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Mixer

Vinyl Mastering  - For the best results we need the highest quality audio master files available, possibly as high as 24 bit/192 kHz, but at least 16 bit/44.1 kHz.

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Diamond

The Vinyl is cut with a Diamond cutting stylus, heated to just the right temperature (A Sapphire is used for Lacquer's).

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Cut

The Vinyl Record is clamped and heated to the right temperature to assist cutting, playback is also done in real time whilst cutting to ensure the quality is acceptable.

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File Upload

You can send us your audio files direct to our studio, if these files are large please use a transfer service like "WeTransfer", please send these directly to the Studio

Various sizes!

We have a variety of Vinyl sizes and specifications to choose from, 12"- 120g or 180g including Transparent!, 10", 7" and CD size that you can play on a record player!

Here is a detailed “How to” guide to get you started making your first Vinyl record.

 

  • Firstly, decide on your size and type of project, this could be anywhere from single 7” to Album Cut 12”, if you are not sure of what to choose here are a few more details: -

7"

One track per side, up to a maximum of 4 minutes per side.

10"

Single - One track per side up to a maximum of 10 minutes per side.

EP - Up to Two tracks per side up to a maximum of 10 minutes per side.

12"

Single - One track per side up to a maximum of 20 minutes per side but if 45rpm is required this will be less (around 11 minutes)

EP - Up to Two tracks per side up to a maximum of 20 minutes per side only cut at 33rpm

Album Cut - Up to Five tracks per side up to a maximum of 20 minutes per side only cut at 33rpm

If you require more than Five tracks per side but the total duration is still under 20 minutes each side, please contact us for a quote.

 

  • Now you have decided on the size of your project, you can look at all the options for that size within our “online ordering” section here: -

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/index.php/order-online

  • If you are looking to make custom labels for any size Vinyl or a cover for a 12” project you will find these here: -

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/index.php/order-online/miscellaneous

  • There is a design studio to assist you in creating these if you choose, it is however a bit limited in its capability, instructions for using the design studio are here: -

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/images/Phoenix/Vinyl_Design_Instructions.pdf

 

  • If you go into the “product details” for each of the Vinyl records you will find “upload” boxes for audio, just a note of caution when using these, when you add your audio and then add the Vinyl record to cart, at that point the website attempts to upload your audio, if the file sizes are large or there are multiple users on at the same time this WILL slow the process down and the system may look like it is “hanging”, its not and it will upload eventually but it WILL take time, stopping the upload and re-starting will not speed this up, it will slow it down as the website will still complete your original uploads as well as the re-started files.
  • We recommend for ALL orders that you use the alternative method of “we transfer” this will enable you to send both audio and image files for your order along with any notes you may wish to add, instructions for using “we transfer” are here: -

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/images/Phoenix/Sending_Via_we_transfer.pdf

 

  • Please note, it is not a requirement of the site that you need to add any audio or images when making a purchase, you can add to cart without any attachments.

 

  • A note on track order, before sending your audio it will be helpful if you amend the file names with a pre-fix number of your preferred track order, (right click on the file, then choose “rename” and add a number at the start of the file name, e.g.: - 01 Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen, this will assist the process and sometimes there are track numbers already on tracks so it will ensure they land with us in the correct order.

 

  • Please check your audio files are roughly the same volume if making an Album, if not your compilation may play at varied volume levels, we will try to ensure this does not happen, but this can lead to unsatisfactory results if not addressed and level adjustments for individual tracks are not covered within the pricing.

 

  • Using online software and merging the audio tracks to make one continuous track will enable you to purchase your compilation as a 12” single or EP rather than an album, However each track is mastered differently and the tone levels are always different, we will set our system to the first track so if the others are various levels and tones will result in a poor sounding record, if you have experience in audio compilations and can make the necessary adjustments you will save money slightly on the Vinyl purchase, but also the album will not have any VTM’s (visual track markers) between the tracks.

 

  • Mastering for Vinyl is not included within the pricing, this means if your audio has not been mastered for Vinyl it may produce varied results, we do use filters and processing of the audio to enable it to be cut to the Vinyl, however there are differences between a digital audio file and one “mastered” for Vinyl, there is a detailed article on our website relating to this here: -

 

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/index.php/information/the-limitation-s-of-vinyl-records

 

  • Finally, we would recommend you read our FAQ’s fully so you know what to expect from your purchase, it covers most questions you may need answered, including notes on print quality, delivery time and guarantee’s, this can be found here: -

https://phoenixvinyl.co.uk/index.php/information/faq-s

 

Thank you!

VC4

Below you will find a brief guide to Vinyl Record & Stylus Care.

Please visit our dedicated section of our shop for our current range of cleaning & care products HERE

Storing Records

So when you’re not playing them, where is your vinyl going to live? And what are the best ways to store them? Ideally, you’ll want to keep them in a clean dry place, avoiding extreme temperatures and humidity (so not in the bathroom or sauna if that’s what you were thinking…) What you’re doing is trying to avoid warping the record. Warping is when the record bends out of shape which often leads to unplayable vinyl. There are methods of unwarping but prevention is the best cure, so keep them away from direct sunlight and high heat.

