Is vinyl better than CD or MP3

The special thing about vinyl

About mastering, digitization, restoration and more
by Nicolay Ketterer,

Copy your favorite records onto your computer or save your vinyl genome as a recording studio and even consciously digitize the vinyl aesthetic ... the groove is far from a thing of the past. On the contrary, vinyl is currently getting more and more attention from consumers as well as from labels and musicians. In our special we investigate the question of where the perceived »warmth« in vinyl actually comes from, and the mastering legends Bob Ludwig and Bob Katz, among others, provided us with surprising answers. We also show examples of the role vinyl can play in self-marketing for musicians. In the second part we deal with the digitization, archiving and restoration of vinyl recordings.

 

And here we show you why vinyl sounds the way it sounds!

 

Vinyl transfer? One might think that the issue primarily affects listeners who want to save their records on their computers. Sound professionals also come into contact with it to remaster or restore old material that is only available on vinyl. In the course of the current vinyl revival, a few new tasks arose: Arcade Fire, for example, had an album mastered directly from a previously cut record template - because of its own sound - Beck transferred the record for the MP3 download to the vinyl version of his current album Morning Phase to let. The phenomenon of vinyl and its own sound, which - especially after the triumph of the CD - always entertained a sworn fan base, is becoming more and more important due to the retro trend. Time to dig deeper: what exactly is that, the vinyl sound that is usually described as "warm"?


The human component in music production - Moritz Gröger - Tonstudio Hertzkammer

In this episode we talk to producer Moritz Gröger, producer, engineer and founder of the hertzkammer recording studio in Cologne, about his career and about the component “humanity” in today's productions. It is about how humanity is defined in music at all, through which factors and components it becomes noticeable in the song, and how it can be emphasized in recording, in producing or in mixing and editing and how it can be positively or negatively influenced. Have fun listening! This episode is brought to you by our partner Focal!

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The medium of vinyl

From a purely technical point of view, vinyl is anything but ideal: a signal-to-noise ratio of a maximum of 40 dB, poor channel separation between the two stereo channels, background noises, crackling and rumbling, not to mention the impermanence caused by repeated playback. At least - in the frequency range, playback up to 100 kHz is theoretically possible. But the key point: Vinyl is mainly about the sound changes that the medium brings with it, the »media break«. Why does vinyl sound different than a CD and different from the master it came from? One of the reasons for the perceived warmth, according to mastering engineer Bob Katz, is the »phase shifts between the channels, which add a pleasant sounding› blurring ‹to the stereo image.

The perceived stereo separation, image and spatial depth is improved. «The original master does not contain the phase shifts, they arise when cutting and scanning a record, as the moving masses of the cutting stylus and pickup overshoot and undershoot and the depth of sound also creates harmonic distortions As Bob Katz relates, “Some of the distortion that occurs is also perceived to improve channel separation, depth and warmth. Distortion means compression and always a change in the transient reproduction. "His mastering colleague Bob Ludwig adds:" In some cases, a cheap pickup system that does not have a clean treble reproduction can be responsible for the perceived warmth.

Nowadays the vast majority of new pop records are produced from digital sources - often 24 bit / 96 kHz - and even critics mostly note that the vinyl version ends up sounding warmer. Losses in the height spectrum play a role here due to the physical nature of vinyl, which reinforces the ›warm‹ impression. If you compare a record made entirely analogue from the 1970s or 1980s with an early digitized CD of the corresponding album, the CD usually sounds garish, for example due to poor digital converters and a lack of dithering. «In addition to the general sound change due to the nature of the material, the position of the song also plays a role a roll on the plate. Katz: "Cutting a record can affect the sound, while the needle goes from the outside to the inside of the record, where the resolution is practically lower and the high range loses clarity."

Phono "in the box". Some phono preamplifiers also offer RIAA equalization as an option that can be switched off. If you amplify your records in the computer without equalization, you can also carry out RIAA equalization with a good equalizer plug-in.

The Radial Engineering J33 phono preamplifier also outputs microphone levels if required, so that existing microphone preamplifiers can be used for catch-up amplification and sound coloring. (Photo: Radial)
Phono preamp for all situations in the hi-fi world: The Simaudio Moon LP 5.3 offers not only cinch connections but also symmetrical XLR outputs. (Photo: Simaudio)
Phono preamp for all situations in the hi-fi world: The Simaudio Moon LP 5.3 offers not only cinch connections but also symmetrical XLR outputs. (Photo: Simaudio)
The phono equalization can also be done in the computer: The Waves Q10 equalizer provides a corresponding preset at the same time. The advantage: An equalizer plug-in works theoretically even more precisely in the sense of the RIAA curve than most - even expensive - hardware solutions. However, your own taste must decide whether the working method helps the desired result.

