Over 100 years of experience in cutting analog records

Not only are we named after the inventor of the gramophone, we are still passionately cutting lacquer masters for industrial record pressing. Emil Berliner Studios have played a significant role in the development of analog records over the last century, from the very first wax disc to audiophile half-speed lacquer cuts. Our present cutting lathe is a modified Neumann VMS 80 with Ortofon cutting amps. We cut from 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch master tapes as well as from any digital PCM or DSD file.

We pay very close attention to detail

Neumann VMS 80 cutting lathe

This is what heavy metal looks like on a vinyl record

This is analog technology

We still work with knobs

Shipping the lacquers

Test cuts of different music styles and test signals - three minutes each

How does the test cut sound?

Versatile media – individual optimization

A record's quality is significantly affected by vinyl mastering: each lacquer cut requires individual mastering that is tailored specifically to the music. The better all mechanical, electrical and aesthetic aspects are in balance, the more convincing the result. Therefore, general guidelines or rules about playing time, level and dealing with the low and high ends cannot be given without thorough analysis of the program material. Only those who actually produce analog record masters can assess what (if anything) needs to be adjusted for vinyl.

Electro-mechanical relations in vinyl mastering

The principle of the record

The invention of the phonograph roller and the gramophone record in the second half of the 19th century made it possible for the first time to store sound and play it back later. The resulting music industry changed the world. The principle of mechanical sound storage on record is easy enough to understand and its principle has not changed since Emil Berliner's patent:

When making music or speaking, air molecules are set into mechanical vibrations, which were captured with a horn back then. Today we use microphones. Then and now, there we aim to make loud records with little background noise. For this reason, musicians had to stand very close to the horn and play music very loudly; today, microphone signals can be amplified.

The cutting lathe basically consists of a turntable and a carriage with a cutter head that can move on a shaft radially towards the center of the turntable. In the cutting head, on which the cutting stylus is mounted, the electrical voltage changes (from the cutting amplifiers) are translated back into mechanical vibrations. When cutting a record master, the cutting stylus dips into the recording medium - a wax plate in the early days, today a lacquer or copper plate. At the same time, the turntable rotates at 33 1/3 or 45 rotations per minute, while the carriage with cutting head moves towards the center. As a consequence, the cutting stylus cuts a spiral into the recording medium, modulating the groove according to the voltage changes of the signal. The music is thus transformed into a plastic form over time. By tracing this form with a pickup stylus, the signal can be made audible again.

 

Playing time and loudness are in inverse proportion to each other

Long playing time can only be achieved with a thin, space-efficient groove. A high level means larger groove amplitudes and therefore more space consumption. This conflict has to be balanced, however the middle way is not necessarily the best solution, because the amount of level also determines the degree of audible distortion. If the level is too low, surface noise and static charge can be disturbing. If the level is too high, the stylus itself will produce playback distortions.

 

The lower the frequency, the more space it needs

The recordable area of a 12" record is about 628 cm², which must be used as efficiently as possible. The lower the frequency, the greater the deflection of the groove at the same volume. Everyone knows this from driving a car: If you drive around cones in serpentines, lateral centrifugal forces act on the driver and the vehicle. If you increase the distance between the cones, the centrifugal forces become smaller. If you still want to feel the same centrifugal forces, you have to drive the serpentine line with larger amplitudes. This also applies to the stylus in the record groove: The lower the frequency (large distance between cones), the greater the amplitude so that the stylus reaches the same velocity (centrifugal force). This means that loud bass needs more space than loud treble.

 

The frequency spectrum is not evenly distributed
The loudest frequencies in music and speech is the area of the first harmonics (ca. 50 to 800 Hz.). The harmonics, which extend well beyond our hearing capacity, decrease in volume the further up the spectrum you go. For the vinyl cutting lathe this is not very practical; the low frequencies occupy the most space for the groove, and the higher frequencies with lower amplitudes get covered by the surface noise of the disc. Both effects led to a low playing time and loud noise on the shellac disc, therefore the vinyl is not cut with a linear equalisation.

 

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) equalization curve improves the playing time and playback of higher frequencies of vinyl records
With the non-linear signal equalisation we adapt the frequency spectrum to better fit the physical needs of the vinyl groove. The RIAA filter is located in the cutting amp which reduces the lower frequencies and amplifies the higher. This leads to reduced displacement (needed space of the groove) of the lower frequencies and a larger separation in loudness between the harmonics and the surface noise. When played back, the sound passes through the opposite filter in the preamp to produce a linear frequency spectrum again. The RIAA equalisation curve therefore also has a big impact on the playing time, especially in the sub bass region.

 

The space needed for the groove increases the wider the stereo signal is
Emil Berliner invented the original gramophone that used the lateral recording technique, where the needle moves horizontally along the groove. Thomas Alva Edison used the vertical recording technique with his Phonograph, where the needle moves in a vertical action along the groove.
In order to play stereo music from just one groove, Alan Blumlein joined both techniques together and used a 45/45-type stereophonic recording technique. Here, the modulations of both the left and right channels are cut at 45 degree angles. This leads to horizontal and vertical modulations for both channels. To ensure mono compatibility, the phase of both channels is selected such that the superimposed modulation for the left and right still results in a pure lateral recording in mono. Therefore, the wider the stereo image, the bigger the vertical modulation. In the most extreme case the needle moves only vertically, as the left and right channels are completely out of phase with one another.
Both cutting techniques have different consequences for the playing time, but only the lateral cutting can be cut thinly to save space. With the vertical cutting technique, as the volume increases so must the depth of the cutting (which in turn increases the width) to avoid the needle from springing out.

