SH Spotlight A quick primer on how records are made

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Dec 9, 2004.

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  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    This will go into the FAQ soon...

    Records have been made the same way since 1900. Something is recorded on a revolving wax or acetate disc by sound vibrations of a sharp stylus. Pre 1925 the sound was "fed" to the revolving disc acoustically via a big horn with the stylus on the end. After 1925 and the invention of the electronic MICROPHONE, these "electronically recorded" records were cut the same way. By 1951, most performances were not done LIVE anymore onto disc but instead TAPED for cutting at a later date.

    No matter the method, the actual cutting has remained the same since 1900. The sound vibrations are cut into a soft record or lacquer.

    The lacquer is then "sputtered" with pure silver to make it conduct electricity.

    This silvered lacquer is then put into a bath where a nickel layer is slowly built up over a day or two. This nickel is then peeled off and is called THE METAL MASTER. Now this metal master has mountains instead of a groove ('cause it's the opposite of the lacquer it was built up from, like a plaster of Paris mold). So, in order to HEAR the results------

    The METAL MASTER is again put in a nickel bath and a new layer is built up. When it is peeled off it now has grooves again instead of mountains and it can be played on a turntable to hear what it sounds like. This new part is called the METAL MOTHER.

    If it sounds good the METAL MOTHER is ready to be used in the final metal step before pressing a record.

    The METAL MOTHER is put in the bath and a new nickel layer is built up on it that will once again have mountains instead of grooves. When this is peeled off it's called THE METAL STAMPER.

    When the METAL STAMPER is ready for both sides of the album, the TWO METAL STAMPERS are put on the pressing machine with one above and one below the press and a warm vinyl biscuit is inserted between the top and bottom stampers. The machine comes down like a waffle iron and presses the records from the METAL STAMPERS.

    When the STAMPERS start to wear out after about 500 or so pressings, NEW STAMPERS have to be made from the METAL MOTHERS. When the METAL MOTHERS start to wear out, NEW METAL MOTHERS are made from the original METAL MASTERS. When the METAL MASTERS start to wear out NEW LACQUERS HAVE TO BE RECUT. These "replacement" lacquers are usually called RECUTS and can be done weeks, months, years or even DECADES after the album was first released. Sometimes the record company will cheap out and only recut one side, using the original A or B side of a 20 year old metal part for the other side. This results in one side being of a different fidelity than the other side. Drives us record collectors crazy.

    At any rate, the METAL MOTHER can be played on a turntable and in the days before tape (the 78 RPM era) this is how music was preserved for future generations. MOTHERS exist from the tape era as well and they sure can come in handy if the original master tape is lost or damaged.

    So this is pretty much how they have been doing since your Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather's day. It still works remarkably well, don't you think?

    Here is a picture of two of the process. Scroll down on these threads:
  2. Steve, can you explain de-horning?
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter


    Cutting genius Stan Ricker can explain better than I can! Here he is from a Positive Feedback interview from a few years ago...
    Dave Glackin:

    "What's your opinion of the dehorning of masters?"

    Stan Ricker:

    "Well, I don't know of anybody who does that anymore. It seems to have been fairly popular in the sixties or seventies or whenever. A cutter stylus cuts and it also plows. With a snow plow you go down the road and you pile up all this humongous crap along the curbs and sidewalks. Well, you hope you don't get much of that when you cut. Cutter styluses are manufactured much better nowadays than, shall we say, thirty years ago. The burnishing facets weren't so accurate then. Sometimes you got a nice cut in the groove but then sometimes you didn’t, and there might be a bunch of stuff stacked up at the edge of the groove. That stuff was rough-textured and made separation of the lacquer master from the first metal plating very difficult, because the stuff that's thrown off, when viewed under a microscope, looks like a string of cinders. It's porous, like a sponge, you see. So when you're electroplating that stuff, well, the metal molecules get inside and you can imagine metallic nickel getting inside a sponge and then how do you peel a sponge off that electroplating? You're left with little bits of stuff stuck to the metal (NOISY!). So the idea was to knock off those. It affects the sound. I don't know anybody who does dehorning anymore. At least I don't know anybody that's involved in high quality work who does it, mostly because there’s no need for it with today’s better styli."
  4. pdenny

    pdenny Blow up your TV

    As a mere consumer of records and not someone in the "biz" I've always been fascinated by the incredible amount of labor (and hopefully loving attention to detail) that is involved in making an LP. Remember, even those 25-cent used platters you find at the Goodwill started out this way! This makes every record kind of special, don't you think?

