, if there are 10 cycles every 2 seconds then you have 5 Hz. Period refers to how long each cycle lasts for; since both measurements must be whole numbers then they must have different units. For example, if our first two vibrations per second had periods of 0.1 second and 1 second respectively then we would still end up with 5 Hz. Since the rate of vibrations is given in Hertz it’s easier to refer to this by saying that a 5 Hz vibration has a period length of 0.2 seconds and each cycle consists of one wave. This is very useful because we don’t have to worry about decimals or fractions. When waves travel through air they cause our ears to move around which stimulates nerves in our ear that send electrical signals to our brains (in other words, sound). For example, if someones voice has a frequency between 180 and 220 Hz then the soundwaves are being sent from their mouth into your ear at an average wavelength of 33 cm per second (the speed of sound depends on the medium—and for air this number is 343 m/s). Some of the numbers are rounded off (such as 33 cm) but they must be whole numbers. The equation for these measurements is:

spd = 343 m/s; frequency = 180 Hz; period = 0.033 s

Since we know that frequency (f) is measured in Hz and period (T) is measured in seconds, we can create a new equation to help with future calculations. This formula will allow us to find the wavelength (L):

Where V refers to velocity—how fast waves travel through material mediums like air or water. Since it’s easy to convert between meters and centimeters I didn’t bother writing out the conversions. When this formula is used all you need to know is what the velocity of sound is and what to plug in. Remember that wavelengths are always measured per second; this means that one cycle happens every 0.033 seconds (33 cm per second divided by our frequency of 180 Hz).

Also, you may have heard that “lower” frequencies produce low sounds whereas higher frequencies create high-pitched sounds. This is because a lower frequency wave has more vibrations than a higher frequency wave over a specific period of time—energy cannot be created or destroyed so each vibration simply adds onto itself making the next wave larger and thus creating something lower pitched. The amplitude refers to how large these waves are and it increases as their rate increases. So if we have two waves with identical frequencies but different amplitudes they will be perceived as being different tones because their wave heights are unequal.

How Does a Standard Record Player work?

how does a record player work

Now that we understand how sound works I can explain how the record player mechanism produces this noise. Records are disc-shaped and when a needle is placed on top of it, small vibrations along the grooves of the vinyl cause them to move outward creating air movements which travel through your speaker system [[OR HEADPHONES]] to produce sounds. To do this, there must always be a signal in order for the record player to amplify any music. Many people believe that if you just put a needle onto a record without anything playing then nothing would come out of your speaker system. However, this isn’t true because if the needle rested on a groove then it would eventually produce some sort of sound [[although very quiet]]. This is how the cartridge functions. The hinged arm pushes down onto the record and an electronic signal jumps between two metal coils (which connect to almost everything that generates sounds). These signals travel through wires into a thin sheet of copper which acts like a speaker membrane—it amplifies these vibrations with static electricity (when you rub your feet against carpet you’re creating static electricity). Once this happens, an extremely tiny electric current moves through wires into other components of your speaker system and causes them to move back and forth.

The mechanism for amplification is actually quite simple and involves the magnetic field surrounding these tiny electric currents. The record player itself creates positive and negative magnetic fields which are caused by the moving electrons of electricity flowing through a conductor like copper wires—thus creating an electromagnet that can move other objects with magnetic forces. When your head is close to the speakers they create very large electromagnetic fields which fluctuate every time a sound is produced through vibrations in air. This results in them pushing down onto the membrane where the air moves, but this pushes back on these membranes. In turn, these movements of air cause loud noises which travel all around you allowing you to hear what’s being played through your speakers and giving you amazing amounts of enjoyment!

Many people don’t think of this and just assume that once you’ve put a needle down on the record player it simply amplifies. However, if nobody ever played anything on the speaker system, then how did they get loud enough to hear in the first place? The only way for sounds to be heard is by making something louder!

