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Vinyl record manufacturing - lacquer, master, mother, stamper and pressings

The vinyl manufacturing process has many stages from the cutting lathe to the turntable. And of course the eternal question - why are records black?

Vinyl records are still surprisingly alive and kicking. The two key areas of activity are the dance and hip hop music markets, and high-end audiophile hifi. Oddly enough, there is surprisingly little crossover between these areas. It would be interesting to build bridges between the two.

The manufacturing process starts with the lacquer disc created in the cutting room. This is too delicate even to play without damage and needs toughening up.

So the lacquer disc is coated with silver, which makes it conductive for the next process, which is electroplating with nickel. The nickel is then separated from the lacquer, giving a disc with ridges where the grooves would normally be - a 'negative' copy. Even though it is made of metal, it is too delicate to use to make pressings. This disc is known as the 'master' and there is only one.

The next stage is the 'mother'. This is made from the master by a similar process of electroplating. It is feasible to create up to around four mothers, but for the highest quality recordings this is restricted to two. The mother has grooves once again and is playable.

From the mother, 'stampers' are produced - up to six from each mother. Once again these are negatives, and are given a smooth chromium surface.

The stampers, two per record, are placed in presses and heated with steam before clamping down onto a cake of vinyl raw material. The result is a 'pressing' which after trimming and packaging is the record that is sold in the shops or played on the DJ's turntable.

Interestingly, the traditional black color of pressings is produced by a pigment. Without that, pressings would be colorless and translucent.

By David Mellor Saturday December 24, 2005