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  1. #1
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Different vinyl formulations = different sound quality

    Classic Records will periodically post some very informative information about how they go about making their LP reissues, and the attention to detail that goes into their releases. Basically, it supports my contention that any comments about vinyl as a format have to consider the much greater degree of variation that exists with vinyl pressings and mastering, compared to digital formats.

    Classic's latest newsletter has some information about how vinyl suppliers have changed in recent years, and how it affects consumers. The short of it is that the number of companies that supply lacquer and vinyl pellets is dwindling, and recent changes in formulations (such as one company deciding to no longer use lead and cadmium in their vinyl) affect the sound quality. According to Classic, the variations in sound quality between different vinyl formulations are as great as ever. Add to this, the differences in mastering processes and differences in quality standards with different pressing houses, and you got a lot of variables to account for. Anyway, here's what Classic Records has to say about the state of the vinyl ...

    The Long and Winding Road to a Classic Vinyl Record

    The long and winding road at Classic Records is the way I describe our daily pursuit of making the best records we possibly can which is often not easy. I have come to learn that everything matters when making records and that it is a challenge just to make a consistently good product. This is due, in large part to the number of variables that are involved. Take as an example that the quality of lacquers used when cutting makes a difference to the sound of the records pressed from stampers that result from the plating the lacquers. In fact, throughout the last three years there has been large variation in the quality of lacquers and hence the quality of the LP’s that result vary as well. I’m not talking about subtle variability here but in fact material issues that result in more or less background noise and sporadic ticks and pops that come from the lacquer material that propagates its way all the way to the finished product.

    Thirteen years ago we used lacquers from a company named Apollo with great success – they were quiet, cut and plated well and made great sounding records. At some point along the road, Apollos began to get noisy which we could hear by cutting a blank groove on a lacquer and playing the lacquer back on the lathe. We switched to Transco lacquers, which were not as quiet as Apollos originally had been but were quieter than Apollos had become. We used Transcos for many years with highly consistent and good sound results while continually experimenting with Apollo and other lacquers in the quest to always use the best possible lacquers at any particular point in time. All was well until, one fateful day when Transcos became noisy as a result of their supplier of nitrocellulose acetate, the material lacquers are coated with, delivering material that was not filtered as rigorously as it had been in the past and chemistry problems with the materials used to make nitrocellulose acetate. Further complicating the matter these problematic lacquers, even when we used hand-selected examples, often had problems in plating during the silvering process, requiring sides to be recut. On a tip from the plating plant, we sourced and began importing MDC brand lacquers from Japan, which for a while, were both quieter and plated more consistently than Transcos.

    Instinctively knowing that MDC might fall back into the inconsistencies they previously had experienced, I began working with Transco’s ownership to help encourage them not to give up the battle to solve the materials problems and return to making consistently quiet master lacquers for the record industry. My instinct was right, in that, possibly the result of increased demand for MDC lacquers while Transco was struggling, MDC lacquers became more noisy and harder to plate requiring many more recuts. Volume is always an issue in providing a consistently good product, which is true at the pressing level as well which I will address later.

    I am happy to report that Transco has taken the control of the manufacture of its microcellulose acetate in-house by hiring the original chemist and buying the formula from their previous supplier. A local supplier who uses the highest quality materials and filtering is now strictly making Transcos microcellulose under the supervision of their chemist. Transco’s efforts and perseverance have paid off and I am thrilled that we are again using Transco lacquers with great success – they cut, plate and sound great! The point of this part of the story is that materials matter crucially in the final sound quality of an LP. Also, I want all to know that Classic Records has and will always pursue quality down to the materials level, which no other vinyl company is currently doing.

    Another variable is vinyl formulas, which according to some Self Proclaimed Experts (SPE’s ) on well known vinyl enthusiast websites, only number two or three. In fact, there are four suppliers worldwide, each of which have somewhere between three and twelve different formulas each! We have, for years pointed out that vinyl formulas sound dramatically different. Some have more clarity in different frequency spectrums while others have better bass definition and still others sound warm and tube like but lack a little of the sense of “reality” that audiophiles so long for.

    We have again embarked on listening to a dozen different vinyl formulas and the variation is as great as I have ever heard. Other companies that produce LP’s use the vinyl that the pressing plant they contract with has available. Vinyl pressing plants strive to have consistency in manufacturing and hence their choice of vinyl is driven not by sound quality but by consistency in their pressing process and a minimum of rejects. I don’t mean to suggest that pressing plants have no interest in sound quality, just that it is not at the top of their list of objectives. They would like to make quiet records but quiet is only necessary and far from sufficient as a motivation in making the BEST sounding records possible.

