Admittedly, the record is pretty lo-fi to say the least but you can clearly hear Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit when it plays. The fact that it can do this, however fuzzy sounding, is an extraordinary achievement. Humans Invent spoke to its maker Amanda Ghassaei to find out how she did it.
I just wanted to see what was possible and push the limits of what you can do with 3D printing
Ghassaei currently writes for the maker website Instructables and it was the facilities they have there that inspired her to make a 3D printed vinyl.
Ghassaei says, “I just wanted to see if it was possible. Part of my job is to come up with fun content ideas to get people excited and we got these really high- resolution printers (Objet 500Connex) in April. Ever since we’ve had them, I’ve been thinking how I could make something that takes full advantage of these machines. I do a lot of work with audio, so I am comfortable dealing with that kind of stuff. I just wanted to see what was possible and push the limits of what you can do with 3D printing.”
The hard part was the making of the CAD file needed to instruct the printer how to print the LP. Ghassaei says “I use Processing, an open source environment and programming language, that is used for graphics and 3D manipulation. I imported all of the raw data of the audio sound – a piece of audio is just a set of points that traces out a wave over time. I took this list of points and used that to set the height of this long spiral groove on the surface of the record. If you were able to zoom in on the record and look really closely you would see there is this long groove and the bottom of it oscillates up and down.”
Currently, the LP reproduces a lo-fi sound because the printer, though one of the most advanced currently available, is unable to produce a high enough resolution to match a vinylthat has been cut the traditional way.
The 3D printer is kind of cool as it allows you to get a little more creative
Ghassaei says, “It is definitely recognizable and that was all I was shooting for but the resolution is not great compared to normal standards. I had to lower the sampling rate down to 11kHz, which is about a quarter of CD quality. That was the upper limit of the sampling rate I could get with printing at 600dpi so it was a compromise I had to make.”
Ghassaei is not convinced that the 3D printed record will ever be able to exactly replicate the sound made on a traditional vinyl but she does believe it is set to improve.
She says, “I don’t think 3D printers are ever going to do anything better than what a machine that is designed to cut vinyl would do though it will definitely get better in the future. The interesting thing is that you can print on demand, so if you are willing to compromise the quality a little bit, the 3D printer is kind of cool as it allows you to get a little more creative. You can print a single copy of a really special record and that’s something that is not very cost-effective to do with regular vinyl.”
Could 3D printed records lead to a new form piracy in the future? Ghassaei thinks not. She says, “It would be a huge amount of effort to go to. I can’t imagine this is what the technology would be used for.”