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The record cutting machine. Questions.

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by ericpeters, Feb 28, 2002.

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  1. ericpeters

    ericpeters Forum Resident Thread Starter

    The cutting machine.

    Maybe this is common knowledge but I'm new to the forum and I wonder....

    How is the cutting machine able to create such quality. For the cartridge we have to pay x thousands of dollars to get everything out of the groove. (well from $50 for a reasonable sounding and maybe $ 5000 for the best) Having almost zero mass for the moving stylus.
    This must be a lot more difficult for the cutting machine, well it should require a lot more mass to be able to cut in ... (well what do you cut actually?) So is the cutting machine a far more expensive machine than I guess or is there a physical reason that this is less critical then I expect?
  2. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

  3. ericpeters

    ericpeters Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Gee you're quick

    what a quick answer, my screen hadn't even refreshed!
  4. ericpeters

    ericpeters Forum Resident Thread Starter

    SO I guess the 100 - 400 watts that drive the Cutting head is a reason, where the wear of the vinyl excludes high VTF's and therefore the cartrigde needs all these mechanical optimisations.

    The link is very interesting because it actually tells you that mastering a CD has a less limitations say for the high frequencies. I find it even harder to understand why Vinyl sounds better than CD (Where before I thaught A/D and D/A conversions always had some kind of loss, however small they were)

    Just two other questions:
    The cutting head... is it also a Diamond needle and how many hours can you cut with it?
    Would you be able to play the cutted surface on a normal player, if so would it have lass surface noise.
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host


    The tip is not a diamond. It is good for a little while, but not too long. We look under the scope to see how it's doing, but it has a very short life.

    The cut surface of the lacquer, after the thread is sucked up by the vacuum, is indeed playable. But the acetate material breaks down after cutting, so it is best to get it processed as quickly as possible.

    Have you seen the photos from out recent Creedence cuttings?

    Go here:


    and here:

  6. ericpeters

    ericpeters Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Great pictures Steve, where can I get the records, i'd love to get my hands on good Creedence pressings?

    BTW, do you actually check all the curves of the groove with that microscope? :confused:
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    The Creedence records will be out soon. Click on the Acoustic Sounds link on my homepage.

    The scope is used all the time. That's what it's there for. Essential!!!
  8. Humorem

    Humorem New Member


    WADR (with all due respect)

    What's to understand? That's brain power, not ear power, at pretty unreliable guide in my opinion. Extremely unreliable.

    Do you understand quantum physics pretty well? I don't. Do I believe in quantum physics? Yes.

    If the only things I believed were the things I understood, I wouldn't have much to believe in!

    I don't understand how the valve timing in my engine works too well. Love to drive my car though. It drives pretty well without my understanding it, thank goodness.

  9. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Another reason why some stampers just never sound good: the stylus was worn and nobody noticed.

    Just as you will get spitty records playing them with a bad needle, you will cut spitty records cutting them with a bad needle.
  10. ericpeters

    ericpeters Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Point taken!
  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    You ask good questions. And, yes, it is true that mastering a CD has MANY less limitations than an LP. But when you cut an LP you have to FOLLOW THE RULES!!!!! These limitations mean that most LP's will have a pleasing tone and good resolution BECAUSE of the limitations imposed upon their cutting.

    Remember, a vinyl groove is a TRUE analog, whereas digital is a sample of the analog. There is a difference. One occurs in nature and one is "recreating" nature by reconstructing a sound wave, piece by piece. To the human ear, they are very close. But, at least for the OUTER groove area, an LP can sound more lifelike than most digital sources. How much more is of course is up to the resolving power of your playback system.

    IMO of course.
  12. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    South Plymouth, Ma
    Science can be just as sexy and wonderful as a good record. It's very interesting just what goes into cutting, there Tom.

    What baffles me the most is just when Lps were "king" that so many engineers were cutting laquers so quickly at ALL. It's definately science, lots of rules and yep - Lots of duds.

    The insight is good food for the curiosity. I read somewhere that Bernie G. "hand corrects" laquers that he's flubbed. The science Kevin whoops on vinyl is individual and acutally more skilled than your average jeweler. The art and science is quite interesting!

