Audiophile Records – What Are They?

Audiophile Records – What Are They?

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rca living stereo audiophile recordsThe term “audiophile” has a number of meanings; one definition we found was, “hi-fi enthusiast: somebody who has an enthusiasm for sound reproduction, especially high-fidelity music recordings.” That’s probably a good overall assessment; it’s someone who has an appreciate for how music sounds.

What are audiophile records? Presumably, “audiophile records” would refer to records that were created for the enjoyment of people who like well-recorded sound.

Or, in short, “records that sound good.” In that case, why aren’t all records audiophile records? After all, no one makes records to intentionally sound bad, do they?

No, companies don’t intentionally make records that sound bad, though many records don’t sound as good as they possibly could.

All record companies intend for their product to be enjoyable for the listener. That said, every record company and every artist has different objectives in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish, and who they’re trying to please when they release a record. Is the goal to make money?

To make sure the artist is pleased with the result? Or to give the listener the best possible experience? Sometimes, these objectives are at odds with one another, and the result is often a record that doesn’t sound as good as it could. While all records could be audiophile records, few of them actually are.

Ideally, all recordings would be made under ideal recording conditions, with the greatest care taken to ensure that the recording produced a realistic reproduction of the music played in the studio. The tapes would then be transferred to production stampers with the greatest of care, and the records would be pressed using quiet, high-quality vinyl and packaged in such a way as to protect the finished disc as much as possible.

In a mass-production record company environment, those results rarely occur, though they are becoming more common as the record companies realize that consumers are now more picky than ever before about how they spend their money.

While most record companies today strive to make a quality product, from recording to final pressing, that wasn’t always the case. In the era of stereo records, we had a period where many, if not most, records produced qualified as audiophile records, then a long period where virtually none of them did. Today, as we enjoy the return of vinyl records to the marketplace, fans of well-recorded music are again able to enjoy listening to audiophile records.

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Early Audiophile Records
Audiophile Records by Design
Sheffield Lab
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
Other Modern Audiophile Records Labels
Japanese Audiophile Records
Audiophile Records Today

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Click here to browse our selection of audiophile records.

Early Audiophile Records

atlantic stereo labelIn the late 1950s and early 1960s, a few record companies, such as Columbia and Atlantic, spent a lot of time trying to make sure that their recordings sounded great and that their finished product was of a high quality. Their albums were well-recorded, with a sense of space and depth that truly immersed the listener in the experience.

Both companies were early adopters in acquiring then-expensive stereo and/or multi-track tape recording equipment. In addition, their records were pressed from quality vinyl, with quiet surfaces that reproduced the music well without producing distracting noise or ticks or pops that often comes with records pressed from poor quality or recycled vinyl compounds.

In the late 1950s, those companies, along with RCA, discovered that those consumers who were early adopters in buying stereo playback equipment had larger than average amounts of disposable income and they set out to make a quality product to appeal to those buyers. That’s not surprising; the cost of a stereo record album in 1960 equates to more than $40 today. Buying a new record back then was not an impulse purchase.

RCA in particular was an innovator in stereo recording, particularly in their classical releases, which were recorded using a three track tape recorder to capture the left, right, and center of the orchestra. These techniques were later used for RCA’s popular recordings, as well, and their records, issued under the “Living Stereo” banner, captured a realism that is still revered by audiophiles today. Many RCA stereo albums from that era command prices in the hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars on the collector market.

This early “golden age” of stereo and high quality recordings didn’t last all that long; in fact, it was over in less than a decade. There were various reasons for changes in the industry, but the result was the mass production of records that, for the most part, didn’t sound that great when compared to what had been available just a few years before.

rca dynagroove - not audiophile recordsThe price of stereo equipment began to drop as the 1960s wore on, and more people started buying stereo records. Their lower-priced equipment didn’t do as good a job of reproducing stereo sound, and RCA compensated for this beginning in 1963 when they introduced their “Dynagroove” process.

Dynagroove attempted to compensate for the deficiencies of consumer-grade equipment by artificially boosting bass frequencies and reducing the overall volume level of the music on the records.

While RCA claimed that the Dyangroove process added “a remarkable degree of musical realism,” the music community disagreed as did many stereo and hi-fi publications of the time.

Unfortunately, RCA continued using this process for all of their recordings for nearly a decade. By the time they stopped using it, they’d already adopted something far worse – Dynaflex, which we’ll cover shortly.

Another mid-1960s process that hurt the sound of records was the Haeco-CSG process, which attempted to correct a problem caused when consumers played stereo records on mono phonographs.

Between 1957, when stereo records were first introduced and sold alongside their mono counterparts, and 1968, when mono records were finally phased out, consumers had to choose either mono or stereo records when they made a purchase. Early mono phonographs could not play stereo records without damaging them, but by the late 1960s, manufacturers were using needles that were compatible with both formats.

The problem during playback was that a stereo record played on mono equipment would artificially boost the sound of any information that was present in both channels of the stereo disc. This resulted in recordings that didn’t sound right, as part of the music, usually the vocals, would play back at a higher sound level than intended.

The Haeco-CSG (“compatible stereo groove”) process attempted to correct this and allowed record companies to produce a record in one format only – stereo, which would play back at the same level regardless of the type of phonograph used to play it.

csg processWhile this was great for record companies, as it allowed them to dramatically reduce manufacturing costs, it was terrible for consumers who appreciated high-quality sound, as the phase-cancellation process used by CSG resulted in “tinny” sounding records with relatively little bass.

Although the CSG process was used for only two or three years, it was often used at the master tape mixing stage, leaving master tapes of albums released during this time by several major record companies (the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic group among them) forever sounding artificially wrong.

