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Small Header Logo Applied Microscopy.
The Microscopy of Vinyl Recordings.
A General Introduction.

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Collectable labels.
Record labels from the 1950s and 1960s -- the golden age of vinyl disc recording.
Click any label for an enlarged image.

The Vinyl Record.

This article is in five parts:

Page 1. Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Page 5.
  1. Introduction.
  2. Microscopy: The appearance of the grooves.
  3. Contaminations causing noise; old forms of stylus.
  4. Record wear and the elliptical stylus.
  5. Stylus tracking and test records.

   Why Vinyl?

The process of audio recording on discs of one kind or another is a technology which began a hundred and fifteen years ago, and though as a medium for the mass marketing of music it has been largely replaced by the audio CD, it is still going strong in the areas of house, hip hop and scratch music, and those who appreciate the sound of well-reproduced music in the home are still reluctant to part with their vinyl collections.

My own collection of 3000 or so vinyl recordings from the early fifties to the late eighties has been put together almost entirely from second-hand sources, and reflects my interest in Western keyboard and chamber music -- as well as the must-have standards of the classical repertoire.
The playback equipment is a Thorens TD124/II turntable with SME 3009 arm, and a selection of cartridges in interchangeable headshells, but principally a Shure V15 Type 3 magnetic cartridge tracking at 1.3 grams. The styli are elliptical on the better cartridges, but a couple of spherical styli are used for tracking older mono or crackly and decrepit records.
The preamp stage of a consumer-level amplifier (an Akai) is used to provide tone control and to boost the audio signal to RCA level for the speakers.
The speakers are the incomparable External WebsiteLenard Sarabande four-way active systems. Each unit has four dedicated amplifiers -- each amplifier optimized for the natural bandwidth of its particular speaker in the four speaker combination.

All methods of reproduction have artefacts peculiar to the method employed. Whilst vinyl disc recordings had their share, the clicks, pops and crackles that accompanied the playing of most people's records were due less to the technology than the record owner's level of care for their records. CDs are far less prone to these drawbacks, but not immune, and it has to be said that the erstwhile owners of crackly records are now the owners of mistracking, stuttering and unreliable CDs. It would seem that there is no escape from the need to care for your music, whatever the format.

This article is addressed to the people who are still in love with their vinyl collections. Long may they find replacement styli and belts for their turntables, for amongst the neglected discs from the early days of stereo recording now turning up in charity shops and car-boot sales are what many discriminating listeners believe to be the finest examples of recorded sound in the entire history of the medium.

Updated 8th. August, 2005.

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