The amplifier itself consists of three main components: transistors, diodes and resistors. Transistors are tiny semiconducting chips made from silicon which can be controlled with electric impulses. When sound enters your speakers it causes electrons of electricity to move into these transistors causing them to act as amplifiers because they detect signals when audio passes through wires—essentially acting like an automatic volume control. Since they’re so small transistors can amplify quickly and shift the signals that were coming from the coil into a much stronger signal. The other two components are essentially electrically controlled switches which tell the transistor whether or not to amplify certain sounds—they’re what let you increase or decrease your volume level after turning on your record player

Diodes do just as their name implies: they change alternating current into direct current and vice versa (by acting like a one-way valve for electricity) and resistors allow only some of an electric current through while opposing any changes in its flow, thus creating constant resistance to the flow of electrons. They all work with magnets to amp up sound signals! These three main components are the most important and make sure that your record player works on a day-to-day basis. It’s also the reason why you always have to turn up your record player on every single.

Although this is just as much of a speaker system because the needle moves back and forth over the groove, there are some things that make these two very separate things:

Whether you’re listening to records or playing them through speakers, one of the main parts which makes everything possible is the tone arm. The cartridge has a permanent magnet surrounding coils which connect into gold wires and send signals to different places—depending on what kind of sound is being made by vibrations in air (the larger the magnet, the bigger the sound of a record player). This metal coil is wrapped around the very tip of a needle which moves back and forth at exactly 33 1/3 rotations per minute. The tone arm also called a tracking force adjustment because it controls how forcefully the needle is pressed down into grooves where sounds are produced—the higher up you set your tracking force, then the more likely it is to play scratches in your records.

One last part which we haven’t mentioned yet is the platter or record plate. The platter is nothing more than a thin sheet of plastic or glass (or whatever material used) glued onto a heavier base to keep it from toppling over—it’s simply a round, flat surface on your record player that the speakers and needle move across the grooves of your vinyl discs. It also helps with reducing vibrations caused by any sudden movements of sound waves.

History of Record Players

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which could measure and record sound waves as a physical impression. The very first phonographs had a tinfoil cylinder, which is how they recorded sound. Tinfoil was removed for steel around 1900 to make recordings more durable and allowed for longer recordings. Around 1910-1911, wax cylinders were introduced to replace tinfoil because they were more durable and could be mass-produced. In 1925, electronic amplification was added to phonographs, but disc players soon became the dominant music format—as they could produce copies of recordings that would not deteriorate with each copy (since they were in digital form).

Read more about history of record players.

History of Vinyl Records

Emile Berliner record player inventor

The disc record was developed in the early 1900s by Emile Berliner and came along with his invention, dubbed the gramophone (which resembled a Victrola). The very first discs were made out of steel, but these heavy records required a small base to hold them up. As technology improved, aluminum replaced steel as the standard for record production. Discs were soon etched with sound grooves instead of being recorded directly on tinfoil cylinders; this process is called etching because it’s nearly identical to engraving designs into metal or stone—because of their close resemblance to engraved designs, they earned themselves the name “records”. The very first discs could only play 10 minutes worth of music before needing to flip them over, but improvements were made, and so records could play as long as 30 minutes per side. Around 1931-1933, discs had a run time of 24 minutes per side because they were still extremely fragile with each copy that was made; it wasn’t until after World War II that vinyl records began to hold longer plays on them—by 1948 (or so), LPs could last up to 45 minutes per side.

After the arrival of CDs in the 1980s, vinyl record players became obsolete, but record technology did not die out completely. In fact, there was quite an influx in sales for “old school” record players as the 2000s approached since they are much more durable than other music formats and can provide high quality sounds from your favorite records.

At the turn of the millennium, vinyl record players started to become popular for their ability to produce better sound quality than other music formats like cassette tapes and CDs. Now a days, they are not just used for playing your favorite albums anymore—you can use them to remix tracks into dreamy ambient tunes or sample old hits on them. The turntable has once again found itself being used widely in nightclubs and house parties instead of standard CDJs.

In conclusion, the record player is probably one of man’s most ingenious inventions that helps us keep a part of our past culture alive even with all our modern day technology. It has transformed from an obsolete way to enjoy music into an art form combining both sight and sound (and some digital help, too).

How Records Influenced World’s Culture


Vinyl records have shaped our culture in many ways. For one, they introduced new languages to popular music—specifically, Jamaican Patois (or “Jamaican-English”), which gained popularity in the United States because of its unique sound and ability to capture emotions through language. This brought about a huge increase in African-American youth after World War II because it was something that they all could relate to. Punk rock also intensified their participation since there were underground bands who wanted to express themselves more clearly by using soft vocal tones over loud ones, which did not work well with tinfoil phonographs; instead of reverting back to discs, vinyl records were used for punk rock tracks because they offered much better quality than older recordings tended to have. These two genres of music contributed to the downfall of vinyl records in the 1980s, but it did not spell an end for them—after all, they are still made today and continue to shape our culture because of their versatility as a medium and their ability to cater towards many different groups.

