How Does Vinyl Work?

How Does Vinyl Work?

So, How does vinyl work? The first time you listen to a totally analog vinyl record, you will likely have a hard time believing that they even sound different from the digital CDs you have been using in your car or iPod. However, as you have a deeper appreciation of music, you will likely start to notice the subtle nuances that vinyl recordings reproduce that digital can not.

Although there are several factors that contribute to vinyl’s superior sound, some of them are due to the fact that there is no loss or compression of sound when the music is recorded and then put onto vinyl. This means that the music you hear will have a depth and warmth that comes from a higher quality audio source.


Vinyl, which is the shortened form of Vinylite, was initially used to make phonograph records in the late 1800s. However, it wasn’t until 1948 that vinyl was used to make record albums. In the 1940s and 1950s, this new replacement for shellac (i.e., a resin secreted by an insect called the lac bug) was referred to as Vinylite.

At the time, shellac had been the main material used to make records. However, shellac has a shorter lifespan than the vinyl records were playing so by 1948 other record manufacturers had started to switch to vinyl due to its durability and ease of play. In fact, most vinyl records are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The first music I heard on vinyl was REM’s Reckoning and that was about 30 years ago. I got a record player right around the time CDs were just becoming popular.

How does Vinyl Work?

When you place the needle on a vinyl record, you are putting pressure directly onto an analog recording of music. The needle actually cuts into the vinyl and records the music as it plays. This is different than digital recordings where all of the music is stored in a memory chip. Digital recordings can be easily compressed and that tends to eliminate some of the depth in the audio sound.

When digital recordings are played on CDs, the signal is converted from an analog to a digital format. This compression reduces the length of time it takes for a CD to play, as well as removes some of the depth and warmth in the sound.

Since there is no loss or compression of sound when a vinyl record is recorded and played, you will find that there are more clarity and warmth in the audio than you would get from recordings recorded digitally then put onto vinyl.

Why does it sound and feel different?

Vinyl records can be thought of as a combination of the best qualities of shellac and vinyl. The highs are not as harsh and there is more sparkle to the sound, while the lows are much deeper.

The records have bumps on them that act like magnets when your needle (or turntable) hits the record. Those bumps also help to reduce audio distortion from accidental touching or bumping of the record while playing.

How is Vinyl made

During the production process (the milling), a master block of polyvinyl chloride is created. This is then milled into various shapes and sizes. The resulting pieces are dried into a block known as a master block. The master block is then cut into discs in several sizes that are sold to other companies that will cut the discs for vinyl records.

Types of Vinyl

There are several types of vinyl that are used in various production formats. The main differences you will notice between the different types of vinyl are the “dust sleeve” they come with, and the color of the label on top of the disc.

Backing of Vinyl

Before a vinyl record can be produced, the disc needs to be coated with polyvinyl acetate (PVA). PVA is a type of plastic used in industrial applications. A PVA solution is applied to the disc and then dried. After the PVA is dry, another coating called an emulsion is applied which contains a color specific to the color of the label on top of the record.

Pros and Cons to vinyl

The pros of vinyl records are that they do not lose their audio quality while being played and they do not have any digital compression in the audio. Vinyl records are not magnetic, which means that they are a lot harder to damage by accident. In addition, you don’t need electricity to play them: it is only needed when the needle is initially placed on the disc.

The cons of vinyl records are that volume and speed controls must be set manually because there is no digital automation involved.

How do expensive records sound better?

One of the main reasons that vinyl records “sound” better is that it uses polyvinyl chloride (a material known for its durability) and does not use dyes, which is what you find on digital recordings. Furthermore, the wider grooves of a vinyl record play better and can reproduce the audio signal more accurately.

However, even if a vinyl record has a higher price tag, there are other factors that contribute to its audio phonic superiority.

Analogs vs. Digitals

Analog records are made with polyvinyl chloride (a material known for its durability) and do not use dyes, which is what you find on digital recordings like CDs. Digital recordings are not analog and recent digital recordings have the ability to compress audio. Vinyl records on the other hand are a combination of the best qualities of shellac and vinyl.

What could it sound like?

In order for you to get an idea of what your digital recording will sound like on vinyl, it is best if you just listen to the recording that was made for this specific project. However, there is a small chance that your digital recording will be different from our project in one or more ways.


Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. The sound quality was not good on Edison’s initial recordings because they were made on tinfoil. In the 20th century, vinyl records overtook the phonograph as a more efficient way to listen to music. Nowadays, digital recordings are more popular than vinyl records but you can still buy them at any store that sells records or online.

Tara MacKenzie, “The Critic’s Choice: The Vinyl Diaries,” AnalogPlanet (Digitally Remastered from the Original Master Recording), 2005, http://www2.inducks. com/vinylrecords/vapor_lounge.html .html­8

Rob is a musician and audiophile at heart. He plays 5 instruments. Besides music, Rob enjoys a good whiskey and the outdoors.
Robert S. Thompson
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