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A few months back, I wrote about how I used a 3D printer to transform any mp3 into a physical record.  Though all the documentation for that project is available here, and the 3D models could potentially be printed through an online fabrication service, I knew that the barrier to entry for normal people interested in trying out the process themselves was prohibitively high.  With this project I wanted to try to extend the idea of digitally fabricated records to use relatively common and affordable machines and materials so that (hopefully) more people can participate, experiment, and actually use all this documentation I've been writing.

These records were cut on an Epilog 120 Watt Legend EXT to a theoretical precision of 1200dpi (the kerf of the cut and some tricks I used to avoid crashing the laser cutter dropped the actual precision down by ~1/6).  The audio on the records has a bit depth between 4-5 (typical mp3 audio is 16 bit) and a sampling rate up to about 4.5kHz (mp3 is 44.1kHz).  So far I've successfully cut audio on wood (figs 1-2), acrylic (figs 3-4), and paper (figs 5-6), and I'm sure there are many more materials that would work.  I wrote the Processing sketch that generates the record cutting paths so that it can be modified for any song, material, cutting machine, record size, and turntable speed (skip ahead to download the code and learn how to make your own records).

You should also note that in this Instructable I'll demonstrate specifically how I used a laser cutter for this process, but the cutting files I'm using are standard vector graphics in a PDF format, so they can be extended to many other digital fabrication tools. For example, I'm curious to see if it's possible to use a CNC mill or a CNC razor blade paper cutter with my cutting files (a group of people were able to cut out some sine waves on paper using a Cameo in this Instructable).

Below are some of my final results, read on to see how they were made and how you can make your own.

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart on clear acrylic (download vector files):


Radiohead - Idioteque on wood (download vector files):


The Velvet Underground and Nico - Femme Fatale on maple (download vector files):

 
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For the 3d printed version, have you tried printing a blank record and then recording onto it as a baseline for potential audio quality? If so, how did it turn out?

Have you tried any additional materials since? Perhaps wax? I'm looking into replicating old edison wax tubes as a side project. :)

I am a E.E. with a background in audio -including phonograph lathing. Wow. Now, why did I not think of lasers? Actually, RCA DID think of lasers back in the early 1980s to cut digital laser-disks for video (3.5 mHz bandwidth!). And they worked beautifully (with hi-fi and resolution higher than of USA TV)! Unfortunately VCRs were a good deal cheaper (for consumers), but the RCA disk system had a life in network TV for slow-motion playback in sports. Tape with flying heads had a lot of distortion and jitter (back then), but disks were great.

As for your wonderfully clever wood records...try using African Ebony as it will yield better resolution than maple. However, it is difficult to cut. (It is more like metal than wood!).

Keep the old noodle (needle?) working -you are a clever young person and the world needs such people DESPERATELY. Brains that lead emotion and ego are refreshing. God Bless.

Just like playing Beatle records backwards...this is a GREAT way to screw up your stylus! Just don't use it on a Shure V-15 xVMR! -Please!

waxpress2 months ago

I'm wondering whether you think the quality could be improved with this machine, which is listed as 4000 steps per inch (or 32000 with an upgrade), compared to 1200 with the laser you used.

Is that the main factor that would be involved in improving quality? What other factors would you consider?

amandaghassaei (author)  waxpress16 days ago

not really, the issue is that the width of the cut is pretty large and the finish is not so smooth, so the needle is getting bumped around quite a bit as it plays.

Hi all. I'm a D&T teacher, and wanted to try this to demo to my students.


After completing the record, has anyone tried using different styli- Given that the grooves are larger than LP grooves, I was wondering if certain types of stylus i.e. those for 78's might maximise tracking and sound quality, as opposed to an LP stylus.

any thoughts appreciated

yes I believe a 78 needle would work better, haven't tried though

Hi Amanda, great project, i want to try this with my cnc mill.. Did you hear about anyone that was able to do it, or has everyone been using laser cutters only?
amandaghassaei (author)  ceasarkbeirut16 days ago

that should be possible, I'm curious to hear about how it works! what kind of mill?

Hi all. I've completed my pdfs (thanks for the code!), and am ready to cut. I wanted to check... should the record groove be a cutting or engraving path?

If it is a cutting path, is there a way of separating out the cuts for the inner/ outer dimensions of the record into a separate file (so they can be cut all the way through at higher power)?

As a variation of the acrylic version, I've got a box of old laserdiscs from the 90's I'm happy to sacrifice- they would look really cool! The outer circumference is within 1 or 2 mm, but the spindle hole is larger, so I just need to modify the code to enlarge the hole to the size of the old 45rpm singles, so I can play them with a regular spindle adaptor.

