Instructables
Picture of 3D Printed Record
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In order to explore the current limits of 3D printing technology, I've created a technique for converting digital audio files into 3D-printable, 33rpm records and printed a few functional prototypes that play on ordinary record players.  Though the audio quality is low -the records have a sampling rate of 11kHz (a quarter of typical mp3 audio) and 5-6 bit resolution (less than one thousandth of typical 16 bit resolution)- the songs are still easily recognizable, watch the video above to see the process and hear what the records sound like.  Also check out my laser cut records, made on wood, paper, and acrylic.



This past year I've been posting a lot of audio projects, specifically, I've been experimenting with using relatively simple tools and techniques and very little memory to approximate and recreate digital audio signals.  A great example is my Arduino Vocal Effects Box, where I used an Arduino to perform realtime pitch-bending on an incoming audio signal.  Through these projects, I've learned that audio is a very resilient medium, it can take a fair amount of abuse (in the form of distortion and compression) while still maintaining most of the integrity of the original sound.  The key is as long as you loosely approximate the overall shape of an audio signal, the output will sound reasonably recognizable.  We have evolution to thank for this: as we hear audio, some complicated processing goes on in our brains that makes us very good at ignoring noise and focusing on the important pieces of information coming through.  We can work off of relatively few cues (sometimes these even include contextual or visual cues) to piece together mangled or noisy audio and make sense of it; this is how we are able to focus on one voice in crowded room or decipher a message sent over a cheap walkie talkie. 

This project was my first experiment extending this idea beyond electronics.  I printed these records on a UV-cured resin printer called the Objet Connex500.  Like most 3D printers, the Objet creates an object by depositing material layer by layer until the final form is achieved.  This printer has incredibly high resolution: 600dpi in the x and y axes and 16 microns in the z axis, some of the highest resolution possible with 3D printing at the moment.   Despite all its precision, the Objet is still at least an order of magnitude or two away from the resolution of a real vinyl record.  When I first started this project, I wasn't sure that the resolution of the Objet would be enough to reproduce audio, but I hoped that I might produce something recognizable by approximating the groove shape as accurately as possible with the tools I had. 

In this Instructable, I'll demonstrate how I developed a workflow that can convert any audio file, of virtually any format, into a 3D model of a record, and how I optimized these records for playback on a real turntable.  The 3D modeling in this project was far too complex for traditional drafting-style CAD techniques, so I wrote an program to do this conversion automatically.  It works by importing raw audio data, performing some calculations to generate the geometry of a record, and eventually exporting this geometry straight to a 3D printable file format.  Most of the heavy lifting is done by Processing, an open source programming environment that's often used for 2D and 3D graphics and modeling applications.  Here's a basic overview of my Processing algorithm:

use raw audio data to set the groove depth- parse through the raw audio data, this is the set of numbers that defines the shape of the audio waveform, and use this information to set the height of the bottom of a spiral groove.  This way, when a turntable stylus moves along the groove it will move vertically in the same path as the original waveform and recreate the original audio signal.
draw record and groove geometry- A 3D model is essentially a list of triangles arranged in 3D space to create a continuous mesh, use the data from the last step and some general record parameters (record diameter, thickness, groove width, etc) to generate the list of triangular faces that describes the record's shape and the detailed spiral groove inscribed on its surface.
export model in STL format- the STL file format is understood by all 3D printers, export the geometry calculated in the last step as an STL file.  To get Processing to export straight to STL, I used the ModelBuilder Library written by Marius Watz (if you are into Arduino/Processing and 3D printing I highly recommend checking this out, it works great).

I've uploaded some of my complete record models to the 123D gallery as well as the Pirate Bay.  Check Step 6 for a complete listing of what's there and what I plan on posting.  Alternatively, you can go to Step 7 to download my code and learn how to make printable record models from your own audio.

Special thanks to Randy Sarafan, Steve Delaire, Arthur Harsuvanakit, Phil Seaton, and Audrey Love for their help with this project.

