The arrival of the compact disc was thought to be the death sentence for LPs. Vinyl was big, imprecise, and stuck in the past: CDs were the wave of the future. Recent years, however, have seen a surprising trend. Vinyl collectors have managed to weather the digital music storm of the ‘80s and ‘90s, while compact discs, having seen better days, have dropped in popularity. In fact, according to The Telegraph, LP sales are better than they’ve been at any point over the past 12 years. Although it is the hobbyist collector and the DJ who have buoyed vinyl sales for many years, the recent surge in LP popularity is, in part, due to younger fans who prefer the experience of listening to vinyl records over digital downloads. Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys, The National, and Vampire Weekend are just some of the A‑list bands taking advantage of the trend.
But how are LPs manufactured today? Pretty much the exact way they’ve been produced throughout the past 50 years, actually. Many of the LP pressing plants use restored presses, bought second-hand for about $25,000. The video above, made in 1956 by RCA Victor, gives a detailed description of the process. After the sound recording, the audio is transferred to a lacquer master disc.
The playing time of the music dictates the number of grooves on the disc, and the sound dynamics determine the distance between them. As the video explains, the loud passages need more room, while quiet ones need less. A finely ground and electrically heated piece of sapphire cuts the vinyl with precision. Once it is complete, the master disc is coated in various metals, which, when separated, create a new, silver-faced master copy. This metallic master can’t be played, and is used to create a mold, which must be checked for sound quality. Finally, the mold is used to make a stamper, which stamps the appropriate grooves on the records. The record press heats the plastic, turning it into a warm, moldable goo, presses it, and cools its once the grooves have been stamped. If you got lost somewhere along the way, don’t worry. Visuals help, and the video above should give you an idea of how things happen.
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Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.