Getting the Most Out of Your Medium: Mastering for Vinyl in the Digital Age, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

In our last session my client and I were in the mastering suite — now we’re in the lathe room. I’ve got my high res vinyl-centric files lined up. Now I have to ask myself a lot of questions. How loud can I get this and still fit the program on the side? Is it going to sound good all the way in to the center of the disk? No, probably not. How much high frequency stuff is going on here? — in the vocals and cymbals?

The vocal is waaaaaay back in an Aztec temple chamber — no worry about lancing ssss sibilance messing playback up. Some of the cymbal crashes are forward, but I know I have some room in terms of level so amplitude of the crash should be tamed. Usually we listeners can take a little more cymbal than vocal, so I’m in a good position to not have to use any high frequency limiting.

Photo of Alex DeTurk adjusting the latheNext I ask myself How deep is this thing going to cut? It’s possible to cut a deep groove all the way to the metal plate sandwitched between layers of lacquer, and we DON’T want that. This music has some pretty heavy downtuned guitars in the sides, so we’re going deep, but nowhere near the real danger zone. I do note that this is going to eat through the disc at a brisk pace though.

I look at my LPI meter — it tells me how many lines per inch are going to cut on the disc based on all my current settings. With this you can estimate the total run time to figure out about how far into the disc you’re going to go. Right now it looks like we’re going all the way in, and I don’t like it.

Metal (the music, not the substance) albums don’t fare too well in the inner diameter. I have the choice to either put my elliptical filter in, or drop the level. The elliptical will sum my low end in the sides to mono — with the result that I’ll loose some of the width in the guitars. That would be detrimental to the sound, so I choose instead to lower the level another .5 dB. Now we should finish in a friendlier place.

Time to cut. This part goes quickly — it’s the prep that takes all the time — and the result looks good! Off to plating and then pressing. I won’t hear this again unless there is a problem or I have a finished LP in my hands.

In this case, there was a problem. The test pressing comes back sounding really gritty and harsh in the top end, tinny to the max. What happened? My bet is on the quality of vinyl used: the grooves still look good under the microscope, but the surrounding vinyl looks like kitty litter. I bet it’s re-grind. The disc isn’t really even black, more like dark gray. OK, let’s call up the plant and see if there is an alternate vinyl source we can use and try again. Luckily they can still use the stampers and we don’t have to go back to square one.

We wait around for a couple more weeks, and the new test pressing comes back. This round looks a lot better! And it sounds better too; quieter overall and the high end actually resembles what I put down in the first place. I’d say we’re done, run the presses!

Now for the home test…

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The Cuddle Magic All-Analog Vinyl Project

Here at Masterdisk HQ today Scott Hull has been mastering the all-analog LP version of Info Nympho, a new album by Brooklyn/Philly band and songwriting collective Cuddle Magic.

This is the real deal – the old school way to make an LP.

As you can see from the photos below, Scott first spliced together the master from the original 1/4″ tape in his mastering room. Then, once the master was edited together, Scott took the tape to the cutting room, where he and Alex DeTurk got it ready to go onto lacquer. They then listened closely, familiarizing themselves with the program and taking note of any adjustments they might need to make during the cut.

Alex did the cutting once all of the mastering decisions were made.

While hanging around documenting the process, I’ve happily heard many of the songs, a few times each. It’s a beautiful recording and the LP is going to sound fantastic.

I should mention that Info Nympho is a Kickstarter project — one that successfully raised its funding goal on September 1. Sweet! Check out what they did here. Find more about Cuddle Magic at their website: http://www.cuddle-magic.com/

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Scott’s Guest Blog at The Vinyl District, Week 3

It’s week three of Scott’s guest blog series at The Vinyl District, and it’s a good one! This week Scott starts getting into the geometry of the record groove, aided by some photos from the new camera we have installed on our lathe’s scope. Hope you enjoy it!


http://www.thevinyldistrict.com/2011/02/tvds-on-the-record-with-masterdisks-scott-hull-3/

Masterdisk: Over 35 Years of Vinyl Mastering

I’ve just been over at the Masterdisk website editing some of the text on our Vinyl page. It’s a good article that was originally put together by Scott Hull to highlight why a) a potential mastering customer might want to master for vinyl as well as digital; and b) what’s cool and different about vinyl. Though it has a more of a sales bent than what we normally post on the blog, the content is excellent and I wanted to share it with blog readers that might not normally get to our main site. So here it is: “Masterdisk: Over 35 Years of Vinyl Mastering”. I hope you enjoy it. – jB


The Masterdisk Lathe
The Masterdisk VMS-80
Have you considered joining the recent vinyl revival? Masterdisk is one of only a few companies worldwide that has been continuously making masters for vinyl. We have more experience cutting masters than nearly any other facility. Before digital, vinyl record mastering was Masterdisk’s sole business, and we were at the top of the heap. Producers would fly to New York from England on the Concord Jet just to have their records mastered at Masterdisk. We are very proud of that heritage and master vinyl records with great attention to detail.

