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Right then, vinyl masters. There’s no reason why you should need a different master for vinyl than you do for CD or streaming. Fact. It depends how far you want to go with your vinyl master, but if you’ve mastered it correctly, it should translate straight to a cutting lathe, and then they wouldn’t need to put any filters on it. Filters can be a sign of a bad press.

The reason they do that is that the lathe doesn’t like ‘essy’ (ssssss) noises. The stylus goes left to right when it’s in the top end which has high-speed frequencies. If it’s super bright in there, then it goes fast, and the friction on the desk causes the cutter head to heat up and pop out. There’s also a chance that you’ll blow the cutter head so it won’t cut the lacquer correctly. And in the low end, if it goes out of phase, it will pop and go inwards, which also pops the stylus. So you need to have a good left and right, solid in the bass end.

If you’re mastering for download or CD, though, that master should be able to cut flat to a lacquer. However, it becomes a problem if you use a bad cutting plant. What the bad cutting plants do is they will put a filter across the top and bottom to get it onto the lacquer quickly, as a safety net for themselves. Lacquers are expensive, so they don’t want to lose loads of them because it starts eating into their profits. So to cut it quick, they put a lot of filters on the high and low ends to mono the bass and slam it onto the lathe. But then it’ll start sounding different because you’ve lost top end and low end and mono-ed the bass.

Your digital master and your vinyl master should sound just the same.

These are your basics: make sure there’s no excessive top end and no excessive lows. If you’ve gone to a decent mastering engineer, they’ll know that anyway. And you should be able to cut flak from that. There’s no reason for you to have a different master for vinyl, CD or downloads.

However, if you have a primary focus, then you would need an alternative mix. To see about Stereo Mastering and Alternative Mixes, see the page ORDER MASTERING.

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.

This is not always the way the issue is presented: there is sometimes talk of different EQ settings and the use of elliptical filters and whatnot. The fact is, though, that the EQ considerations offered as being necessary for vinyl are pretty much a desiderata for most decent digital masters too. For example, extreme sibilance, often mentioned, certainly is a problem for vinyl, but then it’s hardly desirable for CD playback either. Another myth is the ‘bass width’. I’ve been told by alleged label experts that (and here I quote) “vinyl masters need to be mono in low frequencies, and the low end, like 80-200 [Hz], almost mono.” If this were true, it would make you wonder how classic orchestral recordings (which have the double basses well off-centre to the far right) ever managed to get cut to vinyl! The fact is that wildly out-of-phase and excessive bass can be problematic, and if it’s present in a mix, a certain amount of taming will be needed in the mastering stage. But even then, if the master is going to a reputable cutter it is best to leave that decision to them.

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