Wednesday, October 14, 2015

180 Gram Vinyl... What are the benefits? Heavyweight Vinyl Records Explained


The words "180 Gram Vinyl" have been the cause for many misunderstandings and debate among the audiophile and vinyl records community. Unnecessarily so, I would say, there is nothing magical about heavyweight vinyl, and certainly some myths float over those shiny 180g stickers on the record covers, but that doesn't mean there are no benefits from pressing 180g or even 200g vinyl LP's.

Vinyl record weight has very little to do with the sound quality of the music engraved in the grooves. The technical standard by which grooves are modulated and cut on the record surface is exactly the same on all vinyl records regardless of weight grade, the dimensions of the grooves can only be cut within the scope of that standard, and we are talking about extremely small dimensions at the micro-metric scale with such tiny variations that any vinyl weight above 100 Gram (probably even less) provides the necessary physical support for pressing sound grooves according to the standard industry specifications.

In fact, the mastering (or cut) to vinyl doesn't change or vary in any way depending on the weight or thickness of the vinyl discs that will be pressed, and there is no specific mastering for 140g, 160g, 180g or 200g vinyl... Because of the way the vinyl grooves are formed, the relative depth that exceeds the technical standard, has limited relevance since the point of contact of the stylus tip in the groove (basically a triangle shape with one of the vertices pointing down) does not allow the needle to read any deeper, anything below that point is ignored as if it didn't exist... the relative vertical position of the groove in the disc profile depth is also something that has no impact on the stylus performance. In order to make groove depth beyond the current standard make a difference, or to make the vertical position of the groove in relation to disc thickness have some kind of impact, it would require a complete change of groove geometry, such as the standard angles and other characteristics, that is, it would require a new different vinyl cutting standard and different cartridge design, and so on...

Sound quality on vinyl, as well as any other audio format, depends mostly on the type and quality of the source that was used for mastering, and ultimately on the quality of the mastering process itself as well as equipment used to execute the mastering / cut of the lacquer.

That being said, why are heavyweight vinyl records, above 140 Gram weight grade, usually considered better? What are the real benefits of heavyweight vinyl? Why is it so well regarded by the industry and by most consumers? Here are a few possible answers to those questions:

- The disc, the object itself, is more robust and durable. A 180 Gram LP is not only more satisfying to handle and place on the turntable, but it also offers more resistance to a more aggressive manipulation, adverse storage conditions and other possible abuses that can be inflicted over the years or decades. I'm not referring to groove wear from being in contact with the stylus, that is just the same for any vinyl weight grade, but still there is an obvious advantage to the robustness and durability of the vinyl disc as a physical object, offering more resistance to breaking or to becoming warped, and other potential damage.

- There are mechanical advantages from using heavier vinyl on your turntable, basically it provides a more stable platform for your stylus and cantilever suspension, and probably better isolation from unwanted vibration that can actually cause some sound degradation at this micro-level where the pickup is working. This effect is not much different, from a technical standpoint, from changing the platter material or increasing the platter mass on your turntable, or using a different platter mat... you can see the heavier vinyl record as a type of physical upgrade to your turntable, that will make a difference similar to other upgrades.

- Thicker (taller) vinyl profile might change the sound characteristics of your cartridge, for the better or worse, by changing the VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) of the tonearm in relation to the record surface, this can be audible or not, and it can change sound to the better or worse depending on how your turntable is setup.

- Historically, there is an implied quality standard associated with 180 Gram vinyl, or 200 Gram vinyl. When these heavyweight pressings first appeared, they represented a higher quality standard being applied to the entire mastering and manufacturing process, so in the end it usually resulted in much better sound but not only because of the heavier vinyl, it was just like today a matter of using better sources (Original Master Tapes) and improved mastering techniques.

- Some labels, namely Classic Records with their Quiex SVP (Super Vinyl Profile), and Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab with their UHQR (Ultra High Quality Record) that was manufactured in Japan by JVC, have developed pressing techniques using 180g and 200g heavyweight vinyl where the dies used for pressing were designed in a way to make the record surface more flat than regular record pressings. The uneven surface effect where the disc thickness varies from outer edge to center point is a well known issue studied by many engineers and entities related to audio mastering and vinyl manufacturing, the benefits of a more perfectly flat surface for the reading of the grooves are real and undeniable, however the relation of this factor with total vinyl weight and thickness is dependent of the use of dies created with such design, and that might vary from label to label and between different pressing plants.

