vinyl record mastering

Vinyl Mastering Guidelines & Tips to Get the Best Sound Quality

Vinyl mastering is serious business. You and your engineer have to be very meticulous to get it right. We want to do vinyl record pressing because it has exceptional sound quality but this is also the format that is the trickiest to manufacture. It’s prone to have slight imperfections like distortion and noise. That is why you have to be very meticulous with each step especially in vinyl mastering.

Get these things right and you’re guaranteed to have a high-quality vinyl record.

 

REQUIRED FILES & FORMATS

 

First of all, use the right format and the maximum resolution audio master files possible. We recommend:

Formats: WAV, AIFF, FLAC (lossless) or DDP Image

Bit Rate:  24 bit/192 kHz (recommended), 16 bit/44.1 kHz (good enough).

Sampling Rate:  44,1 kHz  48 khz 

MAXIMUM LENGTH PER SIDE FOR OPTIMIZED SOUND

The sound quality of a record is greatly affected by the length of audio you put on each side. If you exceed the maximum length per side, it can greatly affect the quality of the record. The longer the record, the more information is pressed near the center. This might lead to distortion and frequency loss. Longer running times will also make the noise floor of the vinyl vinyl more evident.

If you’re aiming for the BEST sound quality for your vinyl, here are the recommendations from our vinyl mastering experts. 

12” records

LEVEL dB Recommended Length at 45 RPM Recommended Length 33 RPM
Maximum levels approx +6 dB 6 min at 45 RPM  8 min at 33 RPM 
Sufficient levels approx +4 dB 8 min at 45 RPM 11 min at 33 RPM
For DJ use approx 0 dB 11min at 45 RPM 15 min at 33 RPM
Maximum length (lowest quality)   15 min at 45 RPM 22 min at 45 RPM

Maximum playtime albums for optimized sound, approx -6 dB and lower: 18 min at 45 RPM, 24 min at 33 RPM.

Note: This is not recommended for bass-heavy music.

MASTERING TIPS:

Use de-essers on vocal tracks in mixing.  Excess bright frequencies overheat the cutting head. We use the lightest touch of a 4 band multiband compressor to keep any sizzle in the mix from jumping out, as well as any stray extra hard bass or kk.

Compression/Limiting

Slight mixbus compression/limiting: It is good to preserve a few more dB of dynamics than maybe one could do on the most compressed digital. Really crushed loud masters actually reduce vinyl playback volume, and may force them to attenuate high end because of the overtones and artifacts of really hard limited loud masters.  

Also, keeping a .5  dB headroom on the file is better for the cutter. It won’t sound as loud to you but the cutting engineer will set the final volume of playback based on how loud the music can be physically cut due to bass content and side length.

Bass. High pass filter, 36 db/octave @ about 30 hz.  I use a filter to make all bass below 80 hz mono. Tracks with sensible high end frequencies sound better at the beginning of each side, the highs can sound slightly more distorted and less clear near the end of each side due to less playback speed.

Create Spaces between tracks

Make a single file for each side with 2-3 second spaces. This avoids confusion on the cutting engineers end, and also will guarantee the tone and loudness will be more consistent from track to track rather than having them assemble it. 

Put high frequencies on the same side

For excessively harsh high frequencies, we will have to EQ or compress those for the whole side so if you have two or more tracks, might as well put them on the same side.

Playback to ensure mastering accuracy

I highly recommend borrowing a decent DJ turntable and recording some reference records into the mastering computer. That way you can hear what the final result of vinyl playback is and see the dynamics and levels, and produce a vinyl master that is close to that sound so that the cutting engineer will need to do little or no adjusting to your master file beyond setting the loudness of the cut.

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WANT US TO MAKE YOUR MASTER?

If you want error-free vinyl mastering, let our experts do it.

 

STEP 1: Send the tracks and information

Email the following to my email ([email protected]) for a faster and smoother transaction.

Tracks. Mixes or digital masters. If the stereo mixes have already been mastered for digital, we can start with that. Sometimes depending how it was mastered for digital, it might be better to work from the final mix before digital master. Some people just send both. 

Preferred specs: Wav, Aif, 44. 1 or 48 khz sample rate, 16 or 24 bit. 

Information needed:

Artist name: 

Project name: 

List of the songs by exact name and by side and order on each side – A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3, B4, etc.

Any notes per track about sound issues you have or edit/ fade issues to address.

STEP 2: Wait for our feedback 

Our mastering engineers will check each of your tracks. We will contact you when we find issues with any of your tracks.

STEP 3: We will create your vinyl master

STEP 4: We will send to you files for approval

We will return the ff to you so you: 

  • Two files (one for side A, one for side B)
  • Track sheet with times for each side

Listen to each track all the way through to verify and approve the masters. You will then be ready for the next step— vinyl pressing.

 

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions regarding vinyl mastering, vinyl sleeve artwork, or anything related to vinyl pressing. We are here to happily guide you every step of the way.

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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/vinyl and merch company in LA.

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