Another way your records can warp is by stacking them, so NEVER store them horizontally. Compared to other formats vinyl are pretty heavy, so the weight and pressure will eventually warp them over time. The more vertical the record stands the better. While on the subject of weight, you’ll want to make sure whatever they’re standing on is sturdy. An average 12” can weigh between 140 and 220 grams so bear that in mind as your collection grows. There’s plenty of specialist units and storage racks you can get for vinyl too.

Handling Vinyl

So, we’re stating the obvious here, but seriously, be nice to your vinyl. Always handle them at the edges or by the inner label at the centre. Much like how it’s sacrilege to touch the data side of the CD the same applies to vinyl. When you touch the playing surface, you’ll transfer oils from your skin into the grooves, which dust will stick to and affect the sound quality. You’re also running the risk of scratching the grooves with your fingernails.

Inner Sleeves

You don’t want your vinyl rattling around inside the jacket. There are a few different types of inner sleeves made from different materials available:

  • Paper – The most basic and cheapest option is to use paper inner sleeves and are commonly included with the vinyl when you first buy it. However, these sheets can scratch records as you slide them in and out as well as create paper dust. Plus, with them being paper, they rip and deteriorate much easier and much quicker. Hardcore collectors will also note that some of these paper sleeves come with pressing dates, record company logos and other interesting quirks, so double check before you bin them. We don’t recommend paper sleeves over any other types but it’s better than no protection at all.
  • Poly – Poly sleeves (or polypropylene) are more durable than the paper sleeves previously mentioned but are also more expensive, but if you’re serious about collecting you might want to invest in these. It eliminates the issues of dust and scratchy paper damages when taking it in and out of the sleeve. It’s also much easier to remove and insert it into the album jacket. Some also have rounded corners making life even easier.
  • Paper with poly lining – As you can probably guess, a mixture of the above. The outside paper makes the sleeve much more rigid whilst the poly lining inside lets the vinyl slip in much smoother with a lower risk of scratching and collecting dust.

Cleaning Records

Again, hours of Googling can be had here and you might find some weird and wonderful suggestions too (if you’re brave enough to try the dishwasher or toothpaste suggestions we found, we salute you). But to begin with here's a few simple tips:

  • Dry Cleaning – Use a carbon fibre brush to clean your vinyl before and after every play. Brush lightly along the grooves and this will help prevent the build-up of dust and other dirt. The carbon strands (on the outer surface of the cleaner) reduce the static charge on the vinyl (which attracts dust) and the inner part (usually a cloth material) then collects the dust on the second wipe after the static is reduced. Remember to regularly clean the brush too. This should be a regular practice in your listening sessions.
  • Wet Cleaning – Highly recommended when you want to give your records a deep clean. A mixture of record cleaning fluid and water (distilled, not tap!) works well. Clean with a micro-fibre cloth and dry with a separate micro-fibre cloth.
  • Cleaning Machines – Once you have a big collection, cleaning records by hand might be a lot of effort. There are vacuum cleaning machines that automatically apply a cleaning solution and then vacuum the liquid off again. There are also spin cleaners that clean the record with the solution as it spins with the brushes cleaning off the dirt. Although effective, they can be expensive.
  • Wood Glue – Yep you’ve read that correctly, using wood glue is an age-old secret to pristine vinyl. As it’s chemically very similar to the material of a record it won’t stick to it, but it will stick to everything else clogging it up. Spread on the glue, wait for it to dry and peel away. Try this out on an old vinyl first before applying to your entire collection.

Stylus Care

The threats to your records are numerous and each can affect your discs in different ways: from impairing the clarity of the audio to skipping and even, in a worst-case scenario, rendering them unplayable.

But before we focus on the threats to your records themselves, we should highlight the importance of looking after your player, and more specifically, your stylus.

The stylus is the part of the player that runs through the groove, generating the electrical signal that results in your audio – therefore, it’s fundamental that you don’t allow your stylus to become caked in dust, grime or, well, anything really.

It’s often best practice to give your stylus a clean with a dedicated solution and fine brush regularly, if not after each play.

There are many different types of stylus cleaner around which you can pick up affordably, they’re worth their weight in gold.

Be sure to always run your brush over the stylus in the same direction that the record spins.

Be liberal with your application of the liquid but remember to clean and brush your stylus regularly. Also, check (as much as you can) that there isn’t anything nasty affixed to it.

Eventually, no matter how frequently you clean it, your stylus will naturally start to wear and need replacing. We’d recommend you purchase a brand-new cartridge after around two -to-three years of regular playing.

Replacing the cartridge also combats the possibility of the suspension stiffening, which tends to happen with poorer quality cartridges after around four years. Bear in mind that even if your needle is spotlessly clean, a cartridge with degraded suspension can damage your collection. So, to reiterate – get your cartridge changed after a couple of years.

Phoenix Vinyl FAQ's

How do I get my tracks to you?