Here's another video that gives a great overview of the printing process and shows the printers at work:

 
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shafrir8 days ago

Hello, all- I'm working on this project now and I'm having some trouble. The stl file output from Processing is huge! (500 MB). My printing lab advisor says that the Objet will struggle with such a big file. Did I do something wrong in my process? What should I do to fix it? The source recording is 2:28 and its text file is 28.8 MB.

amandaghassaei (author)  shafrir8 days ago

you'll notcie that all of my records only have about 1 min of audio on them - this is bc the files gets too big after that to print. The max the objet can do is about 300mb, you'll have to trim your song.

Thanks for replying, Amanda! I've tried making it smaller (150-250mb stl files). The files look fine in meshlab, but still crash the CatalystEX software we use on our printer. What do you think I should try next?

amandaghassaei (author)  shafrir2 days ago

that's a bummer! are you using a dimension printer? what is the max resolution of your machine? Since it's not as high res as the objet, you can lower some of the res settings in the script (by default I have it set up for an objet) to lower the size of the mesh. Ideally you want to fit in all the geometry that your printer will be able to print and no extra. let me know and ill help you find the right settings.

Hey all! I'm writing an article about 3D-printing. It's for the website DJBroadcast.net (focusses on electronic music and DJ-culture). It's been a while since the first 3D-printed vinyl came to life, we're wondering if there is any progress in the technique and we want to write about that. Are there any enthusiasts who are working on this project and trying to improve it? Let me know cause I'd love to talk to you about it (thijs@blueprintmedia.nl). Good luck to you all!

NolanCnolan4 months ago

Awesome instructable, although i ran into a problem with the wavtotext file. I went through all the instructions and created a text file of the song and eventually ended up making both a laser cut version and a 3d print version. When i went back to look at my text file, it ended up being just a copy of the code for the wavtotext python code. Any ideas? It went through the process of creating it but the laser cut and 3d print files both have no information on them, just the cutlines.

thanks!

amandaghassaei (author)  NolanCnolan4 months ago

did you use stereo audio in .wav format for wavetotext?

I changed it to a .wav file in audacity from an mp3, i then changed in the python code to fetch the file and it did so, kind of weird problem, i'm gonna try it with a different song and see if it changes anything
amandaghassaei (author)  NolanCnolan4 months ago

yes it only works with .wav

codegamc5 months ago

the plastic records look so cool!

This is amazing. I think we haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg here. 3D printing will change the way we view resources.

gazumpglue5 months ago

This is just Fantastic your project is trully exciting !!!

You're a wonderfull woman ! I wish you the best !

TP_inc6 months ago
I think I may have seen this on popular science
chatrooms TP_inc5 months ago

You definitely did, I saw it there too.

SleepingWater6 months ago

This is just Fantastic your project is trully exciting !!!

You're a wonderfull woman ! I wish you the best !

salyhp6 months ago

Hey this is truly incredible, I've been trying to follow too but last night (10pm-7.50am) was how long it took to create the .stl file after running it on processing (the .stl file is 975.5MB) and whenever I go to open it on MeshLab it comes to the end of the loading bar and it freezes. Is the file too big, (my audio file was 51.8MB/ 04.54min long)? Should I open this file on another programme? Can anyone help please, it would be appreciated

amandaghassaei (author)  salyhp6 months ago
sounds like the file is just too big for your computer. Is their a computer with more RAM that you can use?
Mistwalker9 months ago
This is very interesting. I wonder if it might be easier to make a 78 than a 33 1/3RPM record. 78s hold between three and five minutes of music per side, depending on the size of the record. I would think that this would mean everything would be larger.

Also, I could then play one of these very modern records on my 90 year old vv-80 victrola. Though, likely not for long, as the heavy steel needle would likely chew up the plastic (78s have ground up stone in them to make them harder than the steel in the needles).
amandaghassaei (author)  Mistwalker6 months ago

yes I'd really like to do this eventually!

A lot of modern record players have a setting to play 78s. You might be able to play them on yours.

ChippMarshal6 months ago

Fantastic! I am blown away. Best instructable ever :)

amandaghassaei (author)  ChippMarshal6 months ago

thanks!

