The gramophone, also known as the phonograph, plays sound recordings from vinyl discs, or records (or, originally, from tubes) into which notches or grooves have been cut. People have used gramophones since their commercial introduction in the late 1800s, though their popularity diminished significantly with the advent of other sound recording playing devices such as CDs and mp3s. Though inventors have added many improvements and alterations over the years, most of the original mechanical features of a gramophone still exist today.
In all gramophones, the turntable spins the record, allowing the stationary stylus to travel through the grooves in the record, which in turn helps to produce the sound. In early gramophones, the turntable was operated by hand, and its speed was determined by how fast the operator spun a crank. Eventually, inventors incorporated an automated pulley and belt system to provide continuous and steady power to the turntable after an initial cranking. Contemporary turntables use a motorised belt system that powers the turntable using an outside source of power such as a wall socket or battery.
Gramophones translate vibrations into sound using the pickup, which captures the vibrations and turns them into an electrical impulse that can be amplified and projected. Early pickups were made of crystal which, because it easily corroded, often required a protective coating of jelly to remain intact. This, coupled with crystal pickups' tendency to cut deeper grooves into records, inspired inventors to replace the crystal pickups with ceramic pickups. These in turn gave way to magnetic pickups, which provided a clearer sound and were easier and cheaper to produce. Strain-gauge pickups provide clearer sound still by eliminating the magnetic hum that can occur when magnetic materials are too close to the gramophone. Finally, some contemporary pickups use lasers to read the grooves and interpret how those grooves would translate into vibrations. Though these pickups produce no wear on the record, many gramophone enthusiasts shun the technology as being untrue to the purpose of gramophones.
The stylus acts as the only connection point between the record itself and the gramophone. The stylus sits and travels through the grooves of a record, generating vibrations which are gathered by the pickup. Typically, quality stylus travel faithfully through the grooves of the record while remaining durable and avoiding overly grooving the disc or cylinder. Early gramophones used materials such as sapphire and diamond to create styli, while contemporary styli tend to use common metals such as steel, copper and tungsten.
As its name suggests, a gramophone's arm holds the pickup and stylus in place as the record spins underneath. A gramophone's arms must offer a balance between stability and mobility, as the arm itself must remain at a fixed height for the duration of the record's spinning, while simultaneously providing some lateral movement as the stylus travels closer to the centre of the disc as it spins. While older gramophone arms were stationary until placed by hand into the grooves of the record, contemporary arms are mechanised and move and set as soon as a record is placed on the spinning turntable.
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