Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Vinyl Records Are Made

I wanted to do another blog on vinyl, when Collector's Weekly posted this wonderful interview with Ben Blackwell, the head of vinyl production at Jack White’s Third Man Records. In this interview, he explains how a record is made - from vinyl pellets to the final product - and explores the medium’s perennial allure. The following are excerpts from the interview (the complete interview can be found at http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/your-turntable-is-not-dead-inside-jack-whites-vinyl-record-empire/)
Collectors Weekly: How are vinyl records made?
Blackwell: First off, vinyl as it is right now has a lead component to it, which is obviously not terribly safe for consumption. You don’t want to eat it. There are moves toward working with a lead-free vinyl, which would be better for everyone.
That being said, vinyl in its raw form comes in small, gravel-sized pellets. The pellets are packed in boxes, each of which literally weighs a ton.
That raw vinyl is fed into a machine called a hopper, which melts the pellets down and moves them into the extruder. The extruder pushes the vinyl out in strings, which are then formed into what we call a puck or a cake because it looks like a hockey puck or a small, flat cupcake. That cake is very hot, so it’s malleable. Labels are affixed to the cake’s corresponding A and B sides.
A lot of people don’t realize that the labels lend structural integrity to the record itself. Those labels are baked on there. They’re in the press. A lot of people think they’re affixed afterwards or that they’re stickers. That’s not the case.
After the labels are in place, the record is slid into a machine that exerts between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds of steam pressure, depending on whether you’re pressing a 45 or an LP. The puck is pressed against a plate with ridges that correspond to the actual playable audio, which makes grooves on the puck.
The record then slides out of the press and moves toward a turntable that trims off the excess, what I guess you could call the crust of the vinyl. The trimmed crust falls into a bin underneath. The record slides off into a spindle and is then inserted by hand into a paper sleeve.
The excess vinyl, the crust or the trim, plus any defective records that are scratched or off-center, are all ground down and used in subsequent pressings. For a petroleum product, an oil-based product, there’s actually very little waste involved—there’s a lot of recycling that goes on with vinyl record pressing.
For a regular pressing, I think the percentage is 90 percent virgin vinyl and 10 percent regrind. United also runs specials—what we call the hippie special or the green record pressing—in which they can press on 100 percent reground vinyl so that you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Top-of-the-line 180-gram records, on the other hand, are pressed with 100 percent virgin vinyl.
Collectors Weekly: What is significant about 180-gram vinyl?
Blackwell: The main indicator of a vinyl record’s quality is its weight. The standard weight of an LP is between 140 and 150 grams. Most records you grab are going to be that. The Cadillac of record pressing is 180-gram vinyl, which is heavier and a little bit thicker. There’s a lot of misinformation about it, though. Some people think 180-gram records have deeper grooves, which is supposed to improve the sound. Not true. Records have a standard groove depth, and your turntable wouldn’t really be able to play anything deeper.
The advantage of 180-gram vinyl is that it’s much less susceptible to warping—you basically have a sturdier record. The old 1970s major-label pressings on Dynaflex were so thin they’d flap in the wind. These 180-gram records just won’t do that.
The second thing is that 180-gram records are less susceptible to feedback between your turntable and your receiver, depending, of course, on what kind of stereo record player setup you have. I believe it cuts down on drag or interference between the actual turntable and the stylus, your needle.
For any of you that are Jack White fans, he was on American Pickers last night (January 9, 2011). I'm sure it will be repeated.
You can find Vinyl LP Records, mostly vintage, in my Addoway store. I am liquidating my collection (I have many genres), so check back often.  I am happy to combine your purchase to save on shipping (see how here http://www.addoway.com/viewad/How-to-Fill-Your-Cart-and-Save-on-Shipping-in-My-Addoway-Store-1520023), and don't forget to use your AddoBucks!