Not All Record Cutting Equipment is the Same.
Masterdisk has maintained one of only a few existing VMS-80 lacquer cutting lathes. It is quite simply the finest disk cutting lathe ever produced. With it’s “modern” 1980’s technology, a master cutting engineer can fit a longer side at a louder level than any other lathe. You will find that many disk cutting businesses that have sprouted up recently are not using this superior equipment. Even experienced cutting engineers can’t produce the same results on lesser quality lathes. Channel separation, distortion specs, bass quality and transient integrity are all vastly improved with our cutting equipment. And modern enhancements and modifications extend the low frequency response, improve high frequency tracking and allow us to cut a louder and more dynamic record.

Experience Counts.
Record mastering was and is an apprentice-learned craft that took several years to master. Young engineers and studios have to experiment with hundreds of variables to try to achieve a high quality cut. We’ve seen all of the problems and pitfalls that can beset a vinyl project, and we get it right the first time. Choose your vinyl mastering engineer carefully. We can make your records sound amazing!

Masterdisk VinylPlating and Pressing.
Once your record masters are cut you’ll need to get them processed, plated and pressed into vinyl records. This too is a process where lots can go wrong, so choose a pressing plant with a great reputation. Give us some information about your project and we can help match you up with the best pressing — standard or any degree of “deluxe” — for your money.

What’s Cool About Vinyl?
People really cherish their record collections. Why? It’s because records provide a musical experience that you want to come back to. Vinyl returns us to a time when music was something to set aside some time for, not just something that you put on as a background to a day’s activities. Records are a very tactile and visual experience. Full-size artwork, combined with the hi-fi sound, makes vinyl a more immersive musical experience. And vinyl holds its value much better than CDs; on the collector’s market some vinyl trades hands for three figure sums. Whether it’s being spun on a high quality playback system or an inexpensive USB turntable, vinyl is resonating with people because it provides a rich experience and value for money.

Loud Records vs Loud CDs.
There are virtually no level wars on vinyl: the length of the sides and the depth of the bass in the recording dictate how loud the sides can be cut. In some music genres — like rock, hip-hop or pop — the compression and limiting used to “make it loud” can actually make the music sound small on vinyl. Interestingly enough, a heavily limited and compressed recording cannot be cut to sound as loud as a recording that has most of its dynamics intact. The cutting lathe needs the slightly quieter sections to help make longer sides fit better. If you know in advance that you are going to make vinyl, consider asking your mastering engineer to make a separate master for vinyl or at least making a second pass that has less peak limiting and allows the music to breathe. The vinyl will sound better, and it doesn’t have to be heavily limited to sound loud.

Masterdisk VMS-80Cutting from Analog Tape.
Masteridsk is one of only a small group of dedicated mastering studios that can truly cut to vinyl directly from analog masters. Specially modified tape machines are needed to do this. There is a small computer in the lathe that needs to know what music is coming before it reaches the cutter head. This “preview” or look-ahead signal tells the lathe how much room to leave on the disk so that the next wrap (groove) will clear the previous wrap and not collide with the already cut groove. So, if you don’t have one of these specially manufactured preview tape machines, then you simply cannot cut from tape to the lathe. Many studios that claim they can cut from analog actually have to send the audio through a digital delay box, and send that digital signal to the preview and main converters. There is a lot wrong with this method, and because of that, most studios are not completely clear with their clients about their signal path to the lathe. If you have analog masters, you really should — if at all possible — plan on cutting directly from them. The record will turn out better.

Cutting from Analog Tape: Panic at the Disco
In 2008 Scott Hull cut the Panic at the Disco album Pretty. Odd. straight from tape. Scott says, “I did two distinctly different masterings for the record. One was only for the CD. It wasn’t terribly loud or compressed, but it had a competitive level and sonics for radio play and shuffling in iPods. For the vinyl, however, I re-mastered straight from the original analog mix down masters. This meant that I had to edit the heads and tails and splice the original master together. It was like it was 20 years ago! The bottom line is that the final product really sounds amazing.”

Expect the Best from Masterdisk.
Please call to talk with one our project coordinators about your upcoming cd and vinyl mastering. It doesn’t matter if you mastered your music at another facility or if you used one of our engineers. We will process your order, cut your record, and help you understand all of the details, with all of the quality, integrity and professionalism you would expect from Masterdisk.

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