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Can someone explain and clarify the level difference between Lacquer and Direct Metal Mastering for an identical recording cut using each method?


Don Grossinger Thu, 03/13/2003 - 10:04

Mikey P,

I work at Europadisk as the mastering engineer & cut DMM (only) every day. I've been here for almost 10 years and have probably cut thousands of sides. I previously cut at Frankford / Wayne Mastering (lacquer only), Trutone Mastering (lacquer only) & Masterdisk Mastering (both DMM & lacquer).

For a long LP side, DMM can cut noticeably louder. This is because the computer that determines spacing between the grooves is MUCH better than the older models on other lathes. It is more efficient at saving space when possible, by closing up excess land & then openning up just enough and just in time for the adjacent groove. How much louder depends on the side length & program content. My absolute record (sorry for the pun) is a 44 min. side of Elliot Fisk playing solo classical guitar. I have also cut a 33 min+ side of Journey's Greatest Hits.

For a shorter 12" side, I cut at a maximum level of +6dB when possible (according to side times & content). This is as loud as I have seen on almost any cut from a lacquer. It is competitive in the dance & Hip Hop communities of today's market.

The other difference is one of quality. DMM holds the high end better. There is less softening of the top end due to groove walls "returning" to a smoother, uncut surface. This can be heard when comparing a master to a copper mother or Reference disc & also shows up on the finished pressing.

anonymous Thu, 03/13/2003 - 13:19

Hi Don,

Thanks for your answer. I'm familiar with the difference of say the VMS70 and VMS80/82 in terms of pitch control and appreciate the reason for extra cutting time and the level that this affords.

However, Australia only ever had one DMM facility and they were not able to cut as loud as what we were cutting on lacquer. At one point they called a meeting of all disc cutters and suggested setting a MAXMUM LEVEL on disc, as they felt that levels were getting way out of control. This was seen as their inability to match the level of lacquer, and so their suggestion was not just unanimously rejected, but laughed at as well. (The guys who laughed hardest ofcourse were the same guys who held the record for the most number of blown cutterheads, but they sure did cut some of the loudest records I've ever heard!)

I see some debate on the 'net regarding DMM vs lacquer and the general feeling again seems to be that lacquer is louder, while the fact that DMM produces other benefits such as a better top end, lower surface noise and greater dynamic range seem to go unnoticed in a world where louder is, for some reason, "better".

Anyway, I'm glad to hear that DMM cuts just as loud as lacquer. Thanks for clearing that up.

Don Grossinger Fri, 03/14/2003 - 06:32

Mikey P.

Well, I guess if you're willing to blow that cutterhead, it is always possible to cut even louder than me (or anyone else). Maybe you can cut louder on lacquer. But folks seem satisfied with +6. EQ really makes a difference I think, making it sound LOUD. Tracking also matters; there are limits.

Anyway, cutterhead rebuilds cost around $10,000 these days for a DMM head & there's only one place in the world that does them. So time is also a factor. I'm not looking forward to having that happen again to me. I did it once. Not fun. Feelings of job insecurity & financial ruin.

Could you send me info as to where to find those threads on DMM on other sites, I'm always into finding out more.

As in the world of CDs (see other threads), loudness seems to be everything these days. I hope sanity prevails eventually.

Gold Fri, 03/14/2003 - 11:01

Originally posted by Don Grossinger:
Mikey P.
But folks seem satisfied with +6. EQ really makes a difference I think, making it sound LOUD. Tracking also matters; there are limits.

In a dBfs world what do you call +6? Do you mean peaks at + 6 on the lathe or +6 relative to 0VU. My D/A's are -8dBfs = 0VU or +4dBu.

Gold Sat, 03/15/2003 - 12:35

BTW. Level per se won't blow a cutterhead. It's too much current drawn by the cutterhead that will do it. The current drawn by the cutterhead has to do with how much top end there is. Above 10k. If you have a track that doesn't have nasty bright filter sweeps or high hats and your cutting a 12" single level doesn't matter. You can slap it silly. I have a 6dB meter offset, to look at level above the standard +3dBVU and I can slap it so it pins with the offset with no problem. At 45rpm even with a 4mil (deep) groove you can slap it even sillier. Finding a phono pre to play it back cleanly is another question.

Don Grossinger Mon, 03/17/2003 - 09:29


You are correct, it's not level but current that stresses things. But I defy you to find a hot recording that does not draw current in conjunction with it's level. Sibilance hurts . Do you draw greater than 1 Amp usually?

It's also a trackability situation that we have to deal with. Realworld setups are not always perfect.

Gold Mon, 03/17/2003 - 11:39

Originally posted by Don Grossinger:

You are correct, it's not level but current that stresses things. But I defy you to find a hot recording that does not draw current in conjunction with it's level. Sibilance hurts . Do you draw greater than 1 Amp usually?

It's also a trackability situation that we have to deal with. Realworld setups are not always perfect.

I find that recordings that get their clarity from the midrange and not above 10k don't draw a lot of current. My point was that on a 12" single since the grooves can be very far apart you can have tons of low end, which will take up a lot of level as long as the track is not too bright. Most of the experienced producers bring in mixes like this. Like the old days where you could roll off above 6k and below 250hz and still have something that sounds like a mix. Not the smiley face curves you see a lot of today.

