3D Printed Records
Music in the age of mechanical reproduction

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Record collectors and proponents of futuristic printing processes will be thrilled to learn that printing their latest music purchase from home isn’t as far off as it seems. Amanda Ghassaei developed a technique for converting digital audio files into 33 RPM records that play on ordinary record players last year. Ghassaei, the Community Support manager at Instructables.com, successfully created a fully-functional 3D printed record, the instructions for which she posted on the site.

Ghassaei’s records are printed using Objet Connex500, a UV-cured resin printer that deposits layer by layer of material to reach the final shape of the desired object. Despite the record’s low audio quality (it has a sampling rate of 11kHz, only a quarter of a typical mp3 file), songs like Daft Punk’s Around the World and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – Ghassaei’s first experiments in record printing - are still easily recognizable when played. The process has been optimized since those early experiments, but Ghassaei describes hearing her 3D record play for the first time as enriching nonetheless: “It didn't sound so great at first,” she told SSENSE, “Pretty much only the drums could be heard over all the noise, but it was really encouraging!  I was actually surprised it sounded even that good on my first attempt.  Even now when I print off one of these records it feels a bit like magic.”

Ghassaei took the raw audio data from her mp3 files and reproduced the original waveform as grooves and facets on the surface of the record. She found that as long as the overall shape of the audio signal was loosely replicated, the output would be recognizable, albeit very fuzzy, when played. For now, the 3D printed record’s resolution is still way lower than that of an mp3 file or even a real vinyl record but Ghassaei is working on equalizing the audio output of her printed records.

Ghassaei explains that as printing capabilities increase, the accessibility of music increases as well: “As the resolution, techniques, and materials get better and cheaper, we could see independent artists and tinkerers using this technology in interesting ways. I imagine 3D printed records will be used for creative, experimental, or purely frivolous purposes, now and in the future.”

The project explores the limits of 3D printing technology, and pushes the boundaries of musical accessibility – who knows, a few years from now, we could be manufacturing records from the comfort of our own homes or downloading vinyl directly from iTunes.