Is a record not spun a record not played? Dragging a needle across old, brittle vinyl records or wax cylinders can damage them — not something you want to do with rare historical recordings. At the Library of Congress, researchers have developed a scanner that can extract audio from records by scanning them digitally – no spinning required. Images are analyzed and transformed back into audible sound. “Stuck” records magically become unstuck, while physically broken records can be pieced back together with great results.
How does it sound? “The machine is not adding its own color. It’s not adding anything of its own nature,” says the device’s developer. The samples on the NPR site are low-res internet audio, but the comparisons to the original are impressive, despite a persistent background hiss.
The technology could eventually become available to general consumers, meaning that the daunting task of MP3-encoding piles of vinyl would become way less daunting. It’s a strange and beautiful world.