Vinyl turntables: back to the future 1!

It is time to put away the bikes in the country for winter storage. I went up in the attic and realized it was clogged. I had to do a general cleaning in order to free up useful space for bicycles. In a distant corner I found a long-forgotten set of music lovers from Soviet times: 35AC loudspeakers, Arcturus- 003 turntable, Radio Technica UKU-020 amplifier, and Akai GX-77 bobbin tape recorder.

Audio equipment

Next to it, in the boxes were carefully packed reels and disks. I assembled the system, put the vinyl on and was amazed by its fantastic sound – bass was clear and powerful without any subwoofer, treble was like appearing out of thin air, the acoustic scene was detailed. And the sound was natural, alive… like in the heyday of The Beatles and Deep Purple! And I was wondering if they make vinyl now? And if they do, how is it different from the old one??

It exists!

It turned out that after the mass closure of vinyl factories in the late 80’s and early 90’s, about 8 years ago, to the delight of music lovers, the revival began. It hasn’t quite reached the 70s and 80s yet, but it’s still to come.

But to understand the difference of modern vinyl from the old one, you need to understand the manufacturing process.

How they used to do it

First you had to make MASTER-TAPE. They used huge studio tape recorders with lots of microphones, which recorded several tracks from different points in the studio or concert hall. The sound, of course, was analog. Then, sound engineers mixed the recording in two or one channel carrier Stereo or Mono on a kilometer reel without a casing, spinning at high speed, inaccessible for most of home tape recorders. In the USSR, they used ORWO film, made in the GDR. That was the master tape.

Next, . The signal from the master tape went to a special device that sliced the tracks on the soft, wax disc. From the wax disc, using special techniques and equipment, a metal master disc was made directly, which served as the mold for the production of the record itself. The press-form was sent directly to the factory, and eventually we got a vinyl beauty – a gramophone record, or, as it was commonly known, a disc.

But why did the records made under license in the Warsaw Pact countries sound worse than their Western analogues?? It was all about the slogan: Economy must be economical! After all, we had our own record manufacturing monsters: in the USSR – Melodia, in Bulgaria – Balkanton, in Poland – Muza. There were powerful factories in Hungary, in the GDR, in Yugoslavia. And wise socialist managers bought a copy of the master-tape, and made the mold themselves, directly at the plant.

Recordings from the copy were stamped on vinyl made from the waste products of other productions. And it wasn’t the best for the sound, but it sounded better than on the USB stick! At the beginning of 80’s, Western manufacturers mostly Japan and Germany developed the DMM technology, which excluded the soft wax disk, and that had a very positive effect on the sound quality. A little later this technology appeared in the USSR and the socialist camp, which significantly improved the quality of the records.

But, the mold does not last forever, and after some time it would get clogged and there would appear mechanical damages. And new ones had to be made. The master-tape was already a bit shabby, and the new mold was a bit different. That was the origin of the term “First Press”, which is valued by collectors by weight of gold.

as they’re doing now

People used to think that with CDs, they converted analog sound to digital, but now it’s the opposite process, and it doesn’t sound the same. It’s not quite like that. Especially since the production process hadn’t changed much.

The new vinyl which started to be produced about 8 years ago colloquially called Novodel has a number of significant differences, starting with the positive ones:

  1. The quality of raw materials. Today’s raw materials for vinyl production are environmentally friendly and of higher quality than before. That’s not surprising – after all, science doesn’t stand still. The new raw material made the record more expensive, but the disc was of higher quality.
  2. The new vinyl is heavy and massive, the producers rejected the light, soft and colored vinyl with additives, which is also good for the quality.
  3. With the development of chemical and metal-working technology the modern mould has become more qualitative, with high indicators of slicing tracks.
  4. Modern record runs are low, resulting in less wear and tear on the molds.

Now about the minuses

There is only one minus – they don’t always use master tape, replacing it with dubious analogues. In the period from the mid-90s to the present day digital media is used, there even appeared the concept of a master CD. From them and try to create a master tape. For some years now the leading producers have restored the process, and today, if a concert is supposed to be released on vinyl, it is recorded on master tape and CD.

But mastering a CD isn’t always a bad thing, either. If a manufacturer has taken a responsible approach to restoration, if the digital is recorded by professionals, well corrected, then when you play it on analog equipment, it only benefits.

Imagine if someone decided to release, for example, The Beatles’ album “Rubber Soul” recorded in 1965. The master-tape, if it survived, dried out and the press-form has been deformed during the time… But if a producer hired high-class specialists, then only a super-sophisticated music-lover would notice the difference between the first pressing and a new model.


Over the past five years, there has been a joyous prospect of vinyl sales increasing year by year. And it’s not only sophisticated elderly music lovers who buy it. Young people with average incomes are more and more actively buying vinyl. I see two reasons for that – fashion and, no matter how you look at it, the quality of the sound. After all, it’s a whole ritual – turn the system on, put the disc on, put the needle down and hear the SOUND!

The record companies have also changed the sales scheme: vinyl comes out first, a bit later a cheaper CD version and then an MP3 version, which is very clever.

And now, on this chilly October evening put on your favorite record, pour yourself a hot tea or something stronger , sit down in your favorite chair and enjoy.

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