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Vinyl Heads, Take Note

Jim Shaw

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Just today, this video was posted on YouTube. The subject is cutting vinyl masters at Abbey Road Studios. The publisher is Sound on Sound, an insider's channel for audio professionals.

Lots of us are left scratching our heads over the resurgent popularity of vinyl recordings. For those who are of such a mind, watch this through to gain some wisdom. Wisdom about how vinyl masters are made, their problems, difficulties, and the certain romance there is in making master discs. The video features two mastering 'engineers' at Abbey Road. These are the gentlemen who take what they are handed (a mixed and processed digital file, usually) and make it into a master disc that a factory will process and duplicate into the record you can buy and play.

The full video is at:

There's lots of gibberish about "vinyl sound" going about the audioverse. One of the masterers interviewed here explains that "sound." He knows that of which he speaks. Hear his remarks at 09:20 into the video... he explains vinyl's inherent "warmth."
....
If your experience leads you to favor vinyl (which is fine by me), it is well to know a bit of what you are talking about. Here, much of that knowledge is proferred -- quite generously. The art of vinyl mastering is a very arcane and sort of mysterious subject. Real vinyl mastering technicians are very small in number; I'd estimate there are fewer than 200 in the world who actually do it for a full-time career.

This is one of the best opportunities to learn from two such pros. And unarguably, Abbey Road knows something of what they are doing.
1648176942867.png
 
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Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw

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Is Your Disc Remastered?

When a disc record is sold as "remastered," that tells you nothing about it. It doesn't tell you what the remasterer started with. Was it a true analog or digital master tape or was it several or many generations from the original? Was it reprocessed? Was the source companded* to suit the popular recording market? Or was the starting point a final mix but without all the processing to suit the popular streaming providers?

You just don't know unless it is explained honestly. In fact, a remastered disc may be much worse in fidelity (to the original music) than the first discs sold, 20-70 years ago.

Most remastered discs are produced with intentions for mass sales. This leaves out any motive to make them exact or true; it usually means that they repurposed the music to sell to the earbud market and have cut a master disc from that file. Caveat emptor.

*Companding is the process of compressing high audio levels and expanding low levels to make a product suitable for mass market players.
 

DVDdoug

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Companding is the process of compressing high audio levels and expanding low levels to make a product suitable for mass market players.
I don't know what they are doing and I didn't watch the video yet, but expanding low levels is usually downward expansion.... Quiet sounds are made quieter, expanding (increasing) the dynamic range. That's how a noise gate works.... It reduces the volume (or kills the sound completely) when it drops below a threshold.

"Companding" or "compansion" can also mean compression, and then expansion later to restore the original sound. It was used in analog telephone (for long distance, I think) and it's how DBX noise reduction worked. The signal is compressed, then transmitted or recorded, and expanded at the receiving or playback end. That allows-for a better signal-to-noise ratio. Dolby noise reduction used a similar technique but only on the high frequencies and with less compression/expansion so it was still "usable" without decoding.
 

MarcosCh

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When they speak about the writing on the runout groove I wondered if one of these guys was Porky, but I read in Wikipedia he is 80 now and obviously retired.
At some point in time, when I was into British punk / new wave, around half of the records I was buying had his signature. So yes, that tells me there were not many people doing this job, not even in the pre digital era.
 
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Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw

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I don't know what they are doing and I didn't watch the video yet, but expanding low levels is usually downward expansion.... Quiet sounds are made quieter, expanding (increasing) the dynamic range. That's how a noise gate works.... It reduces the volume (or kills the sound completely) when it drops below a threshold.

"Companding" or "compansion" can also mean compression, and then expansion later to restore the original sound. It was used in analog telephone (for long distance, I think) and it's how DBX noise reduction worked. The signal is compressed, then transmitted or recorded, and expanded at the receiving or playback end. That allows-for a better signal-to-noise ratio. Dolby noise reduction used a similar technique but only on the high frequencies and with less compression/expansion so it was still "usable" without decoding.
Consider watching the video. Companding is an industry-standard term (see Wiki). It is common to utilize both compression and expansion in processing pop audio. The overall goal (and the result) is for the music to be more listenable in cars (over road noise) and with cheap earbuds.

I used the term correctly. Glad it caught your interest.
 

MattHooper

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I watched that video yesterday and it's excellent!

As for the "vinyl warmth" thing, that concept is fairly fudgey, but nonetheless I doubt the engineer covered the whole issue with "vinyl sounds warm because we have to roll off the highs." I'm not sure the highs they have to roll off necessarily are those that will result in the "warmth" feeling (certainly my LPs sure sound subjectively like the highs are bright and airy, much like my digital). I'd think there are probably other distortions in vinyl playback that might account also for the perception of "warmth."

