If you’re pressing vinyl records, cutting your master is probably the most crucial (and most expensive!) step, so it’s wise of you to research your vinyl cutting options.
And while in general, we don’t recommend one over the other (it all depends on the particular recording), I’ll give you a rundown on the basic differences between the two to make sure you know exactly what to expect.
Basically, there are two ways to cut your master— LACQUER MASTERING and DIRECT METAL MASTERING (aka DMM).
And in this article, I will discuss the basic difference between the two.
Table of Contents
SO…LET’S “CUT” TO THE CHASE, SHALL WE? WHICH ACTUALLY SOUNDS BETTER?
While we believe only audiophiles can tell the difference between lacquer and DMM-cut vinyl records, if you’re a musician or producer, you’d want to know which is the better choice when you’re pressing your vinyl.
Here’s a TL:DR;
- Deeper grooves
- Sounds warm and more “analogue”
- Has a tendency to have surface noise
- Shallower grooves
- Sounds “brighter”, much cleaner, crisper, and more precise
- Lesser risk of having surface noise
So which of the two is good for your kind of music?
It’s totally up to what effect you want to have on the listener.
The good news is that we at Unified offer both DMM and lacquer cutting.
And if after reading this you’re still unsure which one to choose, we can have our experts guide you in making the right choice.
OTHER FACTORS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER
As a musician/ producer/ entrepreneur, you know that it’s not all about sound quality. You have other factors to consider from price to environmental impact.
Here’s a table that can guide you.
|Surface Noise||Higher Risk||Lesser Risk|
|Environmental Impact||Most are Single Use||Recyclable|
|Lathe||Sound||Warm and analogue||“Brighter”, sounds much cleaner, crisper, and more precise.|
|Pre-Echo||Higher Risk||Lesser Risk|
WHAT DO MOST MUSICIANS PREFER?
Many musicians prefer LACQUER to DMM even if it takes longer and is much more expensive.
Because the deeper grooves allow a “warmer” but more powerful effect, which is what people love about vinyl!
So they choose LACQUER for a “genuine vinyl feel” in exchange of a few extra dollars and a few extra weeks in their timeline.
HOW WE CAN HELP YOU DECIDE
We know the strengths and weaknesses of each cutting technique and so while we can’t help you so much with turnaround time and cost, we can help you minimize the risks of your chosen vinyl cutting process.
We’re extra meticulous and precise in every step to ensure there’s a much lesser chance of having distortion, echo, and surface noise, just to name a few.
If you want to discuss your project, contact us!
Or you might want to get advice from our CEO, James Hill. He’s a veteran of the music industry. He worked at Warner Reprise Records and Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters…basically, he knows his stuff, so he can surely assist you.
AND NOW, IF YOU WANT TO GET A BIT NERDY….
Even before we stepped into the 21st century, the two above mentioned methods have been available to record labels and artists.
Lathe for lacquer mastering was created in the 1950’s by John J. Scully. It was the first lathe with variable pitch.
From there, different versions of lathe were created which led to the creation of a lathe that allowed people to cut a master onto metal in the late 1970’s.
DMM was developed together by two German companies, Neumann and Teldec, to serve as an alternative method to the unchallenged Lacquer Mastering.
Though they have the same method of cutting using lathe, lacquer mastering has additional two stages to complete a master.
These two stages that DMM lacks are the “silvering” wash, which makes the cut lacquer electrically conductive, and a second step of electroplating resulting in the backup of the lacquer which is the master.
And that’s the reason why DMM is cheaper than lacquer mastering.
Since there are less materials and equipment needed, there is a cut down on the expenses of making a master the DMM way.
In terms of surface noise and error, there is a higher risk of both with lacquer mastering. This is due to the two steps mentioned earlier.
The two steps allow a lot more distortions on its grooves since the grooves are created from template after template, after template. With DMM, the copper disc cut by the lathe is the finished master.
Another DMM advantage is its impact on the environment. DMM uses less chemicals and energy to create their masters unlike the other one.
Moreover, DMM copper blanks are recyclable while lacquers are mostly single-use due to their properties.
Aside from their process, the two methods also differ in the type of discs they use. For lacquer mastering, people use lacquer-coated aluminum discs while for DMM they use copper-plated discs.
Due to the lacquer coating, lacquer cutting allows for a deeper cut which results in a louder and fuller sound. Due to the copper’s inherent hardness, the lathe stylus will have a more shallow cut onto its surface.
Lacquer mastering will surely appeal to those musicians who’re having their club singles cut onto vinyl records. However, you should be aware that loudness does not come without risks. It can cause distortions or stylus skipping during playbacks.
Another thing is the playback time. Since lacquer is not perfectly flat, engineers that use this method need to cut wider grooves to have lesser risk of skipping issues. Because of the wider grooves, there is lesser space therefore, lesser playback time.
With DMM, however, this is a lesser issue. With the copper disc’s flatness, it allows the engineer to cut 20% narrower grooves which results in longer playback time.
Seven-inch vinyl records at 45 RPM can have 6 minutes per side, 10-inch at 33 RPM have 15 minutes, and 12-inch at 33 RPM can have 22 minutes. This still depends on the genre of the recording to be cut, of course.
Lastly, we have the lathe machine that cuts the grooves onto the discs.
Apparently, the DMM masters have more defined frequency response in the top end which results in a brighter sound. And this is due to the modulation caused by the vibration of the lathe’s cutter head.
Since most listeners of the format love listening to the warm analogue sound of the format, it might be a disadvantage to have DMM.
However, on the flipside, DMM reduces the risk of a pre-echo.
Pre-echo is a phenomenon where there is a faint audio signal heard during playback due to the stylus unintentionally carrying some part of the audio signal into the previous groove wall.
This unintentional carrying happens in lacquer mastering due to the lathe stylus that increases in temperature during cutting, eventually increasing the surface temperature of the disc. This does not occur in DMM because its lathe’s stylus maintains a stable temperature.
And that’s the end of the comparison between Lacquer Mastering and Direct Metal Mastering.
We hope you make the right choice!
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD, custom vinyl records and merch company in LA.