Hundreds of factors determine what a vintage record will sound like, from the chain of ownership and whether it's been properly stored to the purity of the vinyl stock and the quality of the equipment that produced it. One factor many serious record collectors fixate on is the quality of the stampers, the grooved metal plates used to press a lump of hot vinyl into a record album. Like any metal die, these molds have a finite lifespan.
The accumulation of scratches, flaws, and other damage resulting from the tremendous mechanical stress a stamper is subjected to— tons of pressure during a production run—leads to a gradual loss of audio fidelity in the finished records.
To ensure the best sound quality, some boutique companies that press heavy vinyl today limit their stampers to 1, pressings. In contrast, during the peak of the vinyl boom, major labels churned out as many as 10, copies on a single stamper. It's preferable to have a record pressed early in a production run, before the metal exhibits signs of wear, rather than toward the end, right before a fresh stamper is slapped on.
Tom Port thinks a thousand bucks is a bargain to hear a classic rock opus sound better than you've ever heard it sound before—stoned or sober. Nab an early pressing of an iconic title produced under ideal conditions, take really really good care of it for 40 years, and maybe it'll be judged a hot stamper worth four figures. Scott Hull, a recording engineer who owns Masterdiskone of the world's premier mastering facilities, compares producing a vinyl record to making wine.
Everything matters, from plating the lacquers to various molding issues to the quality of the vinyl pellets. Selling these artifacts at these prices requires more than a list of customers with too much disposable income. It takes hard work, chutzpa and catalog copy that ignites neural brush fires in the amygdala.
Port had me at "killer pressing. Although Better Records offers jazz, blues, classical, and the occasional genre novelty faux-Polynesian exotica is a recurring guilty pleasureinvariably it's nostalgic classic rock albums like that Stones semi-classic from that become hot stampers. The painstaking process begins by scouring the used market—from Salvation Army bins to eBay—for a dozen or more clean copies of an album.
Grunt work completed, the hot stamper king and his minions meet in the Better Records listening room for a round of tests dubbed a "Shootout. By the standards of your stereotypical tube-loving, power-junkie audiophile, the amp Port uses as the hub of his Shootout machine is shockingly ordinary: a s Japanese integrated transistor amp rated at a feeble 30 watts per channel, a typical thrift-store find.
That can sound nice, but I need accuracy. The other components are much more upscale. Everything has been carefully selected for sonic neutrality. This isn't about conjuring mega-bass or shimmering highs. The goal is flat frequency response, getting as close as possible to the sound on the original master tape. Nothing added or subtracted. When the shootout finally gets underway, lights are dimmed, eyelids fall and ears peak. With each cut sampled, the usual things are carefully pondered: presence, frequency extension, transparency, soundstage, texture, tonal correctness, and an elusive quirk called "tubey magic" seriously.
Every element is scrutinized in granular detail. If opinions diverge or memories fail, reference copies are pulled from the archive to check benchmarks. It's tedious work. When the grades are tabulated, a sonic pecking order emerges:.
It's tempting to dismiss hot stampers as pseudoscience, like cryogenically treated speaker cablespower amp fuses zapped with Tesla coilsand every other confidence scheme devised to separate affluent middle-aged audiophiles from the contents of their wallets.
Talk to enough studio engineers and record plant technicians, though, and it becomes apparent that the aural disparity between records that Tom Port prattles on about really does exist. Industry experts agree that copies of the same album can, and often do, sound different; sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
Not just from copy to copy, and from side A to side B, but from track to track, and, yes, even within the same track. In fact, vinyl records made on the same stamper, during the same production run also can vary in sound quality.
Other copies, bearing different record labels, pressed in different countries, using different equipment and personnel, will impart their own sonic flavor, which only muddles the issue further. Only the producer, the mastering, and cutting engineers really know what that record was supposed to sound like. Most members of hobbyist web forums who discuss vinyl records are vehemently anti-hot stamper.
It's the exorbitant markup, of course, that provokes all the outrage. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Mail-order music club brand by Columbia Records. For other uses, see Columbia House disambiguation. December 10, Archived from the original on May 4, Retrieved June 12, Toronto Sun.
