Paul Loeb Mastering - Expert Audio Engineer, Professional Song Mastering, Online Mastering

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Posts Tagged ‘record mastering ’

One of the services I offer is custom mastering for vinyl release. I don’t do the actual vinyl pressing, but I can prepare your tracks for a pressing plant. In many cases a good sounding master created for CD will also make a good vinyl master. However there are a few elements unique to the physical nature of vinyl as a playback medium, as well as the vinyl manufacturing process which require special consideration.

If you’d like to order vinyl mastering services, please get in touch.

Mastering today has become a catch-all term for any kind of post-mixing audio processing, but LP mastering is the process of making an acetate out of the original tape. The processing is secondary. However, the processing is almost essential to get the most out of the limited channel.

There is a lot of poking and prodding that is often done to get the stereo signal to fit into place, because the LP has less information on it than the original master tape does. Often, you’ll see mastering engineers roll off a lot of the very low bass and add a false bass peak around 200 Hz or so, just to compensate for the mechanical limitations of the equipment. The other alternative is to reduce the running time per side radically.

The one thing that saves us from bass being a big problem is the RIAA pre-emphasis curve. Most of the noise in the recording process is at higher frequencies. So on record, we pre-emphasize the signal by pumping up the highs, and then on playback the phono amplifier has a roll-off curve that is the exact inverse of the curve in the record chain, which rolls them off. This means that the music has the same frequency response, but the noise is reduced, primarily on the high end.

The basic principle is that as the time of the side increases the level decreases. For LP’s I go for sound quality over level unless instructed otherwise. For 12” singles I will do everything I can to get a crushingly loud cut. Everyone wants a loud cut but distortion increases as level increases. Distortion also increases towards the inside diameter of the record.

The main thing that will preclude a loud cut is excessive high frequency content. Sibilance in vocals and very sharp high hats and cymbals are the most common culprits.

Low frequency content that isn’t centered can cause tracking problems. This includes effects on the low end like reverb and delays. This can be “fixed” but you probably won’t like the sound of the fix. It’s best to avoid it in the first place.

While it’s not uncommon to make a CD with a running time of 45-50 minutes (or more!), this is very much on the long side for a 12″ vinyl album. As a side gets longer, grooves must become thinner (i.e. quieter) to fit on the side.

Below are recommended optimal and maximum times for sides that can still be cut at a reasonable volume (though the maximum times are pushing what could be considered reasonable). There is some wiggle room as levels get lower. However, as you come down in level, you move toward the noise floor of the medium and the pops and clicks usually present in a manufactured record will be much louder relative to the music.

Recommended Times for Sides for Vinyl:

Speed: 33 1/3 rpm

12” Single
10:00-12:00 = Great
12:00-14:00 = Good

12” LP
18:00-20:00 = Very Good
20:00-22:00 = Good
22:00-24:00 = Fair

Speed: 45 rpm

12” Single
6:00-8:00 = Great
8:00-10:00 = Good

12” LP
12:00-15:00 = Great

3:00-3:30 = Great
3:30-4:00 = Good
4:00-4:30 = Fair

If you’d like to order vinyl mastering services, please get in touch.

Some common questions:

  1. Is there anything I can do when mixing to make a better record?

    Sibilance is a common problem with the vinyl format and most cutting engineers are equipped with a variety of high frequency limiters. The best solution is de-essing in the studio.Excessive High End from hi hats and synths as this can cause tracking problems. I sometimes get digital masters with an incredible amount of 16 to 20kHz.Excessive Sub Bass from synths and 808’s. My experience has been that the tightest, best sounding bass for clubs occurs above 40 Hz. That doesn’t mean that some 30 Hz is bad, but an excessive amount of subs when using certain club playback cartridges causes the cartridge to resonate and skip.Out of phase instruments can be a problem. Low frequency elements of the mix out of phase is a serious problem. This usually happens due to a wiring error. To make the record trackable a low frequency cross-over or elliptical equalizer is used. The result will be some undesirable phase cancellations. If an oscilloscope or correlation meter is not available, checking the mix in mono will result with the culprit disappearing completely (canceling itself out) in the mix if it is completely out of phase.Center the kick drum for club mixes. With more home studios I see more masters with the kick unintentionally at 9 or 10 o’clock. That can be dealt with in mastering using the EE but it best corrected in the studio.

    Excessive amounts of 2 buss limiting and compression. There is a misconception that the record will be loud since the mix has been squashed. Most likely the cutting engineer will lower the volume for cutting. I suggest that engineers don’t sacrifice the timbre of an instrument for the sake of volume. Use tasteful amounts of dynamics processing.

  2. Do you press records?

If you’d like to order vinyl mastering services, please get in touch.

Mixing Tips for Vinyl

  1. Tame the highs. Two common things that cause mastering engineers headache are loud fx noises/sweeps and vocals with loud sibilants.  De-ess vocals if needed. 
  2. Center the bass. Make the bass mono when mixing for vinyl. With bass I don’t only mean the bassline. I mean all low frequencies – the bassline, the low end of your drums, percussion, any bassy effects, etc. No panning, no stereo effects. Make it mono.
  3. Watch the distortion. Don’t get me wrong… I love it dirty. Just be careful as digital distortion easily becomes more apparent when transferred to vinyl.
  4. Don’t limit the mixdown. While limiting makes the average level of a digital track louder, it will cause lots of trouble at vinyl mastering. A heavily limited pre-master will actually cause your track to be cut quieter in most cases. Let mastering engineer worry about loudness.
  5. Don’t let anything get out of phase. Even if you think it sounds cool. Check the mix in mono– out of phase material will cause cancellation of frequencies. Steer clear of psychoacoustic stereo enhancers. Phasing results in cancellation of frequencies. The cutting equipment is unable to reproduce that. Out of phase material makes the cutting head try to pull in two different directions at the same time. The result is a the result is a the result is a [nudge] skip.
  6. You can always provide alternatives. In doubt on how a particular mixdown translates to vinyl? Send two versions. Let the mastering engineer decide. Just make sure to let him know what the deal is.

If you’d like to order vinyl mastering services, please get in touch.