Also worth noting is what the first engineer says at 54 seconds in about his two different versions for a master:

 

Soniclife

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When they speak about the writing on the runout groove I wondered if one of these guys was Porky, but I read in Wikipedia he is 80 now and obviously retired.
At some point in time, when I was into British punk / new wave, around half of the records I was buying had his signature. So yes, that tells me there were not many people doing this job, not even in the pre digital era.
I think about half my records, or more, also have 'another porky prime cut' in the run out grove. There are interesting little messages in others, I wonder how many people who buy vinyl know these are there.
 

Chester

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Just today, this video was posted on YouTube. The subject is cutting vinyl masters at Abbey Road Studios. The publisher is Sound on Sound, an insider's channel for audio professionals.

Lots of us are left scratching our heads over the resurgent popularity of vinyl recordings. For those who are of such a mind, watch this through to gain some wisdom. Wisdom about how vinyl masters are made, their problems, difficulties, and the certain romance there is in making master discs. The video features two mastering 'engineers' at Abbey Road. These are the gentlemen who take what they are handed (a mixed and processed digital file, usually) and make it into a master disc that a factory will process and duplicate into the record you can buy and play.

The full video is at:

There's lots of gibberish about "vinyl sound" going about the audioverse. One of the masterers interviewed here explains that "sound." He knows that of which he speaks. Hear his remarks at 09:20 into the video... he explains vinyl's inherent "warmth."
....
If your experience leads you to favor vinyl (which is fine by me), it is well to know a bit of what you are talking about. Here, much of that knowledge is proferred -- quite generously. The art of vinyl mastering is a very arcane and sort of mysterious subject. Real vinyl mastering technicians are very small in number; I'd estimate there are fewer than 200 in the world who actually do it for a full-time career.

This is one of the best opportunities to learn from two such pros. And unarguably, Abbey Road knows something of what they are doing.View attachment 195063

Thanks for posting, a very interesting video. I just watched it while drinking a Magic Rock, Dark Arts Stout and thoroughly enjoyed both.

I’m digital primarily, but given how ASR had solved my tinkering/serial upgrading condition, I ventured into vinyl more recently, really just as something new to mess with.

I found it a bit fiddly and imperfect initially (obviously that is its nature), but videos like this remind you of the effort required and the simple yet sophisticated engineering involved. That in itself brings something different to the listening experience to appreciate, in my opinion.
 
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Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw

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I watched that video yesterday and it's excellent!

As for the "vinyl warmth" thing, that concept is fairly fudgey, but nonetheless I doubt the engineer covered the whole issue with "vinyl sounds warm because we have to roll off the highs." I'm not sure the highs they have to roll off necessarily are those that will result in the "warmth" feeling (certainly my LPs sure sound subjectively like the highs are bright and airy, much like my digital). I'd think there are probably other distortions in vinyl playback that might account also for the perception of "warmth."

Also worth noting is what the first engineer says at 54 seconds in about his two different versions for a master:

Good; you noted that. I once watched an indy pop music recording studio owner/mixer/masterer say in a video that he makes three different deliverable files from a studio session. One is processed for broadcast and for pop streaming like Spotify, a second for CD, and a third for making vinyl.

The first is made to meet the EU standards for -23 LUF and to sound as loud as competitive.
The second is made to take advantage of the CD's wide dynamic range and ability to handle full levels of bass.
The third is mixed with bass in the center and some compression to handle vinyl's narrower dynamic range and limited ability to handle stereo low frequencies, narrow stylus excursions, and acceptable groove spacing.

This was just one producer's view, but I have seen this in practice, though unspoken. It is exactly this that is mentioned as you heard in the subject video, although he mentions just two 'masters' he might have to choose from.

As to the "warm" comment, it relies on his meaning of warm. Nonetheless, it is standard practice to roll off high frequencies before they get to the cutting head. The cutter cannot faithfully follow very high frequencies (although some amplitude still gets through to the stylus, therefore the disc). If these frequencies were not attenuated somewhat in the cutting amplifier chain, the cutting head would convert to heat what it can't follow. A cutting head is small and has limited ability to reject heat. They are also terribly costly, so one doesn't gladly burn one out.

All of these factors and more make disc mastering as much an art as computational. Two mastering technicians, given the same starting material, will very likely produce different sounding discs. (By the way, it is generally bad practice to play the production portion of a lacquer master disc. That playback arm and cartridge are normally just for playing the test grooves. Playback risks damaging the soft disc grooves before making it into later generations of production materials.)