Vinyl "loudness"

A loudness race like the one with CDs does not make much sense with vinyl: Here, the medium of excessive loudness has put a stop to it, so to speak. The stylus of the turntable does not allow excessive volume, because otherwise it jumps out of the groove, the deflection would be too strong. And even with the "feasible" volume you have to be careful, says Bob Katz: "If you cut a master too loud, sibilants distort terribly." Compression and limiting do not lead to loudness either, as Robin Schmidt of 24-96 Mastering explains: “Loudness is done while editing. The extent to which limiting or multiband compression is used only has a secondary influence on the loudness of a record.

Limiting is useless - cutting off the short peaks does not make vinyl louder. Above all, however, with clipping, i.e. active distortion, which is often used today for CD volume, there are only disadvantages: On the one hand, as mentioned, there is no volume on vinyl, and the distortion is much stronger on the medium. So it may be that the CD master sounds okay at the desired volume, but if you press the vinyl from the same source, the result sounds very 'sawing' - you can't foresee that without a test pressing. «Robin Schmidt's way of working : "For a vinyl master, I always give off a completely uncut dynamic, and the person who sits at the cutting machine will make the best compromise in terms of dynamic range."

Are these differences even familiar to decision-makers in industry? "Not always. As an artist, you should make it clear to your record company or management that you want the vinyl release to be cut from a separate master. It is often the case that the people who do the processing in between - A & R's etc. - are mostly unaware of it. "Bob Katz shares the concerns:" You would be surprised at how much vinyl is pulled from the super-compressed masters, which then simply cut more quietly! «That is also a cost factor; He goes about a completely different approach to loudness-oriented mastering and dynamic mastering that is purely optimized for sound quality, in order to deliver optimal results for the respective goal. "It would take about a day and a half instead of a day to master a separate version, and that's expensive for the artist."

The bass range is summed in mono

Another sound change takes place in the bass components: "With vinyl, the bass range is traditionally mono-summed," says Robin Schmidt. "This means that the grooves do not have to be so wide, and you get more playing time on one side of the record or better sound quality per playing time." In general, up to 20 minutes of playing time per record side are considered problem-free Grooves need to be narrower. Conversely, maxi singles were popular in the 1980s because of their potential sound and were also referred to as "supersound singles" - due to the larger groove width available for the shorter material, more bass and volume were possible.

Small 7-inch singles, on the other hand, rarely sounded optimal, not least because the music here mainly plays in the narrow "interior", where, according to Bob Katz, resolution and high-pitched parts are lost. Back to the bass: The mono summation is done by the cutting technician himself on site, not in the normal mastering process. "There is little point in doing it beforehand - as long as you are not sitting in front of a cutting machine, you simply advise a setting - the person at the cutting machine knows it," says Schmidt. Apart from the mono summation, the bass component is completely removed from a selected frequency, as Bob Katz explains. “Not always, but often: The resolution of the low frequencies is subject to compromises when it comes to accommodating more playing time on one side of the record. Very low frequency components - below 40 Hz - are often cut off completely. «The problem of the» jumping needle «in the volume of a record due to excessive deflection also applies to the intensity of the bass reproduction. Bob Ludwig remembers his experiences with "The Band", from whose record Up On Cripple Creek he took over mastering and vinyl editing in the 1970s.

“As with all records cut loudly, songs with a lot of bass would make the needle jump - especially back when people were using a lot of bad pickup systems for listening. When editing, it was always a question of how many of the cheap turntables would jump and whether the resulting return of the compression would be acceptable. "The sound of the" band "was based on ample bass volume, it was part of its own aesthetic - the right one A compromise between bass and volume was required. “I cut reference copies of their album The Big Pink for them. A union cutting engineer in New York who cut the final press then simply low-cut at 80 Hz for simplicity. The musicians weren't particularly impressed by the result, and I was supposed to cut their records afterwards. "

>> Column - Vinyl turns listening to music into an event <<

Vinyl sound for digital albums

The indie band Arcade Fire deliberately wanted to use the sound of the records on their second album The Suburbs in order to give the CD version the typical "warm" vinyl aesthetic. For this purpose, the late mastering engineer George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York cut each song onto its own 12-inch acetate - in order to have maximum groove width and bass reproduction. Acetates are often created as a test reference before a die is made at the end for pressing a record support; however, they can only be played a few dozen times. With Arcade Fire, the acetate was transferred to the computer the first time it was played. A current mastering project by Bob Ludwig, the new Beck album Morning Phase, also relies on a vinyl transfer: some vinyl releases now offer free MP3 downloads (for example the "Back In Black" series by Universal Music), whereby this digital version is derived from the CD master.

