Before you sent us the masters:
If you have special indications concerning the way you want us to master your track. please let us know in advance.
The loudness of digital files has nothing to do with the loudness of a record. The loudness of a record is mainly related to time per side, amount of acceptable distortion, correlation, rpm, energy distribution throughout the frequency range and a couple other fanzy parameters.
Now, it IS true that if the digital signal feeding the lathe is heavily clipped or limited, the record will almost certainly sound substantially worse than it would with a more dynamic source, because of extra distortion introduced when the stylus can’t track the excessively jagged groove. In some cases the lathe may even be damaged, and it’s for this reason that the average level (or “loudness”) determines how “hot” the record is cut, rather than the peak level.
But that means that with “hyper-compressed” loudness-war music there’s ironically plenty of unused headroom left above the average signal on the vinyl for peaks and transients, which is why some people choose to make more dynamic masters for vinyl release. And of course it’ll sound better as a result.
But it’s only necessary if the original master was stupid-loud in the first place.
The optimal level for a vinyl cut depends on the RMS or VU level, and on the running time and speed (33 or 45 rpm) – whereas on a CD, the only absolute technical restriction is the peak level.
It’s important in understanding some of the limitations of the medium.
Is there anything I can do when mixing to make a better record?
There are a few things to keep in mind when mastering for vinyl:
- Sibilance is a common problem with the vinyl format and most cutting engineers are equipped with a variety of high frequency limiters. The best solution is de-essing in the studio.
- Excessive High End from hi hats and synths as this can cause tracking problems. I sometimes get digital masters with an incredible amount of 16 to 20kHz.
- Excessive Sub Bass from synths and 808’s. My experience has been that the tightest, best sounding bass for clubs occurs above 40 Hz. That doesn’t mean that some 30 Hz is bad, but an excessive amount of subs when using certain club playback cartridges causes the cartridge to resonate and skip.
- Out of phase instruments can be a problem. Low frequency elements of the mix out of phase is a serious problem. This usually happens due to a wiring error. To make the record trackable a low frequency cross-over or elliptical equalizer is used. The result will be some undesirable phase cancellations. If an oscilloscope or correlation meter is not available, checking the mix in mono will result with the culprit disappearing completely (canceling itself out) in the mix if it is completely out of phase.
- Center the kick drum for club mixes. With more home studios I see more masters with the kick unintentionally at 9 or 10 o’clock. That can be dealt with in mastering using the EE but it best corrected in the studio.
- Excessive amounts of 2 buss limiting and compression. There is a misconception that the record will be loud since the mix has been squashed. Most likely the cutting engineer will lower the volume for cutting. I suggest that engineers don’t sacrifice the timbre of an instrument for the sake of volume. Use tasteful amounts of dynamics processing.
If you want a loud vinyl cut, doing it with a heavily limited bad mix is not the way..