Ten Common Vinyl Record Myths Uncovered

Marc HenshallTech Talk, Vinyl 1014 Comments

The world of vinyl records is shrouded in many myths and untruths that continue to trigger debate and controversy.

Particularly when considering the mastering and production process, there’s a lot to cover.

To uncover the truth behind an array of common vinyl record myths, we discreetly interviewed a range of mastering engineer who will remain anonymous – lest we unleash an angry Twitter mob in their direction!

For the purpose of this article, we’ll call him/her/them “Max Level”.

Max can boast a wide range of artists and titles to his name, including many albums now regarded as classics. In no particular order, here are our top ten vinyl record myths, along with Max’s comments.

Myth 1: Most new vinyl records are just CD pressed to wax.

“As with most myths, there is an element of truth in this. The reissue market is most likely to do this, but there are many factors to bear in mind. In the 1980s, studios and mastering rooms started using early digital systems called F1 (a hybrid of Betamax video machines and a digital processor). We then moved through to DAT. CD masters were made using professional U-Matic video machines and improved digital encoders. This means that the mixed masters only exist in a digital format and those digital formats may now be unplayable. Either the tapes have degraded, or working machines are no longer available.

Labels will make every effort to find the best source they can, but sometimes the best format is the commercially released CD.”

Why not go back to the multi-tracks?

“Generally, it is simply not commercially viable to do that, also unless there are comprehensive notes about how the track was mixed, it is unlikely that the new version will sound the same.”

Myth 2: Vinyl records are pointless if the recording and mastering is digital.

“Not true. The deficiencies attributed to digital may have had some relevance in the early days, but not now. If the sound is not right, it will be because it has been engineered that way, not because it has been recorded and mastered in digital.

Almost everything these days is recorded and mixed digitally, albeit using analog outboard equipment. In mastering, audio is generally delivered as digital files, which would require converting to analog, then passing through a chain of processors and ultimately conversion back to digital. There is the potential for data error with each conversion and for distortion, noise and phase errors with the analog chain.

So, analog isn’t the holy grail, but for the right track at the right time, it gives something special. In the same vein, digital shouldn’t be despised, as it too offers a unique essence on the right track at the right time. The skill is knowing which is which.”

Myth 3: You can’t press a ‘squashed’ loudness-war master to vinyl.

“Yes you can. And we have to all the time. Record companies worry more about having 24-bit masters for vinyl than they do about having a version without the extra limiting for digital release. When all is said and done, cutting from squashed files is possible, but it won’t sound as good.”

Myth 4: A Fine Line or Shibata stylus will eliminate end-of-side distortion.

Different styli give different results. For example, DJ styli do not give a great “audiophile” performance, because they are built to have heavy tracking weights so that they do not skip when playing, or scratching. The arm on which the stylus is mounted has to be robust enough to withstand the weight, which means it is less able to follow the groove. This is called poor compliance. Distortion is more likely to occur throughout the side, especially sibilance, as well as inner groove distortion.

When a record is cut, the cutting stylus travels along a radius toward the center in a straight line from the outside – passing right through the center of the disc. (In practice that isn’t possible as the cutting stops at the locked groove at end of side). When we play a record the arm is pivoted outside of the turntable. As the playback stylus moves toward the center, the stylus twists in the groove (imagine the audio from one channel arriving slightly before the other). This misalignment causes cancellation of high frequencies, and therefore a loss of top-end.

For a given period of time, more distance is covered at the outside of a record, than at the inside. The speed of the disc does not change; 45RPM at the outside is 45RPM at the inside, only the distance covered changes. At the inner diameter, more information is being recorded per centimeter covered, than at the outside, and it is this that increases distortion.

Changing styli may help to mitigate the distortion, but a parallel tracking turntable will help to reduce the top-end loss.”

Myth 5: A1 stamped in the dead wax indicates the first pressing.

“Not true. It indicates the cut number. If an A1 lacquer fails at the manufacturer, an A2 lacquer will be cut. The resultant disc will still be a first pressing. When vinyl was the major release format, we would cut five sets of lacquers (A sides then B sides). Each were marked A1 to A5, B1 to B5. All of the records manufactured would be first pressings.”

Myth 6: 180g records sound better

“Only so far as the record is less likely to warp, but they’re definitely more satisfying to hold.”

For more information on this topic, check out our full “does 180 gram vinyl sound better” feature.

Myth 7: The mastering for vinyl records is better (or sounds better).

“Vinyl is a musical format, anything that sounds bad, will probably distort on vinyl. With digital, anything goes. Therefore I would suggest that engineers trained to master vinyl have a different approach to mastering. Also, they will take away the extra limiting used for digital when cutting. If a record sounds better, maybe it’s because the audio isn’t overly squashed?”