That should be different with the Beck album: For the download belonging to the vinyl - the MP3 set is advertised as "The Vinyl Experience" - Ludwig transferred the record to the computer. »The concept of the vinyl experience is something that Beck's management offers with the affiliated artists. To do this, I played the test pressing of Morning Phase on my well-tempered turntable with a great Dynavector pickup system via a modified Manley Steelhead phono preamp. In doing so, I recorded the need to attach the needle at the beginning and the outlet groove at the end - you can hear that it is really a vinyl pressing! The concept of transferring vinyl for the download is only implemented by a few artists. «The» conventional «download comes from the normal master.

This is how vinyl works: the RIAA curve

Apart from the aesthetic sound changes that artists like Beck and Arcade Fire consciously take with them, vinyl also undergoes a complete sound deformation that the listener normally hardly notices: If you accidentally connect your turntable to the aux input instead of the phono input connected to his hi-fi amplifier, the only thing that accommodates it is a thin, garish sound that completely dispenses with a bass foundation. The reason: A record contains a "built-in" equalizer curve that lowers the bass by −17 dB (500 Hz: −3 dB) at 50 Hz and increases the treble by 3 dB from 2,120 Hz: the RIAA curve - one EQ curve specified by the Recording Industry Association of America. This corresponds to a technical necessity: the bass components, shown in full, would require grooves that were too wide and could not be scanned by the needle due to the vibrations that arise.

The high range would be drowned out in the noise without additional increase on the vinyl. You need the right »counterpart« to play it back: A phono preamplifier not only amplifies the signal but also provides the counterpart to the RIAA curve in order to finally reproduce the record as the music was intended. Aside from the RIAA specification, there were other standards that never caught on. Bob Ludwig: "The RIAA curve came up around 1956 and was used worldwide from 1960 - one of the few globally valid standards!"

The sound of vinyl. The tape machine as an analog intermediate station in mastering is already known - it is about the dynamic and sonic effects of tape saturation. It is different with records, but the record and the entire playback technology have an influence on the sound, which is why vinyl is now also used for mastering purposes. Here are two prominent examples ...

The Arcade Fire CD The Suburbs was mastered from a specially cut vinyl template.
The current Beck album Morning Phase: Bob Ludwig transferred a test press to the computer for the MP3 download of the vinyl version.

Signal chain for the transfer

The "one" vinyl sound does not exist - the result arises from the interplay of turntable, pickup system including needle and phono preamplifier (and digital converter). The ideal setup for a vinyl transfer - assuming a corresponding level of quality - is subject to your own taste. Time to take a closer look at the components: Below are a few examples of one of these components of a professional transfer.

The phono preamp

Almost every phono preamp in the demanding consumer sector already contains a fairly accurate variant of the RIAA equalization curve. The difference between phono preamplifiers lies primarily in the inherent sound of the amplification and in the general sound quality. Practical features are also important for working in the studio: Is the device properly shielded to avoid hum interference? Does the output level match the input of the digital converter? Most hi-fi solutions with cinch connections deliver an output level of −10 dBU, while studio converters often expect +4 dBU at the input. Some converter models offer switchable input levels, such as the RME Multiface II (three switchable level levels) or the Lynx Aurora series with switchable levels between −10 and +4 dBU. As a rough rule: jack or cinch connections: −10 dBU, XLR (line): +4 dBU.If the “missing” level is subsequently made up digitally in the computer, both the quantization noise is increased and the resolution is reduced.

A solid all-rounder: the Radial J33 phono preamp was primarily intended for DJs who wanted to connect their turntables to a regular mixer. In addition to the cinch outputs with −10 dBU, there are also XLR connections that output the phono signal equalized to microphone level - an interesting and appealing concept to use "clean" microphone preamps that are already available in a studio as a catch-up amplifier (This is exactly what a phono preamplifier does when amplifying). However, the following applies: Even the color that is still present in a semi-transparent sounding microphone preamp does not necessarily have to work for vinyl. The Radial costs 179 euros in the store.