Associated Press AP. Retrieved August 13, Retrieved February 21, June 26, Time Warner. March 13, March 14, Terre Haute Tribune-Star. July 21, Archived from the original PDF on June 6, Retrieved February 22, Retrieved October 26, Archived from the original on December 14, Retrieved January 24, Archived from the original on December 15, The New York Times.
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Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. Help Community portal Recent changes Upload file. Download as PDF Printable version. Add links. Columbia Records used a laminated disc with a core of coarser material or fiber. Less abrasive formulations were developed during its waning years and very late examples in like-new condition can have noise levels as low as vinyl.
Beginning inNicole Records of the UK coated celluloid or a similar substance onto a cardboard core disc for a few years, but they were noisy. In the United States, Columbia Records introduced flexible, fiber-cored "Marconi Velvet Tone Record" pressings inbut their longevity and relatively quiet surfaces depended on the use of special gold-plated Marconi Needles and the product was not successful.
Thin, flexible plastic records such as the German Phonycord and the British Filmophone and Goodson records appeared around but not for long. In the US, Hit of the Week records were introduced in early They were LP) of a patented translucent plastic called Durium coated on a heavy brown paper base. A new issue debuted weekly, sold at newsstands like a magazine.
Although inexpensive and commercially successful at first, they fell victim to the Great Depression and US production ended in Durium records continued to be made in the UK and as late as in Italy, where the name "Durium" survived into the LP era as a brand of vinyl records. InRCA Victor introduced vinyl plastic-based Victrolac as a material for unusual-format and special-purpose records.
InRCA began using Victrolac in a home recording system. By the end of the s vinyl's light weight, strength, and low surface noise had made it the preferred material for prerecorded radio programming and other critical applications. Later, Decca Records introduced vinyl Deccalite 78s, while other record companies used vinyl formulations trademarked as Metrolite, Merco Plastic, and Sav-o-flex, but these were mainly used to produce "unbreakable" children's records and special thin vinyl DJ pressings for shipment to radio stations.
In the s, the diameter of the earliest toy discs was generally By the mids, discs were usually 7 inches nominally VictorBrunswick and Columbia also issued inch popular medleys, usually spotlighting a Broadway show score.
Fewer than fifty titles were issued, and the series was dropped indue to poor sales. The playing time of a phonograph record depends on the available groove length divided by the turntable speed. Total groove length in turn depends on how closely the grooves are spaced, in addition to the record diameter. At the beginning of the 20th century, the early discs played for two minutes, the same as cylinder records. In JanuaryMilt Gabler started recording for Commodore Recordsand to allow for longer continuous performances, he recorded some inch discs.
Eddie Condon explained: "Gabler realized that a jam session needs room for development. Vaudeville stars Gallagher and Shean recorded "Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean", written by themselves or, allegedly, by Bryan Foy, as two sides of a inch 78 in for Victor.
The limited duration of recordings persisted from their advent until the introduction of the LP record in In the 78 era, classical-music and spoken-word items generally were released on the longer inch 78s, about 4—5 minutes per side.
For example, on June 10,four months after the February 12 premier of Rhapsody in BlueGeorge Gershwin recorded an abridged version of the seventeen-minute work with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Generally the sleeves had a circular cut-out exposing the record label to view. Records could be laid on a shelf horizontally or stood on an edge, but because of their fragility, breakage was common. German record company Odeon pioneered the album in when it released the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky on 4 double-sided discs in a specially designed package.
The practice of issuing albums was not adopted by other record companies for many years. By about[note 1] bound collections of empty sleeves with a paperboard or leather cover, similar to a photograph album, were sold as record albums that customers could use to store their records the term "record album" was printed on some covers.
These albums came in both inch and inch sizes. The covers of these bound books were wider and taller than the records inside, allowing the record album to be placed on a shelf upright, like a book, suspending the fragile records above the shelf and protecting them.
Most albums included three or four records, with two sides each, making six or eight tunes per album. When the inch vinyl LP era began ineach disc could hold a similar number of tunes as a typical album of 78s, so they were still referred to as an "album", as they are today. This series came in heavy manilla envelopes and began with a jazz album AP-1 and was soon followed by other AP numbers up through about AP These vinyl Rhino 78's were softer and would be destroyed by old juke boxes and old record players, but play very well on newer capable turntables with modern lightweight tone arms and jewel needles.
InRCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record, marketed as program-transcription discs. RCA Victor's early introduction of a long-play disc was a commercial failure for several reasons including the lack of affordable, reliable consumer playback equipment and consumer wariness during the Great Depression.
There were also a couple of longer-playing records issued on ARC for release on their Banner, Perfect, and Oriole labels and on the Crown label. All of these were phased out in mid Vinyl's lower surface noise level than shellac was not forgotten, nor was its durability.
In the late s, radio commercials and pre-recorded radio programs being sent to disc jockeys started being pressed in vinyl, so they would not break in the mail. In the mids, special DJ copies of records started being made of vinyl also, for the same reason. Beginning inDr. Peter Goldmark and his staff at Columbia Records and at CBS Laboratories undertook efforts to address problems of recording and playing back narrow grooves and developing an inexpensive, reliable consumer playback system. It took about eight years of study, except when it was suspended because of World War II.
Another size and format was that of radio transcription discs beginning in the s. No home record player could accommodate such large records, and they were used mainly by radio stations. They were on average 15 minutes per side and contained several songs or radio program material. These records became less common in the United States when tape recorders began being used for radio transcriptions around In the UK, analog discs continued to be the preferred medium for the licence of BBC transcriptions to overseas broadcasters until the use of CDs became a practical alternative.
On a few early phonograph systems and radio transcription discs, as well as some entire albums, the direction of the groove is reversed, beginning near the center of the disc and leading to the outside. The earliest rotation speeds varied considerably, but from most records were recorded at 74—82 revolutions per minute rpm.
At least one attempt to lengthen playing time was made in the early s. World Records produced records that played at a constant linear velocitycontrolled by Noel Pemberton Billing 's patented add-on speed governor.
This behavior is similar to the modern compact disc and the CLV version of its predecessor, the analog encoded Philips LaserDiscbut is reversed from inside to outside. In the s, Earlier they were just called recordsor when there was a need to distinguish them from cylindersdisc records. The older 78 rpm format continued to be mass-produced alongside the newer formats using new materials in decreasing numbers until the summer of in the U. Some of Elvis Presley 's early singles on Sun Records may have sold more copies on 78 than on In the mids all record companies agreed to a common frequency response standard, called RIAA equalization.
Prior to the establishment of the standard each company used its own preferred equalization, requiring discriminating listeners to use pre-amplifiers with selectable equalization curves. Prestige Records released jazz records in this format in the late s; for example, two of their Miles Davis albums were paired together in this format.
Each record held 40 minutes of music per side, recorded at grooves per inch. For a two-year period from torecord companies and consumers faced uncertainty over which of these formats would ultimately prevail in what was known as the "War of the Speeds".
See also format war. Bymillion 45s had been sold. The large center hole on 45s allows for easier handling by jukebox mechanisms. EPs were generally discontinued by the late s in the U. In the late s and early s, rpm-only players that lacked speakers and plugged into a jack on the back of a radio were widely available. Eventually, they were replaced by the three-speed record player.
From the mids through the s, in the U. The adapter could be a small solid circle that fit onto the bottom of the spindle meaning only one 45 could be played at a time or a larger adaptor that fit over the entire spindle, permitting a stack of 45s to be played. RCA Victor 45s were also adapted to the smaller spindle of an LP player with a plastic snap-in insert known as a " spider ". In countries outside the U. During the vinyl era, various developments were introduced.
Stereo finally lost its previous experimental status, and eventually became standard internationally. Quadraphonic sound effectively had to wait for digital formats before finding a permanent position in the market place. The term "high fidelity" was coined in the s by some manufacturers of radio receivers and phonographs to differentiate their better-sounding products claimed as LP) "perfect" sound reproduction. After a variety of improvements in recording and playback technologies, especially stereo recordings, which became widely available ingave a boost to the "hi-fi" classification of products, leading to sales of individual components for the home such as amplifiers, loudspeakers, phonographs, and tape players.
Stereophonic sound recording, which attempts to provide a more natural listening experience by reproducing the spatial locations of sound sources in the horizontal plane, was the natural extension to monophonic recording, and attracted various alternative engineering attempts.
