During the last decade, there has been a rebirth of vinyl for almost all genres. An increasing amount of artists choose vinyl as their physical product and skip the CD entirely. While the production of CDs is hard to mess up (sound wise), vinyl is a much more fragile process. After sending hundreds of albums to cutting, I've come up with a couple of guidelines that will hopefully help you avoid too many headaches along the way.
1. Find a proper factory or broker. If you go with a broker, use one with close connection to the cutting studio and factory. Using a local broker will save you the extra time on handling VAT and shipping and often has a priority at the factory (over individual clients). Factories like Pallas Group (most often requires going through a broker) and Optimal in Germany are pretty safe choices.
2. Be sure to keep the length pr. side below 22 minutes if you want to maintain a full sound for 33RPM. 18-20 minutes is even better for 33 RPM. If you want to go the audiophile route, go 45 RPM and keep below 14 minutes. 33 RPM: 18-20 minutes pr side / 45 RPM : 12-14 minutes pr side
3. Either send the master files from mastering (filemail/wetransfer..) directly to the cutting engineer or supply them with the mastering engineer's contact info so they know who to contact if they run into any problems. Also triple double check that the master WAV files are correctly labeled for side A and B and that the accompanying TOC and checksums are there.
3. For every genre including classical, I highly recommend lacquer cutting. Even though DMM results in less noise and less chance of error by skipping the metal plating process, the sound of a lacquer cut done right can't be beat.
4. 180 gram vinyl doesn't sound better (the grooves are being pressed by the exact same stamper), but it will make the record less prone being bent out of shape/warp.
5. Always get a test pressing and check it on a playback system you know so you can pick up any errors. First and foremost - check that it's your record (yes, it has happened that someone in the chain have mixed up masters and productions) and that side A and B is correct. The side designation should be engraved in the dead wax (area between last track and label). Next sound: Often slight distortion on the loud parts and surface noise on the quiet parts is unavoidable, but excessive distortion, noise, groove echo or ugly sibilance can and should be avoided. Mechanical faults from the metal plating or production of the stampers resulting in clicks and pops should also be picked up during the QC process by checking the multiple test pressing.
Some final words: A great sounding vinyl is dependent on a great sounding recording, mix and master. Vinyl is not a magic format making everything automatically sound amazing, but when done right, it sure sounds great! Before mastering godfather Doug Sax passed away, I was lucky to discuss the vinyl cutting process in detail with him as well as getting a selection of records cut by him and Eric Boulanger at The Mastering Lab. It was an amazing eye/ear opener how much better it sounded than what I was used to and how that helped shape the masters I now deliver to cutting.
Do you want to dive even deeper? Read the comprehensive/umfassend FAQ by SST (Schallplatten Schneid Technik GmbH)
My recommended brokers and contacts:
Lydmuren (production at Optimal Media - lacquer cut)
(For Norwegian customers, Lydmuren will take care of all tax and shipping related issues and often have a priority delivery at the plant.)
Contact: Andy Pagel
Contact: Jürgen W. M.
Do you have any questions or remarks, please leave a comment below!