The counter-program: A respected candidate in hi-fi circles is the Simaudio Moon LP5.3 phono preamp - at around 1,500 dollars, it is not exactly cheap, but it is one of the few phono preamps with balanced XLR outputs with + 4 dBU level (in addition to −10 dBU cinch connections) - if you need the high level, you will find a very good-sounding complete solution here. Another high-end candidate is the Manley Steelhead from the Hi-Fi series by the American tube equipment manufacturer, mentioned by Bob Ludwig. The model is available in different versions, is limited to an output level of −10 dBU and in the current "Steelhead II" version still costs around 8,000 euros recommended retail price. More like a theoretical option.

outlook

In the second part of our special we focus on suitable turntables, pick-up systems and lossless playback methods using laser turntables or video scanning, which is particularly useful for damaged and / or material in need of restoration. When it comes to restoration, we show tricks on how to manually remove click noises from a waveform - and thus bypass the artifacts that practically all "declicker" tools generate.


Part 2

Now that we've covered the basics of vinyl in the first part, let's take a closer look at the cutting process: How is vinyl made? And which options should a band choose when it comes to self-marketing for its own disc: Does 180 gram vinyl really offer added value, and does the look of colored vinyl and picture discs pay off - or are there sound compromises? Mastering and cutting technicians again provide surprising answers. We also delve into the question of how to optimize your own mixes for vinyl. Another fallacy: vinyl as a purely analog medium - why records now almost always go through a digital converter during production.

“If a mastering engineer wants to have me cut, I offer him to pay the hotel when he comes by!” Says Björn Bieber from “Flight 13”, a vinyl and CD duplication company in Karlsruhe. The physical process of what happens when the cutting head cuts the heights has to be experienced. "There are only a few mastering engineers who have ever seen an editing table and know what happens with vinyl."

The cooperation and the knowledge of the process is important, otherwise the artist will complain in the end because the master delivered did not allow a better compromise. "The heights in particular are always a problem with vinyl." A physical understanding helps. There are no restrictions on digital mixes, so listening habits and mixes have changed accordingly. “At the beginning, many people master far too high a level for vinyl.” He then has to intervene, lower the highs or simply cut more quietly. Why it is like that? More on that later.

Development of cutting machines

Bieber's first vinyl cutting table was an old Neumann VMS-70. “It came from a wealthy Siemens plant manager who privately set up a large analogue recording studio with a vinyl cutting machine in the basement. He switched them on over the weekend to measure them, twice in a row, and to write test reports. That was his hobby! "

Bieber cut with this machine for the first few years, then the successor was up for sale in England, a VMS-80 - a rare opportunity. He called, got in the car and drove off, he says, putting the money on the table. "A VMS-80 sells for up to 100,000 euros, without an associated mixer for 50,000 euros." Neumann was practically the market leader in vinyl cutting, only in America there was competition with the Scully company. The reason for the spontaneous enthusiasm: The new machine marked a generation leap. »Up until now, Neumann had always built its cutting machines on cutting tables from the 1930s. The VMS-80 was a completely new design, which among other things offers a microprocessor-controlled groove spacing. «Now more playing time per side was possible. »Deep Purple's double album Made In Japan from the 1970s would have been a normal album in the 1980s. The VMS-70 was already relatively intelligent, but the grooves weren't made any closer, otherwise they would have touched. "

The VMS-80 allows 25 minutes per side, with only a small drop in volume. He measures the groove width when cutting through experience. “With the VMS-80 you don't have to do as much yourself as a technician as you did before. The machine shows, for example, how much space on the plate side is already occupied. "

“ALMOST ALL RECORDS THROUGH DIGITAL CONVERTERS TO DIGITAL DELAY THE SIGNAL DURING CUTTING.”

Mixer for cutting

When you look into the cutting room, you notice an expansive mixer specially designed for the cutting machine, a Neumann SP-79, of which only 29 were built. What do you need a separate desk for? “Not just one source is fed into the cutting machine, but two separate stereo signals. The first signal serves as a reference that tells the machine which signal is about to come so that it can align itself. The second, delayed signal goes to the cutting head and is cut. ”The principle is similar to what digital limiters with“ lookahead ”function use today and work with the corresponding latency; the »preview« serves to avoid being »surprised« by strong signal changes. In the case of vinyl, for example, the »warning« is used for the next groove width.

Vinyl cut = digitization?

There is hardly a vinyl record that has not seen a digital converter in production. »A fact that many do not notice: the signal that is cut is always digital, even with a normal tape machine as the source. You can keep the entire signal chain of an album analog - nevertheless, the digitally delayed signal is the one that is cut. The tape machine used to have a delay loop and a second playback head that provided the delayed signal. Today almost every provider makes the delay digital. «With a completely analogue tape recorder signal chain, all he can think of is the Frankfurt-based provider Schallplatten-Schneid-Technik Brüggemann.

