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  1. Music & Audio
  2. Mastering
Music

Mastering for Vinyl

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Some people say that a master for vinyl isn't necessary. That a well mastered track will translate equally as well on CD, as it would to vinyl. I say that this simply isn't true. There is no one-size-fits-all when mastering audio.  

In my opinion, creating a complete master for vinyl isn't necessary, that is true, but tailoring a completed master is—that is if you want optimum sound quality.  

According to The GuardianSales of vinyl in 2016 reached an all time 25-year high with no signs of a decline. The knowledge for the mastering of vinyl has become vital—again.  

In this tutorial, I'll show how to create a master specifically for transfer to vinyl. The following topics are covered: 

  • filtering
  • de-essing
  • limiting
  • stereo width
  • sample and bit rate
  • audio length

Low-Pass Filtering 

Technique

A low-pass filter to cut between 16kHz to 18kHz, preferably using a butterworth type filter, with a slope of around 18db.   

Reason

Any audio above 20kHz on vinyl translates into noise and distortion. This is due to the overheating of the cutting head which is caused by high frequencies.  

High-Pass Filtering 

Technique

A high-pass filter to cut between 20Hz and 30Hz with a slope of around 18db. 

Reason

Inaudible frequencies (below 20Hz) and low-subs (around 30Hz) pressed to vinyl can cause the needle to jump out of the groove. This is the result of the needle swinging so far that it crashes into its neighbouring groove. 

De-essing

Technique

Remove any sibilance from the high-hats or 'S' sounds from the vocals. Sibilance is often located between 5kHz and 9kHz.       

Reason

Any sibilance is greatly exaggerated sounding far more harsh on vinyl then digitally. This is due to a boost in treble, a result of the Recording Industry Association of America, better known as the RIAA curve that is applied when cutting vinyl. 

Limiting 

Technique

You should not have a Root-Mean-Square (RMS) peak of more then around -12db. Alter your limiter's threshold accordingly to achieve this. Some engineers even remove the limiter altogether if no clipping is occurring. 

Reason

The cutting needle doesn't react well to perceived loudness, caused by a minimal dynamic range. This can cause the audio to be quieter then a dynamic master. 

Stereo Width

Technique

Mono the low-end up to 100Hz. Check the width between 100Hz and 500Hz. The stereo width within this range should be narrowed to near mono. 

You can use a correlation meter, making sure that is kept in the green area, or simply just convert to mono, listening if the low to low-mids have diminished. 

Reason

The stereo width is often increased, especially in the low-mids, when digital audio is transferred to vinyl. This can cause it to increase phase, thinning the sound. 

Sample and Bit Rate

Submit the files at the sample and bit rate they were recorded at as no conversion will be required.  

Length of the Audio 

Recommended ideal and maximum length for vinyl. All times illustrated are per side. 

12" at 33 1/3 rpm 12" at 45 rpm             
Ideal: 16 to 20mins
Maximum: 25mins 
Ideal: 6 to 12mins 
Maximum: 15mins
10" at 33 1/3 rpm 10" at 45 rpm
Ideal: 9mins
Maximum: 14mins
Ideal: 8mins
Maximum: 10mins
7" at 33 1/3 rpm7" at 45 rpm
Ideal: 5mins
Maximum: 7mins
Ideal: 3mins
Maximum:  5mins

It's important to be aware that the following will effect time allowance:

  • presence of sub frequencies 
  • loudness (RMS) level
  • stereo width in low to low-mid frequencies 

Employing the techniques discussed under the headings low-pass filtering, stereo width and limiting will give you more allowance. 

The general rule is—the shorter the side, the better quality of sound. 

Conclusion  

Applying techniques discussed play a key role in mastering audio for vinyl. However, be aware that the disc cutting system and vinyl cutting engineer play a key role too. 

It might worth sending both your digital master and your master for vinyl to the cutting engineer as they might prefer to apply the techniques themselves. Either way, knowledge and communication is the key in creating a optimal master for vinyl.     

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