Not too long ago, Amanda Ghassaei from Instructables caught our attention when she constructed several playable records with a 3D printer. By sending raw audio data through a custom script, she was able to automatically generate 3D designs for a printer to follow – albeit with crude results. Recently, Ghassaei programmed a new code that let her substitute the 3D printer for a laser cutter to carve functional records from wood and other materials.
Like before, the first step was to rip the audio data from a WAV file using Python and then apply it to a customized Processing script. This time though, instead of converting the data to an STL file, it produced a PDF of a vector graphic. According to Ghassaei, the script can be tweaked to account for various materials, cutting machines, record sizes, and turntable speeds.
After obtaining a round piece of wood, a laser cutter slices the tiny bumps and grooves of the record using the vector file as a guide. Ghassaei cut her wooden records onto a sheet of maple with an Epilog 120 Watt Legend EXT laser cutter at an approximate precision of 1,200 dpi, but says these could easily be swapped for other tools and materials. So far, Ghassaei has cut functioning records from wood, acrylic, and paper using this method.
Unfortunately, like their 3D-printed predecessors, the sound quality of these laser-etched records leaves much to be desired. Even those cut from acrylic are wracked with distortion, delivering 4-5 bit depth with a sampling rate of just 4.5 kHz (compared to most MP3s' 16 bit depth and 44.1kHz rate). Ghassaei has explained that the laser is simply too wide and cuts much larger grooves than needed.
So a wooden record is certainly stylish, but don't toss out your vinyl records just yet. If you want to try your hand at giving your MP3s an extremely retro overhaul, though, Ghassaei has detailed instructions on her Instructables page. You can also check out the video below to watch the laser cutting process in action while listening to the garbled results.