Today the vinyl is back and the new albums are released in this format. But, there is also an offer of vinyl cutting by unit ( to cut your compilation or an album not published on vinyl) or in small quantities without the constraint of having to produce several hundreds of copies. It is in this world of cutting that I take you today.
What can we expect in terms of quality of the direct cutting? In terms of musical rendering, bandwidth, surface noise and dynamics? It is to these questions that we will try to answer.
For that, we go to www.discomaton.fr (also known as lacontrebande.fr) who will present us the process of cutting. Thanks to Arnaud for his welcome and all the explanations concerning the steps of vinyl manufacturing, and above all to be transparent about the quality of its production through the cutting of test vinyls.
The difference between vinyl production by pressing and direct cutting is the material used for the cutting. For the production of vinyl (pressing mode), the matrix is cutted in cyanate. While for the direct cutting, the cutting uses plastic discs for www.discomaton.fr .
This difference with the cyanate is important, because the cyanate is less hard to cut, thus generates mechanically a weaker surface noise, but it is not exploitable for the reading, indeed, that one degrades as of the first reading.
Arnaud works in direct cutting with discs of different colors, the clear disc gives very good results and we will use it for the tests.
To cut a vinyl, the work is done in 3 main steps:
- Preparation of the vinyl master in the studio
- Direct cutting
The studio : it allows to control the files sent by the customer.
The studio is equipped with ATC SCM100ASL monitors, the converters used are Merging Technology Anubis with Sequoia as Digital Audio Workstation.
It is an important step to allow a better optimization of the file for the cutting vinyl.
Several points are controlled:
- The duration of a vinyl side.
The available time of a disc depends on its size (7, 10, 12 inches / 15, 25, 30 cm) and its speed (33 or 45 RPM or 78 RPM). The cutting will create a groove which will be more or less wide according to the sound level. If we cut with a high sound level, the furrow will be wider lateral modulation, so we will have a shorter time on one side. On the contrary, if we cut with a lower level, the width of the furrow will be reduced, we will have a longer time. But the adjustment of the sound level has its limits, you can’t cut too loud because you have to keep a tracking that allows a smooth playback on all the decks. And you can’t cut too low, because you lose signal to noise ratio. If the tracks are compressed in dynamics, i.e. with a high average sound level, you must either reduce the duration on one side to have a high sound level, or reduce the sound level to take more time.
- Bass management:
Vinyl has physical constraints that impose to not have bass in stereo, to do this, the bass part must be switched to mono, which is done below 100 Hz or more depending on the type of music.
- The management of the crosstalk: Vinyl also has a limit in terms of crosstalk. We are not at 90 dB like in digital, but more towards 30 dB. It is therefore necessary, in the case of tracks very rich in very marked stereo effects, to reduce them to ensure a good tracking when playing the vinyl.
- Separation of tracks: A marking is placed between two tracks, which will result in a visible area that will visually identify the beginning of the trackto allow for proper positioning of the cartridge.
When the mastering for the vinyl is finalized, the files are transferred for cutting.
This is the most important and delicate step, we now have to cut the audio files on the vinyl.
For this, Arnaud uses a Technics SP10 mk3 turntable base with a cutting head Caruso designed and produced in Switzerland by Flo Kauffman.
Other mechanisms are put in place to guarantee a quality engraving without any problem of dust and static electricity, but it remains the know-how of Arnaud.
The engraving chain has been calibrated to provide the most linear response possible to the material of the discs to be engraved.
Each color of disc has its own calibration, the calibration also depends on the burning speed (33, 45 or 78 RPM) and the size of the disc.
For this test, we chose transparent discs which give the best result, these discs having no particles to color them.
To cut the disc, it is first heated to allow the cutting in the best conditions.
The engraving is done in real time, a 14 minutes side needs 14 minutes of cutting. It is not a pressing like the discs bought in the trade.
When the disc is cutted, it is checked.
We can check the groove with a microscope as shown in the picture below.
When the record is cutted and checked, it goes to the next step, the packaging.
The packaging will allow to finalize the presentation of the vinyl with the realization of a cover, of the label.
For that it is enough to provide the files with the images according to the templates which are available on the site lacontrebande.fr or edit online the covers on www.discomaton.fr .
But you can also ask for a picture Disc. In the trade the picture discs are printed on the cutting surface, that makes it possible to have a different image for each face, but in counterpart an important surface noise which limits these discs to the decoration.
Arnaud proposes another solution, the disc is cutted on a transparent disc on only one face, and on the other face, one finds the impression of the disc.
We thus have a picture Disc without the defects of surface noise due to the impression of the engraved face. We can finally have a vinyl that combines visual quality and sound quality.
But Arnaud also offers discs with more specific shapes like the heart or other custom shapes. The heart-shaped vinyls are listenable on vinyl turntables.
what about its quality?