All this can be offensive to fervent vinylphiles. This isn't here to gore sacred bulls; it's here to understand your beliefs.
 
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Tks

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I keep repeating the same thing over and over again anytime I walk into a vinyl discussion.

The only thing nice about Vinyl, is all the enjoyable promo material that comes with a purchase (cool sleeves and cards or whatever other merchandise that sometimes comes with more upscale releases). And the fact that the medium forces many album-length releases to avoid Loudness Wars compression where you have all tracks blasting at nearly full output (simply because digging deep grooves chews up potential play-time available on the vinyl medium itself). So you almost always have a larger dynamic range offering when it's presented on vinyl.

It's a bit sad that one has to force by technical barriers; the preservation of decent dynamic range in some music releases today.

Aside from these two aspects, vinyl as a medium is virtually a joke by comparison to anything in digital these days in terms of fidelity, or even ease of ownership (though of course there will always understandably be people who are wedded to the ritual aspect of things like running a vinyl system). But said people don't purport that the music itself becomes objectively better because they pet it, and caress it before sticking the needle on it. They simply enjoy the external aspect and that allows THEM to enjoy the music more.
 

Chester

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I keep repeating the same thing over and over again anytime I walk into a vinyl discussion.

The only thing nice about Vinyl, is all the enjoyable promo material that comes with a purchase (cool sleeves and cards or whatever other merchandise that sometimes comes with more upscale releases). And the fact that the medium forces many album-length releases to avoid Loudness Wars compression where you have all tracks blasting at nearly full output (simply because digging deep grooves chews up potential play-time available on the vinyl medium itself). So you almost always have a larger dynamic range offering when it's presented on vinyl.

It's a bit sad that one has to force by technical barriers; the preservation of decent dynamic range in some music releases today.

Aside from these two aspects, vinyl as a medium is virtually a joke by comparison to anything in digital these days in terms of fidelity, or even ease of ownership (though of course there will always understandably be people who are wedded to the ritual aspect of things like running a vinyl system). But said people don't purport that the music itself becomes objectively better because they pet it, and caress it before sticking the needle on it. They simply enjoy the external aspect and that allows THEM to enjoy the music more.

Perhaps concluding your post with “In my opinion” would have been a little more diplomatic. None of us are looking for another vinyl vs digital discussion.

To me, vinyl provided another useful revelation, which was to demonstrate how little performance we actually need from a medium as human beings. Yes, you can hear the difference between vinyl and digital, but when listening to music for pleasure, the difference is really quite minimal……in my opinion, of course :)

Pick your medium, enjoy your music!
 

Loathecliff

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Noting the statement on average side length being circa 20 mins; & the swapping of their DMM cutter, reminded me of a DMM HMV double LP. It's in my hands now. All side lengths over 35', the longest being 39' 16".
Not that unusual for classical though.
The famous long side of the sixties being Bartok, Bluebeard's Castle on Decca SXL @36'
 

witwald

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As for the "vinyl warmth" thing, that concept is fairly fudgey, but nonetheless I doubt the engineer covered the whole issue with "vinyl sounds warm because we have to roll off the highs."
The fudginess factor is exceedingly high when it comes to the topic of "vinyl wamth"! :cool:

Mastering engineer Geoff Pesche commented: "Disc cutting systems roll off top, that's what they do; it's the nature of the beast. That's why records sound warmer; they don't add low end, they roll top off. That's part of the charm."

He definitely didn't cover the whole issue, and I think that he actually did vinyl reproduction somewhat of a disservice.

It should be kept in mind that there are test records that indicate the frequency response of some phono cartridges is essentially flat between 20 Hz and 20kHz. For example, below are shown the frequency responses of a Shure V15 Type IV and Type V cartridges. There's no roll-off there. So what is actually being referred to by the Abbey Road mastering engineers?

Shure V15 Type IV phono cartridge brochure:
1648274254064.png


Shure V15 Type V phono cartridge test results (Audio, November 1982):
1648274714326.png

I'm not sure the highs they have to roll off necessarily are those that will result in the "warmth" feeling (certainly my LPs sure sound subjectively like the highs are bright and airy, much like my digital).
That comparison of LP reproduction with digital reproduction is, in my experience, very accurate, and clearly alludes to other factors potentially being at play when contemplating so-called "vinyl warmth".
I'd think there are probably other distortions in vinyl playback that might account also for the perception of "warmth."
It would definitely seem so.
 

Newman

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It should be kept in mind that there are test records that indicate the frequency response of some phono cartridges is essentially flat between 20 Hz and 20kHz.
Maybe with simple sine wave signals, but sadly, carts cannot maintain that as signal complexity rises. So you get the highly undesirable situation where FR varies as signal complexity varies…during the course of the music!