While there are now processes available to remove the CSG artifacts from recordings from the 1968-1970 era when it was primarily used, most copies of albums released during that era suffer from poor sound quality due to its use.

By the early 1970s, various record company mergers with other labels and acquisitions by companies with no prior interest in music (such as Kinney’s buyout of Warner Brothers in the late 1960s – Kinney’s primary business to that point was managing parking garages and janitorial services) led to an increased interest in the bottom line and an emphasis on producing greater profits over producing a good-sounding, quality product.

These mergers, combined with a global oil crisis and a relative shortage of vinyl, led to cutbacks in quality across the industry. Many records were lighter in weight and indifferently manufactured, resulting in records with lots of surface noise and a tendency to warp. Making matters worse was the tendency of the record companies to press their records from noisy, recycled vinyl. With new vinyl (and the oil needed to make it) being scarce, companies would grind down their unsold product and reuse it for new releases.

rca dynaflexPerhaps the worst example of this were the records RCA pressed at this time. These were extraordinarily thin pressings were so thin that you could almost fold them in half.

RCA knew these records were of poor quality, but they attempted to sell this obvious step back in quality as a feature, which they even chose to name – Dynaflex. These records were quite flexible, and weighed about half as much as a regular LP.

Dynaflex records sounded terrible and were prone to warping, but RCA actually advertised these pressings as an improvement, going so far as to claim that they were less likely to warp than traditional pressings from heavier vinyl.

While Dynaflex records were less prone to actual breakage than their predecessors, they were more prone to warpage, leading to the derisive nickname, “Dynawarp.” If you were unfortunate enough to buy albums from RCA artists around 1970 or so, you had the double problem of purchasing records by likes of the Guess Who, Elvis Presley or Jose Feliciano that were plagued by the problems of both Dynagroove and Dynaflex. You spent the same money that you used to, but now you received a product with thin, compressed sound on a disc that was more likely then ever to warp.

Adjusted for inflation, records were far more affordable in the early 1970s than they had been a decade earlier. This led to increased sales. Record companies expanded and opened more pressing plants, but this led to yet another decrease in quality. Ideally, to get the best-sounding record, you want to use the two-track master tape to make it.

This isn’t possible, of course, as record companies don’t want to use their only two track master to produce millions of records. The tape would wear out if they did that. So they’d use copies of that tape instead. Sometimes, they’d use copies of copies, with each copy sounding worse than the tape from which it was made. The product was widely available at an affordable price, but the finished product sounded worse than ever.

audiophile records labelAs a side note, there was a small label in operation from the late 1940s through the 1970s that called itself “Audiophile Records.” This label specialized in jazz recordings, and took great care in making sure their records sounded as good as possible.

As far as we know, all of their releases were pressed on red vinyl, and many of their early titles were cut at 78 RPM, as the company felt that speed offered better fidelity. Despite the label’s attention to quality, they were never overly successful, with their records being seen as a niche market.

The 1960s and early 1970s were not a good time for audiophiles, as the mass-produced product of that decade largely resulted in poor quality pressings made from noisy vinyl. It didn’t matter if the albums were well-recorded or not, as they playback was likely to sound terrible regardless of what kind of equipment you were using to listen to it.

Audiophile Records by Design

Sheffield Lab

sheffield labIn the early 1970s, a record mastering engineer named Doug Sax and a musician named Lincoln Mayorga discovered that many of their old 78 RPM singles sounded better than newer recordings. This led to the formation of one of the earliest companies to intentionally produce audiophile records – Sheffield Lab.

Sheffield specialized in “direct-to-disc” recordings, which sent the signals from the artists’ microphones directly to the cutting lathe, bypassing the tape deck (though a tape deck was used as a backup.) These recordings produced records of astonishing depth and clarity and the label’s occasional releases became quite popular in the hi-fi and audiophile community.

There are several problems with the direct-to-disc process, however. Because the music is recorded live to the acetate, an entire album side had to be played and recorded at once, with no opportunity to make corrections later or overdub instruments or additional voices at a later time.

What was played live was what went on the record. Another problem was that the lack of a master tape meant that when the stampers wore out, production of a particular title must come to a stop forever.

Since most artists were, by that time, accustomed to recording in a studio with 8, 16 or even 32 track tape recorders and were more comfortable with a recording process that allowed them to record, and overdub or make corrections at leisure, direct-to-disc recordings were somewhat of a niche product that worked best with small jazz groups, who were accustomed to performing live with limited overdubbing.

A few other labels attempted to produce records using similar direct-to-disc methods, including Century, Direct Disk Labs, Crystal Clear and M&K Realtime, but most of them were out of business by the early 1980s.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Audiophile Records

mobile fidelity audiophile records catalogIn the late 1970s, a company called Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, founded by Brad Miller, decided that it was time to produce audiophile records, meaning records that manufactured to sound good as the music on them, and records intended for people who actually care how their music sounds.

Mobile Fidelity wasn’t new; the company had been founded around 1960 as an outlet for recordings of locomotives for train buffs. The company later expanded to include a few race car recordings, but through the 1960s, they were mostly a company that produced high-quality, but little-noticed, sound effects records.

In the mid-1970s, the owners of the label had noticed that the records issued by the major labels were of relatively poor quality and that they sounded a lot worse than what had been available ten or fifteen years earlier.

They came up with what was then a novel idea to produce higher-quality records than what was then available, allowing listeners to experience well-recorded albums, such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon or John Klemmer’s Touch, as they were meant to be heard.