    Now for the bad news, over the past five years there have been dramatic changes in the market for vinyl pellets used to mold vinyl records. One of the major suppliers for decades, Kaiser, simply shut their doors and stopped producing vinyl pellets. A few of the top people that lost their jobs set up a new company, to produce vinyl pellets in Columbia (South America) and after years of struggling to make a consistent formula, now market and sell a variety of formulas under the brand name Kenan. We are experimenting with great success with a number of Kenan formulations.

    Add to the mix that Rimtec Corp. , a major producer of high quality vinyl pellets that Classic Records had used up until the third quarter of last year, announced that they would no longer be making vinyl pellets with lead and cadmium, important mold release additives. Vinyl formulas that are lead free are both harder to press consistently and sound different. Rimtec Corporation continues to make colored vinyl pellets which use no lead or cadmium but no more of the original leaded formula that we had used for many years. By the way, even if you ate a ground up record you should have no fear of lead poisoning from the amount added to vinyl pellets, although you may have digestive issues thereafter. We have listened to the unleaded material and it sounds great and we’ll have more to say about this and other issues that come up along the long and winding road in the future.

    Stay tuned….
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  2. #2
    Do What? jrhymeammo's Avatar
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    Good infom Woochi


    Again, I appreciate all of their efforts. it's great to know that they spend some time fine tuning/perfecting our $30-50 records. But either way, non of them sound good to me before breaking them in first. i wanted to read up on their take on sound characterists/quality after 5-10 plays.
    For the vinyl material? I think we all can agree that picture discs sound dreadful...


    Happy listening,

  3. #3
    If you can't run-walk. Bernd's Avatar
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    Very informative.....

    ......and something I know and believe to be important for a while. The quality of the Vinyl has definitely become more variable over the last few years.Brand new wax that looks pristine and has been cleaned can and often does do diplay a lot of noise.
    I have paper thin records from 30 years ago that are very silent. I just hope that they keep the quality aspect going and find a reliable supplier for the pellets.It is indeed a variable maze, but when it all comes together no little silver disc can compete.
    I also agree with Emperor Hiro, about the improvement of a new record after several plays.They never sound as good brand-new as they do after a few rotations.

    Peace

    "Let The Earth Bear Witness."

  4. #4
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    I guess I'm not as big a believer in vinyl break in. I usually give a couple of spins just to get some of the surface contaminants out. Whatever differences I hear between the 1st play and the 10th play pales in comparison with what I've heard when comparing different versions and/or pressings on the same title. And repeated plays won't fix issues with the pressing itself (warpage, off-center spindle holes, dirty pressings, pressings made from worn out stampers, etc.). For all the belief in vinyl's superiority, it's also an incredibly variable medium in so many ways. I'll agree though that when everything comes together, it can indeed top anything I've ever heard on a CD.
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  5. #5
    Do What? jrhymeammo's Avatar
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    It may get off the subject, but I'll get it back in...

    I'm not quite sure if I've just scrapped off all the contaminante from pressings after playing it 5-10 times. Maybe I should try some pre-cleaners next time I feel like experimenting..

    I agree that analog playback varies quite a bit, but we are not talking about DSOM by Pink Floyd where the same stamper was over used(No research done to support this statement). I'm confident that records made by MF or Classic Record affiliates are capable of producing more consistant records. I think it's about time I ordered The Hawk Flies High by MF, limited to 2000 + test LP pressings. I think it'll be on the safer side..

    Oh, and what about different cutting angles of records? We are doomed

    JRA

  6. #6
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrhymeammo
    I'm not quite sure if I've just scrapped off all the contaminante from pressings after playing it 5-10 times. Maybe I should try some pre-cleaners next time I feel like experimenting..

    I agree that analog playback varies quite a bit, but we are not talking about DSOM by Pink Floyd where the same stamper was over used(No research done to support this statement). I'm confident that records made by MF or Classic Record affiliates are capable of producing more consistant records. I think it's about time I ordered The Hawk Flies High by MF, limited to 2000 + test LP pressings. I think it'll be on the safer side..

    Oh, and what about different cutting angles of records? We are doomed

    JRA
    It wasn't just the multiplatinum albums that suffered from overused stampers -- it was pretty much any album that the record companies decided to cut corners on.

    The way it works is that you have lacquer masterdisc, and then a nickel electroplating impression is made. From that nickel "master," several "mothers" are pressed. It's from these "mothers" that the stampers are made. Each mother is good for making several stampers, while each stamper can hammer out a few thousand LPs. Inner groove distortion was fairly common when LPs were mass produced, and that's the telltale sign of an overused stamper. Unfortunately, it was luck of the draw as to whether the LP copy that one purchases came from the beginning of a stamper's run or well after it should have been retired.