For these reasons, heavyweight 180 Gram and 200 Gram vinyl pressings are usually better quality products associated with limited editions, audiophile editions, and better releases in general. Unfortunately this is not always the reality of all heavyweight pressings, in fact some of the worst record labels making terrible vinyl today are pressing 180 Gram LP's from poor mastering jobs using low quality (mostly digital) sources. Pressing bad records on 180 Gram vinyl doesn't make them good records, even less so does it make them audiophile records... not at all! So what is happening with all these lower quality 180 Gram pressings flooding the market today? These are some of the possible answers for that:

- As part of the vinyl market resurgence that has been going on since 2005 (and growing steady), most labels felt the need to make the vinyl record more attractive for consumers, as if they were justifying the vinyl release (or reissue) with the heavyweight grade and that Quality Standard perception that I mentioned before. There's nothing wrong with this, on the contrary it shows a genuine effort to push forward the vinyl comeback by offering higher quality standard that consumers value and enjoy.

- The somewhat unexpected growth of vinyl sales, and that effort to make vinyl releases more appealing by making 180 Gram pressings, resulted in many pressing plants being much more specialized in pressing heavyweight vinyl records for the last 10 years or so, actually the 180 Gram pressing has now become the standard pressing for most factories, meaning that cost is no longer a determining factor when a label chooses to press on 180 Gram vinyl. It is more expensive because it uses more raw material, but the perceived added value by consumers more than compensates the marginally higher investment.

- Since cost, and technical expertise, are no longer determining factors, this has opened the door for almost any label, good or bad, big or small, to press heavyweight vinyl records. With the added bonus that "180 Gram Vinyl" is usually perceived by consumers as higher quality, specifically higher sound quality.

So, where does that leave us? Well, right at where we started... 180 Gram Vinyl is not magic, and it's really not a solution to any major problem. It's additional value, and can represent higher quality production standards, just as well as it can be used by labels with extremely poor quality standards. It is very important to focus your attention on what really counts: Who mastered the record? Where was it mastered? What sources were used for the mastering process? Where was it pressed? And only then, secondary factors such as Vinyl Weight Grade become additional value and a good reason to buy a vinyl LP.

Don't let the 180 Gram sticker alone put you off buying a great LP... but also, don't let it alone be the major deciding factor when buying a record. It's not magic, but it's not to be dismissed as "gimmick" because there are in fact many benefits to heavyweight vinyl pressings when that is part of a bigger picture of quality production that includes quality mastering from the best sources to achieve a result that is a better product in all areas.
your Music... served right!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Roger Waters Amused To Death 200 Gram Vinyl 2LP Analogue Productions USA 2015

The 2015 2LP 200 Gram Vinyl edition of Amused to Death features remastered audio completed by longtime Roger Waters / Pink Floyd collaborator and co-producer, James Guthrie. The cover and gatefold art has been updated for 2015 by Sean Evans, the creative director of Roger Waters’ 2010-2013 The Wall Live tour and movie.

  • Limited Edition
  • Produced by Analogue Productions
  • Pressed at Quality Record Pressings QRP USA
  • Mastering by James Guthrie and Doug Sax
  • Double LP on 200 Gram Vinyl
  • Gatefold Cover
  • Updated Artwork for new 2015 edition
  • USA Edition with Deluxe Stoughton Printing Gatefold Cover

 An unblinking look at an entertainment-obsessed society, Amused to Death addresses issues that have only grown in complexity and urgency over the past two decades. With Amused to Death, Roger Waters sounded the alarm about a society increasingly – and unthinkingly – in thrall to its television screens. Twenty-three years later, Amused to Death speaks to our present moment in ways that could scarcely have been anticipated two decades ago. In 2015, television is just one option in an endless array of distractions available to us anytime, anywhere, courtesy of our laptops, tablets and smartphones. With eyes glued to our screens, the dilemmas and injustices of the real world can easily recede from view.

An amazing reissue, a natural addition to the Vinyl Gourmet Audiophile TOP 100 for its sound quality and musical merits, this is a reissue not to be missed, available at Vinyl Gourmet online store.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The case for Vinyl in the Digital Age... or: Why does it sound better?