Miller’s plan was to approach the major labels and license recordings to some of their albums from major artists. They would negotiate, for example, with Capitol Records to release Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon themselves. They would insist on using only the master two-track tape, rather than a copy, or a copy of a copy.

The acetate from which the stampers were made was cut on the lathe using a process known as half speed mastering. Half speed mastering was a process where both the tape recorder playing back the album during mastering and the cutting lathe that cut the acetate from which stampers were made were both run at half of the normal speed, thus creating a more accurate groove in the record. This process, which required special equipment and a lot of extra time, was also thought to improve spatial imaging and bass response in the finished product.

mobile fidelity uhqr audiophile recordsThe company also made the decision to use only new, high-quality, “virgin” vinyl, as opposed to the recycled vinyl that was then in use by nearly every major record company.

The vinyl that Mobile Fidelity used was a proprietary compound made by JVC in Japan called Supervinyl and had JVC manufacture the records in Japan. It was translucent, with a brownish-gray color when held to the light, had exceptional wear properties for repeated play, and had dead-quiet surfaces that allowed you to hear just the music, rather than a combination of music and record surface noise.

Mobile Fidelity sold their records for nearly double the price of that of the major record companies, but enjoyed considerable success in the days prior to the invention of the compact disc. Their records were available in specialty record shops and at hi-fi stores, which often used their albums as demonstration discs.

Mobile Fidelity also declared up front that all of their titles were to be limited editions, claiming that fewer than 200,000 copies of any of their titles would ever be pressed. While this appeared to be an appeal to scarcity to encourage sales, it actually had more to do with requirements from the record companies from whom they were licensing the recordings. Most, if not all, of their contracts had time limitations on them; Mobile Fidelity could only sell a particular title for a specified period of time before they were contractually required to discontinue their sales of that title.

By licensing titles that were already big sellers, such as the Pink Floyd LP, Supertramp’s Crime of the Century, and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, Mobile Fidelity became quite successful, though not all record companies were interested in licensing their product to the label, nor were they interested in having it demonstrated to the public that the records they were selling themselves didn’t sound very good.

In 1982, Mobile Fidelity went a step further in producing audiophile records by creating the Ultra High Quality Record, or UHQR. These records used heavier, 200 gram vinyl, than the regular 140 gram releases from the company. The records were truly flat, unlike regular records, which tended to be thicker in the middle than at the edge. The records were kept in the presses longer than their regular releases in order to produce a better-defined disc. Only eight of these UHQR releases were ever issued, and they were limited to 5000 copies per title and were sold at a then-outrageous retail price of $50.

Other Modern Audiophile Records Labels

nautilus recordsWith the success of Mobile Fidelity, other companies soon joined the trend of releasing mass-produced audiophile records. Some of the early competitors were California-based Nautilus and Nashville’s Direct Disk Labs.

Nautilus produced about 50 titles through the early 1980s, before going out of business due to financial issues with their owner. They did, however, produce noteworthy titles by The Allman Brothers Band, Elton John, and John Lennon, among others.

Direct Disk Labs had best been known for their direct-to-disc releases, but they ventured into the same territory as Mobile Fidelity and Nautilus by licensing titles by Derek & the Dominoes, Elton John and Peter Gabriel, among others.

They only issued a handful of titles, but were noteworthy in that they released titles by artists who recorded for Columbia Records, a label whose products Mobile Fidelity didn’t release. Those titles included albums by Neil Diamond, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Loggins & Messina.

As they were then the largest record company, Columbia Records didn’t see that it made sense to license their titles to other companies who would then try to sell them by suggesting that their products were better than what Columbia was producing, even though that was exactly the case.

So in 1981, Columbia Records decided to make their own audiophile records, releasing both half speed mastered pressings of titles recorded on analog tape and albums using the then-new digital recording process, though the digital titles were mostly classical. These pressings were made entirely in-house, and used a higher quality vinyl than what Columbia used for their regular pressings.

columbia half speed mastered recordsColumbia’s audiophile records consisted of an odd mix of older, classic titles combined with then-new releases.

While Columbia’s titles, which included albums by Bob Dylan, Boston, Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Earth Wind & Fire and others were quite good, many buyers and audiophiles were annoyed by the combination of prices that were double those of Columbia’s regular pressings and by the fact Columbia was effectively choosing to improve a small selection of their products, when they had the ability to improve the quality of their entire product line.

Instead, the more expensive, higher quality audiophile records sat in the same bins as the noisy, indifferently manufactured regular pressings, with both produced by the same company.

In Canada, A&M records started their own line of half speed mastered audiophile records, and had them pressed by JVC in Japan using their proprietary “Super Vinyl.” Many of these titles, by artists such as Supertramp, Styx, the Carpenters, and The Police, were widely available for sale in the United States.

While these records looked a lot like those from Mobile Fidelity and used a similar half speed mastering process, the tapes used to make these audiophile records were at least one generation down in the duplication chain from those used to produce Mobile Fidelity records, resulting in a product with a quiet playing surface but sometimes spotty sound.

With the increased number of companies producing audiophile records, consumers were confused and frustrated by the experience of seeing the same titles sometimes offered in multiple versions at a wide variety of price ranges with little information offered as to what, exactly, they were buying. By the mid-1980s, a glut in the market and the introduction of the compact disc put all of these companies except Mobile Fidelity out of business.

Japanese Audiophile Records

japanese LPWhile all of this was going on, a few people quietly noticed that records imported from Japan tended to always sound better than their American counterparts.

Part of that had to do with the fact that the Japanese record companies always used premium materials in their product manufacturing – the vinyl was of high quality, their cover printing was of high quality and they took great care in the mastering of their acetates and plating of their stampers.

