Vinyl Records Are Still Mind-Blowing Technology

I’ve been pretty open about my embrace of vinyl albums as a format again, partly because I still had a ton of old albums I never threw out, and discovering that the high-end production for them that is more common now has resulted in a good experience.

$10 grab bags at the local used record store has also helped me discover things that the algorithm never would have “recommended” for me. It’s been incredibly nice to happen across something that was a discarded gem, regardless of genre. I even wound up with a copy of YES’ album Fragile, which is a damn good album.

I also discovered, interestingly, that the older discs from the 1950s that I’ve happened across were manufactured to the same 180-gram caliber as the “chic” releases that are sold now. On the whole it’s really the mass-produced releases from the 1980s that I own, which are demonstrably thinner, where they clearly sacrificed quality for quantity.

Story of any format, really. But that’s not the point of this post.

Taking It For Granted

As I was listening to one of those lost gems I discovered, Infinity Machine by Passport, I had one of those moments that comes more frequently with getting older.

I watched the album spinning, marveling at how clear the sound really is for a 44-year-old artifact of a “dead” format, when I just thought about what a crazy format it is in the first place.

Here’s this spinning disc, on the grooves of which is captured the sound of a moment. The simple act of applying the reading needle on it generates the sound. You don’t even need the speakers to hear it; it’s not loud, but you can hear the music just by virtue of the needle making contact.

Then having it decoded through a wire and playing through a powered speaker is just a thing. It’s just a thing that happens. And while I understand the principles that make it work, you may as well ask me to drive a car with a manual transmission to explain it too deeply.

Then there’s the fact, as outlined by one of my favorite strips from Calvin & Hobbes, that the disc isn’t even spinning the same speed from center to edge. It’s a wild concept, demonstrated as a kid with action figures that were trying to escape my brother’s record player. (None ever succeeded without my merciful intercession.)

Calvin & Hobbes Dad Explains How Record Players Work |
This is a crazy physical truth and we pay it no mind in our daily lives.

Living in an Age of Wonders

Does anyone just stop from time to time and think, “Holy frijoles, how do I take that for granted?”

We walk around ever day surrounded by insane creations that a century ago would have been unthinkable. We get bored with things that were discovered so recently on an historical scale that there are people alive who can remember life without them.

And here I am, listening to a format that’s regarded with derision by many, its dominance displaced by other formats that winked out of relevance even more quickly.

It spurs another thought, but more on that tomorrow.*

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

* I have to give my cousin’s blog time to consider stealing this idea before I publish the next one.

2 thoughts on “Vinyl Records Are Still Mind-Blowing Technology

  1. Spotify does not have Infinity Machine by Passport, so I had to just listen to a few of their popular tracks. Pretty cool! And yeah, polar coordinates and angular momentum was one of the first things to trip me up a bit in physics.

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    1. What’s nuts is Infinity Machine LPs are $4 and out of print CDs are $55+. So I’m probably going to get a ton of LPs.


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