You can do this in a number of ways, the easiest way is to send them via WeTransfer, add our email address (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) in the “to” box and your email in the “from” box, in the notes please include the ideal track sequence, although this may not always be possible due to time / volume constraints.   

Details on how to send via "we transfer" can be found:- HERE

Please do not attach audio files to an email or emails and send to our email address, these will be automatically deleted without a reply.

What about copyright?

With a change in the law a few years ago if you have bought a selection of songs, then you can transfer them to any format you like be it CD, vinyl, MP3 or whatever - this is called 'fair use' and is legal, however streaming services such as “spotify” does not qualify for this and should not be used as the audio has not been purchased. If the client does not have the ability to send audio files, on rare occasions audio can be purchased on request specifically for the client, this is always however a "last resort" option due to variations in track versions it is sometimes difficult to purchase the exact version wanted by the client , IF we agree to do this the cost for this would be included in a final invoice.

If you want more than one copy of a song (that you don't own copyright to) then we / you have to pay the PRS (Performing Rights Society) so the artist gets paid. This is only £1 or so per track, so this can be added to the price of the vinyl cut.

If the content is fully owned by you, and you require multiple copies for commercial release, then your order can be processed immediately by accepting the interim Declaration for Release when you complete your order. For information, PRS guidelines stipulate you should also make an application for a ‘License of No Claim’.

(see guidance to UK copyright law here).

What format would you prefer audio in? 

In simple terms, the highest quality possible, preferably 16bit/44.1Khz WAV or AIFF or FLAC as a minimum. If you only have it in a compressed format (MP3, AAC etc.) then when you send it to us, we will try to check the file and email you  if the overall anticipated quality is too low for cutting to Vinyl, please note compressed files will never produce great results, changing the format  (for example  MP3  to  WAV)  using software or online options will not increase the quality of the file and will be detected in our systems, if you do decide to send us compressed files MP3 or files originally derived from a compressed format etc you are therefore accepting the results will be as good as we can get with no guarantees of quality.

Are there any other format’s you accept?

Yes, the studio is geared up to accept Vinyl Records, CD audio, USB sticks, DAT Tapes and Cassette tapes, in addition to this we will be adding Minidisc and Reel to Reel in due course, please email us before sending any physical media.

It is music I have bought, does it need to be mastered for Vinyl? 

Not always, if the tracks were originally released on Vinyl then it will have been mastered for Vinyl already, however, a word of caution, although transcription to Vinyl may be easy if the audio has been re-recorded with different EQ (tone) settings it may produce unwanted results, Sibilance for example...  (where "S" sounds or cymbals etc sound harsh or distorted) Unfortunately we do not know if this will be the case until the actual record is cut but we do use filters to try and reduce any potential problems.

Tracks that were never released on Vinyl pose a completely different set of issues, with digital files the level of bass & sub bass signals is not detrimental to the recording as its a digital file, however on Vinyl excessive bass or any sub bass will result in unwanted results, distortion or even the stylus jumping out of the groove, again this is not apparent on cutting the record as the cutter head will cut the signal, it's the playback system that cannot handle the bass, causing a needle to jump.

There is a detailed article on our website :- HERE  this explains some of the limitations of Vinyl that other formats do not have.

If you are un-sure we recommend checking if the audio was only available on "digital release" then asking us for a quote for re-mastering any tracks specifically for Vinyl to be on the safe side.

Mastering for Vinyl is not included within the pricing, this means if your audio has not been mastered for Vinyl it may produce varied results, we do use filters and processing of the audio to enable it to be cut to the Vinyl, however there are huge differences between a digital audio file and one “mastered” for Vinyl.

Audio supplied that has not been checked that caused any unwanted issues on playback is not the responsibility of Phoenix Vinyl and not cause for a re-cut under our guarantee.

 

It is my own music, how should it be mastered? 

If the music is your own you probably have the original master and can re-master it. mixing for vinyl is different from digital releases, there are many articles and links as to what you should do, but for the basics please follow these rules:

Excessive variants in levels can cause issues so compress the tracks a bit to keep the levels a bit more consistent.

Don't pan too much especially the bass instruments, keep these in the middle - Kick Drum, bass guitar etc. the cutting stylus can't cope with large movements - if I think it's too much I'll ask you to re-master it, or I can make adjustments for you if required.

'harsh' instruments that start to produce square sound waves, such as  rasping saxophone's  can also cause some issues so please try and reduce these.

De-Ess the vocals, and reduce the level of high hats etc.  vinyl accentuates these frequencies - again we will listen to your track before cutting and advise any adjustments required.

Signal / frequency restraints should also be noted, there are limitations when cutting Vinyl that are not normally an issue when using digital media, bass frequencies below 20 Hz provide playback issues and should be avoided, there is a full interesting and detailed article available HERE

What are blank Vinyl discs made from?

Unlike traditional ‘dub-plates’ that are made with soft acetate, and will deteriorate significantly within a very short time, Phoenix Vinyl only uses harder professional grade polycarbonate, (1.5mm or 2mm). This ensures that, like pressed vinyl, the final product is far more durable and retains its original playback quality over time.