The Japanese record companies even packaged their records using non-abrasive rice paper inner sleeves, instead of the heavy paper used by American record companies that often damaged the discs after repeated play.

In the early 1980s, tens of thousands of Japanese LPs were imported into the United States and sold as high quality “audiophile records.” Many of these titles were pressed in Japan by JVC, the same company that was pressing records for Mobile Fidelity, often using the same vinyl, though rarely the same master tapes.

The importation of Japanese audiophile records was halted in the mid-1980s when the American record companies realized that they were losing money on sales of imported records. Royalty payments to artists are negotiated on a country-by-country basis, with higher rates in the United States and Great Britain than in other countries, such as Japan.

If an American buyer purchased an imported Japanese album of a title that was also available as a domestic pressing, the royalty payment to the artist and likely the profit to the record company itself, would be less.

With the record companies putting an end to the importation of Japanese audiophile records, they then set out to try to get rid of the record altogether, instead promoting the digital compact disc, which had significantly higher profit margins. Unfortunately, audiophiles didn’t care for the sound of compact discs, and many simply stopped buying music altogether as records became scarce in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Audiophile Records Today

analogue productions audiophile LPAfter forcing records from the market in the early 1990s, the record companies found themselves with little product to sell after consumers balked at paying high prices for compact discs and resorted instead to illegally downloading low-quality mp3 files from the Internet.

Realizing that they could still sell physical product if they made something that people felt was worth buying, the major record labels started selling a high-quality product that has long been popular with the public – records.

The public has responded, and today, every pressing plant in the world is running at full capacity.

Today, with the resurgence in sales of vinyl, lots of companies are again making audiophile records. After a brief period of bankruptcy, Mobile Fidelity is back in business, and Warner Brothers Records is selling albums on a Website with the title Because Sound Matters.

Often, these are limited edition pressings cut at 45 RPM (on twice as many discs) to produce even better sound quality than the standard 33 1/3 pressings. Mobile Fidelity is back in business again after a short period of bankruptcy, and other companies such as Classic Records and Acoustic Sounds have stepped in to add to the quality pressings available on the market. Newer labels include names such as Equinox, Analogue Productions and the Electric Recording Company.

The latter company produces painstakingly detailed reproductions of obscure classical titles that are limited to 300 copies only. The titles they choose to release may be obscure, but they’re albums that often sell for upwards of $1000 on the collector market.

Analogue Productions has been producing audiophile records in two versions – a regular pressing that plays at 33 1/3 RPM and a pressing that plays at 45 RPM. The 45 RPM pressings require that a single album be spread over two discs, but the higher speed allows for less distortion and better sound quality. The company is doing so well that they have built their own pressing plant.

Across the board, the overall quality of the records available today is the best it’s ever been. Record companies today are making a determined effort to make their product as good as possible, with careful attention paid to the quality of the mastering process, the quality of the vinyl used in pressing the records themselves and the tapes used in the mastering process.

While sales of vinyl records are the highest they’ve been in twenty five years, the sale of records is still a niche industry, as most consumers purchase digital downloads. As records represent a premium product that sells at a premium price, the companies making records today realize that quality matters more than ever, and if they don’t make a good product, consumers are going to take their business elsewhere.

The term “audiophile records” is really rather vague, and can encompass a wide variety of recordings, both those intended to be of high quality, such as those from Mobile Fidelity, as well as vintage titles that sounded great because that’s how the record companies at that time made all of their products. Nevertheless, if there’s a record out there that sounds great, with a wide soundstage and a sense of three dimensional depth to it, you can rest assured that people will be lining up to buy it.

Records today sound better than ever. If you like quiet vinyl and good representation of the recorded music on it, you may find audiophile records to be to your liking.

Click here to browse our selection of audiophile records.

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Acetates and Test Pressings – Souvenirs of Record Production

Acetates and Test Pressings – What Are They?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailacetates Example of an acetate label[/caption]

Most record collectors, like any other buyers of phonograph records, are primarily interested in commercial releases; that is, copies of records that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold at retail to the public. These are the kinds of records that are likely to comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collections

Serious collectors are usually interested in owning just about anything and everything produced by artists that they admire, and unusual items such as acetate pressings (also known as “acetates” or “lacquers”) or test pressings. These are records or components of record production that were manufactured not for sale, but to evaluate the process of making the commercial record itself.

As both acetates and test pressings are fairly rare, they tend to command a lot of interest in the collector market. While such pressings by any artist are rare, there is generally a lot of interest in acetates and test pressings by artists who are themselves popular with collectors, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and so on.

In this article, we’ll discuss the nature of acetates and test pressings, how they are made, why they are made, and what makes them of interest to collectors.

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Acetates and Lacquers
Uses for Acetates
Collector Interest in Acetates
Counterfeit Acetates
Test Pressings
Collector Interest in Test Pressings
Counterfeit Test Pressings
Conclusion

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Click here to see our selection of test pressings

Acetates and Lacquers

While acetate pressings are usually referred to by record sellers and collectors as “acetates,” the term used to describe them within the industry is “lacquers.” That term makes more sense, as there isn’t any acetate used in the production of these records. For purposes of this article, however, we’ll call them “acetates,” as that’s the popular term used in the record collecting world.

Acetates represent the first step in the physical manufacture of a record, be it a single or an album. While acetates are technically “records” in the sense that they can be played on a turntable or phonograph, they are not pressed out of plastic using mechanical stampers, as are commercial records.

Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)
Acetate cutting lathe (photo credit: JacoTen)

Instead, acetates are individually created using a cutting lathe, which is a device that loosely resembles a turntable. Acetates are lacquer-coated aluminum discs that are entirely smooth when first manufactured. They are “cut” by placing them on a cutting lathe that has a signal fed to the cutting head from either a live audio source or a performance recorded on magnetic tape. As the music plays, the cutting head cuts a groove in the soft lacquer surface.

The lacquer-coated disc rotates while the music plays, and the recording engineer controls the lathe, which must be periodically adjusted to compensate for changes in volume during the performance and to allow for gaps in between tracks.

In the early days of recording, music was played live in the studio and recorded directly to acetate discs. Since the 1940s, most performances are recorded first to magnetic tape and then transferred to acetates at the convenience of the record company.

Once the cutting process is complete, the disc is playable on any turntable to evaluate the performance, if necessary. Due to the softness of the lacquer coating, acetates are not particularly durable and will wear out and become noisy with repeated play. Acetates that are used for evaluation purposes are not generally used for production. Other discs will be cut for that purpose and then will be nickel-plated as part of the process to produce the stampers that will be used to make test pressings and later, records for sale to the public.

Uses for Acetates

Acetates are made for two purposes – to evaluate a recording and its suitability for pressing records and to use in the production of the finished product itself. For production, an acetate is first nickel plated and the plating is removed to create a negative image known as a father.

beatles acetates
A genuine Beatles acetate

This process can be repeated by plating the father to produce a positive image known as a mother. The mother can be duplicated to create stampers. Typically, a father can be used to create about ten mothers and each mother can create ten stampers. A stamper can be used to press anywhere from 300-1000 finished records.

If all of the mothers and stampers are exhausted due to high production, another acetate must be cut and the process repeated.

Acetates are considerably heavier than records of a comparable size and usually weigh two to three times as much. While most acetates do have a label, these are generally generic labels with blank lines intended to be filled in by hand. Information found on the labels of acetate pressings usually consist of the name of the artist, the title(s) of the song(s) and perhaps the date the disc was cut and the timing of the song(s) on the disc.

Lacquer-coated blanks used to cut acetates used to have more than one hole near the center. One was the usual centering hole for the cutting lathe and/or turntable spindle; the other was a drive hole that fit a pin on the lathe to ensure that the disc wouldn’t slip on the lathe. More modern cutting lathes use a vacuum pump to hold the disc in place, making the drive hole unnecessary.

On rare occasions, there is a third purpose for acetates – sometimes, when a record company is in a hurry to get their album or single to radio stations, they will send acetates directly to radio. These are usually supplemented with regular vinyl pressings as soon as it can be arranged, as acetates are entirely unsuited to repeated play, as might be warranted by having them played on the radio.

Collector Interest in Acetates

What is the appeal of lacquers and acetates to collectors? There are a few reasons that collectors might be interested in owning acetates by the artists whom they collect:

velvet underground acetate
An original 1966 Velvet Underground Acetate that sold for $25,000

They’re rare. Obviously, as acetates must be cut on a lathe, one at a time, they are going to be extremely limited in production. In general, there are probably fewer than a half dozen acetates cut of any single or album title. Most will be used for record production, and the process of plating them to produce a father destroys them.

A few others will be used for evaluation or promotional purposes, though it’s relatively rare for acetates to find their way out of the hands of record company personnel and into the public market. Their rarity alone makes them desirable. A popular album may sell in the millions, but only a couple of people are likely to ever have the opportunity to own an acetate copy of that album.

Good sound – Acetates sound terrific. While acetates are not suitable for repeated play on a turntable, they are playable and they usually sound better than the finished records sold at retail. Acetates are cut directly from the tape, where records are made from stampers that are made using multiple plating processes. Each step on the process to create a stamper creates a slight loss in quality, so acetates that haven’t been worn out from too much play will almost always sound better than finished records.

Unique content – Sometimes, artists have acetates prepared of songs just to hear how they sound as a record, though they may not have any intention of releasing them commercially. These may be working versions of songs that are later changed before release or songs that aren’t intended to be released at all.

On other occasions, acetates may be cut of “working” versions of albums, where the order of the songs may not be final. In other cases, one or more songs may appear on an acetate made early in the production process of an album but the final version of that album may not include them, making the acetate a rare collectible. We recently saw an acetate of the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl that was a working version of the album that contained two songs that were not on the finished LP. Those two songs have never been commercially released, making that particular acetate a desirable Beatles rarity.

About two years ago, someone found a box containing nearly 150 Bob Dylan acetates in a building in New York. Many of these acetates contained unreleased songs and/or different versions of songs from the versions that have been commercially released. Several of these discs have been sold publicly at prices in the several-thousand-dollar range.

bootleg acetate
A Pink Floyd bootleg album issued as an acetate

A few bootleg albums have been released in acetate form over the years, simply as a gimmick. The only titles we have seen like this originated in Japan, usually in limited editions of no more than twenty five copies. As producing discs one at at time is both expensive and labor intensive, product of bootleg acetates as a commercial product is not a very common practice.

Prices for acetates can vary widely, depending on the artist and the content. Obviously, the more collectible the artist, the greater the interest from the collecting community. While all acetates are rare, collectors will be more interested in (and pay higher prices for) examples that feature unreleased material or versions of songs that are not otherwise available.

An acetate of an album by an artist that isn’t particularly collectible might sell for $10 or even less. On the other hand, an acetate containing unreleased material by a well-known artist might sell for thousands of dollars. About ten years ago, an acetate containing rough versions of the material that became the first album by the Velvet Underground sold for more than $25,000. That material has since been released commercially.

An acetate of Elvis Presley’s first recording sold for $300,000 in 2015 to musician Jack White of White Stripes fame.

