What is the difference between digital and vinyl mastering ?

What is the difference between digital and vinyl mastering ?

May 12, 2021

When we are brought to produce a project, whether we are an artist or a label, the question of vinyl mastering comes up. How to do it? What does it bring? Can I use my digital mastering?
To answer these questions we called on The Wall Studio, a mastering studio, with SAM BERDAH-PACQUIER, a mastering engineer.


What is the difference between digital mastering and vinyl mastering ?

The approach is different. Vinyl is constrained by physical limits that do not exist in digital. Some aspects might that need more attention when preparing masters for vinyl. One also has to understand that digital loudness doesn't mean anything in the analog world, so preparing a vinyl master does not necessary requires the use of digital with clipping/limiting

Is it necessary to do two different mastering? (1 digital & 1 vinyl)

Ideally yes. It’s good to know if you’re doing a vinyl from the start and anticipate it when you mix even. Overall, is it “necessary” to do it, objectively no. But it is better.

Is there a difference in quality between a digital and an analog source?

Yes, a digital source is technically better, because it is less subject to every factor that can deteriorate an analog signal in a chain (is your pickup well setup, it is a little old and used, how good is your phono pre etc...). In practice, we often prefer vinyl for several reasons.
First of all, as I said above, we often crush music less when it is intended for vinyl, so we have more space, more dynamics, less unpleasant harmonics... but there is also a psychological aspect, almost ritual.
We like to have something concrete, to handle delicately, to put on a turntable etc... It cracks a little, it distorts a little sometimes, but the ear (and the brain) likes it.


What are the details that a sound engineer focuses on when mastering vinyl?

There is one big line that is not technical and that makes it clear, when you prepare a master for vinyl, you want to make something beautiful and balanced. Not something “competitive” as we sometimes say for digital. Then, if we go into the pure technique, the main aspects are the phase, excess of low or high, sibilance, 10x too strong hi-hat...

Can we use a digital mastering for a vinyl pressing? What are the risks?

Yes, you can. Technically you can cut everything. The main risk is that the distortion that naturally shows up as you approach the inner groove, especially when you're aiming for a loud cut, is quickly obvious and a little ugly as it has no place to be discreetly lodged in the music. The cutting engineer often has to lower the overall level of the disc so that it does not twist. A quieter cut is also often a bit noisier.