EMI cut the first stereo test discs using the system in see Bell Labs Stereo Experiments of although the system was not exploited commercially until much later. In this system, each of two stereo channels is carried independently by a separate groove wall, each wall face moving at 45 degrees to the plane of the record surface hence the system's name in correspondence with the signal level of that channel. By convention, the inner wall carries the left-hand channel and the outer wall carries the right-hand channel.
While the stylus only moves horizontally when reproducing a monophonic disk recording, on stereo records the stylus moves vertically as well as horizontally. During playback, the movement of a single stylus tracking the groove is sensed independently, e. The Life Outside The Mirror - Merchandise (2) - After The End (Vinyl stylus motion can be represented in terms of the vector sum and difference of the two stereo channels.
In the first commercial stereo two-channel records were issued first by Audio Fidelity followed by a translucent blue vinyl on Bel Canto Recordsthe first of which was a multi-colored-vinyl sampler featuring A Stereo Tour of Los Angeles narrated by Jack Wagner on one side, and a collection of tracks from various Bel Canto albums on the back.
However, it was not until the mid-to-late LP) that the sales of stereophonic LPs overtook those of their monophonic equivalents, and became the dominant record type. The development of quadraphonic records was announced in These recorded four separate sound signals.
This was achieved on the two stereo channels by electronic matrixing, where the additional channels were combined into the main signal. When the records were played, phase-detection circuits in the amplifiers were able to decode the signals into four separate channels. They proved commercially unsuccessful, but were an important precursor to later surround sound systems, as seen in SACD and home cinema today.
This system encoded the front-rear difference information on an ultrasonic carrier. CD-4 was less successful than matrix formats. A further problem was that no cutting heads were available that could handle the high frequency information. This was remedied by cutting at half the speed. Later, the special half-speed cutting heads and equalization techniques were employed to get wider frequency response in stereo with reduced distortion and greater headroom.
Under the direction of recording engineer C. Robert Fine, Mercury Records initiated a minimalist single microphone monaural recording technique in The first record, a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance of Pictures at an Exhibitionconducted by Rafael Kubelikwas described as "being in the living presence of the orchestra" by The New York Times music critic.
The series of records was then named Mercury Living Presence. InMercury began three-channel stereo recordings, still based on the principle of the single microphone. The center single microphone was of paramount importance, with the two side mics adding depth and space. Record masters were cut directly from a three-track to two-track mixdown console, with all editing of the master tapes done on the original three-tracks. The Mercury Living Presence recordings were remastered to CD in the s by the original producer, Wilma Cozart Fine, using the same method of three-to-two mix directly to the master recorder.
Through the s, s, and s, various methods to improve the dynamic range of mass-produced records involved highly advanced disc cutting equipment. RCA Victor introduced another system to reduce dynamic range and achieve a groove with less surface noise under the commercial name of Dynagroove. Two main elements were combined: another disk material with less surface noise in the groove and dynamic compression for masking background noise.
Sometimes this was called "diaphragming" the source material and not favoured by some music lovers for its unnatural side effects. Both elements were reflected in the brandname of Dynagroove, described elsewhere in more detail.
It also used the earlier advanced method of forward-looking control on groove spacing with respect to volume of sound and position on the disk. Lower recorded volume used closer spacing; higher recorded volume used wider spacing, especially with lower frequencies.
Also, the higher track LP) at lower volumes enabled disk recordings to end farther away from the disk center than usual, helping to reduce endtrack distortion even further. Also in the late s, " direct-to-disc " records were produced, aimed at an audiophile niche market. These completely bypassed the use of magnetic tape in favor of a "purist" transcription directly to the master lacquer disc. Also during this period, half-speed mastered and "original master" records were released, using expensive state-of-the-art technology.
A further late s development was the Disco Eye-Cued system used mainly on Motown inch singles released between and The introduction, drum-breaks, or choruses of a track were indicated by widely separated grooves, giving a visual cue to DJs mixing the records. The appearance of these records is similar to an LP, but they only contain one track each side. The mids saw the introduction of dbx-encoded records, again for the audiophile niche market.