Now that you know everything about the manufacture of this vinyl, what about its quality?
We are going to take again 3 criteria of measurement, the dynamic, the bandwidth and the surface noise. For the tests, the files are in 24 bits 88.2 kHz. The DAC used to provide the analog signal to cut is a Merging Technologie Anubis. Cutting of clear vinyl at 45 rpm.
For the dynamics, we will compare 2 pieces with different dynamics.
|Patricia Barber – This Town (song)||DR13||DR13|
|Dire Straits – So Far Away (song)||DR19||DR17|
We notice that the engraving respects the initial DR, the song This Town has the same DR between the master and the vinyl with a DR13 with DR13. The So Far Away track has a small drop from DR19 to DR17, which is very good. If we compare it to Mofi’s vinyl, this one has a DR18, but with a more expensive cutting method.
We always imagine that the vinyl is not able to go above 16khz, here are two examples of spectrum which compares the master used for the cutting vinyl.
The graph below compares the spectra of the vinyl and the master for the song This Town. We can see the global superposition of the two curves with variations in the green zone above 8 kHz, but which follow the master. The yellow arrow shows that the engraving allows to go up to 20 kHz.
The graph below compares the spectra of the vinyl and the master for the song Dangerous. We can see a global superposition of the two curves with variations at 8 kHz (yellow arrow) and above 10 kHz (green arrows). The purple arrow indicates a slight attenuation (1.5/2 dB) between 2 and 3 kHz.
We find for the two examples a tape which goes up to 20khz, with a good linearity. For these two examples of spectrum measurement, we find an extended bandwidth that goes up to 20 kHz. The result is close to the master with small variations above 8 kHz. Pressed vinyl can also have variations that can be more pronounced above 10 kHz like Prince’s.
The surface noise
The surface noise depends on the material used for the engraving, the disc is engraved on a transparent plastic disc. We will compare it to a pressed disc produced from the engraving of an acetate disc. Acetate is a very soft material, such a disc degrades from the first reading.
For the comparison, I chose the Dire Straits Brother in Arms vinyl in MOFI edition which is an excellent vinyl, a reference in term of surface noise. Few vinyls can match this record in terms of quality.
No surprise, the surface noise is higher than the MOFI version of Dire Straits (see the curve above), we find a peak around 40hz higher (7 dB) and 10 dB at 60 Hz on the direct cut record. It is the zone below 100 Hz which is always the noisiest. Above 100 Hz, we find peaks which remain 10 to 15 db lower than the maximums present below 100 Hz.
This is a good result, knowing that the plastic engraved disc is 10 times cheaper than the acetate disc.
The cutting unit has qualities, the objective is not to equal the quality of the audiophile records at more than 100$, or the precision of an engraving on acetate which costs 10 times the price, the objective is to make it possible to manufacture its own vinyl, or for a small group, to produce small quantities of vinyl with a good quality price ratio, the goal is reached.
Here are some samples to listen to the result of this engraving. The 3 samples propose 3 different music styles.
Sample : Patricia Barber This Town 24 bits 88.2 kHz :
Sample : Michael Jackson Dangerous 24 bits 88.2 kHz :
Sample : Dire Straits So Far Away 24 bits 88.2 kHz :
The overall score takes into account the different samples and shows the reproduction capacity of the vinyl cut according to the tracks used.
- Global Rating:
- Dynamic: ●●●●● (5/5)*
- Bandwidth: ●●●●o (4/5)
- Surface noise: ●●●oo (3/5)
- Restitution: ●●●oo (3.5/5)
* with Dire Straits So Far Away
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Detail of the ratings :
- Dynamic :
- Significant dynamic compression, DR less than 7
- Compression of the present dynamics, DR between 7 and 9.
- Correct piece DR >=10
- No dynamic compression (DR >12), dynamic rendering
- No dynamic compression, high DR and very dynamic sound rendering
- Spectrum :
- Spectrum cut and less than 15 khz
- Spectrum cut at 15 khz
- Spectrum not conforming to the original and cut (not HD) or original but limited bandwidth (but less than 20 kHz)
- Spectrum conforming to the original (but not HD)
- Spectrum conforming to the original with HD resolution (higher than 24kHz)
- Surface noise (only for vinyl):
- Continuous audible noise
- Audible surface noise except on passages with a high level of noise
- Reduced surface noise, barely audible on low level crossings
- Low surface noise, very good quality
- Very low surface noise, no defects, almost inaudible on the quiet passages (exceptional disc)
- Spatialization :Between 0 and 5 for 5.1 or 7.1 channels configuration
- Between 0 and 10 for Atmos configuration (7.1.4)
- For more information on spatialization, you can read the article describing this parameter here.
- Restitution :
- Low quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
- Average quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
- Quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Good record.
- High quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Very high level disc.
- Maximum quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Exceptional disc.