In addition to processing the digital delay loop, Bieber's Neumann console offers equalizers, for example, to sum the signal below 300 or 150 Hz in mono. He only uses the 150 Hz setting for short productions where there is space for larger grooves on the record, otherwise it always sums up at 300 Hz. In practice, you can imagine the result tonally as follows: the bass drum and bass are mostly on the right track anyway in the middle of the mix. "Mono summing intervenes, for example, when a stand tom starts in the stereo image or when hardcore guitars with a lot of bass are heavily left / right in the mix."

Highs = heat

There is also a so-called acceleration limiter in the mixer, which lowers the entire signal when the treble reaches a predefined volume - in order to limit the acceleration of the cutting stylus. “When cutting high-altitude material, the cutting stylus sometimes accelerates to a thousand times the speed of the earth and has to be slowed down, otherwise it will burn up. The height range is always a problem with records: the louder the highs, the faster the head heats up because the acceleration is greater. When the cymbal is light, a lot of current flows through the coils in the cutting stylus. With techno, a hi-hat hit is enough and the temperature goes up, ”says Bieber. The static extremes or very high-altitude garage punk rock, which always moves on the same level, are problematic. The system switches off at 180 degrees. “The rise in temperature can be slowed down to a certain extent by using helium. If you don't cut techno and often go to extremes, you can sometimes do without it. "

Another setting when editing describes the so-called identification groove: »It sits between the tracks as a visual orientation for the listener. The identification groove can be modulated, i.e. it can contain a signal such as applause for live albums or for smooth title transitions. Normally you always have to press a marker for the identification groove when a song is finished, then the feed runs faster. «The groove has no influence on the result, nor does it create a pause - it has to be created in the source material. »Unfortunately, many mastering technicians do not deliver montages with individual tracks and crossfades for possible transitions - instead they create a long track for each album side. Then I have to request a time sheet to know where the song transitions are, otherwise I won't be able to cut the groove. "

In general, the following applies: Cutting a record actually only works in one piece - with exceptions: »Occasionally, customers want a bonus song that can only be heard by putting the needle back on. In that case, you have to cut a run-out groove and a new run-in groove. That's practically two 'sessions' on one side of the record. «In addition to hidden tracks, which should remain hidden during normal listening, the approach is also suitable for separating bonus material from the continuity and cohesion of the normal album. Another way to personalize your own album: The run-out groove inside the record is engraved with a signature by the cutting engineer at the end - or with an individual message.


How the sound gets into the groove. A few work steps and cutting machines are required before the vinyl edition is finished. Here, too, there are some special features to consider

01 Neumann VMS-80 cutting machine at Flight 13 in Karlsruhe
02 Part of the cutting machine: The Neumann SP-79 mixer with which, among other things, The mono summation and the "height content" of the material are set. It also supplies two separate stereo signals: the first as a "preview" for aligning the cutting machine, the second, digitally delayed signal is cut.
03 Heights mean heat in the cutting head: here the Neumann SX-74, which can withstand up to 200 degrees - and is cooled with helium if necessary. The feed (right part) "pushes" the cutting head further and further inwards. If the so-called identification groove, the optical distance between the songs, occurs between two tracks, the feed rotates briefly faster to create a larger groove spacing.
04 From the »stamper«, an inverted copy of the grooves, the records are finally pressed - after a series of intermediate stations.
05 The special case of a picture disc: Here, vinyl only serves as a carrier material, with printed paper on top. The actual grooves are in an overlying transparent film. Bieber: "The problem with Picture Disks: As soon as the needle is over the paper, additional noise is created."
06 Last evolutionary step DMM: The technology has fans, but also critics. Bob Ludwig: “Some people think that DMM sounds metallic. I never had that impression with our system. «The price is also seen as an obstacle: the licenses for direct metal mastering are expensive. While there are still five machines in Germany, only the Scientology sect still has machines in the USA - for duplicating L. Ron Hubbard's speeches.
07 Macro shot of a record surface including dust particles. The different groove deflection can be clearly seen. Bieber: "The audio signal is mapped horizontally, the stereo signal in depth." With a mono signal, the depth between the two channels remains static. (Photo: Shane Gavin)

Test run

In the first run, Bieber simulates cutting, similar to a burning simulation when burning a CD; the machine simulates the cutting process with the feed without cutting. Bieber lets every production run through at least once completely as a simulation. "The 'space-consuming' factors of stereo width and bass can never be assessed precisely in advance, especially with a long production - in the end there may not be enough space if you just start cutting." Map stereo image. "The audio signal is mapped horizontally, the stereo signal in depth." With a mono signal, the depth would always be the same because only a horizontal signal is mapped.