    For anyone else like me who can't get enough pictures of "the process" there's a fascinating 10-minute film from the 1930's on the making of a Duke Ellington Orchestra record on the new Centennial Edition w/DVD!
  5. SonicZone

    SonicZone Forum Resident

    Upland, CA
    Very interesting summary of the process, Steve (even though I already knew a lot of it, still a nice refresher). Thanks for putting it up!

  6. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    A well pressed and nice sounding slab of vinyl is still a joy to play back, nothing else like it....and while digital audio CD/SACD/DVD-A/DVD has its own step-by-step manufacturing procedure, the steps that go into vinyl seem far more complex and fascinating. And lasting, if one dare say it, if properly stored.

  7. sharedon

    sharedon Forum Zonophone

    Wonderful, and thank you Steve!
  8. I used to have trouble selling used records pressed on WB from the late 70's and early '80's because the metal work parts were not de-horned and the subsequent record would look well-used . . . after it had been taken from the paper sleeve and re-inserted a couple times, there were these non-audible "scuffs" all over the record from the vinyl artifacts of the horns getting knocked off the record. Very annoying. Pull out your Van Halen and Fleetwood Mac records and look at the non-playing surface between the grooves . . .
  9. Robert Lan

    Robert Lan Active Member

    Thank you for a very interesting thread Steve. I have a question regarding the dead wax numbers found on Parlophone and Apple pressings. I understand that the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock numbers/letters there refer to the metal mother and metal stamper, respectively. But what about the matrix number ? Let's take side one of Abbey Road, for example. On my copy, I read YEX 749-2. Does this tell me that my pressing originates from the second metal master, or from the second lacquer ?

    Kind regards,

    Robert Lan
  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter


    The second approved cutting lacquer.
  11. Joe Nino-Hernes

    Joe Nino-Hernes Active Member

    Chicago, IL
  12. Robert Lan

    Robert Lan Active Member

    Thank you !
  13. Gregory Earl

    Gregory Earl Forum Resident

    Great thread Steve. Wow! Vinyl really is a labor intensive process. I know that making a compact disc is not as simple as 1-2-3 either. But from the start to the finished product there seems to be so much more of a hands on approach in the making of a record. And this does not stop at the record plant.

    Once you purchase a new record you`ve got some work to do yourself.

    Inspect the packaging. You don`t want any bent corners now do ya. Opening it carefully you slide it out of the inner sleeve and inspect the playing surface for debris. Hold it out to check for any warpage as you put it on your vinyl cleaning machine to do a once over or two before your are ready to hear what these black vinyl grooves have to say for themselves. Now put it back in a new inner sleeve and get your package of Japanese outer sleeves... oh, you forgot to demagnetize it. There, now you are ready to.....but wait. First you got to clean the needle, and then as you wipe the sweat off your brow,heh.......oh how sweet it is.

    Vinyl truly is a labor of love:love:.
  14. Sean Keane

    Sean Keane Pre-Mono record collector In Memoriam

    I still look up at the sky when I see an airplane because what man has created in recent history blows my mind. Records are no exception. Vinyl comes from oil, a stylus is a diamond and a speaker cone can be made from a tree. All raw from the earth and morphed into a stereo system. What I find really wierd about records is how the groove that's cut wil actually recreate perfectly the sound that caused its vibration. Naive I may be but I'm still impressed by of a thing that was created over a hundred years ago
  15. mcow1

    mcow1 Sommelier Gort

    Orange County, CA
    Great thread, I never knew how that worked. :righton:
  16. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the whole idea behind DMM (Direct Metal Mastering) was that you could effectively use the disc you cut on the lathe as a mother to make the stampers from, saving a couple of steps in the process?

    I have a lacquer here that my cousin cut for me when he worked at a local studio. Still a great souvenir of the tour he took us on when I was 10 years old (we went through the mixing, mastering and cutting process), but wish I'd not played it so much. ;) It was actually a hit, too...Gallery's "It's So Nice To Be With You", from about 1974 or so.
  17. Kevin Bresnahan

    Kevin Bresnahan Forum Resident

    York, Maine
    Steve, fascinating stuff and unless I'm totally wrong, very simlar to CD manufacturing with the exception that the fist lacquer cutting is done off of a digital master and the cuts are made with a laser... well, plus the fact that the end result is bumps and not wavy plastic. :)

    I was curious as to the inter-metallic material that is used to isolate each plating process. Your description seems to indicate the nickel gets plated onto nickel and then somehow peeled apart. Can plated nickel actually be peeled away from plated nickel? I would have thought that there would have to be a non-metallic material... a "masking layer" to enable this.