Counterfeit Acetates

beatles counterfeit acetates
A counterfeit Beatles acetate

Unfortunately, in the collecting world, nearly anything of value has been counterfeited, and that includes test pressings and acetates. They’re rare, they’re in demand, and they can sell for a lot of money, and that has led unscrupulous individuals to create acetates that appear to be original, record company-produced products but are actually homemade items that have no inherent value.

While counterfeit acetates exist for a number of artists, the most common artist represented by these discs is the Beatles. Many of these fake discs have labels that say either “EMIDISC” or have a representation of the Beatles’ own Apple label.

Since legitimate Beatles acetates turn up infrequently, few potential buyers have enough experience to be able to determine if an item offered for sale is a legitimate item or a counterfeit.

Many of these counterfeits have been artificially aged to give them a look of authenticity, and a number of them have sold for three and four figure prices at auction. The best advice we can offer to potential buyer is to know your seller and to get a guarantee when you make your purchase.

Test Pressings

test pressings
A sample test pressing label

Along with acetates, collector also have a lot of interest in records known as test pressings. It’s not a clever name; a test pressing is exactly what the name suggests – a record manufactured for the express purpose of evaluating the finished product.

Test pressings might be manufactured for the purpose of listening to material that is being considered for commercial release or they might be made as a test of production stampers for a finished commercial record.

Unlike acetates, test pressings are vinyl records pressed from stampers and are physically virtually identical to commercially available records. The only difference is that test pressings usually have custom labels similar to those found on acetates. These labels might have the words “test pressing” pre-printed on them and may include blank lines that can be filled in by hand to indicate the name of the artist, the title of the album, the catalog number and perhaps the date of manufacture.

Like acetates, test pressings are occasionally sent out to radio stations for promotional use if the production discs aren’t yet ready, but most of the time, they’re simply used to evaluate the finished product. This would include making sure that the record contains the correct and intended versions of the songs on it, that the sound quality is acceptable and that the playing order is correct.

Test pressings are usually found without printed covers. They are usually packaged in plain white covers. Often they will be accompanied by a “label copy sheet,” which is a sheet of paper that contains the information that would ordinarily be printed on the label of a finished album – the album title and catalog number, the name of the artist, song titles and running times, the name of the record company and publishing information for the songs themselves.

Collector Interest in Test Pressings

Collectors like test pressings for many of the same reasons that they like acetates. While they are made further along in the manufacturing process than acetates, test pressings are usually the first discs made from production stampers, so they will likely sound better than commercially available, or “stock” copies of the records sold in stores.

Scarcity – Test pressings, like acetates, are also relatively rare. While acetates may be unique or limited to just a couple of discs, test pressings are usually manufactured in larger, though still limited, quantities. Unless test pressings are made to be issued as promotional copies, they are generally limited to no more than twenty copies, though the number of discs manufactured can vary widely.

A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
A colored vinyl album by the Doors, issued only as a test pressing
genesis test pressings
A test pressing of the unreleased Genesis live album

Alternate or unreleased material – Like acetates, test pressings sometimes contain either unreleased material or songs that are different in some way from the commercially available versions of that particular album. The 1972 Beach Boys album Holland was originally intended to include a song called “We Got Love,” but the record company was unhappy with the song selection. The group recorded a song called “Sail On, Sailor” that was used in the place of “We Got Love” on the commercial release. A few test pressings of the earlier version exist and are of great interest to Beach Boys collectors.

A few test pressings of Bob Dylan’s 1975 LP Blood on the Tracks exist with different songs from the released version. The album was close to its release date when Dylan decided to rerecord a large portion of the album. Reportedly, only five copies of the test pressing of the original recording are known to exist. One of them recently sold for $12,000.

Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a printed gatefold cover that was blank on the inside and which featured the name of the artist and the title of the album in a font that looked like handwriting, rather than the block print used on the final version. Several hundred of these “script cover” test pressings were sent out to radio stations and are quite sought after today, usually selling for upwards of $1500 when they’re offered for sale.

The first live album by Genesis, 1974’s Genesis Live, was briefly intended to be a two record set but was ultimately released as a single album. A few test pressings of the two record set were made in the Netherlands. This set includes material that has otherwise never been released, and the few copies that have turned up over the years have sold for as much as $4000 at auction.

The audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released eight titles in the early 1980s as Ultra High Quality Recordings, or UHQR, as they are known. These titles were made using a then-uncommon heavy-weight 200 gram vinyl pressed with a special “flat” profile that the company did not use for their regular pressings. All eight titles were limited to 5000 copies for commercial sale. The company also made test pressings of a handful of titles that they were considering releasing in the UHQR format, but which they ultimately decided not to release.

These titles included all thirteen of the UK Beatles albums, along with A Trick of the Tail by Genesis, Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, and The Grand Illusion by Styx, among others. These rarely-seen test pressings usually sell for upwards of $1000 each on the rare occasions when they are offered for sale.

Unreleased albums – Occasionally, artists will complete an album with the intention of commercial release, only to have the release canceled for any one of a number of reasons. These unreleased albums usually exist in the form of test pressings, and sometimes they turn up for sale.

One good example would be Läther, by Frank Zappa. The album, intended as a four-record set, was recorded in 1977. Zappa’s record company rejected the finished album, though test pressings exist. The album was finally released officially in 1996.

Another unreleased Zappa album, Crush All Boxes, was intended for release in 1980, but was scrapped in favor of releasing You Are What You Is instead. At least one test pressing is known to exist of that title.

