Cutting the lacquer of an audiophile vinyl – After The Rain

AKELSON had already proposed a first vinyl Piuma, today, it proposes a new piano album After The Rain with Thomas Schirmann.

The particularity of AKELSON (which was founded by Raoul) is to propose the vinyl version and the master version (here in 32 bits floating and 88.2 kHz) studio which is used for the realization of vinyl. This audiophile approach aims to be able to directly compare the master and the vinyl version.

You can find the test of the album After The Rain here, and the video on lacquer cutting on Youtube.

To show how the vinyl will be made from the master without any modification and reworking in mastering, Thanks to Raoul who invited us to follow the cutting of the lacquer at the Parelies studio.
We are welcomed by François Terrazoni who starts by presenting us his studio and here are some pictures.

Mastering for Vinyl

The first step is to check the master provided, this one is in 32 bits floating 88.2 kHz. A listening is made to control the level and the sound rendering, the results are very good, it was decided not to modify anything to respect the choices of mixing validated by the musician.

Then the album is checked to make sure that the master meets the criteria of a vinyl:

  • The dynamic range is good (no compression) for the vinyl
  • The bass level is moderate, so it is not necessary to reduce the bass in mono.
  • The stereophony is also controlled.

This control validates that we can use the master without any modification.

Creation of files for cutting

François then moves on to the next step which is the preparation of the sides of the vinyls on Samplitude Pro, he groups the tracks by side (3 for the first side…), he checks that there are 3 seconds between 2 tracks. This is the case natively with the master, so all the pieces are linked together.

To finalize the preparation of the engraving, Francois duplicates the tracks to have 2 stereo tracks:

  • The first stereo track (top) will be sent to the engraving head, a delay of 600 ms is applied to allow the machine to adjust the engraving parameters.
  • The second stereo track is sent without delay to the machine driver to allow it to adjust the engraving parameters such as the width and depth of the tracks.

François commented that in the time when tapes were used, tape drives (dedicated to cutting) used additional heads to directly produce the delay needed for the machine to read and the offset reading for the cut from the same tape.

Now that everything is ready, the 4 sides have been prepared with all the pieces. It is time to proceed with the engraving. The same preparation is done for the 4 sides of the album.

Test cutting

The cutting is done on a Neumann VMS 70 machine. With the amplifiers and inverse RIAA correction for the cutting at 45 rpm.

The cutting head is a SX 74, it is one of the best cutting heads that exists today.

To convert the digital into analog, it is a DAC RME Audio Fireface UC which is used.

Before starting the complete engraving of a face, we proceed to a test cut. We start by placing the lacquer. The lacquer is composed of an aluminum sheet covered with a kind of black varnish.
A mechanism sucks the lacquer on the support to make sure it is perfectly flat for cutting.
The cutting process begins with a microscopic check of the result.

After a few minutes of cutting, we stop the test, and we go back to the studio to listen to the lacquer on a Technics 1200 turntable, with covers high enough to allow the reading of the lacquer which has a diameter of 40 cm and not 30 cm for vinyl records.
This extra size will allow the next steps to handle the lacquer without the risk of touching the first tracks. The lacquer that is used comes from Japan which remains the only manufacturer of lacquer after the fire of the factory in the United States.

For the reading of this lacquer an Ortofon 2M blue cell is used with a Kenwood pre-amplifier with RIAA. When listening, we find the same sound rendering as we had with the master, the test is validated.

Cutting of the 4 sides of the album

François is going to proceed to the cutting of the 4 faces.

During the cutting, the chips of the lacquer are sucked at the level of the cutting head. At the end of the cutting process, François engraves the number of the vinyl and its face.

François also spoke to us about the importance of working in 32 bits floating 88.2 kHz for music, in fact, in 44.1 kHz, we can not reproduce all the harmonics of some instruments that rise above 20 kHz.
In the same way, François explained to us that he always prepares the master in digital for the realization of a vinyl, his process is perfectly mastered and optimized, and this even from an analog tape. Digital brings more flexibility for the adjustments.

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