Here at Vinyl Gourmet we know that nothing sounds as good as Full Analog Vinyl, cut from Analog Master Tapes with 100% analog mastering chain. But we also know there is a place for Vinyl in the Digital Age, regardless of source type vinyl is still the best way to enjoy your music.

This is one of the most common questions about vinyl these days. In this Digital Age we live in, where most music is in fact recorded digitally, why is Vinyl a viable proposition and why should we expect better sound reproduction from vinyl records?

It's a very good question, and even though most people instinctively found the answer just by using their ears and actually listening to records to learn that they do usually sound much better in the real world today, it's very important that audiophiles and consumers in general understand why this happens. 

The answer to this question involves the correct understanding of what makes recorded music sound like it does and how this relates to audio formats as they changed over time. There are multiple factors contributing for great sounding vinyl records today:

01 - High Resolution Sources. Industry Standard today for Studio Digital Audio resolution is at 24bit depth / 96kHz sampling rate or higher. It's not uncommon to find most recording, mixing and mastering studios today working with a baseline of 24bit/192kHz, and most archival transfers done at the big labels from their treasured vaults is actually going up to 32bit depth! Most vinyl records today are mastered from the highest resolution digital sources available, usually 24bit sources that are much higher resolution than the 16bit/44kHz CD has to offer.

02 - Better Mastering. Most quality digitally sourced vinyl made today is mastered specifically for the vinyl format from high resolution sources. This means that the production goals of the vinyl mastering are not the same and can actually be much different from the goals of mastering for iPod, streaming, or for a CD that will get a lot of car play. Usually better dynamics and balanced EQ are top priority for vinyl mastering. Most of the dreadful aberrations common in digital mastering from the last 10 or 15 years, like extreme dynamic compression and limiting (the so called Loudness Wars) and exorbitant EQ choices for over-the-top brightness, are not even reasonable technical options when mastering for vinyl, it would be just silly to do that when cutting the lacquer, some of those moves that make digital mastering often sound so bad would actually be impossible on a cutting lathe, the cutter head would burn out and dozens of acetates would be wasted...

03 - Digital is much more than resolution.
It involves Analog to Digital Conversion (ADC) and/or Digital to Analog Conversion (DAC) processes that are very complex and easy to disturb. True digital quality results from high resolution and from extremely controlled operation environment to prevent data loss or degradation in the time domain, it's about how it is actually processed and relayed through cables and between interfaces, how different algorithms work to correct errors, the actual processing power and speed to ensure only the best possible filtering is applied to shape the conversion effectively. Professional studio digital is a completely different universe when compared to domestic home digital, no matter how much "audiophile" your DAC says it is it will still be put to shame by the controlled studio environment. Most likely the DAC process result used for mastering the digitally sourced vinyl LP will sound much better than the sound you get from the DAC process being made in your home system. Your vinyl playback might just expose that weakness in domestic digital systems...

In short, if you stay away from bad quality vinyl from well known "junk" labels that are just taking advantage of the growing vinyl sales worldwide (you know, the usual junk from labels like DOL or Wax Time, Vinyl Passion, Vinyl Lovers, Doxy, Lilith, Not Now Music, Jazz Wax, in some ways even MOV, and many more), you can be sure that in general vinyl records are actually the best option today to enjoy contemporary music with the highest possible sound quality, even if they are digital recordings, and they also sound better than consumer grade high resolution music files because they are mastered better for vinyl.

Actually, I can't remember a single major release of new music from the last several years that sounds better on any digital format than on the corresponding vinyl release. The ratio of bad mastering for digital formats is much higher than the ratio of bad mastering for vinyl, and in addition to better sound, with vinyl you also get decent large format artwork, a collectible physical object that increases the ownership satisfaction and intensifies the relationship with the album, and a much higher potential to maintain financial value or even increase in value over time.

Of course, all this is is a non-issue for full analog vinyl being cut from 100% analog recordings, and we are fortunate to have many of those at Vinyl Gourmet. But that is something everybody already knows, analog is king!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Amiina Kurr 2007 debut album - Deluxe Double LP 200g Vinyl + Bonus Track

Best known for a decade recording and performing live with Sigur Rós, Amiina was formed in the late 90's as a quartet of girls from Reykjavík College of Music to explore delicate sounds with strings and subtle electronica, setting the tone for very deep and sensorial Icelandic music experience. Amiina's debut album, Kurr flows in a strange, powerful place between sophistication and innocence.