In conclusion, if it weren’t for vinyl records, popular music would have taken much longer to break out into its own unique genre. The vinyl record was the start of something new that helped shaped what we know as “popular” music now: rap/hip-hop, pop, country (etc…) Each thing wouldn’t exist without this piece of technology.

Modern Record Players

Today, many use record players to listen to their vinyl records as a more affordable and convenient alternative than buying CDs of all your favorite artists. You can buy new or used record players at flea markets, secondhand shops, garage sales, auctions, etc. There are even modern innovations that have been made to bring out the best audio quality when playing records, like USB ports for recording tracks from your records into digital formats—as well as other things that make it easier for you to enjoy music using ancient technology.

Also, modern record players have a better sound quality because of the higher quality speakers that can produce a wider range of sound frequencies (that is, they produce high and low pitched tones).

Does vinyl really sound better?

It has been said that vinyl really does sound better than CDs or MP3s, and there is a good reason. Analog sounds have better quality than digital because they are based off of waves of energy—whereas digital formats just use 1’s and 0’s to represent an image or a sound. Digital uses small files to store data, but analog uses physical mediums like vinyl records; for example, when you record music on a CD, it basically just burns the information onto it while leaving some artifacts behind in the process (like small scratches). On the other hand, if you record music on vinyl, nothing is left behind except the music itself. This is why older recordings tend to be much clearer than newer ones: even though new records are better quality now, they still lack some of the things that analog music has.

Another reason why vinyl sounds better than CDs (and digital in general) is because there are no limitations to playing vinyl records—if you want to listen to it faster, then you can. If you want it slower, then go ahead! And if you want to sing along with the song, that’s fine too. You have complete control over how your music plays out. There are also a lot of people who wish for CDs and MP3s to sound like this since they would be able to change the pitch or tempo of songs at will if they had access to those features.

In conclusion, digital does not match the quality of analog due to its small file size—it doesn’t have nearly as much information on it compared to records or CDs. It’s hard to say which one is better, because they do not have the same strengths and weaknesses—there are arguments for both sides of the argument. Many will always prefer vinyl over digital formats, but if you want access to all your songs or albums at once, then you can’t beat digital music stores, unlimited tracks in your library, etc; you just need to make a trade-off.

Recording Your Vinyl Collection

As mentioned above, some modern record players come with USB ports that can connect to your computer for the purpose of recording music from vinyl records. If you own a turntable but do not have one of these features, your best bet is to buy an USB audio interface (which should run you anywhere between $80-$200).

USB audio interface is a piece of technology that attaches to your computer and allows you to record the sounds that come from your vinyl records. You’ll need to use a program like Audacity to record the sounds, make any necessary changes or enhancements (like adding compression, equalization, etc.), and then export your recording as an audio file that you can use for whatever you want. Another program that you can use for this purpose is Adobe Audition, which is much more powerful than Audacity.

You’ll need to carefully monitor your recordings so that they come out the way you want them to—sometimes, it’s hard to know if your recording was a success without listening to it first or playing it on another speaker system besides your computer’s.


Record players are a great way to listen to your favorite music, or even collect records and enjoy the sound quality of old vinyl without having to repair it if something goes wrong with it. If you’ve never listened to anything except digital music, then trying out vinyl might bring you into a whole new world of audio experience!

There are many brands out there that offer portability for your vinyl, making it easy to take them with you on the go; in addition, many of these record players include built-in preamps and USB ports for recording purposes.

There’s a lot more to know about vinyl than what is mentioned here—this article only scratches the surface when talking about how records work and what kinds of things can be done with them. There are also many different types of record players that you can experiment with and modify so that they fit your needs!

What all this means is that if you’ve been looking for a new hobby, then why not take up collecting vinyl? It’s cheaper than CDs or purchasing music from iTunes/Amazon, and there are no digital limitations on how the music plays out (provided it has USB recording capabilities). You should be able to find used records at almost any thrift store, yard sale, flea market—you name it, there will probably be record albums lying around on tables as well. Or you can buy a modern record player that has USB capabilities and make your own digital copies of records!

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