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Mastering for vinyl

Vinyl records are still going strong and many artists chose to release their records on this format. We deliver lots of masters that are prepared for vinyl cutting. This article will provide you with some useful information if you want to release your music on vinyl!

Song order and side splits

Many times you can use the same track order for all releases and just decide upon where to place the split between side A and side B. Sometimes it is not possible to fit the whole album onto a vinyl record without removing one or several tracks. Other times the best solution is to rearrange the song order for the vinyl version. Either way, just let us know and we’ll prepare the vinyl masters accordingly.

Try to make the sides equally long, or as equal as is possible. If both sides are below the recommended side lengths (see below) then it’s usually ok if they are different lengths. But if you have longer sides then you would generally want to keep both sides as short as possible.

The last song on each side will often have more sound quality issues due to inner groove distortion. If possible, avoid ending the sides with loud and high-end intensive songs. This is especially important for longer sides.

Recommended side lengths

Always ask your cutting engineer or pressing plant about their recommended side lengths. As a rule of thumb, the longer the sides are, the more compromises will be needed when it comes to audio quality. The cutting engineer might need to lower the overall level and/or reduce the amount of bass in order to fit everything onto the disc.

In our experience, the following maximum side lengths tend to produce good results.

FormatOptimal lengthUsually possible (with compromises)
12″ / 33.33 rpmmax 18 minmax 22-23 min
12″ / 45 rpmmax 12 minmax 15-16 min
7″ / 45 rpmmax 4 minmax 5 min

Be sure to check with the cutting engineer or pressing plant whenever in doubt or if you have longer sides.

Mastering for vinyl cutting

We will prepare files that the cutting engineer easily can load into their DAW and cut a vinyl master from. The specification for these files are:

  • A separate master version with less or no peak limiting
  • One continous wave file per side plus a timing sheet
  • The wave files are 24 bits, in the same sample rate as the mixes
  • The timing sheet contains song names, song lengths, track starts and side lengths

If you need any other format, just let us know!

If you need masters for vinyl cutting, make sure to let us know when ordering mastering.

Common questions

Why is it better with no peak limiting on the master for vinyl cutting? I want a loud vinyl record!

If you want a loud vinyl record, then it will usually sound better when cutting from a clean sounding master. There is no direct link between the loudness of the master files and how loud the vinyl will be in the end. The overall level of the vinyl will be set by the cutting engineer. If the master files contain clipping or aggressive peak limiting, then this will often make it more difficult to cut a loud and clean sounding vinyl master.

Do you always make the low-end mono on the vinyl premasters?

No, we don’t make the low-end mono by default. This is something that is done by the cutting engineer when cutting the actual vinyl master, and only as much as is needed. That being said, we do listen to how the master would sound with a narrow low end. If this makes the music sound radically different, then there might be a problem with mono compatibility that would be best to fix in the mix. We will let you know if this is the case.

If you are ordering a “true flat cut” or similar from the pressing plant (see below) then make sure to let us know. This is a situation when we would make the low-end mono.

Can the vinyl master be used for a “flat cut”

Most of the times, yes. The standard procedure for cutting a “flat” vinyl master is that the cutting engineer makes only the necessary adjustments needed for producing a clean sounding, playable record. This is often the most cost effective option.

When doing a flat cut the cutting engineer will usually set the overall level, remove low-end rumble and narrow the low-end width if necessary and possibly also do some de-essing. The masters that we deliver for vinyl cutting will usually work very well for this, although you might not get the loudest and most optimized cut possible.

You can in many cases get even better results by giving the cutting engineer more time and freedom to do additional tweaks in order to optimize the EQ, dynamics and loudness of the cut. A good cutting engineer will know all the methods and tricks to make the vinyl record sound as good as possible.

Note that there are pressing plants offering “true” flat cuts. This means that they cut the vinyl master directly from the provided master files without any additional processing. We do not recommend doing this!

When preparing the masters for vinyl cutting we intentionally leave room for the cutting engineer to do the changes needed in order to cut a playable record. We don’t want to guess the best processing, since this is very much dependent on several parameters that are out of our control, like cutting level, depth of the cut, how the lathe is set up etc. These decisions are in our opinion better to leave for the cutting engineer, who has full control over all these things.

If you want to use the “true flat cut” option despite all of this, please let us know beforehand and we’ll make sure to deliver a master that is suitable for this. This will generally mean that we have to stay well within the safe amounts of low-end stereo width, and the resulting sound quality might not be optimal.

More information

We did a video about mastering for vinyl on our Mastering Explained YouTube channel. This might be interesting if you want to dive deeper into the theory and details: