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By Cecilia Dumouchel November 10, 2009

Vintage Advantage

So the other day, I was sitting in my living room listening to “American Beauty,” the 1970 Grateful Dead album on vinyl, and I realized something: the experience of listening to a record on a turntable is completely different from listening to a song on a CD or an iPod.

The sound produced by a turntable is like a full-bodied wine; crisp and satisfying. When you are immersed in the sounds of a vinyl record, it is like sitting in front of the fire, wearing a slinket (blanket with arms).

Does everyone still know what a turntable looks like? Well, a turntable is a round disc which turns. It is composed of several parts. The top is a circular piece of wood or plastic, and the bottom, a rectangular piece of wood or plastic. To the right of the circular, turning part is an arm-like apparatus with a needle on the end. This is called the tonearm, and the needle, a stylus. The turntable is attached to an amplifier, which is in turn attached to a set of speakers. Usually there are two speakers, one for the high frequencies and one for low. An LP (long-playing) or vinyl record is placed on the circular part and the tonearm is lowered onto the LP, and music magically comes out of the speaker attached to the turntable. Now, no matter how many birthday wishes I dedicate to the existence of magic, it does not exist. So how exactly does a needle extract sound from a circular piece of vinyl?

When an LP is made, the vinyl is pressed, and the sound waves themselves are pressed into the vinyl. These pressed sound waves are now grooves in the vinyl. The grooves vary in frequency and amplitude. To play the record, place the vinyl on the circular part of the turntable. Now, take the tonearm and place the needle just above the outermost groove in the vinyl. Vinyls vary in size. Standard vinyl records have a 30 cm diameter and rotate 33.3 times per minute. They play 25 minutes a side (yes, you can turn it over). There are also smaller vinyl records with an 18 cm diameter, which rotate 45 revolutions per minute. These play two and a half minute sides. Once you turn on the turntable and lower the tonearm, the circular part will start to rotate, and the needle will follow the grooves in the vinyl and it starts to vibrate. (If you put a record on and turn off the speakers and amplifier, you can hear the music very faintly.) These vibrations are amplified by the amplifier and are then sent to the speakers, which, amazingly, project the sound.

Other than extracting sound out of a piece of vinyl, the turntable can do some other pretty cool things. It can play a record backwards, so you can hear the devil’s many inspiring messages. This is called backmasking. Many artists (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Rush, The Rolling Stones) backmasked their songs to add effect, to avoid censorship and to parody the idea that people actually thought that rock was the devil’s music.

Turntables are considered “vintage” now, but lately more and more artists, like Sonic Youth, Of Montreal, etc have been releasing their albums on CD and on vinyl. The turntable has a hands-on, intimate quality and sound that we lose with digital music. Let’s bring the turntable back!

About the author

Cecilia Dumouchel is a first year First Choice Health Science student interested in sound engineering and biomechanical engineering. She hopes to study music and engineering in University.


The photograph “Vintage Love (Explored)” is by Karrie Nodalo, under CC BY-NC 2.0


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    November 30, 2011

    Surely we’re witnessing the comeback of the turntable and it’s exciting! Vinyl sections in music stores have been growing over the past few years. I know that the last 10 concerts I’ve been to had a vinyl version of their album on right there on the merch table, so my collection is growing. The experience and intimacy that you describe when listening to vinyl is so true, also it’s just more fun to be able to hold a massive LP in your hands. Music has become more accessible through mp3s and the internet but there is something has been lost in the process.

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    November 30, 2011

    What I enjoy most about vinyl is the feeling I get after purchasing a new record, the anticipation of getting it home, seeing and hearing what’s inside. I say seeing because apart from the impeccable sound quality you described, you get so much more. Most, if not all records include some sort of lyrics sheet, amazing photography and or art. I’m not going to lie, vinyl collecting has become almost an obsession of mine but I just feel as though I get so much more out of it.

    Yes, it is definitely not the most convenient way to listen to music, but I feel such a stronger connection to the artist and their work. I feel like with vinyl more respect and appreciation is paid to the art and the message. 

    I too am very happy and excited too see vinyl and record players making a slow comeback in to mainstream society,

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    November 30, 2011

    I think its really intresting vinyl record because we don’t really see this kind of things thses days. it looks unique instrument that we can not find easily. I think it is a intresting way to record or listening music. Vincy record I saw in ancient movie but never saw in real life, I wish I could have one because it looks cool.

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    Shanice Bernicky

    April 30, 2012

    what’s interesting about vinyl is that not many people know how it works and look at it as a waste of space or even completely out of date. What they don’t know is that the satisfaction you get when you place the record on it and play it it sounds great and you feel relaxed. Sure, you’d feel relaxed listening to your iPod, but what I like about records is that they’re big and feel classic. There’s actually a very interesting video I found the other day. http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1I6SGq/:HFmT3Kbs:KA1AdMIR/blog.makezine.com/2012/01/19/play-the-rings-of-a-tree-trunk-like-a-record/.  The rings of a tree trunk are being played like a record. That is another thing that fascinates me, how a record is actually made and played. It seems more futuristic than the iPod, for some reason to me.

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