Vinyl Mastering – How to make the best sounding record!

Vinyl records have seen a tremendous increase in popularity during recent years, and for good reason – there is so much to love about the format. The sheer size of a record, with its larger artwork, offers designers more opportunity for creativity and expression, and the whole ceremony of playing a record offers a more tactile experience when listening to music. More and more artists are deciding to press their latest releases on vinyl, and although this is great news, there are a few factors to take into account that are not applicable to any other format. The following guidelines are designed to help make your vinyl release a success!

Firstly, I would like to talk about audio fidelity and the differences when compared to a digital master. Generally speaking, if you have a good mix, it should translate with little or no issue. Below are some FAQs we get from studio engineers:

Is there anything specific that I should avoid when mixing for a vinyl release?

Yes. Firstly, It is important that the overall tone of your mix is balanced. Excessive treble or sibilance can actually damage the cutting equipment! Hard ‘S’ sounds are one of the first things to break up or distort, so it is a good idea to ‘de-ess’ vocals during the mixing stage, if any of this is present. Always make sure that cymbals and any other high frequency content isn’t too loud in the mix. If you have a very ‘bright’ mix, it may be necessary to process it in some way before cutting. For this reason, it is a good idea to consider using hi-pass filters when mixing.

Phase is another aspect unique to vinyl, so always make sure that your bass/low-end is in phase. Most modern stereo mixes tend to have instruments like the bass guitar and kick drum panned centrally – this eliminates most phase discrepancies by default!  Avoid hard panning to the left or right, especially loud transients such as tom toms etc. This can create phase issues, which could lead to skipping on the finished records! Normal stereo sound field panning is totally fine – just avoid any extremes!

What is the maximum play length?

Another important question, with no simple answer! There are a few considerations here, the style of music and frequency content (particularly the amount of bass) for a start. For a 12” LP at 33 rpm, I would ideally suggest a preferred maximum of around 18 – 20 minutes per side for most types of music. We can cut longer play lengths, sometimes up to 24 minutes, but at a certain point fidelity will decrease. Heavy dance music (lots of bass) poses more of a restriction so always bare this in mind when planning your release. As a guide, suggested maximum play times are listed below.

Volume has a direct correlation with running time. In other words, the shorter the running time on each side of your record, the louder it can be cut to disc. On the flip side, the longer your running time, the lower the volume will be at the cut, thus risking a quieter sounding record. There is only so much physical space on a record, and a louder cut takes up more space. However, as long as you stay within these guidelines everything should fit perfectly for a high quality ‘loud’ cut.

As mentioned previously, we can cut longer sides, but in most cases our only option is to lower the volume so that it is physically possible to fit all of the grooves on the disc! As a result, a longer (23 – 24 minute) side will be closer to the noise floor, consequently allowing surface noise to become much more noticeable. A main benefit of a louder cut involves masking the noise floor inherent in the sound of vinyl. This is why I suggest an 18 – 20 minute per side maximum for a 12” album whenever possible. Remember, you can always put out a double-LP in a beautiful gatefold sleeve!

Should my record be 33 RPM or 45 RPM?

A record will always sound better running at 45 rpm rather than 33 rpm. Frequency response is improved and distortion figures are lower at the higher speed – simply because you have more space available in the groves to recreate the same sound. The downside is that you have less running time to work with. With a 12” record running at 45 rpm, I would recommend a maximum running time of around 14 – 15 minutes. Any longer, and we start getting into the same volume issues mentioned above. 45 rpm 7” records almost always sound better than a 33 rpm 7” record. Ultimately, it comes down to running time. If you are opting for longer sides, you probably want 33 rpm.

Is it better to put quieter songs at the end of a side?

Vinyl records are susceptible to a phenomenon known as “inner groove distortion”. The easiest way to understand this is that, with the turntable running at a fixed speed, there is lot more room in the grooves at the beginning of a record for the music to work with, as opposed to something towards the end of a side, where the revolutions take up less space. As a result, some styluses can have a difficult time playing loud cuts towards the end of a side, which can result in distortion.

Is there a benefit to black versus coloured vinyl?

This is a very subjective question, but ultimately, black vinyl does tend to have a lower noise floor. Having said that, coloured vinyl can sound great too. My advice would be that, if your record needs a longer running time/quieter cut or is very spacious, ambient music; black is probably the way to go – considering the noise floor. However, for shorter/louder cuts, coloured vinyl is a great option and provides for a really striking and collectable vinyl pressing. 

