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Author Topic: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer  (Read 15777 times)

TotalSonic

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Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« on: June 16, 2005, 07:40:24 pm »

Well now that the new Foo Fighters album is officially out I think its "safe" for me to post on this...

Last month I cut the vinyl masters for the special edition four 12" record set of the new Foo Fighters double album that was released a couple of days ago - "In Your Honor."

The cool thing about this project was that the Foo Fighters producers were determined to have the LP version be cut to the strictest "audiophile" specs. They were referred to me on the recommendation of Bob Ludwig who was familiar with Europadisk's cutting services through many years of association. For this project Direct Metal Mastering (aka "DMM") was used. DMM, where a diamond stylus cuts into a layer of copper plated over a steel disc instead of the more usual sapphire stylus cutting into lacquer coated over aluminum, was the final innovation in vinyl mastering technology ever made by Neumann. DMM results in both better high frequency definition and lower surface noise, and because it uses the advanced VMS-84 pitch computer it also can give higher levels over longer side lengths.

This new release is actually 2 radically different albums - one of very heavy but definitely melodic electric rock, and the 2nd an "unplugged" acoustic release which highlights Dave Grohl's gentler side. I think it represents some of the best stuff I've ever heard from them and I also think it will probably surprise & win them a lot of new fans.

I received 24bit wav files at 88.2kHz for the Electric set and 96kHz for the Acoustic sides. These were pre-mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering in Portland, and as far as I know represent the same hi-resolution files that the CD masters were made from except for some additional de-essing he did so that they would translate better to the vinyl master. The goal was to transmit these to the analog world with the least amount of compromise possible. Here's where the SAWStudio workstation played an essential part.

most on this forum already know the following - but for those unfamiliar with the old skool:
In a vinyl record mastering chain two duplicate signals need to be sent to the lathe:
the first "preview" path gets sent to the lathe's lookahead pitch & depth computer which sets the height and of the cutter head and the spacing of the grooves dependent on the amplitudes and frequency of the sound,
and the second "mod" or "program" path - delayed by a half rotation's time (900 ms for 33-1/3 - 667ms for 45rpm) which goes from the cutting amps to the cutting head which etches the grooves into the copper.
Originally these two seperate paths were achieved by using a tape machine with 2 seperate playback heads and that had extra capstans so the tape could wind around the necessary length before reaching the 2nd playback head to achieve this delay. This was later replaced in most vinyl mastering facilities with digital delays. The problem though is that pretty much every hardware ddl out there (including the TC M2000 in our studio) is limited to 24bit/48kHz.

Enter SAWStudio. By using it as a tranport it's extremely easy to rout hi-res files at their full resolution to two seperate but identical outputs with one of the outputs appropriately delayed. Also critical to my choice was reliabilty - the copper blanks are very expensive to make so I had to go with an app that I knew was rock solid and wouldn't glitch out in the middle of cutting a side. SAW fits the bill!

So for this release the signal chain went:
SAWStudio ->
Lynx One (2) AES outs ->
Lavry Blue 4496 MDA24 (2) DAC ->
Neumann SP79 analog transfer console ->
Neumann VAB84 vertical ampliltude limiter ->
Neumann BTT74 acceleration limiter ->
SAL84 cutting amps ->
SX84 cutting head -> DMM

The vertical and acceleration limiters were set at the minimal thresholds possible to just achieve a trackable and distortion free record and to protect the cutting head and stylus without otherwise adversely effecting the sound.  All other processors typically used in vinyl transfers such as High and Low Pass Filters and Elliptical Equalizers (which center bass frequencies) were completely bypassed to give as true to the source transfer possible. All sides for this project were cut at 45rpm to give the best possible frequency response, and least amount of rumble and surface noise. This limited the length that was possible to cut on the sides - which entailed making what was a 2 CD set into a 4 record set.

The levels were set to peak at approximately +2dBVU, which from test cuts I found to be both present yet playback completely distortion free, which for the longest 14min side on the Electric album resulted in 92% of available space used. All the other shorter sides were cut at this same level to maintain continuity. The Acoustic sides were sent to the lathe at 1.5dBFs hotter than the Electric album sides in order to achieve a better signal to noise ratio as they had been mastered by Bob L. with a much greater dynamic range than the heavily limited Electric sides. I think the Acoustic album stands out particularly as having some really gorgeous sounds.