There's no roll-off there. So what is actually being referred to by the Abbey Road mastering engineers?
They said cutter heads, not playback carts.
 

witwald

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Nonetheless, it is standard practice to roll off high frequencies before they get to the cutting head. The cutter cannot faithfully follow very high frequencies (although some amplitude still gets through to the stylus, therefore the disc).
When referring to rolling off high frequencies, where might the –3dB point be located?

It would be interesting to see the actual frequency response specifications of a Neumann LP cutting lathe. Does anyone have any technical data that they could share?

If the frequency response results obtained for phono cartridges using vinyl test records are anything to go by, then a flat response, say ±1dB between 20Hz and 20kHz, is evidently routinely possible. So where is the roll-off? It would seem that it is well beyond 20kHz. Then there's the quadrophonic LP system, which had frequencies well above 20kHz cut into the LP in order to work.
 

witwald

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They said cutter heads, not playback carts.
The cutter head cuts a groove that is then followed in the subsequent vinyl pressing by the playback cartridge, does it not? For the playback cartridge to be able to play back a flat-recorded (with RIAA equalization) 20kHz signal in a flat manner, would not that 20kHz signal need to have been cut into the groove without attenuation in the first place?
 
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witwald

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Maybe with simple sine wave signals, but sadly, carts cannot maintain that as signal complexity rises.
That's true, but somewhat lacking in details.

Provided below is an example of a non-sine wave signal (a square wave) being reproduced by the Shure V15 Type V cartridge. It does quite a reasonable job of reproducing what is a relatively complex signal, where the harmonic components need to maintain appropriate phase and amplitude behaviour in order to get a reasonably "square" square wave.
1648276428371.png

1648276877486.png

The Grace F9E Ruby cartridge doesn't do as well, on account of its rising top end. No sign of a rolled off top end on this test disk.
1648276693473.png

Below is a test result for the Audio Technica VNM20EB phono cartridge (from a review in Australian Hi-Fi).
1648276977715.png


Below is a test result for the Grace F9E Super cartridge (from Audio, January 1986):
1648277104906.png

So you get the highly undesirable situation where FR varies as signal complexity varies…during the course of the music!
As can be seen in the above examples, that doesn't appear to happen to as big a degree as suggested.
 
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MattHooper

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I'm not necessarily a fan of this guy's channel (too much typical audiophile woo-woo for me). But in a just-fer-fun sense, here's a video where a guest to the channel is trying to "convert" people to vinyl. They do a comparison of the same pieces on digital, vinyl and reel-to-reel.

As far as youtube demos go, where the best you can do is hear relative differences on the youtube stream, I don't think this was very succesfull.
I can't say for sure which I'd prefer if I were there in person, but from the youtube demo the digital versions win every time in my opinion. Less distortion, clearer, more detail, etc. They guy is going on about how superior RtR is, but I didn't hear that at all.

Oh, also OCD Mikey in the video espouses a common audiophile refrain that "music is best played back on the medium on which it was recorded." (So if it was recorded on analog tape, playback on analog tape). That really makes no sense in a way most here would immediately recognize. For instance if something is recorded on a medium that degrades with each generation, then playing it back on a successive copy simply risks a further departure from the sound of the original! Whereas if you can transfer that original copy via an essentially transparent medium (e.g. a good digital copy) then you have a better chance of hearing the original signal as it is!

But, audiophiles are often going on intuitions, rather than coherent engineering/logical principles.

 
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Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw

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I'm not necessarily a fan of this guy's channel (too much typical audiophile woo-woo for me). But in a just-fer-fun sense, here's a video where a guest to the channel is trying to "convert" people to vinyl. They do a comparison of the same pieces on digital, vinyl and reel-to-reel.
"There's one born every minute." -P.T. Barnum
"And they detest and will fight the truth as their mortal enemy." -I.B. Me
;)
 

JP

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When referring to rolling off high frequencies, where might the –3dB point be located?

It would be interesting to see the actual frequency response specifications of a Neumann LP cutting lathe. Does anyone have any technical data that they could share?

If the frequency response results obtained for phono cartridges using vinyl test records are anything to go by, then a flat response, say ±1dB between 20Hz and 20kHz, is evidently routinely possible. So where is the roll-off? It would seem that it is well beyond 20kHz. Then there's the quadrophonic LP system, which had frequencies well above 20kHz cut into the LP in order to work.
Typically 15kHz.

Quad records were cut at half-speed. HF content on test records is is low amplitude and very short duration and/or some were cut at half-speed or slower as well, like the 45-50kHz sweeps.
 
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