Should I release a single LP or double LP?

It’s all about the running time! If your release is over 40 minutes long, a double album may well be the best option (and remember, if the audio is spread over 4 sides – it may be possible to cut at 45 rpm). As mentioned earlier, it is easily possible to fit over 40 minutes of music onto one LP. However, this can compromise audio quality (particularly volume). If finances demand it be a single LP, I would recommend black vinyl for best results over 40 minutes.

What type of audio files should we supply for vinyl mastering?

Generally speaking, we prefer the highest sample rate/bit depth possible in an uncompressed format (.WAV or .AIFF ideally). Our converters range from 44.1kHz to 192 kHz. I am not suggesting you send us 192 kHz files necessarily, but if it was recorded/mixed at a higher sample rate/bit depth, send us those native files. Always avoid supplying low quality compressed formats (such as MP3 files) and try to avoid sending us CDs, if you have a higher sample rate format available.

At Cyclone, we will always make a separate set of masters for the vinyl version prior to cutting – vinyl is not subject to the ‘loudness war’ often associated with CD. With this in mind, we prefer masters with dynamic range and headroom, preferably in the native sample rate that the audio was recorded and mixed in. A good vinyl cutting engineer will always try to avoid any heavy-handed mastering techniques, with a focus on making the transfer to disc as faithful to the original sound files as possible.  

How long does it take and when should I place my order?

The manufacturing process generally takes around 5 weeks and we would recommend placing your order as soon as the mixing and mastering stages are finished. We always recommend having test pressings prior to your final stock order and, even if your artwork isn’t ready, we can still begin work on cutting and processing these whilst your artwork is being completed. We don’t need your artwork files until the test pressings are approved, so this will help keep your order on schedule for delivery on time.

Nick Magnus Catharsis

Composer, keyboard player and producer Nick Magnus is best known for his work with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Providing his keyboard talents to at least twelve of Hackett’s albums to date, Nick has also toured extensively in Europe, the UK and the US.

Nick has released six solo albums of his own progressive rock compositions: Straight On Till Morning (1994), Inhaling Green (1999),  Hexameron (2004), Children Of Another God (2010), N’monix (2014) and Catharsis (2019). A live album with John Hackett was released in March 2011.

His latest album ‘Catharsis‘ is a personal musical journey inspired by the French Pyrénées and is his most ambitious project yet. Using cutting edge technology, the album creates expansive orchestral arrangements in a progressive rock context.

Special Packaging

The packaging for ‘Catharsis‘ needed to complement the expansive nature of the music, so a deluxe two-disc, hardback Mediabook with audio CD, documentary video DVD and 36 full-colour pages of photographs and lyrics was chosen for the project.

“Having worked with the team at Cyclone before I knew that this was the place to go for such an ambitious project. Their customer service is top notch and I’d been very impressed with their quality of work and attention to detail in the past. The final product is exactly what we wanted and a fine testimony to everyone involved.” 

History

Nick started his musical career in early 1976 with the cult symphonic rock ensemble, The Enid. At the end of that year, he and drummer Robbie Dobson left The Enid to spend two years with the progressive rock band Autumn. On February 15th, 1999 Autumn released a CD entitled ‘Oceanworld’. Originally recorded in 1977, this was recently re-issued on vinyl in 2019.

The latter half of the 80’s was spent doing session work with many diverse recording artistes such as China Crisis, Renaissance, George Martin, Mungo Jerry, Johnny Mars, Cilla Black, Jose Carrerras, Brian May, Richie Havens, Bonnie Tyler, Mike Batt, Classix Nouveaux, David Essex, Pete Bardens (Camel), Duncan Browne, Chris Rea, and Colin Blunstone.