Can your records be used for scratching?

Yes, they are very durable and hardwearing.

What are the maximum recording times?

7" (per side)
45rpm: 4 Minutes

10" (per side)
33rpm: 10 Minutes
45rpm: 8 Minutes

12" (per side)
33rpm: 20 Minutes
45rpm: 11 Minutes

Exceeding the maximum time listed above is sometimes possible with additional work, this may incur a surcharge at the studio's discretion.

I’ve had records before with 25 or more minutes a side in duration, so why are your's limited to 20 minutes?

There are a number of reasons for this limit, here are a few of them… 

1, Vinyl cutting engineers making Lacquer cuts for pressing Vinyl will “plan” the sides with the loudest tracks first and the quieter ones last to achieve a higher running time, this is a carefully considered process to ensure maximum cutting time, please ask yourself, did you consider the running order in relation to the limitations of Vinyl?

2, The more you try to fit on the record, the less groove width you have so you need to reduce the volume levels to achieve this, with our lathe cut records the volume is already reduced to around 75% so reducing it further will cause the end user to increase the volume level, this will result in the surface noise of the disc or “noise floor” coming through, clients would then think the record is faulty when it is not.

3, In a professional lacquer cutting setup the lathe will have a “variable groove speed” controlled by a computer, this adjusts the groove speed for the quieter sections and adjusts the speed again for the louder sections to allow more cutting space, these machines cost in excess of £150,000.00, consequently these are a completely different setup, so unfortunately it would be like comparing a F1 car with a 3 Series BMW .

4, On a lacquer cut the engineer can produce multiple copies of the album until its right, it is then used for making stampers to create hundreds of copies, so time and money are not necessarily a consideration to achieve the “one master copy”, In a single cut environment we cannot test cut multiple copies of your project until we achieve your goal as there is not enough profit to cover this so we limit the time to 20 minutes to keep the parameters realistically achievable.  

How many tracks can I fit on each side?

7"

One track per side

10"

Single - One track per side

EP -  Up to Two tracks per side

12"

Single - One track per side

EP - Up to Two tracks per side

Album Cut - Up to Five tracks per side

If you require more than Five tracks per side but the total duration is still under 20 minutes each side please contact us for a quote.

Why are there limits on the number of tracks, I’ve had albums before with 8 – 10 tracks on a single side!

The track limitations are dure to the amount of processing needed and time taken to create the VTMs (visual track markers) between the tracks, to keep the project realistically achievable for the price consideration we need to ensure these are not exceeded unless the additional work is reflected in the price, also each VTM will take up valuable recording space on the record, therefore for each VTM we add,  the available recording time will be reduced. 

How good do these hand cut records actually sound?

Hand / Lathe cuts will always have some degree of surface noise/pops/crackles, this tends to disappear once the music starts, especially for full, loud recordings,  lathe cuts however are not audiophile records, they are not intended to be comparable to standard pressed records.

They will sound slightly different than the audio master, as plastic reacts and cut’s to certain frequencies differently. They are made from materials that were never originally intended to be records. Sound quality often varies slightly from one record to the next, and some audio tracks translate better than others. There are many factors that determine the sound of the record; the material, the number of records that have been cut by the stylus, the climate, etc… But we test cut most orders and throw away any that are not up to a high standard. These are all totally listenable, but intended to be used more as unique playable hand cut records. These lathes cuts are a unique way for you to own your music on vinyl and every effort will be made to keep the audio quality as high as possible.

The plastic that is used is harder than a lacquer that is used to master a pressed record, and the cutting head has to work much harder, resulting in less volume (about 75% that of a modern record). So, you may have to turn up your amplifier volume slightly higher than where it usually sits.

There can be problems you may experience when using a subwoofer while playing lathe cut records, one problem is you may be summing the left & right signals to create the bass, this is then adjusted on a crossover point, however it may cause phasing issues,  another is rumble as the resonant frequency from the lathe cut vinyl transmits through your system, add to this the increase in volume levels you make as the sound is recorded at a lower volume and you may get unwanted noises,

If you get unwanted noises from the subwoofer, we suggest it may be better to switch it off for playback of your vinyl, subwoofer noises are not necessarily a fault on the lathe cut record.

Lathe cut records might also require tonearm and anti-skate adjustment in order to track correctly due to the hard plastic having slightly shallower grooves than a traditional record.

Is there anything I should know about the picture disc's, label's & custom cover's creation process?

