The making of …….. Vinyl Records: A brief overview of the production of vinyl records to precede a review as to why all vinyl records are no longer equal!
A source is used to produce a lacquer, that source is called the master. Regardless of the format [of that master] it remains the general term used for whatever is used at the beginning of production of a record. The lacquer [can be of varying size, 7”, 10”, 12” and 14”] produced by way of cutting a metal [often aluminium] disc coated in nitrocellulose on a lathe is then “plated”. Each lacquer is one sided and goes to make up a single side of a record.
The plating of the lacquer is a process which sees the lacquer disc passed through various stages to produce a “metal part”. This involves the lacquer being coated in a thin layer of silver nitrate [the finer this is applied the better the end product], the disc is then washed in stannous chloride before being electroplated with nickel. The end product when the lacquer is removed from the plate is a metal disc that has ridges rather than grooves, a negative to the positive cut lacquer.
Records can and sometimes are pressed from this plate [if formed into a stamper], often referred to as the “one step” process. The amount of records this stamper can produce is limited with that limit being of an unknown number that often varies. This plate is called the “father” or sometimes referred to as the master plate and dependent on the number of units required in the “one step” process may necessitate the need for multiple lacquers being cut per side of the record, clearly a more costly method of production.
More common to record production is the “three step” process. This is when the father plate is used to form a mother plate, by oxidizing the father and re-plating, producing a metal disc that duplicates the lacquer, a metal playable disc. This “mother” is again oxidized and then produces the required stamper plates.
A rough guide to what can be produced per plate is something like this:
One father can produce up to 10 mothers.
One mother can produce 10 stampers.
Each stamper is used to produce approximately 1000 records.
That’s the “one step” and “three step” process; there is a “two step” process which involves utilising the master plate, the initial “father” produced in the plating process and producing a mother [for future use] and forming the “father” into a stamper. Again, the numbers of records than can be produced from this stamper is and does vary from very low numbers to thousands.
Just a brief note on Direct Metal Masters, DMM. As these discs have a copper layer they do not require the “silvering” process and can have the nickel directly applied. A DMM preferred over a lacquer as it allows for deeper cut grooves [required in some music] and for longer “programs”. A sapphire is used to cut lacquers and a diamond is used in DMM.
That covers the broad overview, a fairly straightforward process but within that there are numerous options open to artists [those managing the catalogue], licencing distributers, mastering engineers and pressing plants in getting a vinyl record out to the customer. From choice of “master”, mastering decisions based on the choice and availability of the master used, speed of master, type of cut, type of vinyl etc. Even opting for quieter vinyl pressings is an option [with of course the impact that has on what we hear]. Just based on these options available it is patently clear that all vinyl is not equal. Though these are often clear and obvious calls; “We’ll put this popular title out as coloured vinyl with a number / half speed master and cut at 45rpm / pressed to one sided “raw” vinyl”. The mix and match approach is gaining momentum to present the customer with “the best” pressing and or collectors piece. Vinyl weight is the biggest thing across the pressing board these days, if it’s not a minimum 180 gram it’s not worthy of an “audiophile tag it seems!
Yet, if any of these processes have an error then it makes for a substandard record. I’ll continue to say, quality control through the pressing process is and does make for the biggest impact on the final record. One of the reasons I think a process such as utilising a “manual” press makes such a big difference, something QRP in Kansas are doing for their Ultra High Quality Pressings, allowing for better quality control is key for me in this process and helps to tie in any and all of the other choices. But even after a record is pressed all the good work that goes into that can be undone by rushing the cooling of these higher weight pressed records.
This covers a broad pallet and shows just how much is involved and demonstrates just how different records can be produced with the many options available at each stage. As this site is simply Hendrix vinyl I'll follow this piece with a detailed look at Hendrix pressings and present some detail that covers the apparent differences between vinyl pressed in the European Union [EU] and that of vinyl produced in the United States [US].
Note: The above piece may well be edited at some stage.