was written to aid engineers and producers who wish to release vinyl records.
It is especially important for those who may be well versed in recording,
but have not released vinyl records before.It's mainly about "pop" music
, but the principles apply to all others. It was written to explain a complicated
transformation in as simple terms as possible. To some it may seem very
technical, to technical types it will seem simplistic. It was written for
the "middle ground".
This may look like some kind of long boring story but believe me ........
THIS IS A MUST FOR EVERYBODY MAKING MUSIC TO BE PRESSED ON VINYL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ORIGINAL TEXT BY: KEVIN
record is a marvelous medium for storing and reproducing sound. With frequency
response from 7 Hz to 25kHz and over 75 dB dynamic range possible, it is
capable of startling realism. Its ability to convey a sense of space, that
is width and depth of sound stage, with a degree of openness and airiness,
is unrivaled by anything but the most esoteric digital systems.
That having been said, it is important to understand the limitations of this medium in order to make great sounding records. The first limitation is recording time and level (volume). The amount of time possible on a record side is entirely dependent on the cutting level (volume) and the amount of low frequency information (bass). Bass uses more space than treble.
The record groove is an analog of a sound wave. Try to picture looking down on a narrow river or stream. The left bank is the left channel and the right bank is the right channel. Your turntable's stylus is a wide round raft that is going to travel that river. For simplicity, imagine that the banks stay parallel, (left and right the same) which means the sound is monaural. The louder the sound and or the heavier the bass, the wider the whole river (and your boat) wiggles side to side. The higher the pitch (frequency), the closer together the wiggles get. In other words the sharper the twists and turns, the higher the pitch. Obviously, everything from bass to treble is happening at once, so the gently sweeping wide curves (bass guitar and bass drum) have smaller, more jagged wiggles (vocals, guitars, keyboards, cymbals, percussion, etc.) superimposed on them. It should be mentioned here that if the bass information is too loud, your raft gets thrown over the embankment (skips). So now you should be able to see that the louder the music is cut, the wider the groove wiggles, and the less time can fit on the side. Or looking at it the other way around, the longer the side, the less room for wiggles (volume and bass).
treble. You can put as much treble on a DAT or CD as you want. Unfortunately
this is not true on a record (or analog tape for that
I said you don't have to worry about the RIAA curve, but the cutting engineer sure does! Power amplifiers (100 to 400 plus watts) are used to drive the tiny coils (one for each channel) in the cutting head. They're like miniature speakers which instead of just moving air, push the stylus that etches the groove in your record. With 20 dB of treble boost, you can only imagine the beating that the cutting head takes from cymbal crashes and the like. The coils are helium cooled but still can reach 200 degrees Centigrade. A circuit breaker is used to prevent catastrophic destruction. This doesn't all add up to the limitation it seems, because it is still possible to cut levels higher than can be played back.
take a look at cymbals and vocal sibilance (those loud 'S' sounds).
"Why", do you ask, "Do they sound OK on the tape but sometimes so awful
on the record?" The answer is twofold. First, the problem is aggravated
by the high frequency boost we just discussed. Further excessive boost
The cutting engineer can usually tell if treble peaks are going to 'break up' on playback by the amount of current drawn by the cutting amplifier. This is measured by current meters on the amplifiers. If the current is excessive, the only way to prevent this is to use a very fast-attack treble limiter to reduce the intensity, and therefore, the groove curvature.
we're on the curvature subject, it is necessary to explain one more thing.
Ever wonder why outside diameter cuts on a record sound clearer and
I'll discuss stereo very briefly. If the sides of the river don't stay parallel, it's stereo. In other words, any difference between the two channels causes the stylus to move up and down in addition to sideways. As the stylus digs deeper, it is using more precious disc space. The moral for engineers is: If you are looking for hot levels or long sides, don't pan instruments like drums and percussion hard left and right. Keep the bass and bass drum in the center, and keep everything in phase. An out of phase snare or bass drum can wreak havoc. Use an oscilloscope if possible!
All else being equal (bass, volume and depth of cut), by allowing the end of the record to finish farther out from the label, instead of spreading the grooves farther apart to fill all the space, will actually make the record sound better. However, I understand the concept of making the record look 'full.'