ELPJa Japanese-based company, sells a laser turntable that uses a laser to read vinyl discs optically, without physical contact. The laser turntable eliminates record wear and the possibility of accidental scratches, which degrade the sound, but its expense limits use primarily to digital archiving of analog records, and the laser does not play back colored vinyl or picture discs.
Various other laser-based turntables were tried during the s, but while a laser reads the groove very accurately, since it does not touch the record, the dust that vinyl attracts due to static electric charge is not mechanically pushed out of the groove, worsening sound quality in casual use compared to conventional stylus playback.
In some ways similar to the laser turntable is the IRENE scanning machine for disc records, which images with microphotography, invented by a team of physicists at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories. In order to convert to a digital sound file, this is then played by a version of the same 'virtual stylus' program developed by the research team in real-time, converted to digital and, if desired, processed through sound-restoration programs.
Terms such as "long-play" LP and "extended-play" EP describe multi-track records that play much longer than the single-item-per-side records, which typically do not go much past four minutes per side. An LP can play for up to 30 minutes per side, though most played for about 22 minutes per side, bringing the total playing time of a typical LP recording to about forty-five minutes.
Many pre LPs, however, played for about 15 minutes per side. The term EP is still used for a release that is longer than a single but shorter than an album, even if it is not on vinyl format. The usual diameters of the holes are 0. Many 7" singles pressed outside the US come with the smaller spindle hole size, and are occasionally pressed with notches to allow the center part to be "punched out" for playing on larger spindles.
Sizes of records in the United States and the UK are generally measured in inches, e. LPs were inch records at first, but soon the inch size became by far the most common.
Flexi discs were thin flexible records that were distributed with magazines and as promotional gifts from the s to the s. This format was soon dropped as it became clear that the RCA 45 was the single of choice and the Columbia inch LP would be the album of choice. Most colors were soon dropped in favor of black because of production problems.
However, yellow and deep red were continued until about Price, plant manager. In the s, the government of Bhutan produced now-collectible postage stamps on playable vinyl mini-discs.
The normal commercial disc is engraved with two sound-bearing concentric spiral grooves, one on each side, running from the outside edge towards the center. The last part of the spiral meets an earlier part to form a circle. The sound is encoded by fine variations in the edges of the groove that cause a stylus needle placed in it to vibrate at acoustic frequencies when the disc is rotated at the correct speed. Generally, the outer and inner parts of the groove bear no intended sound exceptions include the Beatles ' Sgt.
Increasingly from the early 20th century,  and almost exclusively since the s, both sides of the record have been used to carry the grooves. Occasional records have been issued since then with a recording on only one side. The coloring material used to blacken the transparent PVC plastic mix is carbon blackwhich increases the strength of the disc and makes it opaque. Some records are pressed on colored vinyl or with paper pictures embedded in them "picture discs".
During the s there was a trend for releasing singles on colored vinyl—sometimes with large inserts that could be used as posters. This trend has been revived recently with 7-inch singles. Records made in other countries are standardized by different organizations, but are very similar in size.
The stylus is lowered onto the lead-in, without damaging the recorded section of the groove. This space is clearly visible, making it easy to find a particular track. Towards the center, at the end of the groove, there is another wide-pitched section known as the lead-out.
At the very end of this section the groove joins itself to form a complete circle, called the lock groove ; when the stylus reaches this point, it circles repeatedly until lifted from the record. On some recordings for example Sgt.
Automatic turntables rely on the position or angular velocity of the arm, as it reaches the wider spacing in the groove, to trigger a mechanism that lifts the arm off the record. Precisely because of this mechanism, most automatic turntables are incapable of playing any audio in the lock groove, since they will lift the arm before it reaches that groove.
The catalog number and stamper ID is written or stamped in the space between the groove in the lead-out on the master disc, resulting in visible recessed writing on the final version of a record. Sometimes the cutting engineer might add handwritten comments or their signature, if they are particularly pleased with the quality of the cut. These are generally referred to as "run-out etchings".
When auto-changing turntables were commonplace, records were typically pressed with a raised or ridged outer edge and a raised label area, allowing records to be stacked onto each other without the delicate grooves coming into contact, reducing the risk of damage. Auto-changers included a mechanism to support a stack of several records above the turntable itself, dropping them one at a time onto the active turntable to be played in order.