    True still, sometimes I'd love to find out how Leiber and Stoller, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney wrote songs the way they did. Was it the food they ate, the drugs? What was it? Well, it's too late. It's greatness, and then the only interesting thing is when they're asked "How'd Ya do it" and they respond with "Sheesh, I donno!"

    Q: "Why are all of your songs so long?"
    Bob Dylan: "Well, I get paid by the word."
  13. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Hey guys,

    I'm just reacting to the idea that you can logically figure out what will sound better.

    That is one thing you can't do. No way, no how, never.

    Record cutting is more art than science, and that goes for mastering too IMO.

    If it were a science, lots of other people could learn it and make things sound like SH.

    The fact that lots of people don't--that really very few do--is proof enough in my book.

    Kevin Gray can test his theories in the real world. An "idea" like the one above, noting the difficulties of cutting records, has no practical value whatsoever for us listeners, as it is not testable by any of us.

    We can only speculate as to what effects these things have on the sound we hear, and speculation in audio is less than worthless: it does positive harm.

    Engineers had reams of proof that man would never fly. One pair of Wright brothers later nobody needed to speculate about the subject any further.

    The engineers who created perfect sound, forever, may still believe it, but some of us have their handiwork to demonstrate otherwise.

    I have told many people about records on this website. These souls have many good reasons why one claim or another I have made shouldn't be so. They don't have the record to use as a guide for this understanding. They have reasons. Ideas too.

    No reasons are necessary, the way I see it. The record is the evidence. Reasons get amended when faced with physical evidence to the contrary, not the other way around.

    Cutter head distortion? Steve will be the first person to tell you that it is one of the reasons why old classical records, to this day, still have the most "breath of life", and I believe him.

    Modern versions may be fixing something that shouldn't oughta be fixed. They don't seem to be making things better, not to my ears anyway. I'm sure they have many good reasons for doing it the way they are doing it. They have many good ideas as well I'm sure. What they don't have is many good sounding records and CDs to show for it. IMO:(

    I'll take one good record over a million reasons. You can't play reasons. You can't play ideas either. You can play with them, and we all enjoy that. But you can't play them on your turntable, or put them in your CD drawer, and that is a limitation which they will never overcome.

  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Ah, chill. It all comes down to the mastering in the end. It's science and art combined, like everything else. Once the science is understood, great sound can be cut into the grooves. It's a combination of both. Has to be.

    In the old days, a great master painter made his own paints. Some of these creations have lasted for hundreds of years. So, the science of making a lasting paint is just as important as having the good taste to paint something memorable on the ceiling of a chapel.

    I know how to get the "nostalgic" sound of an old RCA Living Stereo LP on a new lacquer. No one else seems to want to do it, or even cares about doing it. So be it. All the more yummy sound for us! This of course involves breaking the rules. But, one has to know them before any creative tinkering can be done. Science cannot be denied. And it's fun too. Just ask Mr. Wizard!
  15. Paul Chang

    Paul Chang Forum Old Boy, Former Senior Member Has-Been


    I'm not trying to nitpick what you just said. Sceince and engineering are closely related but very different in practice. I had been obsessed with solving equations in engineering textbooks until a brilliant professor woke me up in a class by saying that an engineer makes approximations! What a fool I was trying to be a mathematician/scientist while studying in an engineering school!

    I will be the first to admit we engineers are known for "cutting corners". Bad choice of words. How about "making compromises". If we try to achieve absolute perfection no products will ever be delivered the customers. Engineers make trade-offs to approximate perfection while being constrained by schedule, budget and resources, etc. all the time. That being said, the good ones know what corners to cut and how to cut them. You can call this an artform.

    Those who claim perfect sound forever are liars. Like you said before nothing man-made outside of mathematics is perfect. And nothing man-made lasts forever, I might add. :)
  16. Ronald

    Ronald Forum Resident

    Columbus, OH
    I realize the thread will become tangential if I post this, but here goes.

    Both engineers and scientists can contribute to society. Engineers do a better job of saving money. Scientists do a great job of spending money. They need each other.