Counterfeit Test Pressings

While counterfeit acetates are fairly common, counterfeit test pressings are not. We have seen a few examples over the years, including the original version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The most common counterfeit test pressings would be for titles that were otherwise unreleased. Buyers should exercise due diligence when considering a purchase, but as a rule, counterfeit test pressings are relatively uncommon.

The nice thing about test pressings is that they are physically no different from a commercially available album, which means that they can be played as often as any other record. Most collectors don’t buy them to play them, however; instead they tend to buy them as a collectible item in addition to the regular version of the album.

Acetates and Test Pressings Conclusion

While acetates and test pressings could hardly be regarded as something that every collector might find essential, they are unusual and interesting items to add to one’s collection. They’re relatively rare, they usually offer superior sound, and they occasionally offer access to material that otherwise might not be commercially available.

Click here to see our selection of acetates
Click here to see our selection of test pressings

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Record Articles

We have written a number of articles about various aspects of record collecting. We hope you find them to be helpful.

Why do people collect vinyl records? – An explanation about record collecting.

Acetates and Test Pressings – What are they?

Audiophile Records – Albums made to sound better than regular pressings

Beatles Albums – Information about Beatles albums from around the world

Bootleg Records – Unauthorized pressings including live albums and ROIR pressings

Butcher cover – The story of the Beatles’ most notorious album – Yesterday and Today

Colored Vinyl – Information about records pressed on some color of vinyl other than black

Counterfeit Records and Pirate Pressings – Information about fake rare records

Japanese albums – Why collectors seek out records from Japan

Lesley Gore records – We have a large collection of albums, singles and more by the singer.

Most Valuable Vinyl Records – The Top 10 Rarest Albums That Were Sold in Stores

Picture Discs – Information about picture discs and their history

Pink Floyd Albums – An overview of unusual records by one of the world’s most collectible artists

Stereo Records and Mono Records – Why collectors prefer one or the other

Vintage Vinyl Records – 9 Reasons Why Collectors Like Them – The reasons collectors might prefer vintage records over new ones

Vinyl Record Collecting Glossary – A collection of useful terms related to records and record collecting

Vinyl Record Storage and Care – Taking Care of Your Investment

Vinyl Records Value – What determines what your records are worth?

White Label Promo – Information about promotional releases

 

Blondie – Parallel Lines 1978 Dutch clear vinyl LP

Blondie - Parallel Lines 1978 Dutch clear vinyl LP

Offered for sale is a limited edition clear vinyl pressing of Parallel Lines by Blondie, issued in the Netherlands in 1978.

Parallel Lines was Blondie’s third album, and the one that turned them into stars.  With the help of the hit “Heart of Glass”, Parallel Lines reached #6 on the U.S. album charts and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

Allmusic.com gave Parallel Lines a rare 5 star review:

Blondie turned to British pop producer Mike Chapman for their third album, on which they abandoned any pretensions to new wave legitimacy (just in time, given the decline of the new wave) and emerged as a pure pop band. …The result is state-of-the-art pop/rock circa 1978, with Harry’s tough-girl glamour setting the pattern that would be exploited over the next decade by a host of successors led by Madonna.

In the late 1970s, record companies around the world discovered that collectors were interested in colored vinyl records (and would gladly pay a premium price for them), so they issued a number of then-new and older titles as limited editions on colored vinyl.

A number of these titles were issued in the Netherlands, where colored vinyl albums by David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, Blondie, and others were released.

About this copy: This copy of Parallel Lines is a limited edition clear vinyl pressing, issued in the Netherlands in 1978.  This record is the original version of the album that plays the short version of “Heart of Glass,” rather than the longer “disco version” that later became a hit.

The cover retains its original shrink wrap and still has the hype sticker that says “Special Edition Pressed on Colored Vinyl.”

The cover is M-, aside from a tiny bit of wear at two corners.  The original lyric inner sleeve is included and it has no splits.

The record is near mint and appears to have had little, if any play.

A beautiful copy of a terrific album and about as nice a copy as you’ll ever see.

Kiss – Destroyer original Japan LP with obi

Kiss - Destroyer original Japan LP with obi

Offered for sale is an original Japanese pressing of Destroyer by Kiss, including the obi, insert, and gatefold cover.

Released as their fourth studio album, Destroyer, released in 1976, was the album that finally got Kiss their first hit.  Granted, it was “Beth,” a ballad, rather than the hard rock for which the band was known, but the album sold well and received a fair amount of airplay.

Allmusic.com gave Destroyer 4 1/2 stars:

The pressure was on Kiss for their fifth release, and the band knew it. Their breakthrough, Alive!, was going to be hard to top, so instead of trying to recreate a concert setting in the studio, they went the opposite route. Destroyer is one of Kiss’ most experimental studio albums, but also one of their strongest and most interesting. Alice Cooper/Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin was on hand, and he strongly encouraged the band to experiment — there’s extensive use of sound effects (the album’s untitled closing track), the appearance of a boy’s choir (“Great Expectations”), and an orchestra-laden, heartfelt ballad (“Beth”). But there’s plenty of Kiss’ heavy thunder rock to go around, such as the demonic “God of Thunder” and the sing-along anthems “Flaming Youth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “King of the Night Time World,” and “Detroit Rock City” (the latter a tale of a doomed concert-goer, complete with violent car-crash sound effects). But it was the aforementioned Peter Criss ballad, “Beth,” that made Destroyer such a success; the song was a surprise Top Ten hit (it was originally released as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City”). Also included is a song that Nirvana would later cover (“Do You Love Me?”), as well as an ode to the pleasures of S&M, “Sweet Pain.” Destroyer also marked the first time that a comic-book illustration of the band appeared on the cover, confirming that the band was transforming from hard rockers to superheroes.

