Catching Up With the 19th Century: Listen to the World’s First 3-D Printed Records

A perfect combination of our generation’s favorite sentiments, it’s a little DIY, a little piratey, and extraordinarily ironic.

Retrophiles, DJs, and other stray portions of the population who still use records, we’ve got good news for you. Bringing yet another dimension to the ever-elusive true potential of 3-D printing technology, Amanda Ghassaei of online do-it-yourself project-sharing community Instructables has printed a few of the world’s first rapid prototyped records from digital audio files.

We’ll refrain from trying to untangle the mathematics involved, but the gist is that she developed a workflow that starts with raw audio data and creates a corresponding algorithm that a 3-D printer can read to produce the right physical properties — that’s record diameter, thickness, and groove width. To show its ability to bring the past to life, she’s produced a handful of prototype records of such non-contemporary music makers as Nirvana, the Pixies, and New Order.

3D Printed Record from Amanda Ghassaei on Vimeo.

I’ve learned that audio is a very resilient medium,” Ghassaei writes in her tutorial. “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.” And she ain’t kidding. The sound quality is, to be fair, worse than an actual record. While the Objet Connex500 she used is one of the highest resolution 3-D printers around, it’s still a long shot from the precision of actual vinyl. The result: “The records have a sampling rate of 11kHz (a quarter of typical mp3 audio),” according to Ghassaei, and a persistent windshield wiper sound (and maybe some stray ham radio exchanges) in the background. The songs, however, are wholly danceable and recognizable, even to our smartphones. A Daft Punk track playing in the office passed the Shazam test on a colleague’s phone with flying colors.

She’s uploaded a few choice tracks online, which are yours to tinker with if you can shell out the $200-$300 in resin each disc requires. The biggest transformative potential here is on the decks, so pirate away, DIY DJs. [Instructables via Co.Design]

— Janelle Zara