Self Care – How Vinyl Records Are Made

This is a clip from the How It’s Made series… a series I used to love very much.

As for vinyl records; yup, I’m a fan. Initially it was for audiophile reasons. I very much used to believe that analog recordings were better overall than digital recordings. And I’m sure that was true back in the 80s when digital was new and in the 90s when it was upgrading and coming into its own.

Now, though?

Now even downloadable digital files can come in high enough quality that the claim “vinyl records sound better” can, at the very least, be challenged. I do still prefer lossless compression to lossy compression (though, of course, I still use MP3 to carry music with me on my phone), especially for unofficial recordings (like audience recordings of live shows). The reason is because the quality of the recording, especially of a recording of a live show done in the 60s and 70s, is iffy at best (and sometimes quite terrible), and so keeping the audio files as close to the master recording as possible is preferred, as a loss in musical data can easily make an already iffy recording sound utterly horrid. FLAC is the standard lossless format, and my favorite, as well.

That said, though, I do, indeed, listen to vinyl when I can, if for no other reason than I’m the type who likes to sit back and just listen to music, and, mostly for cultural reasons, vinyl is the preferred way of doing that.

So anyways…

What I’d love to know now is… are those master disc pressings of some of my favorite records (like… say… Led Zeppelin III) available to purchase at all. And if so… how would I play them?


  1. says

    I’m sure that was true back in the 80s when digital was new and in the 90s when it was upgrading and coming into its own.

    I don’t think so. Partly, the problem was blurred because you had vinyl that was being digitally mastered (e.g.: the Telarc master collection, anything by Madonna…) and it sounded fantastic in the bits -- then copying the bits to vinyl and playing them -- degraded the bits.

    The big problem (I tried to do a blindfolded subject experiment back in 1984…) was that audiophiles could always tell the vinyl because of the wow, flutter, click, and lead-in.

    Anyhow, as a wet-plate photographer who has hand-poured many collodion plates, I approve of floating things with nitrocellulose dissolved in alcohol and ether. They’re uusing lacquer, now, because it doesn’t tend to explode. Wimps.

    I’m surprised they aren’t working under positive pressure with hepa filters. Idiots. They have a 50% rejection-rate -- I wonder why.

  2. says

    I prefer vinyl for a fairly simple reason. Taken care of, you can still listen to a record that was pressed 70 years ago. Your record player can die and that’s okay, you haven’t lost your music.

  3. says

    On the rare occasions I use a turntable, I do find that Vinyl LP’s have one slight advantage. Because every time I pick the needle up off the record and put it back down, I risk creating audible damage to the record, I tend to be less likely to skip tracks, so I find myself listening to the, for want of a better term, second-stringer songs, the good-but-not-great numbers that it wouldn’t necessarily occur to me to place on those so-easily created digital playlists.

  4. Dunc says

    There was a lot of really bad vinyl pressed in the 80s, man. Now, we’re living in a golden age, what with all these lovely 180g represses of classic albums.

    I still reckon vinyl sounds “better”… Or, at least, it can. You’ve got to spend a lot of money on good kit though.

  5. Dunc says

    Daz: That’s a very important consideration. I’ve lost count of the number of times a track that I didn’t initially like all that much has ended up being one of my favourites. Plus, people put a heck of a lot of thought into the arrangement of tracks on an album, so if you just listen to a selection (or worse, put it on shuffle) then you’re missing a big component of the artist’s intent.

  6. Dunc says

    I’m not talking about concept albums per se, just regular ones. People don’t just throw tracks together in any old order.

  7. says

    I miss vinyl only for the album artwork, which is the greatest loss of the switch to CD and files. I loved twelve inch sleeves, detailed artwork and gatefolds. Some artists (Derek Riggs, Hugh Syme, Roger Dean) were as important as the music.

    The things I absolutely do not miss about vinyl are the scratching, the hisses, and most importantly, the weight. My music collection would be physically impossible to move on vinyl, difficult on CD, but a single 128GB flash device in digital format. And in regard to sound quality, I’m starting to notice some of the hearing loss that runs in the family. It sucks, so now I have to pick clarity over quality.

    Vinyl may not be as durable as some think. As a child or the 1970s, I can distinctly recall some popular records from the mid-70s being physically thinner than others, undoubtedly due to the oil crisis. I doubt records of that era will survive as long.

  8. Dunc says

    Re: durability, the main problem is if they are played on poorly maintained and set up equipment -- I’ve got a lot of second-hand records which exhibit the distinctive wear patterns of having been played with worn or damaged stylii on badly set up turntables. A good turntable, properly set up, shouldn’t cause any noticeable damage or wear.

    As for surface noise, again a lot of the problem comes down to either poor equipment or bad set up. The actual signals from scratches and dust are in the high ultrasonic -- what you hear are secondary effects, either from the stylus breaking contact and rattling in the groove, or from the high-amplitude ultrasonic signal overloading the phono stage. A decent turntable paired with a well-designed phono stage (one with plenty of headroom at high frequencies) will exhibit much less noise from surface damage.

    The weight is certainly an issue though.

Leave a Reply