 

The danger of hearing distortion when playing back a record increases the higher the frequency, the longer the playing time and louder the level is
The cutting of high frequencies requires a lot of power from the cutting amp, but can be cut without distortion to well above hearable levels. The sharp edge of the cutting needle cuts all high frequencies cleanly into the lacquer disk. The needle of the record player, however, has a spherical, elliptical or multi radial head, to avoid deforming the groove. The difference in the head shape doesn’t make a difference as long as the playback head is small compared to the radius of the groove in the lacquer. As the frequency, level and playing time increases, the radius of the groove decreases resulting in an increase of distortion, due to it nearing the radius of the playback needle. Through careful choosing of level, track order and the use of varigroove this distortion can be kept in check. The extent at which the distortion from reproduction is hearable at all, greatly depends on the type of music. With an electric guitar, distortions are much less audible than with a glass harp for example.

 

Vari-groove: with sophisticated control of the cutting lathe, you can increase the playing time and loudness of the record.
A longer playing time, higher recording level and low distortion requires a very effective use of the record surface, so that as much of the music as possible can be cut as near to the outer edge of the disc, where the wave lengths are still comparatively large. At the same time however you have to be sure that the groove does not touch each other or overlap. Music can be very dynamic, the level, frequency and stereo phase vary constantly and thus so does the space between the grooves. If the space between the grooves is too big, you lose playing time, if it is too small the groove will touch and the needle skips. Vari-groove replaces the fixed distance that comes with fixed pitch cutting, and thus avoids lots of unused space during quiet sections. The groove nestles itself among the previous groove instead of just following the preset radius. Small modulations will be cut closer together and bigger modulations further apart.
The more dynamic the music is, the more space can be gained. Music that is heavily compressed allows only a smaller amount of room to be saved and may not be compatible with the
ideal level for a vinyl record.

 

Dynamics: The difference between CD and vinyl
During the recording and mastering process the dynamics are constantly tweaked and changed. This happens mostly for psychoacoustic reasons: Should the music be very compressed and sound very loud, or should it aim to impress with a large dynamic contrast? A CD-optimised master would not necessarily have the same intended effects if it were cut onto vinyl, and vice versa.

Example A: With the CD there is a fixed point at 0dBFS: the maximum digital level that can be achieved without distortion. True to the motto “the louder it sounds the better it is”, CDs have seen a forever increasing psychoacoustic maximum loudness over the last few years, which physically doesn’t distort on the CD. The loudness of an LP however is linked to other factors and is therefore harder to increase. Here the playing time, panning, phasing, and the frequency spectrum all influence the loudness; factors that do not play a role for the CD. A less compressed master would therefore sound a lot better on a LP when compared to a CD.

Example B: The CD is able to play extreme dynamic contrast. To such an extent that by loud passages it might cause some conflict with the neighbors. The same goes for an LP, but the enjoyment of the quiet parts may be ruined by dust and other mechanical distortion. In this case, a more compressed master would sound better on the vinyl than on a CD.

Both these examples show that it therefore makes sense to make different masters for CD and for vinyl. For this reason, we offer not only a pure transfer on lacquer disc, but also the sonic adjustment of the program material to match the characteristics of vinyl records.

 

Vinyl mastering rates (3/2019)

10” or 12” lacquer disc cut*:

 

< 14 min at 33 1/3 rpm        or       < 10 min at 45 rpm 140 € per side

< 20 min at 33 1/3 rpm       or       < 14 min at 45 rpm 170 € per side

< 26 min at 33 1/3 rpm       or       < 18 min at 45 rpm 200 € per side

> 26 min at 33 1/3 rpm       or       > 18 min at 45 rpm 270 € per side

7“ lacquer disc cut* 100 € per side

 

Shipping to the factory of your choice; approx. overnight shipping in Germany 30 € per order

 

Additional charge if needed:

Halfspeed mastering + >> HALFSPEED<< inscribed in lead-out groove 100 € per side

Pure analogue cut from tape (two track  ¼” or ½” at 15 IPS or 30 IPS) + “PURE ANALOGUE” inscribed in lead-out groove 50 € per side

Additional studio time for (re-)mastering/editing/re-sequence/ inquiries 90 € per hour

 

Upon request:

3-minute quick check** free!

Test pressings full quality check *** 50 € per side

 

*  The rates for lacquer disc cutting include tweaking your source for vinyl, e.g. adjusting the level, EQing, test cuts, etc.

**  A 3-minute quick check includes quickly skipping through the tracks, listening to each one for a couple of seconds to check if the overall quality is consistent. Chances that we detect errors like skips, clicks etc. are very low when chosing this option.

*** A full quality check includes listening through the whole record. Should we notice any errors, we will check the grooves, as well as another copy of the record, if provided.

File delivery specs

1) Program material: Please provide your files either as a ZIP-compressed folder or include an MD5 checksum, otherwise we can not guarantee a faultless file transfer.

2) One file per side: please name the files A, B, C, D…
or
One file per track: please name the files according to track number on the respective side. As an example: the second track on the B-side would be named “B2”

3) Let us know the record’s catalogue number

4) Include a PDF or TXT tracklist to prevent errors in track succession

5) Provide the invoice address and e-mail address of the invoice recipient

6) Let us know which pressing plant to send the lacquers to. Please confirm that the pressing plant knows we will send them lacquers.

7) Please note that the time needed for necessary inquiries (e.g. billing address, shipping address, catalogue number, etc.) will be charged as studio time, if you have not provided the info.

8) Tell us about the provided source: Does it need mastering (apart from what is included in the cut) or is it already mastered? Mastering will be charged in increments of ¼ hours at the rates listed above.

9) We are not responsible for source errors or audible splices. If you would like us to check your source before cutting, please let us know.

10) You are most welcome to join us at the studio, have a coffee and attend the cutting of your lacquers

Recent releases on vinyl