The 1990s saw album chart successes for Nick’s co-productions of the Project D Synthesiser albums. He also achieved platinum sales for his productions and arrangements for the internationally acclaimed series of Pan Pipe Moods albums, released by Polygram records. Further productions include two albums by Celtic Spirit : Celtic Dreams and Celtic Dreams 2. Both of which enjoyed international success. Throughout the summer of 2001 audiences applauded new arrangements of Lennon and McCartney songs that Nick had contributed to the West End musical, ‘All You Need is Love’. 

magnus-music.com

The Christians working with Cyclone

With their roots in Liverpool, The Christians beginnings in the late 80s were anything but humble. Their first five singles all made the Top 40 in the UK, and their debut self-titled album entered the UK Albums Chart at number 2, eventually going on to sell over a million copies. 1988 saw the band release a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World”, which reached number 8 in the UK top 40, and the animated music video went on to win several awards.

Their second album Colour reached number one in the UK Albums Chart, with a number of well-performing singles. The band rode the success of their incredible entrance into popular culture by touring extensively through the early 90s, going on to release a greatest hits album “The Best Of The Christians”, which was then followed in the mid 90s with a solo album from lead singer Garry Christian titled “Your Cool Mystery”.

Into the 2000s, the lineup of the band had changed significantly to the original – Garry being the only founding member remaining. The band started performing mainly acoustic sets while continuing to tour the country, releasing “Prodigal Sons” in 2003, and “How Does It Feel”, Garry’s second solo album, in 2004. Their fifth studio album, appropriately named “Soul From Liverpool”, featured many new songs along with a handful of fantastic covers, including Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”, The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun”, and Cat Stevens’ “Where Do The Children Play”. Jumping ahead to 2012 the band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first album by releasing “Speed Of Life”, as well as deluxe versions of their debut album and “Colour”. 

2013 was the year that The Christians’ now exclusive partnership with Cyclone began, initially with a number of re-releases from their popular backlog of albums, before the release of a new studio album “We” in 2015, first on CD and then on vinyl the following month. Cyclone also manufactured two promo CDs for the album – both singles, titled “Rise” and “Mother”. 


Cyclone are currently working on the cover artwork and design of three re-issues to coincide with the bands ongoing, and thoroughly extensive UK tour. With dates listed on the bands website right through to the second half of 2020 you would do well to catch them in concert – their live performances are not something to be missed!

http://www.thechristianslive.co.uk/

Re-mastering Boomy Tella

Originally recorded on 16 track analogue tape, Boomy Tella was The Claim’s second album and third release. The LP was produced by Medway music’s golden thread, Jim Riley and accomplice John Pritchard at the infamous Red Studios in Wouldham Kent. From start to finish the whole project was recorded and mixed over seven days and first released in the early spring of 1988 on new independent record label Esurient Communications.

After putting out a collection of further singles, including a release on Ulrich Hoffmann’s A Turntable Friend Records the band finally called it a day it January 1993. After a 16 year hiatus, The Claim released the retrospective compilation ‘Black Path’ on Cherry Red records – finally a digitised recording!

It would be over nine years before The Claim and Ulrich Hoffman would work together to release a new album at which point Ulrich took the opportunity to re-release Boomy Tella, with the boys calling on Cyclone to digitally re-master the original analogue recordings for a new vinyl and CD release in January 2019.

Keep it warm!

The brief was simple!… “We wanna keep the warmth and guts of the original recording, but make it big and loud like a modern CD release”. Okay, let’s line up the Studer and set to work… The project first involved ‘baking’ the original quarter inch stereo masters, before transferring the audio onto Cyclone’s Sadie DAW in the CD mastering studio. 

This would be the first time that the tapes had been played for nearly thirty years and the guys in the band were instantly transported back seeing the big tape machine churn out the tunes after three decades in the archives!.. “It was a real treat to hear the energy and power captured in the original recordings, especially knowing that it was recorded in a small studio with limited facilities”. With the newly digitised 96K, 24BIT audio safety in the editor, the next challenge was to choose which tracks NOT to put on the vinyl… 

Limited Edition Release

Released as a limited edition 12” gatefold on gorgeous green vinyl. The record includes liner notes from guitarist David Arnold, all lyrics and a download with 4 bonus tracks. Available now at https://aturntablefriendrecords.limitedrun.com/ 

Virginmarys ‘Northern sun Sessions’

Hailing from Macclesfield, England, The Virginmarys are a Rock duo composed of Ally Dickaty (vocals & guitar) and Danny Dolan (drums) who first met at music college. They’ve been making noise since 2009, initially self-releasing a handful of sold-out EPs, until their first album ‘King of Conflict’ caused a stir when it broke onto the rock music scene in 2013 debuting #3 on the Billboard New Artist Alternative Chart and #8 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart. Following this, the act were named buzz band of SXSW, as well as Best Breakthrough act at the 2013 Classic Rock Awards. They also gained major support from US Active Rock and Alternative radio as well as press acclaim from Rolling Stone Magazine and USA Today. 2016 saw the band follow up with their second album ‘Divides’, released on the Cooking Vinyl label, which received major press acclaim and was hailed by Apple Music, Spotify and Yahoo Music. Their most recent release ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ has been turning heads in the British rock scene thanks to the bands’ beautiful compositions, thoroughly capturing the intensity of their live performances.