Yes, our picture discs, custom covers or custom labels are created from the images or files supplied by you, if the resolution of the supplied images is too low for the size of print it will affect the clarity of the image on the print, this may show as pixelated if stretched too far, we will try our best to advise before printing if this is the case, so you are aware,

One of the other factor's is the image colour, the image you see on a PC, phone of tablet may not print exactly as it looks on your screen, your display settings play a part in the image you see, on print red's & whites can appear a whole range of colours, dark colours usually appear darker on print, dark patterns on dark colours can sometimes totally disappear!, we need our customers therefore to understand, we cannot be held responsible for perceived colour or accuracy on prints where the image has been supplied by you, we do not adjust any colours or brightness of the supplied images prior to printing, they are "as is" when printed, if you are unsure please print the images at home first to check before sending,

If you plan on adding text around the circumference or near to the edge of your project, Cover, labels or Picture Disc, please allow at least  a 10mm bleed area, (the text should be inside a border, not right to the edge of the print area) allignment of text is not adjustable by us therefore not covered within our normal satisfaction guarantee,

Please also factor in the following if you are purchasing a  picture disc,  there is a layer of adhesive between the picture and the vinyl disc, this may make the image appear "cloudy" or "patchy", especially the darker colours, these image quality & colour match issues  unfortunately are outside of our control and also consequently do not fall within our normal satisfaction guarantee.

Please also note, if you are submitting a square or rectangle image for use on a circular or shaped vinyl we will apply OUR interpretation of  "best fit" for the image without sending the results for confirmation / approval prior to printing, please remember the records are round or shaped (heart for example) so a square image may have edges cut off or we may shrink the size to fit, beware if there is text on the image you may lose the text if close to the edges.

Please note :- We do not get involved with graphic design or artwork creation, it is the clients responsibility to provide the artwork for all Picture Discs, Labels or Covers.

How long will it take to process my order?

During normal periods we say 7 to 10 Days from order to dispatch.

We strive to meet our delivery targets at all times, however, any timings given are estimates. This service can be very busy and at times of exceptional demand there may be further delays in the processing time. In the case of any unreasonable delay we’ll email you with updates on progress, Priority orders are available as a small cost, and in the case of Priority orders not being met, we’ll refund the Priority order charge.

What are your postage charges?

Standard Royal Mail first class post for single items, for batches or multiple orders clients can use a prefered carrier if required.

Do you ship to International destinations?

Our website is specifically for customers based in the UK, however shipping to an International destination or purchases made from an International buyer can be done with specific variations to our terms and conditions, here is a summary of the main adjustments,

1, No guarantee is made against loss or damage when shipping outside of the UK, we will provide when requested “proof of postage” but once the purchase has left the via the post office we will accept no further liability or responsibility for the delivery or claims regarding the condition of the purchase.

2, Strictly no paypal for any International delivery or purchases, bank transfer only.

3, The value of the goods for declaration to us is the manufacture cost, to you it is the purchase price, making a declaration on a customs  form that the item is a gift with a low value is not recommended, if this is done to try and avoid paying import fees it will also reduce the postal services liability against a claim, if you declare the package having a value of  £10.00 , that will become the postal services limit of liability if it is lost or damaged, please be aware of this.

4, The additional postage cost and forms to complete for an International delivery is not covered within our pricing, please be aware you may be requested to pay the difference once the full costs are known.

5, By placing an order outside of the UK or for delivery outside of the UK you agree to these adjusted terms and conditions.

6, We reserve the right to cancel any non UK orders, placing an order outside of the UK does not form a guarantee of supply or service.

I’ve received my Vinyl but unfortunately I have a problem.

We always try hard to ensure every aspect of your order goes according to plan. However, in order to keep our costs to the customer as low as possible, we are unable to monitor and review 100% of every order. Due to the complex and delicate nature of vinyl cutting a flawed cut can occasionally occur. We are pleased to say, this rarely occurs in most of our orders, however, in the unlikely event that something does go wrong with a single product,

Upon our confirmation of an issue we are responsible for, Phoenix Vinyl will either offer the option to rectify the issue, or alternatively we will provide a full refund (including any return post),

(The above is at our discretion)

Please note the following:-

Residue or marks on the record are not a problem or cleanliness related, this is residue of anti-static cutting spray that dries when cutting leaving marks, we did previously clean this off prior to dispatch, however our customers said this made the Vinyl attract dust so we now leave it in place, you may use your normal record cleaning methods if you prefer a clean looking finish.

Although we try to keep the levels consistent on an album cut the files you send often have varied levels of volume, our system will not automatically increase or decrease the levels if they are varied, you may want to check the levels of your tracks prior to sending to us and ensure they are roughly the same,  although we will try to tweak the level if it is obviously too low, the level of the individual tracks is not the responsibility of Phoenix Vinyl, they are cut as supplied to us by yourself.

By placing an order with Phoenix Vinyl you are hereby agreeing to all of our terms and conditions detailed on our website  HERE, have read and agree with all the instructions or directions raised in our FAQ's

Our usual 100% satisfaction guarantee does not apply to the 1.5mm "no frills" budget cut's or any product discounted from our usual retail price.

 

 

satisfaction guarantee 1200

 

 

THE following was written to aid engineers and producers who wish to release vinyl records. It is especially important for those who may be well versed in recording, but have not released vinyl records before. The paper is mainly about “pop” music , but the principles apply to all others. It was written to explain a complicated transformation in as simple terms as possible. To some it may seem very technical, to technical types it will seem simplistic. It was written for the “middle ground”.