  • Double LP
  • DMM Direct Metal Mastering cut
  • 200 Grams Vinyl
  • Bonus track: "Hilli (At The Top Of The World)", the last recording of Lee Hazlewood

Originally a string quartet formed by four girls (Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Hildur Ársælsdóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir) at the Reykjavík College of Music in the late 1990s, amiina went on to cut its teeth as Sigur Rós' string section for the next decade.

In 1999 the quartet joined Icelandic band Sigur Rós on stage. The collaboration has continued ever since with amiina contributing strings to Sigur Rós’ music on tours and in the recording studio on the albums ( ) , Takk and Með Suð... In 2004 amiina’s first EP AnimaminA was released, followed by the Seoul single (2006), the album Kurr (2007), a Lee Hazlewood collaboration on a 7” vinyl Hilli (at the Top of...) (2008) and the limited release EP Re Minore (2009).

Amiina's debut album, Kurr (2007), was performed on a disparate jumble of instruments – musical saws, kalimbas, music boxes and seemingly anything that could be plucked, bowed or beaten on – resulting in a work that ebbed and flowed “in a strange, powerful place between sophistication and innocence,” according to The Guardian.

Cover by Egill Kalevi Karlsson. Mastered by Graeme Durham (Founding member and mastering engineer at The Exchange, London). Recorded by Eimmur Hákonarson, Kjartan Sveinsson, Mads Christian Brauer. Mixed by Birgir Jón Birgisson.

DMM reissue of Amiina’s Kurr, featuring the bonus track: "Hilli (At The Top Of The World)", the last ever recording of the legendary songwriter and producer Lee Hazlewood. Originally released in June 2007, this is the first ever vinyl issue of the album and comes in Deluxe 200g vinyl.

Track Listing:

01. Sogg
02. Rugla
03. Glmur
04. Seoul
05. Lpna
06. Hilli
07. Sexfaldur
08. Kolapot
09. Saga
10. Lri
11. Blfeldur
12. Boga
13. Hilli (At the Top of the World) featuring Lee Hazlewood

Available on Vinyl Gourmet Store:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blue Note - Vinyl Reissues - The good... and the Exceptional. Choose Music Matters!

Beginning in March 2014 Blue Note Records started a self-released reissue series on Vinyl through Universal Music to celebrate the label's 75th Anniversary. That series is intended to make the Blue Note catalog easily and widely available to the general public at a lower cost and this is achieved in part by using digital transfers to cut the new LP's on vinyl pressings from less reputed factories and also by using standard single jacket covers.

The photos above show the usual look of the records from this Blue Note 75th Anniversary series for its European version with the slogan "Back To Blue" displayed on the cover stickers and on the included low-res digital download card.

The Music Matters Blue Note series, on the other hand, are true collectibles made for the Blue Note expert, music lover and demanding audiophile. This special official reissues program brings us LP's that are cut from the actual Rudy Van Gelder Original Analog Master Tapes in a completely analog production chain and mastered by one of the best engineers in the world (Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio), the sound superiority is obvious and clearly audible.

Additionally, Music Matters offers these Blue Note LP's with faithful reproduction of the original artwork and high resolution session photos on the inside of a Deluxe Gatefold Cover. The pressing is made at RTI (Record Technology Inc) in the USA, one of the best vinyl pressing plants in the world.

These two reissue programs run independently and are not to be confused, for ultimate and true analog sound reproduction of these jazz masterpieces, choose Music Matters.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Professional Record Cleaning - Deionized and Distilled Water Purified by Reverse Osmosis

Deionized and Distilled Water, highly purified by reverse osmosis, for use in pharmaceutical and hospital laboratories with guaranteed and certified purity. This is what we use at Vinyl Gourmet as well as the famous L'Art Du Son (Loricraft) fluid to clean vinyl records with our professional Record Cleaning Machine featuring dual direction rotation and extremely powerful vacuum suction to remove all particles and impurities from the grooves.

