If you ever wanted to print out your favorite albums at home, that weird little itch of yours may soon be scratched. Amanda Ghassaei, an editor at Instructables and DIY audio hardware geek, recently succeeded in 3D printing 12-inch records containing music by artists like Nirvana, The Pixies and Daft Punk. It sounds terrible, but the achievement is still pretty impressive.
Ghassaei used Processing to write a program that translates digital audio into 3D models, which can then be printed on a plastic material using a high-resolution 3D printer. The end result can be played on any turntable, although as you can hear in the video below, it doesn't sound very good.
That's because even at the highest resolutions available in 3D printing, you can print audio grooves only fine enough to capture a fraction of the resolution and sampling rate of a even decent-sounding MP3. There's also a very tiny grain and residue on 3D printed objects that interferes with the turntable stylus' ability to pick up a clean audio signal. Still, the songs are clearly recognizable, making what Ghassaei has pulled off from a technical standpoint very impressive.
Don't Get Too Excited, Hipsters
Just be careful about envisioning a not-too-distant future in which we can all print out our favorite albums on vinyl-like material and listen to them in high-fidelity stereo. Music-industry executives jazzed about the recent resurgence in vinyl record sales should also take a chill pill.
For one thing, this method of creating records is pretty expensive. Between printer usage time and the raw materials needed to print a 12-inch disc, it probably costs several hundred dollars per record. For the price tag of two or three 3D-printed records, you could press 100 real vinyl albums.
Resolution is the biggest stumbling block. Although the cost of 3D printing has been dropping into more consumer-accessible territory, the resolution of the printers hasn't changed much in the last few years. The types of things people use 3D printers today for just don't demand the super-high resolution required to print tiny, clean grooves like the ones created by pressing an aluminum master disc into hot vinyl - the old-fashioned way to make a record. Ghassaei might be able to get that Daft Punk song to sound clearer on 3D-printed records than it does right now, but it's not going to be a viable, listenable alternative anytime soon.
Who knows, though? Maybe in a few years we'll see lo-fi experimental noise bands in Brooklyn selling limited edition, 3D-printed LPs. They won't come cheap, though.