Vinyl

So, lately I have had a couple of things come out on vinyl which is very exciting. It would be even MORE exciting if they were actually made properly and stood a chance of sounding as good as they should. It's not the best idea to make the vinyl from the super loud CD/digital master because the requirements are pretty different, and so are the technologies; using a heavily peak limited 16 bit CD master is less than ideal from the word go. Think of it this way - your vinyl made this way is only going to sound worse than the CD, which is NOT how it should be. “But it’s on vinyl!” Ok. You should always send the highest sample rate and bit depth file possible to the cut so they can prepare a master suitable for the source, NOT the CD master. If they do not ask for that, you are working with people who do not know what they are doing, or worse - don’t care. We don’t want to work with those. Best case in the previous situation, someone will…"master" your master. Does that make sense? No. The other thing is length. While we got used to long CD’s and now even longer streamed albums, it just doesn’t work for vinyl. Past 20 minutes a side, quality and level starts to go downhill.

Decent vinyl cuts sound good for a number of reasons, one of which is the way the dynamics are handled, and some of the processing needed to prep for the medium. It's also not as helpful as it could be to read what some of the vinyl places are saying in their FAQ. I checked out XVINYLX and yes - they make some thick ass, good vinyl but the prep advice is wack. First as an example: "cut everything over 12k" They really don't mean that, as in fact... the ultrasonic content of vinyl is one of the things that makes it special, the nature of the medium rolls it off anyway; what they really mean is to have a good spectral balance and in particular - keep an eye on sibilance, that is, the "sss" and "ttt" noises in your vocals that basically turn into distortion and play total havoc with vinyl. It’s actually often a problem on playback, depending on how good your cartridge is. You have a de-esser - use it. Just don't over use it! Not coincidentally one of the the BEST de-essers is just recording on analogue tape, and that goes hand in hand with vinyl being an analogue medium. Analogue tape was after all THE source for vinyl originally. The sibilance became more important with the swap to digital, as you're not using tape anymore and gaining that attenuation by default, hence sibilance being more of a problem.

Next: "mono the bass under 300hz" We’ll call this… semi-bullshit. Part of the vinyl mastering process is, or often is a device that makes the LF mono, as if let's say you had a huge fat kick drum panned right, yes, it's likely the cut will be sh*t, or at best - quiet to stop the needle physically jumping out of the groove so that makes sense. However, a good mastering engineer will use judgement and be perfectly capable of getting other stereo bass information on the record. The issue here is usually the mix as in people mixing on monitors that can't reproduce the true low end, leaving tons of subsonic crap in there, and other common mistakes, not to say I am the kind of person that is for putting an HPF on everything. I also know that what people think of as low bass…isn't. Plenty of sneaky engineers I know got fat sounding records that sounded bass heavy precisely by shifting the focus of the bass UPWARDS, not lower into the subsonic territory. That's why your YouTube video goes PPPFFFTTTTTT in the low end and all the stuff from the 80's - doesn't. So yes, your low bass sources should be mono, the kick, etc and there are lots of great tools to help you do this, but not everything under 300 has to be mono. You can find a load of old records with the bass hard left or right and they still made the cut!

The awesome news in general is there is some great vinyl being made again, it looks great, and can sound great. Just give yourself the opportunity for it to to sound great as well as be able to be amazed over how cool the disc looks.

Adam Whittaker