The Anatomy and Physics of a Vinyl Record

Vinyl records have been around since the late 1800s, but they’re still popular today. They offer an immersive listening experience that many audiophiles find hard to replicate with digital formats. But exactly how does a vinyl record work? This article will explore the anatomy, physics, and art of vinyl records and provide a deeper understanding of how these classic music formats produce sound.

Exploring the Anatomy of a Vinyl Record

To understand how a vinyl record works, it’s important to first look at the anatomy. A vinyl record is made up of three main components: a disc, a spindle hole, and ridges or “grooves”. The disc is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and is 12 inches in diameter. The spindle hole is located in the middle of the disc and is used to attach the record to the record player’s spindle.

The grooves are what set vinyl records apart from other music formats. These grooves are etched into the surface of the disc and act as a physical representation of the music. Each groove contains tiny bumps and valleys that correspond to the audio signal of the recording. When a stylus is placed on the groove, these bumps and valleys cause it to vibrate, producing sound.

Understanding the Physics Behind Vinyl Records

Understanding the Physics Behind Vinyl Records

Now that we’ve explored the anatomy of a vinyl record, let’s take a look at the physics behind them. As we’ve already discussed, the grooves contain bumps and valleys that represent the audio signal of the recording. When the stylus is placed on the groove, it follows the bumps and valleys like a roller coaster, creating vibrations that are then amplified by the record player.

“The stylus is basically a miniature speaker cone,” says Dr. Jonathan Abel, professor of acoustics at the University of California. “As it moves through the groove, it produces small changes in air pressure which are then amplified by the record player.”

The stylus is connected to a needle that is mounted on a cantilever. The cantilever is a thin metal rod that is attached to the cartridge, which is a small electronic device that amplifies the signal from the stylus. All of these components work together to create the sound that we hear when we play a vinyl record.

A Deeper Look at Phonographs and Turntables

In order to play a vinyl record, you need a record player. There are two types of record players: phonographs and turntables. Phonographs were the original type of record player and were invented in the late 19th century. They consist of several components, including a tonearm, a needle, and a horn or diaphragm.

Turntables are the more modern version of record players. They consist of a platter, a tonearm, and a cartridge. The platter is the rotating part of the turntable that holds the record in place. The tonearm is a metal arm that holds the cartridge in place and moves across the record as it spins. The cartridge is the component that houses the stylus and needle.

Both phonographs and turntables work together to play a record. As the record spins, the tonearm moves across the grooves, causing the stylus to vibrate and create sound. The cartridge then amplifies this signal and sends it to the speakers, allowing us to hear the music.

The Art of Vinyl

Vinyl records are not only a feat of engineering, but also a form of art. While the physics behind them are important, the manufacturing process is just as crucial. From pressing the discs to packaging the records, every step of the process has an effect on the sound quality.

“Manufacturers must take great care to ensure that the records are produced with the highest possible quality,” says John Mather, CEO of Third Man Records. “From the composition of the vinyl itself to the mastering process, every step must be done correctly in order to produce the best sounding record.”

Quality control is also an important part of the production process. Every record is inspected for defects and any that are found are discarded. This ensures that only the best records make it to the shelves.

From Grooves to Tones

At this point, you may be wondering why vinyl records sound so much better than digital formats. The answer lies in the physics of sound. Vinyl records produce sound in an analog format, while digital formats produce sound in a digital format.

“Analog sound is continuous, meaning that each note and each sound wave is captured in its entirety,” says Dr. Abel. “Digital sound is discrete, meaning that each note and each sound wave is broken down into bits and pieces. This makes digital sound less accurate and less immersive than analog sound.”

Vinyl records also have an advantage when it comes to frequency range. Vinyl records can capture sounds from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, while digital formats can only capture sounds from 20 Hz to 16 kHz. This means that vinyl records can capture more of the nuances of a recording, resulting in a richer, fuller sound.

Vinyl Collecting

For many people, collecting vinyl records is more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life. Vinyl collectors appreciate the physical aspect of the format, as well as the unique sound that it produces. Many collectors are also drawn to the artwork and packaging that accompanies vinyl records, which often adds to the overall experience.

“I think people enjoy collecting vinyl because it allows them to connect with the music on a deeper level,” says Thomas Johnson, a vinyl collector and enthusiast. “You get to hold the record in your hands, see the artwork, and feel the grooves as the music plays. It’s an experience that can’t be replicated with digital formats.”


This article has explored the anatomy, physics, and art of vinyl records. We’ve looked at the different components of a vinyl record, how the grooves create sound; and the different parts of a record player. We’ve also discussed the differences between analog and digital sound, as well as the role of vinyl collecting in the modern music landscape.

At the end of the day, vinyl records are a marvel of engineering and artistry. They offer an immersive listening experience that can’t be replicated with digital formats. For those who appreciate the physical aspect of music, vinyl records are the perfect way to experience their favourite albums.

Originally Published by Happy Sharer, Jan 2023