One thing I did for the shorter length sides was use as little uncut space between the grooves (aka "land") as possible. Often cutting engineers will add extra land in order to space out the grooves evenly so that shorter sides cover more of the records surface in order to maintain aesthetic expectations. However the inner diameters of a record will always play back with more distortion due to tracing errors from the increased angle of the stylus. By keeping the land as tight as possible I was able to keep all the sides (except for the one long one noted already) to cover under 74% of available space pretty much eliminating any chance of increased tracing distortions for most playback systems.

Anyway - hope I didn't bore you guys with the multitude of details on this.

Essentially - I think the LP edition of this release - cut using great DAC's directly from the hi-res files with every bit of care possible - and perhaps subject to the "magic" that analog playback gives - has a definite chance of sounding better than the CD release which had to undergo both sample rate conversion and requantization.

The LP's are a limited edition of 5000 in a fancy embossed box and have 1 bonus track that is not on the US edition of the CDs - and most importantly I think the music on this release is really fantastic.

Hope if any of you pick up the vinyl on this one that you enjoy it and I'd be interested in hearing feedback as to how you think it stacks up against the CD version.

Best regards,
Steve Berson

mcsnare

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2005, 08:22:27 pm »

Wow, that's a super cool gig. Thanks for the post, Steve. I think you've inspired me to buy a new turntable!
Dave Mcnair

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2005, 09:31:23 pm »

TotalSonic wrote on Thu, 16 June 2005 16:40


Anyway - hope I didn't bore you guys with the multitude of details on this.



Heck no! This is the kind of in-depth geeky stuff we should have more of.
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electrical

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2005, 10:09:47 pm »

The cut sounds like it was done as well as anyone could expect. Bravo.

Was the full DMM process used (Deutsche Grammophon-licensed plating and pressing, fresh chemistry, etc.), or was it a copper cut with standard processing? I've never had the full DMM treatment, but I get things cut into copper whenever possible, and I particularly appreciate the lack of groove distortion. Your reduction of land space is effective on copper, but probably would not fare as well in lacquer -- am I right?

With the sides cut at 45rpm, do you need to make any allowances for depth as differentiated from 33 rpm? Did you need to use an elliptical equalizer or VAL, for example?

I've often wondered if cutters which were critically damped for 33rpm would "ring" slightly when used at 45rpm. I had been told that when cutting into copper, the stylus had more difficulty cutting the groove at low frequencies, and this required slightly different "tuning," whatever that is, for flat response. I often wondered if that might be one of the reasons the low end sounds slightly more extended at 45. Have you noticed anything you could measure in this regard?
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Jerry Tubb

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2005, 10:29:42 pm »

Congrats on the Great gig Steve... it's not everyone that gets a referral from Mr. Ludwig ! Cool
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jason goz

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2005, 04:34:40 am »

Steve,
A thought has just occured to me,When i master anything to lacquer i always do a test cut on a scrap lacquer which  i will a/b with the source,When you do a test cut do you use a standard playback stylus for comparisons or is there a special  dmm playback stylus,(Obviously the dmm cutting head and styli are different)
Jason

Ruairi O'Flaherty

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2005, 05:35:27 am »

Great post Steve, really interesting for all digital geeks like me.  I've gotta get me a new turntable - any ideas on how to hook it up to a DAC-1 and ADAMs  Smile .

Congrats on a great gig,

cheers,
Ruairi
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zetterstroem

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2005, 05:57:06 am »

a preamp with riaa directly to the adam's
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zetterstroem

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2005, 06:09:04 am »

hey steve....

is this the one???

 http://www.amusicdirect.com/products/detail.asp?cat=&sku =LDF8038-4

me wants to buy soooooon....  Laughing

really need to find some place in the eu that sells it....... the price will double with the taxes applied if i buy in the us!  Shocked

anyone knows any good links??? tried amazon.uk..... haven't got it
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bblackwood

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2005, 08:20:32 am »

Hey Steve - I haven't heard the new Foo record yet, but is it smashed as badly as the last couple were? Was the master sent to you heavily limited?