T0BY10 months ago
Hello!

I wonder if anyone can help me, I am a bit stuck! When I run the Processing Sketch I keep getting the error 'The function close() does not exist'. I have checked some forums and have made sure all the [ and ] brackets are in pairs and that the file name doesn't include the word 'close' but it's still not working. can anyone help?
amandaghassaei (author)  T0BY6 months ago

did you figure it out? it sounds like there's something wrong with your import of modelbuilder?

nerd74736 months ago
cool
kjm26727 months ago
I think the 3-D printed record is a great idea!

I think I can help with some issues. Believe it or not, the issues that you are having are the same issues that engineers had when they were in the process of developing the first microgroove record, the earliest of which were made available to the public in 1948.

The reason why it sounds thin and the stylus wants to hop out of the groove whenever there is bass is because it's physically impossible to record the entire spectrum of sound within the physical confines of a record groove.

The way they get around this is by using what is called an equalization (EQ) curve.

The standard curve for all vinyl microgroove records since around 1953 or so is the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) equalization curve.

What it does is it decreases (compresses) the sound level peaks of the bass frequencies on a graduated scale across the sound spectrum. The lower the bass frequency, the more the sound levels produced at the frequency are decreased (compressed).

This allows the long wavelengths that are characteristic of bass frequencies to still be recorded, while keeping them at a proportional size small enough to produce what is known as a "trackable groove".

Your RIAA phono preamp (can also be the "phono" input on your receiver) that your phonograph is connected to then boosts (expands) the bass frequencies upon playback in the exact same amount they were decreased (compressed) during the recording process.

This puts the bass frequencies back up to full level as they originally were recorded, and therefore allows the full wide range of sound to be reproduced when the audio from the phonograph is sent to an RIAA standard phono preamp or "phono" input and amplified.

You can add RIAA equalization to any audio file by using the free, downloadable audio editing software Audacity.

It is recommended that audio files have a "flat" EQ prior to adding the RIAA EQ curve.

This is to ensure that when the record is played back through the RIAA phono preamp (or input on receiver marked "phono), it will recover the wide range and flat response of the original recording.

If it is something that has already been professionally mastered, such as a premastered audio CD, tape or any other source and the tonal characteristics of the audio hasn't been altered in any way then it will already be "flat" and you can then apply the RIAA EQ curve to the audio file.

If it is not a recording that was ever mastered and mass produced, then it may need to be equalized "flat" so that all of the audio frequencies in the recording peak out at the same level.

Doing so would then allow the audio frequencies to be equally recorded and therefore make it possible to produce sound with the widest range and fidelity.

This also explains why only a phonograph can sound right when connected to the "phono" inputs on the receiver.

If any other source is connected to the "phono" input, then it will sound distorted and have too much bass.

If the phonograph is connected to something other than a "phono" input, it will hardly have any volume, sound weak and tinny with no bass.

The only exception to this rule are professional DJ turntables that have a built-in switchable RIAA phono preamp that when switched on, allows the phonograph be connected to any preamp level input.

When records are mastered, they can also do things like vary the spacing of the grooves to allow for a variant amount of recording time.

The further the grooves are spaced apart, the louder the sound level that is fed to the cutter can be, yielding a shorter recording time.

Likewise, the closer the grooves are spaced together, the lower the sound level that is fed to the cutter has to be, yielding a longer recording time.

To make the most efficient use of the recording surface otherwise, the groove spacing will vary to accommodate louder or softer passages.

That's why if you ever look at a record closely, in particular a recording that has both soft and loud passages, you will find that the loud passages will reveal a greater amount of space between them, while the soft passages will be spaced more closely together.

I sincerely hope this helps.

Kevin J. Mzyk
San Antonio, Texas

P.S. I also know how to make the groove capable of producing STEREO sound as well!
kjm
kjm26727 months ago
There is also a way to do STEREO as well.

You have the sound waves for left and right channels recorded (RIAA EQ,ed of course....) could be 3-D printed into a groove that has 45 degree angled sides.

Whatever sound waves that are the same in both left and right channels will produce singular side-to-side modulations that produce mono sound from both channels.