This is how vinyl is made

Then it starts: Bieber cuts what is known as an acetate film cut. He makes a short test cut on the outer edge to assess the height range. The screen of the cutting machine provides a microscopic enlargement of the grooves, which is impractical for the work, Bieber prefers to look directly into the microscope. There you can see the burin and chip that is sucked off directly before the cut. “I'll cut a groove, and this groove will also be pressed later. But first you need a version of it that can withstand the high temperature and pressure of pressing. The acetates are highly sensitive, a metal image is required for pressing. In addition, the acetate is not conductive and it cannot simply be sent to an electroplating shop for further processing. ”This is why the cut acetate is first silver-plated and made conductive. The metal layer provides the so-called "father" in which the grooves are inverted. The "mother" is deducted from the result, which again depicts the grooves "right" around - positively. Of these, in turn, the »sons« or stampers, which are used for the actual pressing so that the grooves land in the vinyl the »right way«. A stamper is good for pressing approx. 2,000 to 3,000 vinyl copies, after 7 to 10 stampers the nut should be replaced.

180 grams or less?

Time to take a look at the result itself: What does a band that opts for vinyl as a self-marketing tool have to consider with the different versions?

What is the point of the »180 gram fetish«, the particularly thick vinyl version with which current pressings are often advertised? "That has no effect on the sound, it is just of higher quality to the touch," says Bieber.

Whether the increased mass is less prone to deformation? "On the contrary: because of their bulk, the 180-gram plates hold their straight shape more heavily than the usual 130 grams." The labels, which are stuck on both sides, have a stabilizing effect: »Yellow lines are printed on the back of the stickers that indicate the direction of the paper fibers. In the end, the fibers on both sides of the record have to point in the same direction, otherwise they create tension in the opposite direction and the record warps. «The current standard of 130 grams was even undermined in the past, sometimes the record weight was 100 grams, says Beaver.

colored or "clear" vinyl

Often, records with different colors are particularly desirable for collectors due to their optical impression - it is downright seductive to want to stand out as a band with an unusual color when marketing itself. When it comes to colored vinyl, there are myths about sound quality and manufacturing. "Some colors, such as white, supposedly contain metal particles, which is supposed to degrade the sound quality." However, Bieber's practical experience is clear: "I've never heard a difference."

Picture discs

However, the situation is completely different with picture discs, which have an image as a background instead of a color. The vinyl only serves as a carrier material, on which there is printed paper with the respective motif. "The actual groove is just a very thin film," explains Bieber. “The problem: As soon as the needle is over the paper, it rustles. Since the vinyl is not decisive for the sound here, only re-granulate, i.e. shredded, reconditioned vinyl, is used for the production of picture discs. "

If, however, recycled vinyl is used for a normal record instead of new, so-called "virgin vinyl", caution should be exercised: records and their label stickers cannot be separated cleanly during recycling, which is why the signal-to-noise ratio is also reduced here. Meanwhile, Bieber has experimented with picture discs and has already pressed in Pope postage stamps to try out.

Optimize master for vinyl

In the last part we examined the basic approach why artificial loudness and limiting do not work with vinyl, and we took a closer look at the aforementioned bass mono summing. In addition, there are other aesthetic approaches for vinyl production in order to deliver a “meaningful” master so that the result does not have to be completely changed and compromised during tailoring - as Robin Schmidt from 24-96 explains: “It's very good to talk to a cutting technician. Roughly three points make up the limitations when cutting: The material must not have too many bass components - which is a problem especially with extremely bass-heavy music. Otherwise you have to cut the master very quietly. Second, there should be as few out-of-phase signals as possible in the low frequencies. The phase deflection is the lateral movement in the groove, which requires the width of the groove and causes a strong deflection.

If you have a stereo synthesizer that is still very wide at 50 Hz, the vinyl engineer cannot cut it. That is why it is mono-sumed. It is best to learn to hear it, but that is a matter of strong experience. When in doubt, analyzers and phase position displays help. ”Out-of-phase signals in the higher range are less of a problem for the cutting process.

