If you’re considering releasing your music on vinyl, you may know it can be expensive. Many independent musicians don’t release vinyl records because of the minimum order requirements. So, in a battle of lathe cuts vs vinyl records, which is better?
Lathe cuts are made by a machine that cuts grooves into a disc, while vinyl records are made by pressing a vinyl compound into a disc shape and coating it with lacquer. While both methods can produce high-quality audio recordings, vinyl records are better for mass production, while lathe cuts are better for small batches.
Some key differences are worth mentioning when comparing the lathe and vinyl audio mediums. To find out more about those differences, check out our article below.
Choosing between lathe and vinyl – top considerations
One of the main advantages of lathe cuts is that they can be made in small quantities. Unlike vinyl records, which typically have minimum order requirements, lathe cuts can be completed one at a time, making them a good option for independent musicians who want to create a small run of records or even just one-of-a-kind creations.
This also makes lathe cuts a more cost-effective option for small runs, as the costs of setting up a vinyl pressing plant and making a mold for the record are not incurred.
Speed of Manufacturing
Another advantage of lathe cuts is that they can be made quickly. Because cutting a lathe cut does not require the creation of a mold, a lathe cut can be made in a matter of hours, whereas a vinyl record can take several weeks to manufacture.
This makes lathe cuts a good option for musicians who need to get their records out quickly or those who want to test a new release before committing to a more extensive vinyl pressing.
One of the main disadvantages of lathe cuts is the sound quality. Because the grooves on a lathe cut are cut directly into the disc, they are not as smooth and well-defined. This can produce a less precise and dynamic sound, especially at high volumes.
Lathe cuts are also more susceptible to damage and wear, as the grooves are not as deep, and the disc’s surface is not as durable as a vinyl record.
By contrast, the grooves on a vinyl record are pressed into the disc rather than cut into it. This means they are smoother and more well-defined. Vinyl records are also more durable and less susceptible to damage than lathe cuts. The grooves are deeper, and the disc’s surface is coated with lacquer.
Vinyl records come in various formats, including sizes, colors, and special editions. Meanwhile, lathe cuts are limited to a standard size and shape. Vinyl records can also be pressed on different types of vinyl, such as clear, colored, or even picture discs, which can add to the aesthetic appeal of the record.
Because vinyl records are typically mass-produced, the costs of setting up a vinyl pressing plant and creating a mold for the record must be factored into the cost of each record. This makes vinyl records more expensive than lathe cuts, especially for small runs.
Vinyl records are also more time-consuming to produce. This is because making a mold and pressing the vinyl into it can take several weeks.
What Is A Lathe Cut Record?
Lathe cut records are created by cutting grooves into a blank disc. The process is similar to traditional vinyl records, but some key differences exist. One of the main differences is that lathe-cut records are made one at a time, making each record unique. This allows for more intricate designs to be cut into the vinyl.
Also, lathe-cut records are thinner and less durable than regular vinyl records. But they are also lighter and easier to ship. This can be beneficial for independent musicians. Despite their thinner construction, lathe-cut records offer a unique listening experience and are a great way to support independent artists.
How Does The Lathe Cutting Process Work
The lathe-cutting process is a traditional method of creating records that involves cutting a spiral groove into a blank polycarbonate disc using a motorized lathe.
You will need specialized equipment and materials to make a lathe cut record. Here are the basic steps:
Get a lathe-cutting machine
A lathe-cutting machine is a device that is used to cut grooves into a blank record. Various models of lathe cutting machines are available, both new and used.
Choose a blank record
You will need a blank record to cut the grooves into. Blank records can be made from various materials, including PVC, polycarbonate, or acrylic. You can purchase blank records from various manufacturers.
Cut the blank record to size
You must cut the blank record to the desired size using a saw or a cutting machine.
Place the blank record on the lathe
The blank record is placed on the turntable of the lathe-cutting machine. The machine will then start spinning the record.
Record the audio
You must record the audio you want to cut onto the record. This can be done using various methods, including recording the audio onto a computer and transferring it to the lathe-cutting machine.
Cut the grooves
Using a cutting stylus, the lathe cutting machine will cut the grooves into the blank record, following the recorded audio.
Clean and package the record
Once the grooves have been cut, the record must be cleaned and packaged for distribution.
The process is critical in determining the quality and durability of the final vinyl product and requires specialized expertise to ensure that the audio signals are accurately and effectively transferred onto the vinyl records. Additionally, the equipment required can be expensive and difficult to come by.
Some benefits of the vinyl lathe include the ability to create custom record jackets and inserts and a more personal connection between the artist and listener.
What Materials and Equipment Are Used?
The materials used in the production of lathe cut records can vary depending on the specific process and equipment used, but some common materials include:
- Vinyl – this is the most common material used for lathe-cut records. It’s a durable and versatile material that is easy to cut and shape—different types of vinyl, including PVC and polyethylene, can be used.
- Acetate – this is a type of plastic commonly used in the early days of record cutting. It’s less durable than vinyl but can produce a unique sound.
- Polycarbonate – this is a harder and more durable plastic that is sometimes used for lathe cut records.
- Diamond stylus – this tool cuts the grooves into your blank record. The stylus is usually made of a small diamond tip that can create precise cuts.
- Lathe machine – this equipment is used to cut the grooves into your material. Lathe machines are often customized for the specific needs of record cutting and can be manual or automated.
Other materials that may be used to produce lathe cut records include cutting oil (Lubricants like Turtle Wax or lighter fluid), cleaning solution, and various machinery parts and components. The disc should be sprayed evenly on the desired side with the chosen lubricant and allowed to soak for approximately 2 minutes. This will soften the polycarbonate and facilitate a smooth cut.
How Do You Care For Lathe Cut Records
Lathe cut records are delicate and need proper care to maintain quality and prolong lifespan. Here are some tips for caring for lathe cut records:
- Handle with care: Always handle lathe cut records by the edges or center label and avoid touching the playing surface. Dirt, oil, and moisture from your hands can cause damage and affect sound quality.
- Clean before playing: Clean the record to remove any dirt or dust that may have accumulated on the surface. A microfiber cloth or specialized record-cleaning solution can clean the record.
- Store vertically: Store lathe-cut records in a sturdy, protective outer sleeve and inner sleeve. This prevents warping and reduces the risk of damage from stacking or handling.
- Store in a cool, dry place: Lathe cut records should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and sources of heat or moisture. Extreme temperatures and humidity can cause warping and other types of damage.
- Use the right equipment: Use a high-quality turntable, cartridge, and stylus that are in good condition. A worn-out stylus can cause scratches and other damage to the record surface.
- Handle the stylus properly: When changing records, use the stylus guard to protect the stylus and avoid touching the stylus with your fingers. Also, avoid playing records with a dirty or worn-out stylus, which can cause damage.
By following these tips, you can help ensure that your lathe cut records are well cared for and preserve their sound quality for years.
In conclusion, when choosing between lathe cuts and vinyl records, the decision comes down to factors such as quantity, speed of manufacturing, sound quality, options, and cost. Lathe cuts are better for small batches. They can be made quickly and cost-effectively, but the sound quality is not as good as vinyl records.
On the other hand, vinyl records are better for mass production. Records offer a wider range of options and have superior sound quality but are more expensive. It is important to weigh these factors before deciding which medium to release music.