Mastering for vinyl

Obviously a vinyl record is a different thing from a CD or a WAV file, but does it require a separate, dedicated master, or are the two formats basically made from the same mastered file?

The answer is YES! Making a mix post production for vinyl means to make an alternate version after the digital one, with little to no digital peak limiting, and a little more headroom in the analog domain. Sending a loud and aggressive CD master to a lathe will only cause the cutting engineer to have to turn things down significantly, and in many cases they’ll be forced to cut an even quieter record than they would have with a more dynamic premaster. Your mastering for vinyl doesn’t need to be as loud as your CD master because the volume of your vinyl will be determined by the length of the sides, which means to keep louder more aggressive material near the outer edge of the record (early in the side sequence), and the more subdued and less aggressive tracks near the inner grooves (where noise and distortion become more of a consideration). 

vinyl lathe

A digital master for CD has to have a 16-bit word length, and it can be as loud and as limited as the client’s taste or insecurity dictates; with the vinyl master there is a physical limit to what can be fed to the cutting head of the lathe, and so heavily clipped masters are not welcome and can only be accommodated, if at all, by serious level reduction. For vinyl, the optimum source is 24-bit. Things can get more tricky if the primary focus is the digital master, and especially when that is required to be fairly loud. You can’t simply take an unlimited file and add 4 or 6 dB of limiting without sonic consequences, and so for loud CD masters, we normally add another step of gain-staging and include some light limiting during the initial processing run, the result being a louder master to begin with for the second stage of adding gain. In this case the difference between CD/digital mastering and the vinyl one will be more relevant.

So before to go on with an alternate version for vinyl mastering, think about what’s the priority in your music distribution strategy and then talk about that with the sound technician who will care about your project.



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