Myth 8: Vinyl masters need to be mono in low frequencies.

“Yes-ish. Mono audio makes the cut groove wiggle from side-to-side. Stereo audio makes the cut groove wiggle up and down. High frequencies are little wiggles, bass frequencies are sweeping movements. Stereo bass results in big sweeping movements up and down. Unchecked, it is possible for the cutting stylus to lift up off of the surface of the lacquer, or cut so deep that it cuts through the lacquer coating and into the metal disc below (ruining the cutting stylus in the process). By test cutting and watching how the cutting lathe reacts during test runs, the engineer can determine how much (if any) correction is needed to control the vertical movement. A device called an elliptical equalizer is used to progressively mono the bass from a threshold determined by the engineers. From a cutting point of view, it converts a vertical movement to a lateral movement, which can be more easily managed.”

Myth 9: Analogue sounds better than digital because digital sampling rates result in a ‘stair step’ soundwave.

“With the higher sampling rates we use these days I don’t believe this to be the case.”

Myth 10: Remastered albums sound better.

“Not always. If the album masters have an error – dropouts, clicks, noise, etc, these can be delicately corrected, so the reissue should sound better. The improvement may simply be that the listener prefers a new, more contemporary sound.

Alternatively, the remastering engineer may decide to make a name for themselves and make a dramatic change. I have heard many squashed flat reissues. Some vinyl reissues where the cut is done at a factory result in a disc that is significantly quieter than the original release made many years earlier.”

Got a vinyl record mastering myth you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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Bake bake those tapes ! Anyway UHD HD hot stamped etc ! Dynflex ! I own 600 vinyl most are pre 1980! The equipment used lathe etc ( I think hype is need to be debunked) Color vinyl ! Limited # ! 95gram to 200 GM !! So called vinyl experts ! I own few first total digital vinyl records ! If I was cutting vinyl I would do direct to disc live ! Now lets factor biggest Debunk – Hype ! Bragging rights ! $$ ! I been at some events ( convention listing to ultra high end maybe last one 5 years ago 50-100 thousand playing test – first pressing vinyl ! I thought ok here we go again ! ( people shifting to sweet spot or pocket I call it ! Mark say I or you invite each other over for listing demonstrate ! My best set up is my music room I pick out 3 -5 the most mint near mint copies ! You only see my monitor speakers ! Can you or anyone truly say this was all analog ( which to me Direct disc then second tape to vinyl! Or Digital 24-96 ECT ! I doubt it because it would be first time we did test also I have played those records countless times ! Then my ears verses yours ! What would be great is experience we shared ! I been on net since 94! I am retired college teacher ( photography and art ) I am 70 my point is I had music studies web sitesiblogs ( which use to be called raves and rants ) Joined audiophiles sites! I accidentally stumbled on yours which is refreshing! You just give your view and allow others to share their! So keep up good work !

Donn Rutkoff

Hey, good answers. I read a lot of crap about vinyl recently on various web blogs. So I went and read up, from Emile Berliner inventing 78s in the 1890s, to Peter Goldmark and his CBS team in 1948 inventing the group of technologies that we know as LP. They created a smaller groove for more listening time, vinyl compound with elasticity for cutting hi freq, mastering and pressing equipment, and the playback stylus.

Mastering of new music is way better now than a lot of record industry history. Companies didn’t know, didn’t care, much about the high quality that LP vinyl is capable of. I have listened in a bunch of audiophile Zooms recently and learned a lot. The virus has had the benefit of letting me in on top people in the industry. If YSM were to publish a list of audiophile societies, all readers can sign up and sign in to these great meetings.

I have about 2000 LPs in my collection. And about 2,000 more to go to Ebay when I retire. Albinoni to ZZ Top. The more I spend on turntable gear, the more I hear the good stuff, and yes, the more I also hear how poor some LPs are, so sad. The good news is that a lot of original tape masters have way more music in them than the initial run of pressed vinyl from the 1950s thru the 1980s gave us. So some remasters are stunning compared to what we bought new 30 years ago. Some are merely as good as original early stamped records, and now a few thousand new ones are available instead of wishing you could find a good condition early copy. Blind Faith and John Mayall Turning Point are 2 examples I have where my new and my old are equal. Fun for all. Chasing the Dragon in the U.K. is a great, newly recorded, vinyl label. Thanks.

gregory b chick

Turning Point has always been a reference for me. I even thanked John Mayall personally for that. I as well listen to Had to cry today in amazement on both old and new pressings. My biggest question in all of recording issues is. Can the Rolling Stones records be un compressed? Or did Mick defy snoby audiophiles and say he is beyond that? If Miles Davis can put out a fantastic LP recording with dynamic range and no compression anywhere as well no noise, why not Mick?

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