The third problem - the highs already mentioned: “It doesn't matter whether the mix sounds bright - it's about how many highs are combined in a very short time. S-sounds, sibilants and cymbals are problematic. An S-sound has a lot of treble components. You can understand the intensity very well in the spectral editor in Wavelab. "

Bob Ludwig sees it in a similar way: “Nowadays it is all the more important to control S-sounds because they use a lot of energy and generate a high amplitude. High-frequency grooves can only be reproduced properly by the best pickups, otherwise a hissing sound is created. The best way to control S-sounds in the mix is ​​because the de-esser then only z. B. affects the vocal track, while de-essing compromises the brightness of the entire track during mastering. "

But even if there is only one master: "It's worth going over to a vinyl master with a de-esser so that the extreme sibilants are slightly reduced, but the music itself is not influenced too much," adds Schmidt. Classic drum computers with their “spray can hi-hats”, as Schmidt calls them, and which Bieber also mentioned, are also problematic - because a lot of altitude energy is concentrated almost statically there. A lot of empirical values ​​play a role in de-essing, he says. »If it's important: to an experienced mastering engineer in such cases. A good vinyl cutting engineer can do that too, although he may intervene a little harder than a mastering engineer would. "

"IF YOU WANT TO EXPLORE THE SOUND POSSIBILITIES, YOU SHOULD GO TO AN INDEPENDENT CUTTING ENGINEER."

Sound vs. Security

Harder intervention? This is reminiscent of the story of Bob Ludwig in the last issue, when a union cutting engineer for the record company was too "safe" and simply cut the bass foundation of an album with a low cut at 80 Hz. “That's how mastering started in independent mastering studios, because those who cut the records beforehand simply had different motives,” says Schmidt.

“The cutters worked for a record company or a press shop, and they made it very important that there would be no technical problems or returns, they were concerned about safety, not artistic nuances.” Today it is no different within a press shop. »Cutters in press shops are very professional and good, but they always tend to be on the safe side for their own press shop, so there are no complaints. You then cut with a little less bass, less treble, more quietly and with a higher level of intrusive mono summation. If you want to get what is possible in terms of sound, then you should go to an independent cutting engineer. He is not paid to ensure that there are no returns, but rather that the result sounds as good as possible. These can only be small differences - it becomes particularly interesting when the record is to be cut longer than average or quite loudly or the customer is very meticulous. Then the result can make a big difference. "

Accordingly, he exchanged ideas with Björn Bieber, the two of whom have worked together for years. »In the meantime, I'm trying to do my Masters in such a way that the cutting engineer doesn't have to readjust anything unless it has to be. I write that in the master’s as well. And if it has to be: ›Please get in touch‹ - then I would like to know why so that I can learn from it. The exchange between us makes a lot of sense. «It takes years to develop a feeling for what works and what doesn't, to automatically understand the» vinyl framework «. "With every disc you make, you learn more."

outlook

In the next part, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to the transfer, suitable turntables, pick-up systems and loss-free playback without a needle - using a laser turntable and video scanning. We also look at the topic of restoration and the manual removal of click noises. We also show how to emulate the vinyl aesthetic with a plugin - and why vinyl collector's boxes can be decisive for the chart success of niche bands.


3rd part

If you want to digitize your records, you should focus on quality when transferring them. Here you can find out what you have to consider when transferring your vinyl treasures into the digital domain!

A lot of details play a role when digitizing records. We also take a look at the loss-free playback possible without a needle. First we look at this process without the final restoration, whereby mastering experts also provide valuable tips.

»You have to consider: the record has a mechanical scanning; that means it sounds different on every record player, ”says Björn Bieber from Flight 13 Duplication, summarizing the individuality of the vinyl experience. Which brings us to the topic: We consider turntables, cartridges and styluses in terms of a transfer.

Pickup system and stylus

Similar to a guitar pickup, a vinyl pickup system including needle also offers different sound properties. There are basically two different systems with which the mechanical movement of the needle is converted into tension:

MOVING MAGNET (MM): A magnet is attached to the needle, which is moved into a fixed coil when the record groove is deflected. This induces a voltage.

MOVING COIL (MC): the opposite principle - instead of the magnet, there is a coil on the needle that is moved by a fixed magnet to induce the voltage. The moving coil system came onto the market later and is considered to be "more dynamic" with better height sensing, since the coil on the needle has less mass than a magnet and can therefore move faster. The disadvantage of MC systems is the lower output line, which has an effect on the signal-to-noise ratio - here, around 10 dB must be additionally amplified. Many phono preamps can be switched between the two types. Pre-amplifiers without switching are usually designed for MM systems.

