Vinyl, one of the few analog mediums that have not only stood the test of time but have made an unbelievable comeback in the face of easy no hassle digital music streaming available in the 21st century.
Audiophiles say the music sounds fuller with more depth than its digital counterpart. I have a sizable record collection and love the look, feel and sound but more than that I enjoy the process. It's definitely a delayed gratification. Not for everyone.
I hope the process outlined below will shine a light on the complexities of analog recording behind the music we love.
We start with a thin 14" aluminum disc that has been sanded and polished. The disc passes through a station where it is sprayed with lacquer similar to nail polish.
Once that has dried it goes through a manual quality control process where 50% or so are rejected due to flaws in the lacquer finish. The rejects are recycled back through the process. After they pass inspection the lacquer discs are boxed and shipped to the studio for "cutting".
At the studio a cutting engineer uses a computer to accurately record the music onto the disc by etching rough grooves into the lacquer. The sound from your recording is passed through a sapphire-tipped cutter and is etched on to the disc. The music is recorded in real time from start to finish, which creates one continuous groove in the record. This is an art and requires a lot of knowledge. A bad mastering can cause the final record to play off speed or with too much bass or treble. Some engineers from vinyls' hay-day such as Robert Ludwig, "RL" etched in the records dead wax (smooth area after the last track on each side) are revered for their ability to faithfully cut the master disc's lacquer to reproduce the original sound.
At the end of the etching process the engineer inspects their work and when satisfied hand scribes their mark and other identifying information about the recording by hand into the dead wax area. Some parts of this information may also be stamped by machine.
Now the finished lacquer mold goes through a process where it is coated with tin chloride and silver nitrate combination followed by a soap and water bath to wash away any silver residue. This bright silver disc is dipped in a tank of electrically charged nickel to stiffen it up some.
Now the silver and nickel layer is peeled away from the lacquer mold. This new disc is now a perfect ‘negative’ of your lacquer master, with ridges instead of grooves. The center hole is punched and it is mechanically trimmed down to 12.5" diameter. This is now the master disc that vinyl records will be pressed from by the thousands. It is called the stamper. This process now has to be repeated to create the side 2 stamper. Eventually if demand remains strong another master will have to be made due to wear on the original. The records from succeeding masters are referred to as repressings. The sound isn't always the same on a repress as a different engineer may be in charge. A reissue is when the same master is used at a later date for more vinyl pressings.
Now the record labels are punched and trimmed and the poly vinyl chloride is heated and molded in to "biscuits" that are about 3/4" thick and 7" across. a label is affixed to both sides of the biscuit and it is compressed between both stampers at 100 tons of pressure at a temperature of 380 degrees Fahrenheit. The last stop is the trimming knife and finally it's dropped onto a finished stack of vinyl records ready to package with a protective inner sleeve and outer jacket for shipment to your favorite record store.