  18. audio

    audio New Member

    This gives entirely new meaning to those "Masters of Metal" lps.
  19. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Here's another take on the cutting and manufacturing process:


    The following excerpt is courtesy of the Interstate DJ School DJ Training Curriculum, written and assembled by Robert Oleysyck

    How Vinyl Records Are Manufactured
    by Robert Oleysyck, Interstate DJ School, Las Vegas, Nevada

    Starting with a master tape, DAT, or CD, the music is transferred to an aluminum disc covered with lacquer, which is done using a "cutting lathe," Hence, the term "cutting a record." With a slightly heated sapphire or diamond tipped stylus, the lathe etches a spiral groove into the soft, oil based lacquer that starts from the outer edge going in. The stylus has two coils (one for each left and right amp channel) that are positioned between magnets. The music master is fed into the magnets, varying the magnetism, which in turn causes the stylus to vibrate left and right. The stylus can oscillate at up to 16,000 times per second. The greater the volume of the material, the wider the groove.

    This process is almost the exact reverse of playing a record in the usual manner using a turntable, normal stylus, and cartridge. Each lacquer disc is single sided so two must be produced for a regular two-sided record. Cutting is the last stage at which the sound can be altered (and only to a limited extent). To ensure a consistent, distortion-free transfer of the signal to the blank disc, great care must be taken not to cut too deep, shallow, loud or quiet. If the cut is too deep, the playback needle may not sit snugly in the groove or reach the bottom; if it is too shallow, the needle may skip tracks.

    There is a trade off between recording level and duration per side. Cutting at 45 RPM offers a higher resolution, meaning that the sound is spread over a longer length of the groove, with more space between grooves as opposed to a 33-RPM recording. That's why a 12" single - with one track on one side - will sound far better than an LP with 5 tracks on one side.

    In the next stage, the lacquer disk (in some cases referred to as an acetate) is put through a process called Galvanic Electro Formation. Through special cleaners and agents, a metal layer of nickel and silver is formed over the lacquer, creating a metal plate. This new plate is a negative of the previous master, having ridges instead of grooves, from which, several successive metal parts are produced:

    The "Mother" is a positive plate identical to the finished record that can be played and looks like the gold discs awarded for sales.

    The "Stamper" (one for each side) is also a negative, and is then used to stamp out or press the records. The stampers are used to "press" the grooves into preheated polyvinyl thermoplastic discs, otherwise known as records. With the aid of a stabilizer and lubricants, the vinyl is fed to the press and formed into a "puck" or "biscuit." With the labels on their appropriate sides, the press closes, and the stampers squash down on the biscuit to form a record. After being cooled by water, the record is trimmed and left flat to cool. Test pressings are usually made to check the quality of the sound and for any flaws, which may occur.
  20. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    From CD :shake: - what is that, a laser drop? That should be banned! :sigh:
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Most stuff today is cut from digital. Heck, Martin, most studios can't even cut from an analog tape at all because the "preview" head is now a digital delay.

    Of course, the studios I work in CAN still cut from analog... ;)
  22. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    The OC
    I actually had a client that cut DMM parts and used them just as they came off the lathe. They were using them for archival purposes and figured that DMM cuts were pretty much the most bullet proof way to save their material for the ages.
  23. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    I know :( - CBS was using that Discomputer starting around 1979(!) IIRC. I don't know what the point of starting to use a digital delay vs. a preview head was, especially cutting from an analog tape. But from a manufactured CD? That really seems wrong to me.
  24. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    I guess it worked for the latest set of Doors' LP's. They got rave reviews.. :sigh:
  25. MMM

    MMM Forum Hall Of Fame

    Lodi, New Jersey
    Ooh, I didn't know they used CD's for them. Too bad - I didn't buy any of them though. I have the CD complete box (got it cheap!), and afterwards bought a DCC LP of the first album. I'm sorry I didn't get the rest of the DCC vinyl when they were in print. Oh well, that's for another thread...
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