In the digital age, new technology is introduced faster than we can skip a song on Spotify. In some cases, that’s meant parting ways with the old and embracing the new.

But, in terms of music, there’s still one device that has stood the test of time: the record player. Even as new technology has been introduced — from the compact disc player to the iPod — the record player always manages to make a comeback.

So if you’re thinking of dusting off your old record player, a family hand me down, or purchasing one of your own, you might be interested to learn how a record player actually works.

The History of a Record Player

Simply put, sound is created by a series of pressure waves sent through a medium, such as air or water. Want to experience it for yourself? Stand next to your speakers at home. You’ll feel the sound vibrations from the soles of your feet to your entire body.

Thomas Edison had a keen understanding of sound waves, which helped him develop the phonograph in 1877. Dubbed the grandfather of modern record players, the phonograph had the ability to record sound and play it back. The receiver was made from a cylinder wrapped in tin foil and a diaphragm, which was a thin membrane attached to a needle. Sound waves were sent through the diaphragm, causing vibrations. At the turn of a hand crank, a cylinder would rotate, also causing the tin foil cylinder to rotate, too. As the tin foil cylinder turned, a needle would etch a groove into it to record the sound vibrations from the diaphragm. On the other side of the phonograph, the sound was projected through a needle and an amplifier.

After just a few plays, the tinfoil would tear, which is why those early recordings can no longer be played. Edison continued to make improvements to his phonograph, however, for the next 50 years.

Eventually, phonographs were able to play records. And those records became the vehicle that shared music with the whole world.

The basic “needle in a groove” concept is still the way that record players work today. But their design has come a long way since Edison’s era. How can a device based on an old-school invention still hold its own in a digital arena? Craftsmen and engineers took roughly 240 parts, built them for precision, and orchestrated all of the moving parts to work together in perfect unison.

Here are some of those key components:

Anatomy of a Turntable

How does a record player convert tiny bumps and dips on a record into your favorite songs? A stylus navigates the tiny fluctuations in the vinyl record’s groove. The stylus sits at the end of an arm, which vibrates a small copper coil. That coil moves back and forth between two magnets, creating an electric current. The current moves through a small amplifier and the speakers, creating that classic vinyl sound we all know and love.

Go Ahead, Try This At Home

There’s nothing like listening to a vinyl record from the comfort of your own home. But choosing the right record player can be tricky. You might consider talking with Definitive’s team of music enthusiasts, many who have each worked with us for 15+ years. (Not quite as long-standing as the record player, but still pretty impressive.)

Still torn? Explore the options in-person on Record Store Day, April 21. For that day only, you can save 10 – 25% on record players, depending on the model, at both our Seattle and Bellevue Showrooms.

No matter which record player you choose, you’re sure to be impressed by its sound — especially now that you know all the work that went into it.

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