Every vinyl record experience begins with hiss and crackle—a sound that’s been captivating music lovers for generations. The basics of analog playback technology hasn't changed much since Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, but we’re still finding ways to push the limits of vinyl records.
Creative minds continue to dream up new vinyl record innovations. Not all of these have stuck around—some of these are definitely more along the lines of toys than serious audiophile equipment—but all of them have shown just how exciting and fun the medium can be.
The Sound Wagon
The world’s smallest record player, known as the Sound Wagon, launched in the 1970s. This portable record player is shaped like a vintage Volkswagen Bus—ironically, not a station wagon—and travels on silicone wheels at 33 1/3 RPM. Equipped with its own built-in speaker and turntable cartridge, the Sound Wagon plays vinyl records as it “drives” along the groove.
Want to take the Sound Wagon out for a spin? Check out the new and improved Record Runner to see what’s under the hood.
Cereal Box Records
Digging toys from cereal boxes is a classic childhood memory for many of us. Back in the 70s and 80s, cereal boxes came with vinyl records attached—the ultimate prize for kids who loved singing along to their favorite hits.
Imagine waking up to a box of Cap’n Crunch and cutting a vinyl record from the box. That’s basically what cereal box records were all about. General Mills and Post were the originators of this short-lived marketing tactic, featuring their own mascots as “recording artists.”
Before they were Halloween icons, Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Frankenberry were the Beatles of breakfast. Kids could collect hit singles like, “The Monsters Go Disco,” “Monsters in Outer Space,” and “Count Chocula Goes to Hollywood.”
Jack White, head of Third Man Records, is well known for his obsession with innovative vinyl record designs. Two days before releasing his Blunderbuss LP in 2012, he unveiled the world’s first liquid-filled vinyl record.
Jack White runs Third Man Records like Willy Wonka runs his chocolate factory—with limitless imagination. In an interview on CBS This Morning, he says Third Man Records creates unique vinyl designs “to get away from invisible, disposable music.” The music wonderland specializes in records that range from beautiful to bizarre, like Karen Elson’s “Vicious” vinyl single pressed with peach rose petals.
On Record Store Day 2012, he released a limited release of “Sixteen Saltines” on a liquid-filled vinyl record. Although the idea sounds cool, users on Discogs claim the “blue blood” leaks from the disc and makes a mess; you might want to consider just framing this one. Nevertheless, Jack White continues to reenvision what vinyl records can be.
In the 1930s, RCA Records invented the first long-playing record that showed the world the advantages of using vinyl instead of shellac. Three decades later, RCA introduced Dynaflex, a lightweight alternative that was thinner than conventional discs.
RCA developed Dynaflex to save material and cut costs, rather than recycling vinyl like other record companies. While recycled vinyl is known for poor sound quality, Dynaflex claimed to offer a cleaner sound that audiophiles preferred. However, better sound quality comes with a price. Some record collectors say Dynaflex is less durable than traditional vinyl, which makes it more likely to warp.
Whether or not you have Dynaflex records in your collection, proper care is essential to prevent warping and other issues. Check out our article on how to store vinyl records to keep your collection in pristine condition for decades to come.
Admiring the album covers is one of the best parts of collecting records over MP3, streaming or CDs, but picture discs offer an entirely different experience. Instead of displaying artwork on the jacket, these eye-catching records feature images directly on the disc.
Unlike traditional records, picture discs take a lot longer to make, which is why they’re more expensive. Picture discs are made by heat-pressing an image between the vinyl disc and a thin layer of polyethylene.
Music lovers debate whether picture discs sound as good as traditional records, but there’s no denying the vibrant artwork begs to be picked from the shelf.
Locked grooves are a rare feature on vinyl records, and when you come across one, you might think the needle is malfunctioning. Rest assured, lock grooves are a creative way that artists enhance the listening experience and keep your ears guessing.
Every record has locked grooves that keep the needle from touching the center label. However, artists are discovering the creative advantage of placing audio in the locked groove. For example, Jack White’s Lazaretto “ultra-LP” features a locked groove that plays gritty guitar distortion on repeat.
The “Tree Ring” Record Player
The trees have something to say, and someone found out how to listen. Australian media artist Bartholomaus Traubeck designed a record player that turns tree rings into music!
As an eco-conscious team that plants trees around the world, our minds were blown when we heard about this. Traubeck used audio software called Ableton Live to program a special algorithm that converts vibrations into piano notes. As the needle follows the tree rings, it vibrates and sends information to the program.
With that said, if you’re a music lover who cares about the Earth like us, check out our work with One Tree Planted!
Spin the Music You Love
Vinyl records have been around for decades, but we’re constantly finding new ways to enjoy them. When you’re ready to spin records, check out House of Marley Stir It Up Turntables for a premium listening experience with unparalleled warmth.