    A scientist is someone who is seeking the ultimate truth in his or her field of choice through hypotheses and experiments followed by studying the results and designing new hypotheses and experiments. Cost is no object. A good scientist will not compromise results in the search of the truth.

    An engineer is someone who is looking to solve problems with the logical and scientific information available. Cost is an object. An engineer makes compromises because there are outside considerations, but the compromises usually are well grounded, unless the money man dictates otherwise.

    The best description I've heard about scientists and engineers is with respect to Chemists and Chemical Engineers (Chem-E's). A Chemist does for fun what a Chem-E does for profit. Compare prostitution and sex.
  17. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    This is not science to my way of thinking. No scientific evidence was used in choosing those paints. There wasn't any. No theories were promulgated. No control groups were chosen.

    They liked the paint. Had the color they liked. They had no earthly way to know how long it would last. People died at 35 back then. You think they cared how long it would last?

    It was art, pure and simple. No science involved.

    What you do is an art. Some of it involves science, but the science is only understood by you (IMO) to the degree that it conforms with the art of doing it.

    My example: you speak of the eq curve that exists in nature, single order, 6db per octave.

    Is that why you like it, because it occurs in nature? Or does 6db per octave sound the best to your ear, and because it supposedly occurs in nature, so much the better!

    I have never heard you speak on the subject of the science of what you do. I think that's because the science comes into play after the fact. The art tells you what is right, and the science is the convenient explanation for it. The science doesn't guide you, the art does.

    The issue I address is a simple one: knowing about the difficulties of cutting records doesn't change the sound of the ones you have one iota.

    It can help you understand why the records you have MIGHT sound the way they do, but only after you understand the process of making and mastering records extremely well and have done a great deal of listening in conjunction with that learning.

    This will put you in the position of knowing what one out of a hundred record lovers might know.
    The other 99 (of us) have incomplete knowledge. Of this 99, many will have extremely dubious ideas about what causes their records to sound the way they do.

    There will be plenty of explanations, but they will all occur after the fact. These explanations are not at all helpful in predicting what records will sound good to us. Once we play the record, and determine that it sounds good, what benefit is the explanation?

    There simply is no correlation, in my experience, between those records that are made with special high quality techniques that may be described for paragraphs on the back of the jacket, and those records with sound that impresses me.

    I'm sure the makers of these records had lots of good ideas about sound. The ideas didn't do me any good when I played the record. It still sounded bad to me.

    So I don't see much value in most of these ideas. I don't see much science going on either. I think it's pretty much an art. Explanations after the fact are helpful only to the extent that they help to predict future outcomes, and they mostly don't do that very well.

    One quick example: half-speed mastering. Most half-speeds have blubbery bass, in my experience. If I get a half-speed and it has wooly bass, I think I know why. Halving the frequency creates more difficulty for the cutter in that portion of the spectrum. Of course. That's the idea anyway.

    But what about the half-speeds that don't have that problem? How do I explain those? We can't just dismiss them. If half-speeds have blubbery bass, then they must all have blubery bass, or that idea is wrong. Or incomplete at the very least. It doesn't tell us what the next half-speed's bass is going to be like, right? So what value does that idea have? Makes you feel good all over most of the time, because you think you know why something sounds the way it does. But those times when the sound doesn't fit the idea, what do you do? You don't think about it. Because if you did you'd have to change your idea.

    But we like our ideas, they make us comfortable in this scary world, so we hang onto them.

    I've tortured this subject to death by now, so let me sum up my philosophy, which works for me most of the time, and goes like this: Fewer ideas, more facts. Less speculation, more information. Want to know which version of a CD sounds better? Just play 'em. Why waste time thinking about why one or another will sound better when you can just play 'em and find out?

    Why waste time thinking about all the problems that might make cutting records difficult when you have great sounding records to play? They managed to sound great somehow, right? Does it matter how? Not to me.

    Jesuitically yours,
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Mr. Port,

    I hear you and do indeed agree with your points! Remember, most of you on this forum don't make the records, you just enjoy them. I'm on the other side of that fence. What you kindly call art, I might think of as science of a sort, at least that is how it was drummed into me by other recording engineers over the years.

