The recording process begins with the creation of a master tape which is then transfered to an acetate. An acetate looks like a vinyl record, but it is actually a metal plate covered in a layer of acetone. Acetates are much more stiff and more dense than a vinyl record. Also, since they are not made to sell, an acetate usually has a handwritten or typewritten label and a plain sleeve is used to store it.
A machine actually cuts the grooves into the acetate like a lathe. This converts the master tape via electronic impulses into grooves on the record. When you play a record, this same transition takes place in reverse-the grooves are converted back into sound. In the picture on the right, there appears to be a spot above the song title. That is actually a second hole in the acetate, which is covered up by the label. This second hole is needed to stabilize the record during the cutting process.
After the tracks are cut, the acetate is then scrutinized to see if it sounds close enough to the original recording. If it sounds okay, then the "mother" molds are cast from the acetate. Acetates are the rarest form of any record; sometimes only one exists for a particular recording. Acetates are usually one-sided, with the backside being smooth. They can be played, but they wear out very quickly so this is not advisable. Acetate is fragile and can be cut by a phonograph needle just as it can be cut by the machine which makes them. Warning: Never clean acetates with alcohol-based cleaners. It will destroy them! Only use distilled water to clean them!
The OEM(Original Equipment Manufacture) "mother" is an identical copy of the acetate used to mold the production stamps which records are made from. Mothers are one-sided just like their respective acetate, and two of them are needed to make the stamps used to produce a record. Mothers are made from nickel and cannot be played. A machine squishes the liquid vinyl between the two stamps and produces a vinyl record just like the original acetate. Mothers can wear out and may have to be repaired or replaced after a number of stamps are made from them.
Test pressings are just what the name implies. Usually around 5-50 of these are initially made to test the quality of the OEM mothers. These are the rarest vinyl form of any record, and are highly sought after by collectors. Like acetates, the test pressings usually have handwritten or typewritten labels and plain sleeves.
Promo pressings are advance copies of music distributed to radio stations, music stores, etc. to promote a new release. They are considered desirable to the collector because they are often different then the normal commercial(retail) releases. They may have a stamp denoting that they are a promo on the label or jacket. The most desirable promo pressings are ones that differ the most from the commercial releases, or especially the ones which were not released commercially.
Import pressings are becoming highly collectible. Production for these items is usually significantly lower than the standard US pressings. Also, you will sometimes find tracks or photos on the imports which were not available in the US. Many import 45 picture sleeves from Europe and Japan are available for Styx. Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung also have several available as well. The item is the right is an unusual Tommy Shaw flexi-disc 45 from Japan. The disc features an interview from the What If era.
MSFL(Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab), Nautilus, A&M, and others released high fidelity or half-speed master recordings. These are high quality vinyl pressings of albums. Mobile Fidelity was still producing these items until recently, but sadly they are now defunct. Until cd's were released, these pressings were the highest quality format available.
Several factors make these albums sonically superior to conventional vinyl. First of all, 100% virgin vinyl was used, as opposed to recycled vinyl in normal albums. The consistency in virgin vinyl yields better playback results. Also, these items were remastered from the lowest generation master tapes available. Less generations equals less tape hiss and distortion. Finally, the records were more flat and had a more even playing surface, which helps to reduce playback distortion also.
Vinyl Storage Tips
Here, in no particular order, are some tips for storing your vinyl records:
1. Keep them away from direct sunlight.
2. Avoid moisture and extreme temperatures(garages or basements are the worst).
3. Store records vertically; never stack them horizontally
4. Keep them clean and dust free, and in the jacket when not in use.
5. When you clean your records, use a commercial system or distilled water. Never use alcohol-based cleaners on acetates. Use only distilled water!
6. Try not to touch the vinyl surface when handling your records. Use the label and the edges of the record.
7. Never leave a record in the original shrinkwrap. It will warp your jacket and record.
8. Resealable plastic sleeves will protect your records from moisture. You can find these in Goldmine Magazine.