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Guest Post: How a Vinyl Record Is Made

Barry Gardner operates SafeandSound Mastering based in London, UK a studio proficient in mastering dance music.

How Vinyl Is Made

More vinyl is being pressed in 2012 than in any year since since the advent of digital music release formats such as the CD. There are numerous reasons why some artists are choosing to release a limited run of vinyl as part of their music distribution strategy. Some people love the warm sound of vinyl which is in part down to the medium and the methods of mastering for the format itself. Many fans have a soft spot for the sheer physical size of the artwork on a 12 inch release and find the vinyl version a highly desirable and collectable end product.

Vinyl by RocknRollwoman

Vinyl is a very physical medium and the reproduction of sound is largely mechanical which means that when mastering for vinyl great care has to be taken by the engineers in order for the music to translate well to the format. We have to remember that the format was developed way before the first digital look ahead limiter. This means unlimited versions of the tracks must be supplied in order to get the best possible sound quality (normally at 24 bit resolution). With a digital file it is possible to use extreme limiting, very wide stereo images and any desired EQ curves. Vinyl is not the same and not a forgiving medium and unless fairly strict sonic guidelines are adhered to the end results can be lackluster or in the worst scenario not play at all.

Because of the resurgence of vinyl in the music distribution chain I thought it would be a good read to provide the basics of how vinyl is manufactured.

Sonic preparation
Firstly the lathe engineer will make some tweaks to the audio in order to ensure it will be compatible with the cutting equipment. Some mastering studios can produce a 24 bit digital pre-master file that should cut nicely to vinyl, often an artist will get this version prepared at the same time as their mastered digital release files. This way the quality control and overall tone of the master is a known quantity before it gets sent to a lathe engineer. The engineer will check the extreme high and low frequency ranges and ensure there are no left/light channel phase issues in the mix that will cause this mechanical process any problems.

To the lathe
The first procedure is that the lathe engineer will take what is known as a lacquer, this is an aluminum disk which is covered in a very smooth nitro cellulose lacquer. These disks are meticulously manufactured to ensure there are no imperfections on the surface as this would cause distortions and/or faults with the cutting process.

The lacquer is cut on a highly maintained and costly lathe. These are large machines and the lathe engineer will be highly skilled in it’s operation, the training on the lathe would often take many years and many lacquer cuts before the engineer becomes competent. The lathe engineer will ensure that the cut will be successful by creating a test cut on the outer edge of the lacquer disk. This is viewed with a microscope to ensure that the groove profile is in order. The cutter needle is usually made from sapphire.

The lacquer is very easily damaged and must be handled with care and forms basis of the mold from which records will eventually be pressed.

Preparation for stamping
One the lacquer disk is successful cut it is washed to clean away any detritus from the cutting lathe process and then spun and sprayed with tin chloride and silver solutions. The tin chloride allows the silver to bond with the lacquer surface. This is preparation so the disk can be electroplated with nickel which will eventually form a metallic stamper for the vinyl copies.

The metallic layer is separately from the lacquer and the resulting metal disk is trimmed so it will fit into the vinyl stamping machine. Cakes of vinyl are heated to a very high temperature making them soft and pliable and the pressing machine will squash the heated vinyl cakes between 2 stamping plates in order to create the vinyl disks. To all artists and producers who are getting vinyl pressed it is highly recommended to order test pressings as plants will not accept any disputes if there are any problems with the actual pressing run. Test pressing are usually chargeable but essential to confirm the quality of the pressing before the main run proceeds. This is highly recommended because of the mechanical nature of the process.

Barry Gardner operates SafeandSound Mastering based in London, UK a studio proficient in mastering dance music.

One Comment

  1. old time rave preoducer
    old time rave preoducer November 27, 2012

    lol. i never saw anyone looking at a laquer with a microscope at any cut i ever attended

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