PRODUCING GREAT SOUNDING PHONOGRAPH RECORDS
(or Why Records Don’t Always Sound Like the Master Tape)

BY: KEVIN GRAY -  (5th March 1997)

The phonograph record is a marvelous medium for storing and reproducing sound. With frequency response from 7 Hz to 25kHz and over 75 dB dynamic range possible, it is capable of startling realism. Its ability to convey a sense of space, that is width and depth of sound stage, with a degree of openness and airiness, is unrivaled by anything but the most esoteric digital systems.

That having been said, it is important to understand the limitations of this medium in order to make great sounding records. The first limitation is recording time and level (volume). The amount of time possible on a record side is entirely dependent on the cutting level (volume) and the amount of low frequency information (bass). Bass uses more space than treble.

The record groove is an analog of a sound wave. Try to picture looking down on a narrow river or stream. The left bank is the left channel and the right bank is the right channel. Your turntable’s stylus is a wide round raft that is going to travel that river. For simplicity, imagine that the banks stay parallel, (left and right the same) which means the sound is monaural. The louder the sound and or the heavier the bass, the wider the whole river (and your boat) wiggles side to side. The higher the pitch (frequency), the closer together the wiggles get. In other words the sharper the twists and turns, the higher the pitch. Obviously, everything from bass to treble is happening at once, so the gently sweeping wide curves (bass guitar and bass drum) have smaller, more jagged wiggles (vocals, guitars, keyboards, cymbals, percussion etc.), superimposed on them. It should be mentioned here that if the bass information is too loud, your raft gets thrown over the embankment (skips). So now you should be able to see that the louder the music is cut, the wider the groove wiggles, and the less time can fit on the side. Or looking at it the other way around, the longer the side, the less room for wiggles (volume and bass).

Next limitation: treble. You can put as much treble on a DAT or CD as you want. Unfortunately this is not true on a record (or analog tape for that matter). Although 25kHz response is possible, excessive transients are a problem. There are several reasons for this. It was decided with the advent of the first electrical transcription phonograph record, to reduce bass and boost treble in the cutting of the master record. This reduces bass wiggles and makes treble louder. And we aren’t talking about a little bit of cut and boost here, we’re talking about a 40 dB change from bottom to top! Without the bass cut, you’d only have about 5 minutes on your LP side. Without the treble boost, you would hear mostly surface noise. You don’t have to worry about this drastic cut and boost sounding funny, because the phono preamplifier in your amplifier or receiver has an inverse curve which boosts the bass and reduces the treble by the same amounts used in cutting, so the whole process comes out linear. This was standardized worldwide in 1953 and is called the RIAA record and reproduce curves.

I said you don’t have to worry about the RIAA curve, but the cutting engineer sure does! Power amplifiers (100 to 400 plus watts) are used to drive the tiny coils (one for each channel) in the cutting head. They’re like miniature speakers which instead of just moving air, push the stylus that etches the groove in your record. With 20 dB of treble boost, you can only imagine the beating that the cutting head takes from cymbal crashes and the like. The coils are helium cooled but still can reach 200 degrees Centigrade. A circuit breaker is used to prevent catastrophic destruction. This doesn’t all add up to the limitation it seems, because it is still possible to cut levels higher than can be played back.

Let’s take a look at cymbals and vocal sibilance (those loud ‘S’ sounds). “Why”, do you ask, “Do they sound OK on the tape but sometimes so awful on the record?” The answer is twofold. First, the problem is aggravated by the high frequency boost we just discussed. Further excessive boost in your mix makes it that much worse. Unlike a cymbal crash in which the impulse is short (the actual hit of the stick on the cymbal), the duration of an ‘S’ is considerably longer, so it is even more pronounced. And second, the worst part: Remember the river? Suppose the river’s twists and turns are actually tighter than your raft? Ever watch a raft attempting rapids? Well, that is exactly what your stylus is doing when it hits a loud cymbal crash or a loud ‘S’ in the record groove. At the instant that the curvature of the groove is tighter than the tip radius of your stylus (raft), it goes over instead of through ‘the rapids’, and you have 100 percent distortion. The higher the frequency and or level, the greater the curvature and distortion.
The cutting engineer can usually tell if treble peaks are going to ‘break up’ on playback, by the amount of current drawn by the cutting amplifier. This is measured by current meters on the amplifiers. If the current is excessive, the only way to prevent this is to use a very fast-attack treble limiter to reduce the intensity, and therefore, the groove curvature.