    I mean, at Abbey Road, they used to dress their engineers up in lab coats for gosh sakes, not an artist smock with a little beret. :)

    My point? Sorry, I was blathering. I do agree with you, yes. Regarding the 6db octave thing. It sounds best to my ear, indeed. But, I dig the fact that it also happens to be a "natural" thing as well. That in itself of course would mean nothing to me if I didn't like the sound. But, since I do and since it is "occuring in nature", it reinforces the fact to me that my brand of science (or art as you so kindly call it) is somehow more valid because it is indeed organic in its way.
  19. Humorem

    Humorem New Member


    You and I both enjoy natural foods, that is well known. Those chile rellenos with 95 grams of deep fat fryer oil we used to get are proof of that!

    6 db slope? Of course you like it. You like natural sound. What occurs in nature, in other words what things really sound like, is what you are trying to emulate with your artful remastering, oh guru.

    You aren't trying to recreate "the breath of science" (a horrible thought), but "the breath of life".

    Ars longa and all that, you know?


    P.S. I think I'm just good at wearing you down. You don't really agree; it's just too much trouble to argue, right? So humor me. Most people have learned it's the best way to shut me up.
  20. Holy Zoo

    Holy Zoo Gort (Retired) :-)

    Santa Cruz
    Interesting.. I don't shudder at the thought of "the breath of science"...

    Maybe it's because some of us feel that science and the scientific method can (is!) beautiful.

    And maybe it can be the same thing. Using science and the scientific method to narrow in on the perfect/best sound reproduction.

    In the end, any way you get there is what matters. By hook or by crook. By guesswork or practice. By science or art.

    And as Steve said above, it's probably a mix of all of the above. :)
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host


    Actually, I do agree with you.
  22. Claviusb

    Claviusb A Serious Man

    Mr. Hoffman!

    Hrmphhh! Now that I have your attention... Let me say that in this area I must disagree with you. You've let it be known full well that you have "trade secrets" that are important to your livelihood. I understand how you can feel that way, but I vehemently disagree. You could arm every single one of us with all with your entire knowledge base and we will never ever be Steve Hoffman. We may have the knowledge, but we don't know how to apply it. You must separate the craftsman from the craft. Not all of those artists who created paintings hundreds of years ago are still remembered, that's because you need more than a paint and a brush.

    When people always talk to me about "borrowing" from other's knowledge, I can't help but always think of Woody Allen. He said that whenever he had a problem deciding how to say a line in a movie he would always say the line the way he imagined Bob Hope would say it. That device always seemed to get him out of trouble-- and if you watch his movies it is astonishing how often you can "hear" him doing his Bob Hope. But he never seems like Bob Hope, because Woody Allen will never be Bob Hope.

    I know you're humble about what you do, but regardless of what some fool says, you have not created your own following out of nothing. The admiration people have for you is well earned.

    Forgive my rant! Hope I'm not out of the will now! :D
  23. Holy Zoo

    Holy Zoo Gort (Retired) :-)

    Santa Cruz
    Re: Mr. Hoffman!

    Ah! But some of us *might* be as good. (uhh... well, not me, but you know what I mean). :)

    You see, I don't think things are so black and white here. The truth lies somewhere in between.

    Without the science part of what Steve does, one can't be as good.

    But even with it, you might not have the ear/talent, and you're hosed.

    But maybe you DO have the ear and talent (or become talented through practice).

    Ya gotta have both, but just because there's art involved, I don't think that it doesn't make it scientific! :)
  24. Humorem

    Humorem New Member

    Re: Mr. Hoffman!

    If we could know everything that Steve knows, wouldn't one of the things we would know would be how to use it? Or is that different from knowledge base? What is that anyway? Can you get me one for cheap? Accomodation price, that sort of thing?

  25. Holy Zoo

    Holy Zoo Gort (Retired) :-)

    Santa Cruz
    Re: Re: Mr. Hoffman!

    Yeah, but that won't help you if you are as deaf as a doorknob. :p
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