Whatever sound waves that are different in both left and right channels will produce two separate modulations that produce stereo sound from left and right channels separately.

Stereo records started to be mass produced on a wide scale since about 1958, although since about 1955 they were in the process of developing stereo records with some of the earliest released to the public in late 1957.

Kevin Mzyk
JoaCHIP8 months ago
This is such a brilliant proof of concept, and because I was just talking with a bunch of musicians about 3D printing LPs, I remembered this page.

And how about the future? I can only imagine that the resolution of 3D printing will improve over time. When that happens, printing LPs should also improve in both signal/noise ratio and reproducable frequency range. I can hardly wait! :D
FranzMarruffo8 months ago
Love all your work!
merijnhaenen9 months ago
I really want to print a 3D record but i'm failing with the final step. When I want to input my max ram memory in processing which is 4 GB I can only go up to 2000 MB. If it's higher there is an error. But it works fine with 2000 MB so thats okay but then when he is done building the STL file and I open it in Cura, (the only 3d viewing program I have on this laptop) I see that it is reeeaaaaaaally small. Like 10 mm or so. What did I do wrong?

Ohyeah and also I want to print it on a objet30 3D printer, is it capable to print this?
amandaghassaei (author)  merijnhaenen9 months ago
I had the same thing happen on my machine (4gb ram, processing only allows 2000mb), if you need something bigger you'll have to move to a machine with more ram. STLs have no units, so it sounds like you are importing the stl in mm. See if there is a setting that let's you import as inches. I know that objet studio has this setting, maybe try that. You can print on an objet, but be sure to print at high res (600dpi 16 micron steps), regular res will work, but you'll only be able to hear the drums and bass, high frequencies will get lost.

send me a video if you get this to work, I'd love to see it!
Is it possible that objet studio is only for windows? what other program can I use that is available for mac? I watched the other questions and I also have to change the size to 8" and the radius of the outermost groove to 3.8"

And what exactly in processing do I have to change for the 600dpi 16 micron steps?

Thanks for helping!
amandaghassaei (author)  merijnhaenen9 months ago
if you just want to view the stl, download meshlab. Sounds like you are changing the diameter and outermost groove radius correctly.

by default I have the settings for 600dpi 16 microns steps. If you want to change this find the following lines:
float dpi = 600;//objet printer prints at 600 dpi
byte micronsPerLayer = 16;//microns per vertical print layer
ScottVinyl9 months ago
Amanda, I've been trying to figure this out for like 3 hours so far, but I'm still getting an error. TypeError: 'map' object is not subscriptable. Please help. I'll really appreciate it.
amandaghassaei (author)  ScottVinyl9 months ago
this is in python? what version are you running? you might also reach out to fabacademy in the comments below, looks like they might have solved this.
I just saw your comment. I already looked through the comments and realized i was using the wrong version. I did processing and got my Stl file, but it doesn't open in any of the 3D programs I've tried. It didn't even open when i used the computer to put it in the tray for the 3D printer. I changed a few things make it on a 7 inch record, but im sure that isn't the reason for it not working cause i did try the one you gave me without changing anything except the file name and like I said it still wouldn't open in any program. Thanks.
amandaghassaei (author)  ScottVinyl9 months ago
what happens? does it crash the software? try opening it in meshlab - it's really lightweight. also how big is the file?
By the way, In Processing; All i did was change the rpm and changed 11.8 to 7 If this is even possible. Let me know what else I need to change. Still need help opening my .stl file. Do I need to click "Export Application" in Processing?
Win9510 months ago
I can record two channels in the file?
This line says 2 channels, but only half of the file:
frameOneChannel[i] = frameInt[2*i+1]*2**8+frameInt[2*i]
amandaghassaei (author)  Win959 months ago
this line is supposed to merge the two channels together into one mono channel - frameOneChannel. However, there is a bug in my program that is not mixing these together properly. I haven't had a chance to address it, for now the workaround is to make your audio mono in audacity and then copy it and export a stereo track consisting of two identical mono channels. Sorry about that!
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