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Video Direct-to-Vinyl Recording Makes a Comeback (Video) 166

For many decades, gramophone records (the black vinyl discs in Grandma's attic) were made by cutting grooves directly into an acetate disc, then making a mold from that "master" and "pressing records." Nowadays, of course, we use digital recording software on our computers or even on our mobile phones. Vinyl? Strictly for fogies and maybe a few audiophiles who think analog recordings have a depth and warmth that CDs and MP3s lack. Naturally, SXSW is a haven for these folks, and among them Tim Lord found Wesley Wolfe and two German compatriots from vinylrecording.com, busily demonstrating their vinyl recording system, which is sort of the gramophone record equivalent of print on demand. Lots of background music in the video makes the voices a bit hard to hear; some might prefer the transcription -- although those who do will lose out on watching the vinyl recording machine in action. Either way. Or both. Up to you.

Tim: Wesley, we're at the Vinylrecorder.com booth at South By Southwest. What are we here for? What is this?

Wesley: Well, this is a vinyl lathe where you can make your own vinyl record from any audio source direct to vinyl.

Tim: Why would someone want to do that?

Wesley: Well, I am an independent musician. I put out my own vinyl records before. I have pressed like 300 of them, I’ve sold 50; and I am planning to move on to another project and I had a closet full of records. So this was my way of putting out my records in a limited quantity. I hand-make it. And I can move on to other projects afterwards.

Tim: Is that the way to build it?

Wesley: That’s what made me fall in love with it. Yes.

Tim: Right. So what’s different about working with vinyl than say with a CD?

Wesley: The music is alive. For CDs, so you know Super Mario brothers, the first Super Mario he had a square nose. That’s what your audio looks like in 16-bit format. So what vinyl’s actually doing is stretching those square waves and rounding them out.

Tim: Now you are here at South By Southwest, because you got these couple of guys from outside the country.

Wesley: Right. I am here with Souri and Fritz. They are the masterminds behind the machine.

Tim: And they are behind the machine.

Wesley: Right. Correct.

Tim: So, what’s their story?

Wesley: Well I bought the machine about three years ago, I went to Germany, did the training, came back. I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do with the machine, and they had I mean, they couldn’t go to South By and they were curious about it. I was their contact here in the US, and so we came here last year, and now we are back again, because last year was such a hit for us.

Tim: You said you went to Germany for training, how complicated is it to set up a vinyl machine?

Wesley: Well, I have no technical training at all. No mechanical engineering experience. So it is a craft and we get included in this is a day of training.

Tim: And the price is €3200 right now?

Wesley: Right. €3200. Right now in the US, that is about $4000.

Tim: Is it hard to do? There are a lot of things, complicated machinery.

Wesley: Oh no. This is the machine from my house. I brought this here, I drove it here from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Tim: Usually in 2013, you see people going from vinyl to digital formats, here you are doing the opposite, you’ve got a CD player here that’s feeding music over to a vinyl cutting lathe.

Wesley: Right.

Tim: It is kind of a _____ right now.

Wesley: Right. The world is in balance now.

Tim: Okay. And behind you, you showed me before, you’ve got the stuff, can you explain where that comes from?

Wesley: This is the outcut. This is the music. The physical sound cloud.

Tim: That is the actual detritus from the grooves.

Wesley: Yeah, the “swarf”.

Tim: It is called what?

Wesley: “Swarf”.

Tim: Interesting. Okay. You had to learn German while you were doing your training?

Wesley: Right.

Tim: Can you walk us through the parts of the machine a little bit?

Wesley: So the master of the machine is the cutter head, that’s how the audio gets printed or cut into the vinyl.

Tim: And the vinyl itself, is it ordinary vinyl that you get if you think about records is it the same material what you get in Presto record?

Wesley: No it is like Coca Cola and Pepsi. It is his own secret recipe.

Tim: So this is not only this is the razor and blades, what do the other blades cost? The price to get the vinyl blanks?