Many longer sound recordings, such as complete operas, were interleaved across several inch or inch discs for use with auto-changing mechanisms, so that the first disk of a three-disk recording would carry sides 1 and 6 of the program, while the second disk would carry sides 2 and 5, and the third, sides 3 and 4, allowing sides 1, 2, and 3 to be played automatically; then the whole stack reversed to play sides 4, 5, and 6.
The sound quality and durability of vinyl records is highly dependent on the quality of the vinyl. During the early s, as a cost-cutting move, much of the industry began reducing the thickness and quality of vinyl used in mass-market manufacturing. Many collectors prefer to have heavyweight vinyl albums, which have been reported to have better sound than normal vinyl because of their higher tolerance against deformation caused by normal play.
Manufacturing processes are identical regardless of weight. In fact, pressing lightweight records requires more care. This flaw causes a grinding or scratching sound at the non-fill point. Virgin vinyl means that the album is not from recycled plastic, and will theoretically be devoid of these impurities. In practice, this depends on the manufacturer's quality control.
The " orange peel " effect on vinyl records is caused by worn molds. Rather than having the proper mirror-like finish, the surface of the record will have a texture that looks like orange peel. This introduces noise into the record, particularly in the lower frequency range. With direct metal mastering DMMthe master disc is cut on a copper-coated disc, which can also have a minor "orange peel" effect on the disc itself.
As this "orange peel" originates in the master rather than being introduced in the pressing stage, there is no ill effect as there is no physical distortion of the groove, Life Outside The Mirror - Merchandise (2) - After The End (Vinyl.
Original master discs are created by lathe-cutting: a lathe is used to cut a modulated groove into a blank record. The blank records for cutting used to be cooked up, as needed, by the cutting engineer, using what Robert K.
Morrison describes as a "metallic soap", containing lead litharge, ozokerite, barium sulfate, montan wax, stearin and paraffin, among other ingredients. Cut "wax" sound discs would be placed in a vacuum chamber and gold-sputtered to make them electrically conductive for use as mandrels in an electroforming bath, where pressing stamper parts were made.
Later, the French company Pyral invented a ready-made blank disc having a thin nitro-cellulose lacquer coating approximately 7 mils thickness on both sides that was applied to an aluminum substrate. Lacquer cuts result in an immediately playable, or processable, master record. If vinyl pressings are wanted, the still-unplayed sound disc is used as a mandrel for electroforming nickel records that are used for manufacturing pressing stampers.
The electroformed nickel records are mechanically separated from their respective mandrels. This is done with relative ease because no actual "plating" of the mandrel occurs in the type of electrodeposition known as electroforming, unlike with electroplating, in which the adhesion of the new phase of metal is chemical and relatively permanent. The one-molecule-thick coating of silver that was sprayed onto the processed lacquer sound disc in order to make its surface electrically conductive reverse-plates onto the nickel record's face.
This negative impression disc having ridges in place of grooves is known as a nickel master, "matrix" or "father". The "father" is then used as a mandrel to electroform a positive disc known as a "mother". Many mothers can be grown on a single "father" before ridges deteriorate beyond effective use.
The "mothers" are then used as mandrels for electroforming more negative discs known as "sons". Each "mother" can be used to make many "sons" before deteriorating.
The "sons" are then converted into "stampers" by center-punching a spindle hole which was lost from the lacquer sound disc during initial electroforming of the "father"and by custom-forming the target pressing profile. This allows them to be placed in the dies of the target make and model record press and, by center-roughing, to facilitate the adhesion of the label, which gets stuck onto the vinyl pressing without any glue.
In this way, several million vinyl discs can be produced from a single lacquer sound disc. When only a few hundred discs are required, instead of electroforming a "son" for each sidethe "father" is removed of its silver and converted into a stamper.
Production by this latter method, known as the "two-step process" as it does not entail creation of "sons" but does involve creation of "mothers", which are used for test playing and kept as "safeties" for electroforming future "sons" is limited to a few hundred vinyl pressings. The pressing count can increase if the stamper holds out and the quality of the vinyl is high. The "sons" made during a "three-step" electroforming make better stampers since they don't require silver removal which reduces some high fidelity because of etching erasing part of the smallest groove modulations and also because they have a stronger metal structure than "fathers".
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