To say vinyl is making a comeback isn’t correct anymore. Vinyl is well and truly back.
Collectors and audiophiles everywhere prefer to listen to music on record and immerse themselves in the full “album” experience. To enjoy the rich sound of vinyl, you need to start with the best possible source file, mastered for vinyl. On top of that, the pressing has to be good, or you will ruin all the hard work preparing your master. In the modern age, you can get custom vinyl record pressing runs that are pretty small. Our vinyl runs start at 100 copies. Musicians don’t have to be global megastars to get their music on wax. If you’re going to create records (the audiophile’s format of choice) you need to get it right. So how do you know if you’re getting quality vinyl record pressing? What are some of the things that set a good record apart from bad, and why does it matter? We explore more below.
Vinyl Weight – Can You Really Hear The Difference?
The weight of a vinyl record varies from 120 grams to 200 grams. 140 grams and 180 grams are two of the most popular weights that records come in. A lot of big record labels switched to 120-140 gram vinyl pressings because they are cheaper to produce. By reducing the weight, you make compromises. The best vinyl pressings are on the heavier end of the weight spectrum. A 180-gram pressing won’t magically make bad mixing and mastering sound good. The benefits they do offer include:
- They last longer and resist breakages far better than lighter vinyl.
- They resist warping due to the heavier weight. Warped records often cause distortion or even make the stylus skip.
- Heavier vinyl is more stable. This helps the stylus and cantilever suspension to stay stable and prevent vibration and noise that you don’t want.
- Due to the added stability and more robust, well-made grooves, 180-gram records have a superior sound to 140 grams.
When you are looking for vinyl record pressing, consider if your listeners or your bandmates will be happy with a lower weight, or whether it is worth the extra cost to produce 180 gram.
A Difference You Can Feel
People who buy a lot of vinyl records can feel the difference between lightweight vinyl and heavier records. 40 grams difference doesn’t seem a lot, but it is almost 30% heavier. If you hold a lot of records, you’ll know when you’re holding a heavier record. Why does this matter? It’s an indicator of quality. In a record store, it might encourage someone to buy your record over another. People might weigh the record, and most audiophiles agree that 180-gram records are the best format, far better than 140-gram models. Michael Fremer, speaking in a NY Times article on “The Secrets of a High-Quality Vinyl Record” spoke about how vinyl weight can play a part in the sound. “They released Nirvana on 180-gram blue and it’s unbelievable.”
Virgin Vinyl or Recycled Vinyl?
Records that don’t sell, or that are warped or damaged, can be recycled. When everyone would use an LP record as their main way of listening to music, record companies and record stores were encouraged to send unsold vinyl back to be recycled. There were even schemes to pay companies who did this.
Recycled vinyl often doesn’t sound as good
A lot goes into dictating how a record sounds, from recording the music to mixing and mastering, to the pressing of the record. The vinyl being recycled is not the only factor, but there are scientific reasons why virgin vinyl is better. Virgin vinyl means it has not been recycled. The record is its first use. Recycled vinyl is likely to have more imperfections. Grit and gristle might have got in when recycling. Some people even claim that labels aren’t properly removed when some vinyl is recycled. You might end up with a bit of an old 70’s disco record causing imperfections on your brand new record. Even a slight imperfection can negatively impact the sound. People can tell whether a record has been recycled or not, just by looking. Recycled vinyl records have more of a dull grey look to them. Recycled vinyl is another area that divides opinion. It doesn’t automatically mean that the record will sound bad. However, using virgin vinyl is definitely a sign to customers that you’ve prioritized the audio quality and clarity. For the best vinyl record pressing, using brand new vinyl is the safest option.
Picture Discs – The Enemy of Sound Quality?
Part of the appeal of vinyl is the way it looks and feels. Picture discs appeal to many collectors. Some people love the way they look, others prefer the plain black vinyl. Music fans rarely universally agree on anything. The manufacturing of a picture disc uses the same vinyl as the base. On top of this, there is a printed picture, sealed in place by Polyethylene Foil. This means multiple materials stacked up, rather than pure vinyl. The result is that there is more surface noise. The grooves may not be as deep, and the sound quality can suffer. There is still a market for picture disc vinyl. They shouldn’t be totally discounted, and a good vinyl pressing company can still do a good job on them. It just might not sound quite as good as pure vinyl.
Some records still sound surprisingly crisp and clear when printed as picture discs. As we’ve already mentioned, there are more important things, such as starting with a well-mixed and well-mastered audio file to start with.
Other Indicators of Good Quality Vinyl
Though it’s hard to be completely certain, there are other telltale signs of quality vinyl. 45 r.p.m playback speeds tend to be better, in the same way, that faster tape speeds are better. This is represented in the price, too. 45’s are often more expensive than 33 ⅓ r.p.m records. If a vinyl record is pressed “from the original analog master” this can be another great sign that it is going to sound good on vinyl. It hasn’t been through the digital processing that doesn’t always translate to vinyl. It’s always a good idea to check out vinyl pressing companies and their track record using Discogs and similar websites and tools. Vinyl lovers are fanatical, and will often use sites like Discogs to share their respect for a certain pressing.
So much goes into the production of a vinyl record. So many hours go into making an album, and getting the pressing right is essential to show off the sonic quality and dynamic range of your music. We offer vinyl record pressing in Los Angeles, and each record is pressed with love and unwavering attention to detail.
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.