Monday, November 30, 2015

Norman Pickering, who enjoyed listening to records, was frustrated by the sound quality of recordings.

Pickups -- the needle, arm, and electronics that transferred the vibrations created by a record's groove and turned it into sound -- were horrible. The needle (stylus) was made of steel and had to be replaced frequently, and the weight of the stylus and arm wore out records after a few plays.

So he invented the "Pickering pickup": A stylus made with a diamond or sapphire tip, which was markedly lighter and which didn't damage records nearly as much. Records lasted longer, and sounds were reproduced with less distortion. Furthermore, Pickering's pickup focused on movement in the tip of the stylus -- not on the point where the stylus interacted with the arm. Pickering's stylus also "floated" on a tip of rubber, so that it moved side to side as well as up and down, capturing much more of the recorded sound.

But the genius of Pickering's pickup was that the stylus actually fit against a crystal. As the stylus moved, it deformed the crystal slightly, creating a piezoelectric effect (a tiny electrical current) that was then amplified and produced in the loudspeaker as sound.

The difference "wasn’t just a little, it was magnificent".

Norman Pickering has died at the age of 99. Listen to some music in his honor.

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