So much for the primer on record cutting. Now let me give you some additional tips on making your record sound great. First, keep it as short as possible. I know this isn't always possible, but particularly if hot levels are important, keep it short! How short? As a general rule, an LP should be under 20 minutes and 24 minutes maximum. 16 to 18 minutes is ideal. Also, try to balance the side times, preferably within one minute. If one side has to be longer, put more of the quiet material on that side. This will insure even levels. If the sides are long, remember that the more bass, the lower the cutting level (volume). It is possible to squeeze 30 minutes on a side but the level will be so low you'll have to crank it just to hear it, and you will hear the surface noise!
A hot club record should be under 12 minutes, 9 to 10 minutes is ideal. Some of the top club DJs tell me they won't even play records that are over 12 minutes long because they know the levels will be low and don't want to adjust gain.
excessive treble boost in the 8 to 16 kHz range in mixing. You won't get
it back on your record. You can't break the laws of physics, sorry. A
Put your hottest, brightest, most dynamic mixes on the beginning of the disc and they'll stay that way. If possible keep the quieter material on the inside tracks.
A word about comparing DATs and CDs to a record: digital levels do not bear any relationship to analog levels. We're talking apples and oranges here. The analog output level of a CD player or DAT deck can be anything the manufacturer wants it to be, but it is generally higher than a phono preamp output. There are two reasons for this. First the digital equipment manufacturers want CDs and DATs to sound better (translate Louder) than records. If the DAT or CD is fairly wide dynamic range, a record can be as loud. HOWEVER, there has been a trend in the last few years to compress digital tapes almost to the point of the level display not moving from the beginning to the end of the song (second reason). This started with rap, filtered through to dance and club mixes, and finally to most new commercial pop releases. The result is that what used to be the peak level is now the average level and we're talking 6 to 8 dB louder than is physically possible to put on a phonograph record (or analog tape). Remember that the groove can only move so far before the playback stylus mistracks or skips, and magnetic tape can only be driven so hard before it saturates. At any level, a digital recorder is only printing ones and zeros. There is no digital counterpart. The bottom line is that a really compressed CD or DAT is going to be 6 to 8 dB louder than your record. This is not a defect, it's a FACT OF LIFE. I prefer to think of the digital compression as a defect and a scourge to anyone who appreciates dynamic range, but now I'm editorializing.
If the levels are not matched in one of these comparisons, the compressed digital source (6 to 8 dB louder) will sound like it's got more of everything. I've heard the record described as sounding like it's under water. If the levels are matched, suddenly they sound almost identical. If you are trying to accurately compare a record with a digital source, use a mixer or preamp to raise the level of the record or lower the level of the DAT until they sound very similar and then compare.
While I'm getting things off my chest, how about making the cutting engineer's job easier. Analog tapes are easily timed when rewinding, and have visual clues such as leaders and splices. DATs and CDRs do not. When supplying DAT tapes or CDRs for record mastering, always provide three things, please! One: Start IDs for each song, not just each side. Sometimes it's hard to tell where one song ends and another starts. Also, they're handy for checking each song. Two: Note accurate timings for each song AND total side time including pauses. This is particularly important if your DAT deck doesn't print absolute time on the tape. So much time is wasted by the cutting engineer having to figure out times and it's imperative to know before cutting. Three: Any level or EQ (tonal) changes you want made. One thing to be aware of is that just because all the songs peak at zero doesn't mean they will all be at the same apparent volume. This is also true with analog tapes, but to a much lesser degree (remember the digital level tutorial). This is where good old VU meters (with 6 dB pads) come in handy when you are assembling your DAT or CDR.
you find these tips and suggestions helpful, and apply them. You may have
guessed from this, that records were not originally intended to store the
kind of energy today's music contains. It's true, but if you mix with the
limitations in mind, it will make a huge difference in the final product.
It's unfortunate, but the approximately 10 year lull in the production
of phonograph records, from the mid 80's to mid 90's, caused a lot of engineers
to forget these limitations. In the meantime, a whole new generation of
engineers has come along who never dealt with record production before.