While we’re on the curvature subject, it is necessary to explain one more thing. Ever wonder why outside diameter cuts on a record sound clearer and cleaner than inside ones? Unfortunately it’s a fact. Why? The answer is geometry, curvature again. One turntable revolution at 33 1/3 rpm on an LP takes 1.8 seconds. That 1.8 seconds is spread over a circumference of 36 inches on the outside of the record. At the minimum allowable inside diameter that same 1.8 second revolution would only cover 14.9 inches. You can see from this, that a gentle wiggle spread over 36 inches would get quite ‘scrunched’ over 14.9 inches. A jagged groove at 36 inches would get really scrunched at 14.9 inches (remember the rapids). Excessive treble can even cause the cutting stylus to accelerate so fast that its back edge wipes out what the front edge just cut! It’s unfortunate, but treble rolls off, and distortion goes up as you approach the center of the record. It is quite gradual, but if you compare the source recording to the disc, this actually starts to become noticeable after the second cut or so. Any attempt to compensate for this by boosting the treble, only makes the problem worse (greater curvature remember).

I’ll discuss stereo very briefly. If the sides of the river don’t stay parallel, it’s stereo. In other words, any difference between the two channels causes the stylus to move up and down in addition to sideways. As the stylus digs deeper, it is using more precious disc space. The moral for engineers is: If you are looking for hot levels or long sides, don’t pan instruments like drums and percussion hard left and right. Keep the bass and bass drum in the center, and keep everything in phase. An out of phase snare or bass drum can wreak havoc. Use an oscilloscope if possible!

All else being equal (bass, volume and depth of cut), by allowing the end of the record to finish farther out from the label, instead of spreading the grooves farther apart to fill all the space, will actually make the record sound better. However, I understand the concept of making the record look ‘full’.

So much for the primer on record cutting. Now let me give you some additional tips on making your record sound great. First, keep it as short as possible. I know this isn’t always possible, but particularly if hot levels are important, keep it short! How short? As a general rule an LP should be under 20 minutes and 24 minutes maximum. 16 to 18 minutes is ideal. Also, try to balance the side times, preferably within one minute. If one side has to be longer, put more of the quiet material on that side. This will insure even levels. If the sides are long, remember that the more bass, the lower the cutting level (volume). It is possible to squeeze 30 minutes on a side but the level will be so low you’ll have to crank it just to hear it, and you will hear the surface noise!

A hot club record should be under 12 minutes, 8 to 10 minutes is ideal. Some of the top club DJs tell me they won’t even play records that are over 12 minutes long because they know the levels will be low and don’t want to adjust gain.

Watch excessive treble boost in the 8 to 16 kHz range in mixing, you won’t get it back on your record. You can’t break the laws of physics, sorry. A good idea is to check your mix against a record you like with lots of cymbals. If you hear a lot more sizzle on your tape, chances are it won’t make it to the record. Particularly watch those ‘S’s. Use a de’esser on vocals. I don’t do endorsements, but dbx makes a great one. This will give you more overall treble because in cutting your record, the treble limiter won’t be chomping on your cymbals too.

Put your hottest, brightest most dynamic mixes on the beginning of the disc and they’ll stay that way. If possible keep the quieter material on the inside tracks.

A word about comparing DATs and CDs to a record; digital levels do not bear any relationship to analog levels. We’re talking apples and oranges here. The analog output level of a CD player or DAT deck can be anything the manufacturer wants it to be, but it is generally higher than a phono preamp output. There are two reasons for this. First the digital equipment manufacturers want CDs and DATs to sound better (translate Louder) than records. If the DAT or CD is fairly wide dynamic range, a record can be as loud. HOWEVER, there has been a trend in the last few years to compress digital tapes almost to the point of the level display not moving from the beginning to the end of the song (second reason). This started with rap, filtered through to dance and club mixes, and finally to most new commercial pop releases. The result is that what used to be the peak level is now the average level and we’re talking 6 to 8 dB louder than is physically possible to put on a phonograph record (or analog tape). Remember that the groove can only move so far before the playback stylus mistracks or skips, and magnetic tape can only be driven so hard before it saturates. At any level, a digital recorder is only printing ones and zeroes. There is no digital counterpart. The bottom line is that a really compressed CD or DAT is going to be 6 to 8 dB louder than your record. This is not a defect, it’s a FACT OF LIFE. I prefer to think of the digital compression as a defect and a scourge to anyone who appreciates dynamic range, but now I’m editorializing.

If the levels are not matched in one of these comparisons, the compressed digital source (6 to 8 dB louder) will sound like it’s got more of everything. I’ve heard the record described as sounding like it’s under water. If the levels are matched, suddenly they sound almost identical. If you are trying to accurately compare a record with a digital source, use a mixer or preamp to raise the level of the record or lower the level of the DAT until they sound very similar and then compare.

While I’m getting things off my chest, how about making the cutting engineer’s job easier. Analog tapes are easily timed when rewinding, and have visual clues such as leaders and splices. DATs and CDRs do not. When supplying DAT tapes or CDRs for record mastering, always provide three things, please! One: Start IDs for each song, not just each side, sometimes it’s hard to tell where one song ends and another starts. Also, they’re handy for checking each song. Two: Note accurate timings for each song AND total side time including pauses. This is particularly important if your DAT deck doesn’t print absolute time on the tape. So much time is wasted by the cutting engineer having to figure out times and it’s imperative to know before cutting. Three: Any level or EQ (tonal) changes you want made. One thing to be aware of is that just because all the songs peak at zero doesn’t mean they will all be at the same apparent volume. This is also true with analog tapes, but to a much lesser degree (remember the digital level tutorial). This is where good old VU meters (with 6 dB pads) come in handy when you are assembling your DAT or CDR.