Thanks for sharing, and tell us more about the actual tech behind the transfer!
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Chris Cavell

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2005, 05:53:59 pm »

Brad, it's still pretty heavily compressed...but it fits the music, and dynamics are a plenty.  (The first tune alone has a 30 dB rms crescendo over the course of the song...it's pretty friggin' loud by the end, but such a huge crescendo in a rock production is quite a breath of fresh air i.m.o.)
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TotalSonic

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2005, 10:12:17 pm »

electrical wrote on Fri, 17 June 2005 03:09

The cut sounds like it was done as well as anyone could expect. Bravo.

Was the full DMM process used (Deutsche Grammophon-licensed plating and pressing, fresh chemistry, etc.), or was it a copper cut with standard processing?


All the copper master blanks we use are electro-plated in house in our own plating dept which is on the floor below our mastering studio.  This allows us extremely tight quality control for this vital stage.  afaik we're the only ones making DMM blanks in North America as we supply the only other user of DMM in North America that I am aware of.  I believe there are 2 sources in Europe for DMM blanks though.  

Plating is certainly a very vital part of the record making process - however in this case I can't comment on how it was done as Europadisk was only contracted to do the mastering.  RCA had us ship the DMM masters directly to the pressing plant that does all their work so I don't know the details of how the stampers were made.  I certainly don't see any reason why anyone would want to do 3-step process (i.e. master->father->mother->stamper) instead of just plating the stamper directly off of the DMM master (which is how Europadisk does all of our own plating) as one of the main advantages of using DMM is that it allows you to completely avoid two steps of plating that can potentially induce more surface noise or ticks and pops.

I have no idea what "fresh chemistry" is but I think it's important to note that to date the chemical process for electro-plating copper DMM blanks has undergone 3 major changes since the process was originally speced out by Teldec in 1982.  Some of these changes were necessitated by being forced to substitute one additive that was being discontinued by a manufacturer with another - however some of the changes have also occured because they allowed some significant refinements.
One huge improvement that Europadisk was a vital part of in developing is much greater stability of the blank prior to it being passivated - in fact the blanks we make no longer need refrigeration prior to cutting yet still exhibit a lower noise   floor than the ones made with the original formula.  

Quote:

I've never had the full DMM treatment, but I get things cut into copper whenever possible, and I particularly appreciate the lack of groove distortion. Your reduction of land space is effective on copper, but probably would not fare as well in lacquer -- am I right?


Well - since most of the sides were fairly short in length and I wasn't required to cut at the "hot" levels demanded for dance cuts these days  - I certainly didn't have to go to extremes in order to keep the used side space down to well under 74%.  Since I really didn't set things to "kiss" (where one groove just barely touches another) the settings I had would have probably been fine with a laqcuer master that was also using a decent pitch computer.  

on a side note:
The VMS-8x pitch computers have 3 optional "land economy" settings that you can kick that allow you to get higher cutting levels even for extremely long sides .  Essentially these settings tell the pitch computer to take more "risks" by making the changes at progressively quicker rates.  With the "A" setting you can still get pretty hot levels to just "kiss" - but as you increase the land economy to the "B" & "C" settings the risk of an overcut increases unless the dynamic range is fairly low.

I know that Don Grossinger (who as anyone who has heard the Smile releases on vinyl knows already is The Man as far cutting LP's goes) actually cut something like well over a 40 minute side of classical guitar on DMM once through a well performed manipulation of these options (which probably should get him in the Guiness Book of World Records as he was actually able to finesse it so that the master plated scuff free!).
 
With this release I didn't have to bother using land economy though - I just kept it set to the tightest level I could easily put it to without having any grooves "kissing".  For pressings of short sides oriented towards DJ's though I very often add additional land because I've found that many clients in this niche like to have the grooves evenly spaced across 80-95% of available space.  In their case the demands of the scratcher/turntabilist  or the buyer that judges the record by aesthetic expectations (i,e, feels uncomfortable purchasing a record that looks like it only has half the amount of grooves they think "should" be on there) wins out over concerns of keeping the last track on the side the highest fidelity possible.

Quote:


With the sides cut at 45rpm, do you need to make any allowances for depth as differentiated from 33 rpm?


There really isn't any differentiation in depth allowances that I am aware of as being necessary between 33 and 45.  Where depth becomes a bigger concern and needs occasional intervention would be for dealing with things such as areas where the phase isn't correlated, or for things like passages of high amplitude that are just all midrange, or for dealing with long sides cut at an average low level but that have a wide dynamic range that might be prone to scuffing when plated. Otherwise the depth computer on the VMS-84 is pretty darned good and usually I don't need to interfere with it's normal functioning.  