The sound of a system is largely a matter of taste - personal taste does not necessarily have to correspond to the most expensive system. A selection in the affordable range: The MM system "OM 10 Super" from the Danish manufacturer Ortofon (approx. 80 euros) serves as a good "all-rounder". Another popular all-rounder: The AT-95E system from Audio Technica, which is considered a price / performance hit at 22 euros: The system offers rich sound and brilliance, but can accentuate sibilance unpleasantly.

Higher-quality systems sometimes highlight the »downsides« of a record - the quality of the pressing and condition - but the higher resolution pays off with good pressing. During a transfer, it can be worthwhile to use systems as "equalizers": very bright sounding pickups can work well for a duller pressure, conversely, "warm" sounding pickups can help worn, "hissing" records to achieve a homogeneous transfer. Only the self-test can show which balance corresponds to your own taste. Björn Bieber, for example, uses a Shure V15V system on the tonearm of his Neumann VMS-80 cutting machine for test listening to cut foils. However, this is not used for "normal" listening: "The stylus of the pickup system alone costs 500 euros."

There are no limits to the top. The company EMT "Elektromesstechnik Wilhelm Franz", known in the recording studio area for the reverb plate EMT 140, used to manufacture professional radio record players and still offer pickups. The MC systems - such as the TSD-15 model or the JSD series - range between 1,000 and 3,500 euros.

DJ pick-up systems - for example the Ortofon »Concorde« - are generally less suitable for high-quality transfers: They offer a »harder« sound, the focus is on robustness and functionality under adverse conditions, such as optimizing the needle for scratching.

Keyword functionality: A worn needle is noticeable by sibilant sounds in the heights. "To put it simply, it can no longer move fast enough, then distortions arise," explains Robin Schmidt from 24-96 Mastering. He uses an EMT 938 radio record player with TSD-15 system for transfers.

Record player

When it comes to turntables, the choice is almost unlimited, we are looking at three reliable variants: At the time, broadcasters needed a professional tool that housed a ready-to-use setup including a phono pre-stage. The EMT company has already delivered some heavy "radio flagships" (e.g. EMT 948 and 950) and brought out a reasonably portable model with the 938.

The turntable has XLR connections with +4 dBU output signal. The preamplifier is built with tubes, the turntable delivers a clear richness of sound in the bass range and sounds relatively "fast" in response despite the tube technology. On the used market, the model costs around 1,500 - 2,500 euros. Another example: The Technics SL-1210 is an established standard in the DJ and studio sector. Developed in 1979, the device can withstand "DJ loads" and also works reliably in the studio. The new model last cost around 500 euros, but Technics owner Panasonic has now discontinued production of the 1200 series.

Direct drive vs. belt

In the models mentioned above, the platter is directly driven. At the time, the radio preferred direct-drive models, as there were fewer sources of error and a track could be "approached" quickly without overcoming the inertia of a belt. The DJ market also relies on direct drive in order to be able to "process" the turntable immediately.

Hi-fi listeners attest to a belt-driven drive that the heavy turntable can vibrate and shape the sound. What you like better depends on your own taste. Price / performance recommendation for belt-driven models: old Thorens models, such as the TD-280, are available from 100 euros and deliver a pleasant, "round" sound.

Digitize records: play with laser

Vinyl also works differently: The Japanese company ELP offers laser turntables that scan records without contact and thus without wear. The cheapest version costs around 7,800 euros net (www.laserturntable.com). The advantages: scratches that prevent normal playback are no problem for the ELP turntable, even broken and bent vinyl sometimes remains playable. The technology is also suitable for sensitive material such as acetates, which would be worn out if played back several times. Scratching noises can also be heard during laser scanning, but are reduced to their actual minimum without mechanical needle contact.

The use of a laser, however, has nothing to do with digitization: the signal chain remains analog. The device looks like an old CD changer. At least when it comes to operation, the ELP can keep up and allows you to fast-forward and rewind like a CD and to switch between songs.

The disadvantages: The ELP turntable only plays black vinyl - other colors do not reflect the laser beam sufficiently. A record washing machine is also required: the laser penetrates "completely" into the groove, which means that dust particles can also be heard that would be inaccessible to mechanical systems.

In terms of sound, the ELP is a matter of taste: The "pure" vinyl sound, as read by the laser without the coloring of a pickup system, sounds unusually "sober". The laser turntable offers a line output with a level of −10 dB and, if required, a phono output.

In our shop you will find a detailed vinyl special, in which you can read everything about restoration and self-marketing with vinyl! The e-paper also includes Jack White's Lazaretto production report.