I hope you find these tips and suggestions helpful, and apply them. You may have guessed from this, that records were not originally intended to store the kind of energy today’s music contains. It’s true, but if you mix with the limitations in mind, it will make a huge difference in the final product. It’s unfortunate, but the approximately 10 year lull in the production of phonograph records, from the mid 80s to mid 90s, caused a lot of engineers to forget these limitations. In the meantime, a whole new generation of engineers has come along who never dealt with record production before. This is for you! Make some great sounding vinyl!

——————-
Kevin Gray

At the age of eighteen, Kevin Gray was the youngest mastering engineer in the country when he started cutting records at Artisan Sound Recorders in Hollywood. That was in 1972. Over the next five years, he cut hit after hit for artists as diverse as: America, Paul Anka, The Beach Boys, Debbie Boone, Donald Byrd, Mac Davis, ELO, The Grateful Dead, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Joel, L.T.D., Manassas, The Osmonds, Kenny Rankin, and Redbone.

In 1977, he and his friend Bob Van der Veen produced, and Kevin mastered, a direct-to-disc recording for jazz pianist Victor Feldman, which they released on their own label, Cohearent Sound.

In 1980, he and his business partner, Doug Sheppard, opened their own mastering facility, The Cutting System, Inc. All electronics were discrete class A, and were designed and built from scratch by the duo. Projects were mastered for Bob Welch, Jay Ferguson, Pages, and many more.

In 1982, he was called upon again to master another direct-to-disc recording for Victor Feldman, this time for Nautilus Recordings.

With the compact disc looming on the horizon, Kevin decided to take a position with MCA Records, heading their mastering department. In his stay there, he mastered records for The Fixx, Musical Youth, Red Rider, Night Ranger, The Who, and many others.

From 1984 to 1989, he mastered at LRS in Burbank, working mostly on syndicated radio shows for personalities such as Casey Kasem, Dick Clark, and Rick Dees. He also mastered records for The Beach Boys, Stephanie, Rod Stewart, and Celebration. In 1989, he helped LRS launch into CD mastering. His old friend from MCA days, reissue guru Steve Hoffman, brought DCC Compact Classics mastering to him and over the next six years they mastered reissues (for CD and vinyl) for everybody from The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Cream, to Elton John, Miles Davis, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

In 1995, Kevin moved to Future Disc Systems in Hollywood (who incidentally purchased his custom mastering system). In 1996, Kevin was responsible for the mastering of the MCA Heavy Vinyl Series – The Who, Buddy Holly, Dave Mason, Buddy Guy, and the Out of Africa soundtrack. He and Steve Hoffman continued to work on new DCC releases such as Bonnie Raitt, Jethro Tull, and Jefferson Starship. He also mastered other new (digital and analog) major label projects for Wang Chung, Paula Cole, Depeche Mode, Gina G, and Erasure. He cut the Grammy winning Dance Record of the Year in 1998 (Madonna) and 1999 (Cher).

In his thirty year career, Kevin has mastered music for every major label in every genre, including pop, rock, jazz, classical, punk, heavy metal, new age, gothic, world ethnic, disco, dance, soul, blues, and rap. He has to his credit more than a hundred top ten and Grammy award winning records, and dozens of RIAA certified gold and platinum albums and singles.

He began working part-time at AcousTech Mastering in 1997. He completely rebuilt and re-equipped the mastering room in 2001 and continues to upgrade and improve equipment constantly.

Price List

7" single up to 4 Minutes Per Side,  £18.00  plus postage (45 RPM ONLY)

10" Picture Disc (Single sided) 10 Minutes recording time, £35.00 (33 RPM)

10" Picture Disc (Double sided) 2x Pictures (one on each side) 10 Minutes per side £45.00 (33 RPM)

10'" EP  from 6 to 10 Minutes Per Side,  £29.00 plus postage (45 & 33 RPM)

12" single 10 to 20 Minutes Per Side £35.00  plus postage (45 & 33 RPM)

12" Album 15 to 20 Minutes Per Side max £48.00 plus postage (33 RPM ONLY)

All except picture disc's are supplied on 2.0mm (180g) Vinyl with white label or Phoenix Vinyl labels and sleeve included.

Upgrade your Vinyl colour to 2.0mm (180g) Red, Blue, Green or White Vinyl for £10.00 extra!

Special Shaped Vinyl available, currently in stock are our heart shaped picture discs, £40.00 around 5 Minutes recording time (Single sided)

Postage to the UK is standard £5.00 for 1st class for one off orders (£3.70 postage and strong card mailer)

Mutliple copies qualify for a discount, please Contact Us for details.

Gift vouchers are available on request, Discount codes are sometines listed on our social media pages.

Payment's can be made via "paypal" or Bank Transfer at time of ordering.

 

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