Vinyl Mastering

Vinyl sales are on the rise! Still not a big item in the overall revenue picture but up double from last year so lots of bands are releasing their album on vinyl as well as CD and uploads to a digital distributor.

People are now asking more and more if there is any difference between CD/Digital Distro mastering and vinyl mastering. The answer is YES!

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The (pre-) mastering process starts with the usual audio sweetening, balancing and spacing of the songs and then cutting a lacquer. Both these steps can be done by the vinyl lacquering engineer or it can be done by the same mastering engineer who is doing the CD/Digital Distro audio who then delivers the album to the lacquering engineer who then does a FLAT transfer. A flat transfer means the lacquering engineer ONLY modifies the audio where necessary in order to transfer it successfully to the lacquer.

After the lacquer is made, it is sent for plating and then goes through more processes before manufacturing starts. This can be done at one company or in three different places!

So why not use the lacquering engineer for the actual mastering work while he is cutting the lacquer? The answer is simple! You have put some thought into selecting your mastering engineer for the CD and Digital release so why would you trust someone you don't know to do the work for vinyl?

Many years ago, I learned that it is difficult for the engineer making the lacquer for vinyl directly from modern CDs. They are usually too clipped and/or limited in order to make them loud. In addition, some of them are very bright which causes the lacquering engineer to have to de-ess the audio(take away the excess vocal sibilance and equalize out the excessive high end).

I learned what not to do when I got a call from a band whose CD I mastered saying that the lacquering engineer was complaining about how my CD master was making it difficult for him to make a good laquer! So I called him and got some feedback on what to change in my approach. I also talked to another lacquering engineer for confirmation and more tips.

So these days, if my client tells me they are manufacturing vinyl as well as CDs, I recommend that they create a separate album for the vinyl maufacturing. This is not as difficult or expensive as it might sound! In fact, what I do after mastering the first song of the album for CD, is to calculate how I want to create the same song for the vinyl guy. Once I figure that out, I run the vinyl version. I make note of what I did and follow the procedure for the rest of the album. In other words, we find the appropriate settings for the next song for CD and then apply the same couple of changes that we did to the first vinyl master, and so on, until we end up with two albums. The changes are the same for every song for vinyl so you retain the same tone and balance for the whole vinyl album. Works like a charm!

I then sequence the CD and use exactly the same spacing for the vinyl album except for the Side A, Side B split. Once all audio is approved, we make the CD master for the client and a test master on CD of the vinyl work, for proofing purposes. With unattended sessions, proofs are all done via FTP. If no further changes are to be made, we upload the 24 bit audio to the vinyl mastering engineers FTP site so they don't have to work off a 16 bit CD.

So how much time does it take? Once I have the difference between the first CD master and Vinyl master noted, it only takes about 7 minutes, or so, to set up and run each vinyl version provided it is done at the same session. If you decide to do it later, it takes much more time as I have to recall all the gear for each song before I can print it.

So maybe an hour and a half to set-up and run the vinyl master plus do a separate sequence. Online mastering charges $10. per extra version so $100. for a ten song album as long as done at the same time as the album.

Those that have done it are very satisfied with the results!

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6 Responses to Vinyl Mastering

  1. Steve says:

    It degrades your sound to save baitnwddh also, so it’s destined to sound low fidelity.On Topic: Wavelab is still the champ for mastering and editing on native systems. Good job Steinberg! Now if only you’d port Wavelab to Mac, so that I don’t need to go to and fro PC to Mac (Currently avoiding Bootcamp). Otherwise Bias may have my monies sooner or later. v5 and v6 still does it better than Bias IMHO though, ATM.

  2. The question is who, and why ? The RMS measurement of of the vinyl version is -8.5, which is right at the top end of the loudest you can go without damaging the sound , and it already has the harsh, aggressive, distorted sound it seems that Rick Rubin wanted. So as a mastering engineer, I would see no reason to boost it further – simply balancing the EQ and levels of the tracks would be fine, and I’m sure Ted Jensen would have the same opinion.

  3. Let’s start with a very brief explanation of what we do here. We do vinyl mastering, which means cutting a lacquer master disc on a cutting lathe. This disc can be played a handful of times (some djs do this, but the lacquer is quite soft and will wear out with repeated use), but primarily this is the disc which will be sent to a plating facility and turned into a metal stamper used to press vinyl records. We can cut multiple copies of a record, but each one will be slightly unique and requires an entire pass just like the first one. And it is not particularly cheap! If you don’t have any experience with self-releasing a record and need to know where to start, see the bottom of this page for a quick primer on what’s involved!

  4. Hi, nice article. I really like it!

  5. Hugh Stevens says:

    One has to get the info from the source, the mastering engineers. You will be pretty hard pressed to find examples of CDs and LPs that are actually mastered from the same exact feed. That would be in effect be the same “mastering.” The one prime deliberate example still being the James Boyk Pictures at an Exhibition” LP/CD comparison package. Steve Hoffman tells us he performs certain tweaks to each version when mastering the same title both for LP and CD and/or SACD in an attempt to get them to sound as much alike and like what he wants them to sound as possible. So he masters the two differently in an attempt to make them as similar as possible and to his ears as good as possible. There are a lot of mastering engineers that will offer up a great deal of info on how they mastered various titles. But you won’t get anywhere through forensics IMO. That won’t tell you what a tape they used, what deck they used to play the tape, what they did to get the propper alignment, etc. etc. There is a fair amount of general info on the mastering that went on in various facilities and on various labels throughout their histories when it comes to vinyl. That can be marginally useful.But after all that one still has to consider the often stark differences in the sonic signatures of various vinyl playback systems. This renders results far from universal. Any results you get have to be with an asterix stating that this is with whatever specific vinyl playback equipment was used.

  6. Gold Price says:

    There are rarely, if ever, any ultrasonic frequencies for vinyl to preserve. In audio recordings, such frequencies, when present, are normally low-energy noise imparted by electrical equipment and storage media used during recording, mixing, and mastering. Although some musical instruments can produce low-energy overtones in the ultrasonic range, they could only be on the vinyl if every piece of equipment and storage medium in the recording, mixing, and mastering stages was able to preserve them—which is unlikely even in modern recordings, since the average microphone or mixing console is designed only with audible frequencies in mind. Even if the overtones were preserved all the way to the mastering stage, mono and stereo lacquer cutting equipment typically includes a lowpass filter to avoid overheating the cutting head with ultrasonic frequencies.

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