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Do I need a separate master for my vinyl release?

Vinyl Mastering

More and more people are now regularly asking if they need to get a dedicated master made for a vinyl release in addition to their CD. 

Strictly speaking, this is not necessary as a great master for CD can also be a great master for vinyl too. Interestingly enough, most vinyl masters these days are cut directly from a CD production master – with this being common practice for quite a few years now.

If you are mastering a project for both CD and vinyl release, my best advice would be to send the high resolution files directly to the cutting engineer before you step them down to 16-bit 44.1 kHz for the CD. When I am working in the mastering studio, I prefer to work from 24-bit 96 kHz files (sometimes even higher) making adjustments and applying dynamic processing at this resolution before finally converting the files down to 16-bit 44.1 kHz for the CD release. If I know that the project is going to be released on vinyl too, I tend to make A & B side 24-bit 96 kHz WAV files for the cutting engineer to work from as the lacquer cut is an analogue process and this gives the cutting engineer more 'information' to work with.

Having said all of this, you shouldn't worry if high resolution files are not available - a great sounding CD master will work perfectly well in the cutting room even at 16-bit 44.1 kHz.

It is important to make sure that your vinyl masters are not over cooked or clipped. The optimal level for a vinyl cut depends on the RMS (or VU) level, running time and speed (33 or 45rpm) - whereas with a CD, the only absolute technical restriction is the peak level of the program. However, this doesn't make it a requirement to have a separate master!

In short, it is not necessary to have a separate mastering session. The best way to get a great-sounding release on vinyl is to simply send your hi-res master files directly to the cutting engineer. He or she will choose the best settings to get a great result from the vinyl format based on the sound of your material. For a well-mastered album, it’s simply a case of choosing the correct level and perhaps a few minor tweaks – nothing more!

Graham Semark

Posted 23rd August 2014

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