From the several cleaning steps we apply to each side of the record, the last rinsing step with the most pure water is vital to obtain really great cleaning results. 

For your records... only the best is enough! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Out Of Africa Vinyl LP Soundtrack by John Barry is an Audiophile Spectacular!

The music for Out of Africa was composed and conducted by veteran English composer John Barry. The score included a number of outside pieces such as Mozart's Clarinet Concerto Adagio and African traditional songs. The soundtrack garnered Barry an Oscar for Best Original Score and sits in fifteenth place in the American Film Institute's list of top 25 American film scores.

  • Composed by John Barry
  • Remastered directly from the Original Analog Master Tapes
  • Cut by Kevin Gray at Future Disc Systems
  • No noise supression or bass roll-off
  • Pressed on 180 Gram Virgin Vinyl
  • Gatefold Cover with deluxe inner sleeve
  • Original artwork and liner notes

Available here:

The Composer: John Barry is the genius composer who gave the early James Bond movies their distinctive musical language. He then went on to become one of the most celebrated film composers of modern times, winning five Academy Awards and four Grammys for such memorable scores as Midnight Cowboy , Dances With Wolves and, of course, Out Of Africa.

"There's something else in the film that really makes us care about what's going on. And that is John Barry's score. Famously, when first faced with the print of the film, Barry rejected director Pollack's notion that it be scored with indigenous melodies. Instead, he hit on the far more elemental (and far more powerful) notion that the music should score the emotion of the characters at the centre of the film. The landscape meanwhile could always speak for itself. A skeptical Pollack hesitantly agreed but the gamble paid off: Barry's approach to Out of Africa proved to be one of the most astute dramatic decisions of his career, resulting in a score that punctuated the turgid, navel-gazing gloom of the film to evoke real compassion and emotion for the characters.

The composer, ever self-deprecating, expressed surprise when he won the Oscar for Best Original Score, citing there was no more than 35 minutes of it in the two and a half hour film. But it's the sparing use of the music itself that guarantees it such heart-wrenching success. It's a brilliantly spotted film, and Barry's capacity for sheer, old-fashioned beauty cuts right to the centre of Blixen's heartbreak. Much of the score's success can be credited to its magnificent central theme, I Had a Farm in Africa, one that's clad in Barry's familiar style (high strings, low horns) but which takes on a spectacularly rich vein of melancholy when placed in the context of the film. Barry's understanding that human emotion in and of itself can be represented in an expansive, melodramatic fashion was a massively insightful notion, one that guaranteed the theme's status as one of the most glorious ever to grace the silver screen.

Positioned alongside the main theme is the lesser known but breathlessly intimate one for Karen herself. Split into three movements across the album (I'm Better at Hello/I Had a Compass from Denys/If I Know a Song of Africa), it's truly lovely, with particular emphasis going on woodwind and piano. Barry effectively pits the quiet intimacy of Karen's theme against the broader expanse of the Farm theme to create a dramatic contrast in scale. By choosing to score the emotional landscape as opposed to the physical one, Barry underpins both album and film with a genuine aura of sincerity.

There is one brief concession to local sounds at the end of the moodier Karen's Journey/Siyawe, which deploys ethnic voices to authentic effect. By contrast, Safari plays up the expansive joy of Karen's venture into the landscape, another example of the multitude of nuances enriching an admittedly brief score. The most memorable moments however are those that put the main theme at the forefront, chiefly the astonishing Flying Over Africa which builds from a low choral/orchestral combination to a majestic, thrilling variation on I Had a Farm. It's one of the most heavenly moments in Barry's lengthy career, and in the film, when combined with David Watkin's jaw-dropping aerial photography, it's simply remarkable.

It's also incredibly moving. By the time one reaches the heart-breaking End Title movement (You Are Karen), Barry's sense of musical compassion is overwhelming, the full orchestra performing the difficult trick of seeming uplifting and deeply melancholy at the same time. This is Barry's greatest achievement with the score, painting human heartbreak as a symphony and with that graceful, deft touch that only the very best film composers attain. In a career packed with highlights, Out of Africa stakes a claim as one of John Barry's most resonant and successful works, achieving a level of heart and soul that all scores aim for but which few achieve." - Sean Wilson, MFiles UK your Music... served right! (Audiophile Vinyl Records)