“I’m more excited about this record than any others we’ve done. We’ve created a beast that sounds massive. There’s a lot of freedom in this record, I’ve felt liberated and closer to the spark that had me writing in the first place. We’ve been working so close with these songs from start to finish and it’s felt right pouring ourselves into them. It’s a very special record that feels closest to the energy of our live performance than any before.” – Ally Dickaty

Touring throughout the US, Europe, and Japan, the band feature a relentlessly energetic live show, supporting artists including Slash, Shinedown, Queens of the Stone Age, Buckcherry, Eagles of Deathmetal , Feeder, The View, and Crobot, including major festival appearances at Reading, Leeds, Sonisphere and the Isle of Wight.

Concept for artwork

For the new album ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ the band worked with Cyclone’s design team to create a stunning and original artwork. Previous albums had always used photograph concepts in their design, but for this release the decision was made to use a strong graphic with a twist… Danny had been messing around with 1980’s Anaglyph 3D images, coming up with the idea of making the album artwork in 3D and to include a free pair of 3D glasses with all physical copies… Awesome! and never done before, we think.

Finished product

With the full album released on both CD & limited edition coloured VINYL as well as a bonus CD of studio demos, the end result is a unique product featuring a design/ print technique that, paired with the glasses, creates an album cover that quite literally jumps out at you!

Everyday Sinners — Limited Edition Vinyl

The Everyday Sinners are back with ‘Shakedown’, their first release since 2013’s ‘Lord of the empty Manor’. This is very much an album of its times and a band making sense of both their personal experiences, the current state of the world around them and the whats-whys-and-wherefores of where life is headed. Vinyl pressing taken care of by Cyclone.

As lead -sinner Jack Cade explains, ‘The main underlying theme of the album has been driven by the turbulent times we’ve found ourselves in, the use of divisive politics to set people against people to distract them from the real problems. It also looks at how we cope with life and the ups and downs it throws at us. I didn’t want it to end up an album of protest songs, more a snapshot of life from the last ten or so years.’

The Everyday sinners has been a slow evolution over the last 6 years, having recorded a debut album ‘This Fiery Road’ with friends and session musicians, a live band was initially put together with Adam Perry a drummer who brings both subtlety and power, Mike Muggeridge the driving heartbeat of the band on bass, Jack Cade on Guitar and vocals and various part time members who dropped in and out over the first few years. In 2012 the band enlisted the vivid vocal talents of Helen Muggeridge and in the last year the exceptionally versatile Ben Cox-Smith on Dobro and guitar has become a more permanent fixture having featured on all the album recordings. Finally the line-up has been completed with the arrival of Chris Davies on Piano and Hammond, giving the band the all round sound live that they get with their recorded work.

The album is released on an initial limited run of vinyl and streaming services only. There will be 5 artists producing artwork for the screen printed covers, with each artist being available on only 50 covers.

Highlights include:

Belly Full A Fire – Call to arms for people to stand up against bigoted views and make your voice heard.

16 Tons – cover of the Merle Travis song about miners trapped by their working conditions, they got paid and then had to pay back to the mining company for their lodgings and had to buy food at inflated prices from the mines store. They were perpetually trapped.

Howlin’ at the moon – I was at Reading Festival years ago, there was a full moon and people, drunk after a day of watching music, started to howl on one side of the site which then spread across the site as the full moon rose.

You were the ammunition – Relating how hateful, misguided views can be whipped up and used by any one person or group to drive a political agenda – We’ve seen it throughout history and most recently with UKIP, Le Pen, Trump, Tories etc.

Roll with them punches – Based on something my grandad used to say, life throws all sorts at you but you have to take it and find your way through.
www.jackcade.com