3D Printers Give New Life to Old Recordings

You know that 3D printers are being used to “produce” everything from parts of weapons to prosthetics, but have you heard of its usage in recordable technology?

The application of 3D printing in restoring old recordings is unheard of. But 3D printers are simply revolutionizing the industry of sounds.

nov13_c_RECORDINGIn this case, 3D printing technology has been applied to restoration. Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) have used 3D scanning technology to restore some century-old recordings made by three notable inventors that include Charles Sumner Tainter (inventor of an early telephone transmitter), Alexander Graham Bell, and his cousin Chichester Bell. These three inventors collaborated to bring about what was considered high-fidelity for audio systems (notably their graphophone) back in the 1880s. The team experimented using various mediums for their recordings that included discs and cylinders made from beeswax and cardboard, brass, and glass. Finally, they succeeded in making a series of recordings (more than 200 of them) on glass-based discs, which were sent to the Smithsonian in an effort to preserve them. However, they never sent the playback device needed to listen to the discs which were then considered useless and left to decay.

Decay they did – until the research team from LBL got hold of them. They brought them back to life through restoration and were able to play the recordings 125 years after they were made. To accomplish this, the team employed the use of a 3D scanner, known as IRENE, to non-invasively scan the discs and create a high-resolution image. They then processed the digital image, which pieces together the damaged disc and removes errors. The Lab used specialized software for calculating and recreating the engraving method (in this case, a stylus used to etch the glass/wax) to reproduce the audio into a digitized format. The team was successful at recovering the audio from six Volta Graphophone discs – it is looking to restore and preserve a host of early recordings from the Library of Congress. While giving new life to old technology, using 3D scanning is certainly impressive, 3D printing is capable of converting the latest technology in audio into a medium which very few still use.