Vinyl Production

(Nearly) Everything You Need To Know About Test Pressings

RPM Records
Posted by Dainius Groove

In order to produce the highest-quality vinyl records, a mutual collaboration with our clients is by all means necessary. In this article we will explain a crucial step in the vinyl manufacturing process, where efficient collaboration between clients and pressing plants may improve the quality of production, reduce waste, save time and money for all parties. Regardless if it’s your first vinyl project or you are an experienced vinyl ninja, make sure you understand the importance of test pressings and how to adequately handle the test pressing evaluation. The information below will guide you in doing so.

What is a test pressing and how is it different from a regular pressing?

Before we start the grand production, we will press a few copies of your record in order to test the quality of a stamper, to customize and adjust settings of a press and generally to make sure your music sounds as good as your master file on a freshly pressed record. In this process, we may experiment with different settings and throw away few records, but once the test pressing is approved, we will save the settings and use it for the main production. Test pressings are usually very limited edition pressings that have simple white center labels with printed or hand written notes. Some particular test pressings may become wildly expensive in the second hand market due to their limited quantity. However, sound-wise, an approved test pressing should not differ from a regular pressing in any way.

Why test pressings are important for a pressing plant?

Test pressings are extremely important for a pressing plant, because this is the first time audio material gets transferred to a vinyl format. While vinyl production consists of various stages such as mastering, lacquer or DMM cutting, electroplating, stamper production and finally pressing a record, various mistakes may unfortunately occur at different stages. Test pressings are crucial in making sure that there have been no errors introduced before we started pressing your order. Additionally, the test pressing stage is a learning process about how your music translates to a vinyl format and what can be improved to eliminate sound artifacts such as clicks and pops and vinyl medium imperfections such as background noise. It is also necessary to make sure there are no mechanical defects such as scratches and that a record is not causing skips, needle sway or other tracking issues.

Why test pressings are important for the client?

A test pressing is a very important step in your vinyl project and helps making sure that your audio material sounds correct on a vinyl and that the pressing plant follows high-quality standards. We take full responsibility of all inaccuracies in transferring your master file or tape to the vinyl format. Most of them can be identified and eliminated during the test pressing stage. However, the pressing plant takes no responsibility for an audio content, mixing/mastering quality and track sequencing of submitted audio material. Test pressings will help you evaluate these qualities and ensure that your main order is pressed flawlessly, as expected. This is a definite last step before the production and we strongly advise every client to order and carefully inspect test pressings, give us feedback so we can jointly press great sounding vinyl records.

How to listen to test pressings?

Firstly, if you are pressing at RPM Records, read the back of our test pressing cover, it contains the fundamental information to guide your listening. Make sure you listen to at least three different test pressings on three different turntables in various listening environments. Focus on listening and refrain from additional activities such as social media, please listen throughout the record. Do not compare it to your digital master file, because it should not sound identical. Rather compare your test pressing to other vinyl records of your favorite music of the same genre. Keep in mind, that vinyl format is by nature an imperfect medium and comes with various limitations. To understand what is a defect and what is an imperfection requires familiarity with the format. The pressing plant takes a great deal in balancing between a natural imperfection and a defect to press your music as close to the original master file as possible. However, if you experience issues with your test pressing, check if the problem recurs on another record and on different turntables. This will help you eliminate variables that may possibly cause issues. If the problem occurs with more than one test pressing and on more than one turntable, time it and contact us immediately. Finally, if you are new to vinyl records, it’s a good idea to listen with somebody that is more familiar, and a local record store would be a good place to start your listening journey.

How to inspect test pressings? What to look for?

Inspect visual imperfections, such as scratches, warps, mechanical defects such as skips and audible imperfections such as clicks and pops, noise or similar. Make sure your turntable is well calibrated, but challenge your test pressing and experiment with settings to make sure it will track and play well on a variety of different playback systems. Experiment with weight, because an improperly calibrated turntable may expose additional clicks and pops or cause skipping. Assume the most common listening environment for your music and keep in mind that a large number of turntables out there are not professional and are not perfectly calibrated. Last but not least, pay great attention to inspect if the track order, track transitions and A/B side layering are correct. This is your full responsibility.

What adjustments/corrections/amendments can be made at the test pressing stage?

A pressing plant can eliminate all defects and try to minimize every imperfection of the vinyl medium at the test pressing stage without an extra cost. But we can not change your master file. If the tracks are sequenced incorrectly or if the mix or mastering are not of adequate quality, it will cause us to re-manufacture master discs and stampers. This will obviously add an extra cost to the final production.

Listen to test pressings and enjoy your vinyl!

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