1 amp is my visual cut off point for current. The high end will distort on playback around there. Especially at the inner diameter. I really try to keep the current draw closer to .5 amps. The records sound better that way. I take sound quality over level unless I'm told not to. If I draw 1 amp on some peaks it's okay. And I do use the high frequency limiters. I play it safe. A blown cutter head is a very bad thing. And there is no reason to do it. You can't come close to playing back someting that will blow the cutterhead. It's the low end that takes up most of the level though.

As far as trackability and level go that's up to the customer. DJ's want screaming loud level. Of course it's harder to track. It's also hard to find a phono pre to play it back cleanly. But that's what is asked for. So that's what I do. I try to do a 3.5 mil groove on 33 1/3 and a 4 mil groove on 45's. Less than 3 mil and trackabilty is a big problem. Over 4.5 mil and trackability is a problem. I know the Ortophon DJ cartridges can't track a 5 mil groove. I think it's so deep that the plastic sits on the record surface.

anonymous Thu, 04/03/2003 - 07:52

I have compared same songs released in different territories cut on both DMM and LACQUER. IMHO DMM is FAR "cleaner" in the mid/top department. However, the DMM-cuts never "seem" to have the same level of "low-end-thump" below 80hz that the lacquers have, many producer-associates I know refuse to cut-off DMM for this reason. Am I living in the past or will lacquer always out-perform DMM in "sub-power"?

Don Grossinger Thu, 04/03/2003 - 11:40

In my experience, and I've done this many times, You can put a vinyl pressing cut DMM on a calibrated TT and the master, with the complete EQ setup, play them simultaniously & hear virtually no difference between the two. The only audible difference will be record surface noise. If you try the same thing while playing the actual DMM Mother, the difference will disappear. (DMM cuts a very quiet record.)

In my experience DMM does not lose low end.

I would invite site members to organize a "field trip" here to demonstrate this & put this rumour to rest.

I'm not saying that lacquer is bad, but DMM is, to my ears, very accurate.

anonymous Thu, 04/03/2003 - 16:55

I agree that DMM does indeed provide a cleaner mid/top end. Because we are used to vinyl sounding a certain way, could the top end of DMM simply be creating the illusion that there is no bottom end?

My first cut from a CD source was the Velvet Underground & Nico's debut album. This is hardly a state-of-the-art recording (rec. 1968). When comparing my cut to the Greg Calbi/Sterling Sound cut, I was horrified! His lacquer cut (from analog tape, presumably) was nice and warm while in comparison, mine was bright and brittle (just like the CD). After repeated plays it was agreed that my lacquer cut from CD was the better of the two - because it actually had top end! The problem was, did we want to re-release this near-classic album onto the market sounding so radically DIFFERENT than ever before??? Well, we did.

As a result of that experience, I would suggest that it is the "pronounced" top end of DMM creating an illusion of "no bottom end" until such time as you get used to it (or look at it on a spectrum analyzer and accept what you see!). Unlike Don, the consumer cannot do an A/B with the master tape - he just has to get used to all this top end that was never there on vinyl before. I for one, quite like it!

Maybe we should point out that this extra top end with DMM has to do with the DMM stylus not being heated, no lacquer spring back, and if i remember correctly, no burnishing facets? Therefore, the high end on tape is not lost in the transfer to disc.

anonymous Thu, 04/03/2003 - 19:48

Surprised not to see any mention of rice crispies, or ther absence, in this thread. All of my LPs of world music in the '60s and '70s were cut on shellac, and they all suffered from rice crispies. Just when Nonesuch was in the process of phasing out LPs in favour of CDs (around '88 or '89), Bob Hurwitz elected to issue my new Balinese albun in all three formats (CD, cassette, and DMM-LP). Bob Ludwig had always cut these Nonesuch albums, but due to the abominable pressing at Specialty Records the finished product always sounded vile, full of rice crispies. I was amazed when I heard the DMM pressing, it sounded *wonderful.*

(Yes, CDs *are* good for something. No rice crispies, no inner groove distortion!)

Salutations, David L

anonymous Fri, 04/04/2003 - 02:28


As a result of that experience, I would suggest that it is the "pronounced" top end of DMM creating an illusion of "no bottom end" [QUOTE]

I am inclined to think the above is probably true. Is it just a coincidence that MEs who have inferred to me "lacquer is sub-sonically-superior" are not set-up for DMM-cutting?..I would equate Mikey P's statement to producers that tell me they prefer non-class-a equipment, in the belief it sounds more "organic". IMO it is the crossover-distortion in the op-amps that creates a "fuzz", leading them to the believe class-a "clinical" due to it's honesty.

Don Grossinger Fri, 04/04/2003 - 04:35

I just wanted to say a big hello & thanks to David Lewiston. I joined up with Masterdisc & Bob just after he cut those records, but being a big fan of Monkey Chants, I found them on my own. They are absolutely wonderful field recordings & I have played them for many folks (with all sorts of reactions).

Although I have never had the good fortune of being able to travel to Bali, the ambience and feel of the place captured by Mr. Lewiston is amaizing.

I did see a large troup of musicians from the island about 7 years ago in performance at the World Financial Center in NYC & it was quite an experience!!

Great stuff & highly reccommended.

anonymous Fri, 04/04/2003 - 11:53

Hello Don

Good to hear from you...


Nonesuch is the throes of re-launching the entire Explorer Series, Africa last Autumn, Indonesia and South Pacific in the past couple of months (including of course Golden Rain with its notorious Monkey Chant side), Central & South America slated for this summer, and hopefully the Himalayan albums in '04.

Bob Ludwig did all the A-D transfers.

Salutations, David L