You'll want to cut (vector not raster) the grooves, but turn down the power so they don't get cut all the way through. The paths to cut through are in red - the inner and outer circumference of the record. The innerRadius hole is specified in the code, just look for it a the top of the file. You can also open these files in illustrator, corel draw, inkscape or something similar and edit them by hand if that works better. Please make sure the laserdics are ok to go in the laser before attempting to cut them. They might be too shiny or a weird kind of plastic.

my4pop11 month ago

Very nice liked. I hope you the further development.

Udemyrobert1 month ago

Going to check this on personal record.

Great design, just proves that music can be made on anything

agreed

bizsai2 months ago

This one was far better than other tut Thanks to writer.

waxpress2 months ago

The audio quality of some of these actually seems quite listenable, except for the constant background noise -- any thoughts on what would be involved in decreasing the amount of noise? It seems like this might be improved even without increasing bit depth/sampling rate.

interesting, i've got some wood in the back here............oh no its the wrong type.

I am confused on step 10 what do I rename in processing?

the name of your song, the text file to import.

Jrisby5 months ago
Hey there. I Have recently tried this and it had cut 3/4 of the grooves then preceded to cut the inner and outer circles. Do you know why it might be stoping?
amandaghassaei (author)  Jrisby3 months ago

you'll probably have to split it up into a few files and send them one by one without moving the material in between cuts. There's a variable called numGroovesPerFile (or something similar) download the latest code from github and try lowering that number.

george.titsworth made it!4 months ago

Thanks for the instructable! This is going to make a really nice Christmas gift!

I did mine on a mini-helix. The current record does not play very well.. lots of noise, a little skipping, but you can make out the tune and it looks great. I'm going to ply around a little more with it when I can to try to clean up the sound.

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amandaghassaei (author)  george.titsworth3 months ago

just saw this, so cool! Do you have a video? what song is it?

Snellingkorey3 months ago

Not a bad idea, not sure it'll replace my ipod though :)

spenhoo1 year ago

I'm getting this error, not sure what to do about it. Any suggestions?

Traceback (most recent call last):

File "/Users/....(directory)........../wavtotext.py", line 21, in <module>

frameInt = map(ord, list(frame))#turn into array

MemoryError


Is it just that my file is too big to do this way?

amandaghassaei (author)  spenhoo1 year ago

haven't seen that one before. how many min is your song?

It's 30 minutes - I know that exceeds vinyl limit I think for one side
But maybe I'll try it again.. Could've been a glitch in my process...
stoney3k spenhoo4 months ago

If it exceeds the vinyl limit it means the groove pitch is too narrow and cuts will overlap. That may cause the error.

amandaghassaei (author)  spenhoo1 year ago

Try 5-6 min and see if that works.

KonradC18 months ago

Nice proof of concept but falls far from being listenable. Now I don't know much about laser etching a record but I used to be a lathe operator for the cutting of vinyl records back in the 90's. There are a few things you haven't taken into account it seems. the lower rotational speed of the inner groves is the reason the sound degrades so much near the end of a song. It happens on regular records as well but it's not as noticeable. It looks like your grooves are too wide as well...

Best of luck with this!

stoney3k KonradC14 months ago

I guess you could get a lot better quality if you modified the laser cutter to accept a turntable and cut along the axis of the record in a tangential tracking manner. After all, that's how *actual* masters are cut.

soulomon4 months ago

Someone should hack a DVD-R firmware to print 4.7" flexi discs!
Thank you for your amazing work Amanda.

stoney3k soulomon4 months ago

You know, that *could* work if you have a LightScribe or LabelFlash burner and compatible discs.

Peter Mikulik4 months ago

Hello Amanda,

I am so blown away by this work. I would rather like a copy of a record of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album on this wooden record. How much would you charge to make one of these for me? At your convenience. How much ? even the Velvet Underground would be cool too. Please let me know I would really appreciate it. I am not so technical so I could not do it myself. Please let me know if you would be able to do for a charge :) Thank you, Peter and you can contact me best at youarecompassionate@gmail.com. Thank you again in dance :)

Hi, When I go to open the Python wavtotext file it flashes up for a second then disappears, do you know why this would happen?

I had this problem to so I had to open python idle

amandaghassaei (author)  jamesburkill1 year ago

did you figure it out? what version of python are you using?

soulomon4 months ago

Someone should hack a DVD-R firmware to print 4.7" flexi discs!
Thank you for your amazing work Amanda.

davidbarcomb5 months ago

Great project, I must try this

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