    So many variations that determine sound quality. A lot of LP collectors like to look for copies pressed from early production stampers (the stamper number is etched onto blank space at the end of the LP side), presumably because those early stampers are generationally closer to master disk itself. But, the variable here of course is whether the LP copy was one of the first or one of the last copies pressed from that stamper.

    Fortunately, because LPs are such low volume products nowadays, the need to overuse the stampers is no longer as prevalent.
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  7. #7
    Do What? jrhymeammo's Avatar
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    I just read an article by Classic Records on EnjoytheMusic. It didnt look like the article was up to date, but gives a good insight on the entire pressing process. This thread just touches on vinyl material, and imagining what else takes place in the entire process, $30 a pop without value added tax, is not a bad deal.

  8. #8
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrhymeammo
    I just read an article by Classic Records on EnjoytheMusic. It didnt look like the article was up to date, but gives a good insight on the entire pressing process. This thread just touches on vinyl material, and imagining what else takes place in the entire process, $30 a pop without value added tax, is not a bad deal.
    I like how Classic posts these "behind the scenes" articles on how they make their LP reissues. It also gives an insight into Classic's basic approach, which is to reproduce the sound of the original first-generation LP pressing as closely as possible by using vintage tape players during the transfer and vault copy playbacks for A-B reference. This is very different from Mobile Fidelity, which tends to take more creative license in how they tweak with the sound on their LP (and CD and SACD) releases, and use highly customized electronics during the mastering process.

    $30 though is still a steep price! The irony is that I kept my turntable throughout college less for sound quality considerations than because it helped me stretch my music budget. Back then, new LPs sold for $8 while CDs would sell for $15; plus, during that time people everywhere were dumping their LP collections, so good quality used LPs were cheap and plentiful. It's kinda strange now to see LPs routinely marketed as limited production premium priced titles, when it wasn't too long ago that audiophile pressings constituted a very small niche with LP releases.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer View Post
    ...
    The way it works is that you have lacquer masterdisc, and then a nickel electroplating impression is made.
    OK, everyone likes to say, electroplating, or "plating," however, in truth, there's no electroplating involved. It's electroforming. The lacquer is not electrically conductive, so it's dipped in Stannous Chloride and then sprayed (with a dual-nozzle gun) with Silver nitrate and glucose (or formaldehyde), which mix as they hit the surface, while the tin-coated lacquer spins on a vertical turntable at about 60 rpm, leaving behind a very thin top coating of Silver. This liquid coating allows the otherwise dialectric lacquer surface to be used as an electroforming mandrel. Once the Silver-coated lacquer is bolted onto the cathode of the electroforming tank, the Silver in the coating presents electrons to the Nickel sulfamate ions (which lack one electron from the valence shell). The current gets up to about 100 Amperes at about 10 Volts. As the Nickel ions land on the free electrons, they become neutral [Ag]. Once enough Nickel has built up, the nickel record (mirror image) is physically parted from the lacquer (which would not be possible if the Nickel had been electroplated onto the mandrel), with the Silver coating having electrodeposited onto the surface of the Nickel record.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer View Post
    ...
    From that nickel "master," several "mothers" are pressed.
    One mother is electroformed from the father. The father would have been "passivated" to preclude electroplating. The mother is then passivated so as to electroform a son, if three-step electroforming is done, in which case the son is pre-formed into a stamper. Or, she is kept as a safety, and, in two-step electroforming, the father is de-Silvered (chemically) and then preformed into a stamper, requiring that its diameter be trimmed, its center, punched, and that the disc be given the target profile for the pressing and specific shapes of the press die to be used.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer View Post
    ...
    It's from these "mothers" that the stampers are made.
    As mentioned, above, either the mother is used to electroform a son which is turned into a stamper, or the father is turned into the side's stamper. In two-step electroforming, the mother is made from the part that will become the stamper.

    A stamper made from a father can make a few hundred pressings. A stamper made from a son is what can make a few thousand.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woochifer View Post
    ...
    ... Inner groove distortion was fairly common when LPs were mass produced, and that's the telltale sign of an overused stamper.
    Every record has inner-diameter distortion. This happens while the master disc is being cut on the lathe. The problem is that the inner radii presents "land" that moves more slowly than at the outer radii, and the inner radii move slowly enough, even at 45 rpm, that the stylus will be erasing some of the treble (wiggles) that it just cut, due to not getting out of its own way in time, as is easy to do where the land speed is fast. "Sir Duke" has a lot of brass horns that might have been strident had the song not been located at the end of the side.



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  10. #10
    Super Moderator Site Moderator JohnMichael's Avatar
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    Thanks for responding to a thread that is eight years old. Feel free to start a new thread.
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