Jack White Explains How Vinyl Records Get Made

THE VERGE: Jack White is hellbent on pushing the envelope on vinyl. For the release of his latest album LazarettoWhite already broke a world record last month by recording and pressing the LP’s title track in less than four hours. Now, the artist and his indie label Third Man Records have produced what he calls an Ultra LP, a record with multiple playback features baked in especially for analog music aficionados. Given all the work to make the record stand out, it’s clear that White and Third Man went above and beyond to show their appreciation for the format. The 11-track Ultra LP will feature two hidden tracks underneath its center label, for one thing. Notably, while the rest of the album can be heard at the normal 33 1/3 RPMs, the two extras spin at 45 and 78 RPMs each, making it a three-speed release. Lazaretto is also the first album with a locked outer groove, meaning that Side A (which plays from the inside out) will end on a continuous loop. But probably the most impressive addition is a hand-etched hologram on Side A, which is also, of course, the first of its kind. MORE

VOX: Let’s not fool ourselves, though. Vinyl is great, but the idea that its sound quality is superiorto that of uncompressed digital recordings is preposterous. They sound different, and that’s exactly the point. On a theoretical level, there’s just no reason it should be the case that vinyl sounds better. There are built-in problems with using vinyl as a data encoding mechanisms that have no CD equivalent. Vinyl is physically limited by the fact that records have to be capable of being played without skipping or causing distortion. That both limits the dynamic range — the difference between the loudest and softest note — and the range of pitches (or “frequencies”) you can hear. If notes get too low in pitch, that means less audio can fit in a given amount of vinyl. If notes are too high, the stylus has difficulty tracking them, causing distortion. So engineers mastering for vinyl often cut back on extreme high or low ends, using a variety of methods, all of which alter the music. MORE