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Old vs. new tech -- and old tech wins by a landslide

A $250,000 3D printer's LP can't match the resolution of a 60-year-old LP -- and it's not even close!

3D printing of a standard LP's grooves isn't possible with today's technology. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The LP was invented in 1948, and judging by the sales surge over the past few years, LPs won't be going away anytime soon. Amanda Ghassaei's "3D Printed Record" project demonstrated vinyl's continuing relevance in the 21st century. Years ago when I saw an early demonstration of 3D printing, I knew the technology would eventually lead to printing LPs, but now it's a little closer to becoming a reality. First, however, there are major sound-quality issues to overcome with 3D printed LPs (though they can play tunes with fidelity that's far below MP3 quality). The article claims the LP was derived from a 11kHz sampling rate file, with 6-bit resolution. That's a limitation imposed by the technology of today's best 3D printers, including the 600 dpi UV-cured resin printer, a $250,000 Objet Connex500, but even so it couldn't duplicate the microscopic wiggles of an LP record with accuracy. The Objet Connex500's LP grooves had to be 10 times bigger than those of a standard LP.

Some might argue that printing a 3D LP from a digital file doesn't make any sense, but most new LPs made over the last 10 or 15 years were digitally recorded, mixed, and mastered. "Pure," all-analog LPs are rarely made anymore. If you want to hear all-analog records, buy pre-1980s pressed LPs. I have thousands of them, and yes, they sound better than most digitally sourced LPs. Old tech can occasionally trump new tech.

It's interesting that even state-of-the-art 3D printers fall far short of what's achievable with old-fashioned record pressing machines. Well-mastered LPs are capable of delivering remarkable resolution, when played on a top turntable fitted with a high-end phono cartridge. Heck, even 100-year-old Thomas Edison cylinder recordings sound better than the Objet Connex500 3D printed LPs. Listening to the 3D printed LP in Ghassaei's video of her project, it's easy to hear how comparatively crude 3D technology is. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before 3D printers catch up and even surpass conventionally pressed LPs, but until that day arrives, I'll be happily playing my old-fashioned records.