About this copy: This copy of Destroyer is an original 1976 Japanese pressing, featuring a gatefold cover and the original obi and lyric insert.  This version features the then-current dark blue Casablanca label and the album includes the short instrumental track “Rock and Roll Party” which was untitled on original pressings an deleted from some later ones.

The cover is VG++, with just traces of wear at the corners.  The disc is M-.  No poster.

A nice copy of a hard to find Japanese Kiss album.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a popup window)

Zombies – Odessey and Oracle sealed 1968 LP

Zombies - Odessey and Oracle sealed 1968 LP

Offered for sale is a sealed copy of the final album by the Zombies, Odessey and Oracle.

The Zombies had a couple of hits in the mid-1960s in the U.S., including “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There.” After that, the hits dried up, and the band decided to call it quits after recording Odessey and Oracle in 1967.  The album was released in Britain that year and wasn’t released in the U.S. until the following year, by which time the band was no longer together.

Oddly enough, the album spawned a hit single in the U.S. with “Time of the Season,” which reached #1 on the charts, but as the band wasn’t available to promote it, the album sold relatively poorly and was deleted not long after.

There were two versions of the cover for Odessey and Oracle; the first version featured artwork that stretched completely across the cover.  The later version had a border hyping “Time of the Season.”

AllMusic.com gave Odessey and Oracle 5 stars:

Odessey and Oracle was one of the flukiest (and best) albums of the 1960s, and one of the most enduring long players to come out of the entire British psychedelic boom, mixing trippy melodies, ornate choruses, and lush Mellotron sounds with a solid hard rock base.  Not all of the album is (as inspired as “Time of the Season”), but it’s all consistently interesting and very good listening, and superior to most other psychedelic albums this side of the Beatles’ best and Pink Floyd’s early work. Indeed, the only complaint one might have about the original LP is its relatively short running time, barely over 30 minutes, but even that’s refreshing in an era where most musicians took their time making their point.

About this copy: This copy is a still sealed copy of the second issue of Odessey and Oracle, with the “Time of the Season” border.  The record is presumably new and unplayed.  There is a cut corner in the upper left hand corner of the cover and a 2″ tear in the wrap there.  There is very slight wear at the corners.

A beautiful copy of a great album, and the first sealed copy we’ve seen in decades.

This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a popup window)

Johnny Mathis – Johnny’s Greatest Hits sealed Columbia 2 eye label LP

Johnny Mathis - Johnny's Greatest Hits sealed Columbia 2 eye label LP

Offered for sale is a sealed stereo mid-1960s pressing of Johnny Mathis’ classic 1958 release, Johnny’s Greatest Hits.

It’s hard to believe today, but when it was released in 1958, Johnny’s Greatest Hits, by Johnny Mathis, was the first-ever greatest hits album.  Not only that, but the album stayed on the Billboard album charts for nearly ten years – 490 weeks, second only to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Original releases of the album were mono-only, and released on Columbia’s “6 eye” label.  Sometime later, a rechanneled stereo issue was released.  The copy offered for sale is a sealed rechanneled stereo pressing, issued on the mid-1960s Columbia “2 eye” label.  The record is still sealed in the original perforated inner sleeve and is unplayed and presumed to be perfectly mint.

The cover is VG++, with just a bit of wear on the edges.  This is a nice vintage copy of a classic album.

Blackfield – Blackfield II sealed original 2007 LP

Blackfield - Blackfield II sealed original 2007 LP

Offered for sale is an original, still sealed copy of Blackfield’s 2007 album, Blackfield II, featuring Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen.

Porcupine Tree founder/singer/writer Steven Wilson is a busy guy – besides his work in PT, he’s found time over the years to record ambient music as Bass Communion, Krautrock-esque material with IEM, pop work as No Man, some solo stuff, and several albums worth of collaboration with Israeli singer Aviv Geffen as Blackfield.  The Blackfield releases are melodic, but a little less heavy and progressive than the Porcupine Tree material.

AllMusic.com gave Blackfield II four and a half stars, saying:

The sophomore release for this melodic duo (actually a five-piece band, but the leads are Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen) based to some degree on the progressive bent of Porcupine Tree covers much of the same ground as their debut. The sound is still firmly in the realm of progressive rock, with hints of Radiohead and Oasis. Unlike Blackfield’s previous album which was recorded off and on over a two-year span, this one was recorded in one short stretch, and shows somewhat more consistency in tone as a result. The album-opening “Once” has a particularly Radiohead-like vibe and a bit of heaviness, but the development of the album works into other veins as well, with large string movements, light piano accompaniment, and a generally melodic guitar approach. Somewhat ’80s-influenced sounds come and go slightly, a touch of Pink Floyd comes through now and then (particularly on “Christenings”), and a general melancholy hangs over the album as a whole. Aviv Geffen has taken a larger role in lead vocals here with good effect (particularly in a handful of tracks he had composed, eventually translated from Hebrew). The overall effect is a fine one — Blackfield II has more of what fans of the duo will enjoy and makes a fair introduction for newcomers, although debut album would serve them better as a first listen. The short nature of Blackfield II (coming in around 42 minutes) will almost certainly have some of the fans wishing for more.

The copy offered for sale is a still sealed example of the long-out-of-print limited edition vinyl pressing, issued in 2007 on the now-defunct Gates of Dawn label.  The album is still sealed in its loose perforated wrap, with no rips, tears, dents or anything else to detract from it.

A great sealed copy of a terrific album.
This record is eligible for PayPal Credit financing by PayPal. U.S. customers may choose to pay later at checkout, and may receive up to six months financing with no interest. Click the banner below for more information. (opens in a popup window)