Wesley: Okay. Normally the sapphire is how you would cut a lacquer, an acetate. And that is how you normally would get a dubplate is it’s like finger nail polish soft, so you get 50 plates of a lacquer acetate and that would run you maybe $100 to get one cut. These blanks you can cut a 180-gram record for about five bucks. And the stylus is not sapphire it is diamond.

Tim: So that part you don’t get to replace very often if it is made out of diamond?

Wesley: The sapphire gets about 10 hours of cutting, and the diamond will get up to 300 hours.

Tim: How durable are the resulting records?

Wesley: Oh they are just as good as my vinyl records at home.In fact, I have got like some that were cut in the ‘60s. Apparently, my grandkids will be able to listen to the records I cut.

Tim: When you listen to these at home, what do you play these back on?

Wesley: I have an Audio Technica turntable and I also have a Technics 1200 ___ .

Tim: Do you find that vinyl really is undergoing a renaissance right now?

Wesley: Oh yeah, yeah, like I am backed up with my business until June right now for cutting.

Tim: How about ____ machines?

Wesley: Yeah, but they have been at this a long time, so they are a little bit more organized than me. So they have a system in place, that if you get in contact with them, they can have something available for you pretty soon.

Tim: There is not a lot of wait time?

Wesley: There is, there is a mailing list, so get it while you can.

Tim: And where does this stuff go? It’s all over the world?

Wesley: All over the world. We’ve had people from Australia come all the way to Germany.

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Direct-to-Vinyl Recording Makes a Comeback (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • Collectors (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:42PM (#43274969)

    It's the superior medium for collectors. Some of you collect old game cartridges right? Do they feel good in your hand? Sure they do. I can use an emulator for that.

  • Depth and Warmth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:47PM (#43275009)

    Are generally found to be distortion and a roll off of high frequencies when one bothers to take apart the actual music reproduction.

    Some people have become accustomed to these artifacts and so prefer them.

    The only real antidote is to go to live music performances to hear what they really sound like.

    I'd recommend that for people used to modern pop recordings too. I think many would be shocked to hear what they are missing in the horribly compressed and otherwise doctored up recordings that are sold today.

  • Back to bad times (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Airon ( 108830 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:55PM (#43275083)

    As a professional recording, editing and mixing engineer, all I can say is NO THANK YOU.

    For those who place a premium on scratchy, error-prone, expensive, one-time and short recordings this might be neat. There are lots of reasons we started using tape in the late 40s and early 50s in the music recording industry, and loads of reasons we're recording digitally now.

    Quality, speed, cost. A direct-to-disc recording system ain't it on any of those fronts.

  • Gullible Moron! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by t4ng* ( 1092951 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:02PM (#43275169)

    "...the first Super Mario he had a square nose. That’s what your audio looks like in 16-bit format. What vinyl’s actually doing is stretching those square waves and rounding them out..."

    "Well, I have no technical training at all. No mechanical engineering experience."

    Yes, and it shows. I wonder if he thinks black and white kinescope recordings from the 50's have more warmth and depth than digital HDTV.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @05:02PM (#43275821) Journal

    You know, it would not surprise me if there was a community into doing so, and that would be kinda awesome ^_^

    http://www.edisonia.com/ [edisonia.com] Recording and playback hardware, along with new blanks manufactured to period spec. (No association with them, though I've seen blanks that I think were produced by them used to record a couple of live performances)

  • Re:Back to bad times (Score:4, Interesting)

    by petsounds ( 593538 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @07:59PM (#43277329)

    Digital has nothing to do with this -- this is for listeners who still prefer a physical product to hold.

    As a recording engineer, you should know that tape machines are a PITA in terms of maintenance and upkeep. Not something your average indie band has the money/skills/space to keep around in working order. And good-quality tape is harder to find these days. This vinyl system, if it works as well as they say it does, allows an artist to do a small run of high-quality physical products. 180g vinyl is top quality, assuming the transfer is good. This is a great thing for indie artists. Think of it as craft beer for musicians.

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.