Interesting facts about vinyl records

Vinyl records or vinyl for short is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove.

Calling records “vinyl” is much like calling a fence “wood” or a surfboard “fiberglass.” Vinyl is the material the record is made of. And before vinyl was shellac and before shellac were gigantic cylinders made of zinc and glass. But that was way back in 1887.

Reeling back to “what is vinyl,” vinyl is a synthetic plastic called polyvinyl chloride. It is made from ethylene (crude oil) and chlorine, and its creation was part of the plastics boom in the early 1900s. Material scientists were constantly innovating with these synthetic polymers that seemed to outperform wood, stone, leather, ceramic, metal, and glass in various respects.

Depending on the creation process, polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) can be turned into PVC piping or vinyl records. Though, that doesn’t mean you should start replacing your piping with your old vinyl collection…

The phonautograph, patented by Léon Scott in 1857, used a vibrating diaphragm and stylus to graphically record sound waves as tracings on sheets of paper, purely for visual analysis and without any intent of
playing them back.

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Unlike the phonautograph, it could both record and reproduce sound. Despite the similarity of name, there is no documentary evidence that Edison’s phonograph was based on Scott’s phonautograph.

Lateral-cut disc records were developed in the United States by Emile Berliner, who named his system the gramophone, distinguishing it from Edison’s wax cylinder phonograph and American Graphophone’s wax
cylinder graphophone.

Berliner’s earliest discs, first marketed in 1889, only in Europe, were 12.5 cm (approx 5 inches) in diameter, and were played with a small hand-propelled machine.

In 1901, 10-inch disc records were introduced, followed in 1903 by 12-inch records. These could play for more than three and four minutes, respectively, whereas contemporary cylinders could only play for about
two minutes.

After World War II, two new competing formats entered the market, gradually replacing the standard 78 rpm: the 33+1⁄3 rpm (often called 33 rpm), and the 45 rpm.

In 1948, thanks to CBS, we were introduced to the world’s first LP (Long Play) record. Created by Peter Goldmark, this vinyl record had a capacity of around 21 minutes per side and was 12 inches wide, playing at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM. This changed the face of the music industry to the album-centric format we all still abide by today. Shortly after, RCA Victor introduced their own LP, which turned at 45 RPM and was just 7 inches in size. These records formats are the very same that we use today, and that is once again growing in popularity.

The sound quality and durability of vinyl records is highly dependent on the quality of the vinyl. During the early 1970s, as a cost-cutting move, much of the industry began reducing the thickness and quality of vinyl used in mass-market manufacturing. Most vinyl records are pressed from a mix of 70% virgin and 30% recycled vinyl. New or “virgin” heavy/heavyweight (180–220 g) vinyl is commonly used for modern audiophile vinyl releases in all genres.

The vinyl format is still widely hailed as the optimum in sound quality and listening pleasure, many challengers have come and gone but records have endured the test of time like no other.

The first vinyl record to be played in the stratosphere is ‘A Glorious Dawn’. The feat was achieved by Third Man Records (USA) using a specially designed turntable called the Icarus Craft, at an altitude of 28.78 km (17.88 mi), on 2 July 2016.

The most expensive record ever sold is once upon a time in shaolin by Wu-Tang Clan at $2 million. Not only it is by far the most expensive record, it may just be the most controversial one – for many reasons. The announcement of this record angered a lot of Wu Tang fans, pricing almost everyone out.

For years, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was known to own the very first copy of the band’s self-titled double album from 1968, since the records were printed with serial numbers in sequence and Starr’s copy bears the number ‘0000001’. He eventually sold his copy at Julien’s auction in the US for $790,000 in December 2015.

The third most expensive vinyl record ever sold was Elvis Presley’s ‘My Happiness’ at $300,000. It’s Elvis’s first recording ever and includes the two cover songs: ‘My Happiness’ and ‘That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.’

Alessandro Benedetti (Italy) has collected 1,507 different coloured vinyl records, as of 9 March 2010. His collection is made up of 1,302 LP’s (998 coloured and 158 with pictures), 321 singles (304 coloured, 17 with pictures) and 30 in unusual shapes. Mr Benedetti is the author of a book ‘Extraordinary Records’ which deals with the history of coloured vinyl records. The book also includes photographs of majority of his collection.

The most vinyl records smashed in 30 seconds is 42, and was achieved by Ashrita Furman (USA) in Jamaica, New York, USA, on 14 March 2020, and equalled by Ronald Sarchian (USA), in Tarzana, California, USA, on 3 October 2020.