Quote:

Did you need to use an elliptical equalizer or VAL, for example?


Bob Ludwig made a very specific request to me not to use any EE whatsoever on this release - I think he just doesn't like the way they make things sound.  For most of the release this didn't pose a problem at all - but there were a few spots where because the phase wasn't that well correlated that I had to kick in a VAL occasionally.  One of these problem spots I unfortunately discovered in a very non-scientific way - i.e. on the first attempt at cutting the side the chip tube started dragging for a couple seconds ruining the copper.  The Neumann VAB-84 we have I believe is the last VAL they manufactured and is a pretty remarkably transparent processor.  I set it just to the minimal threshold needed per side for "safety and trackability".

Quote:


I've often wondered if cutters which were critically damped for 33rpm would "ring" slightly when used at 45rpm. I had been told that when cutting into copper, the stylus had more difficulty cutting the groove at low frequencies, and this required slightly different "tuning," whatever that is, for flat response. I often wondered if that might be one of the reasons the low end sounds slightly more extended at 45. Have you noticed anything you could measure in this regard?


Hmmm... interesting question - but this isn't an area I've explored at all.  Most of the sides I cut at 45 are for dance tracks cut with very hot levels.  Besides a general small improvement in overall freq response for both the lows and highs I can get a bit more level before things start breaking up by going to 45.  

One other tidbit I forgot to mention in the previous post:  the diamond stylus we used for this release had less than 11 hours of cutting time on it (out of a potential of 200).  The fresh stylus (no relation to fresh chemistry) can make a nice difference sometimes.

Best regards,
Steve Berson

electrical

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2005, 11:06:25 pm »

TotalSonic wrote on Fri, 17 June 2005 22:12

I have no idea what "fresh chemistry" is but I think it's important to note that to date the chemical process for electro-plating copper DMM blanks has undergone 3 major changes since the process was originally speced out by Teldec in 1982.

I had a conversation with a client once (very picky) and he had a copy of the original DMM paper. In it, there was a specified age for the electroplating chemistry (I don't remember if it was age or number of masters plated that was the determinant), and to get the DMM mark, the chemistry had to be "fresh."

I don't know anything about electroplating, so I don't know if this was a concern before the changes you mention.

In general, I had been led to understand that copper was meant to be cut shallower (compared to lacquer) when possible, possibly to limit the force exerted on the cutting cantilever. Is this true in practice?

And I agree with Bob Ludwig (phone the papers!) that all but minimal use of the elliptical EQ makes the low-end sound weaker. Sometimes, your hand is forced, though.
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dcollins

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2005, 11:17:31 pm »

electrical wrote on Thu, 16 June 2005 19:09


I've often wondered if cutters which were critically damped for 33rpm would "ring" slightly when used at 45rpm.



Huh.  Never thought of it like that.  Is the head really critically damped?  Or "over-damped" mechanically, with electrical eq for flatness?  Where is Horst Redlich?

It's amazing it works at all..

DC


TotalSonic

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Re: Foo Fighters vinyl & the art of the flat transfer
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2005, 11:56:42 pm »

Jason Goz wrote on Fri, 17 June 2005 09:34

Steve,
A thought has just occured to me,When i master anything to lacquer i always do a test cut on a scrap lacquer which  i will a/b with the source,When you do a test cut do you use a standard playback stylus for comparisons or is there a special  dmm playback stylus,(Obviously the dmm cutting head and styli are different)
Jason


We just play back test cuts with standard playback styluses.  There's a Shure (I forget the model # offhand) on the the arm that is on the lathe.  If you're not careful it's a little easier for the playback styluses to get damaged from knocking into the metal so unfortunately replacing these things happens a little more often than with what would otherwise happen with "normal" use.  

That being said - we cut reference discs into the same copper formula on 12" discs and thousands of people have played these back on a huge variety of turntables with standard styluses without a problem.  Nice thing with copper reference discs as opposed to standard acetate dub plates is that you can play them hundreds of times without any degradations.  

I also have in the studio a Technics turntable that I trimmed some of the plastic molding on the case off of so that I can play 14" mothers on it set up with a cheap Audio Technica cartridge that goes to a cheapie preamp as a "lowest common denominator" type of reference.  Looking to pick up a few of the more commonly DJ used Ortophon cartridges also to swap on this thing.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
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