Pete Lyman

Pete Lyman Infrasonic Mastering

“I love my B2 DAC’s. I have them in both of my rooms. Cutting vinyl lacquers from the B2 is amazing…more focused low end, better stereo field. It seems easier to cut using the B2, and everyone loves the results. One of our most important pieces of gear.”

“When I’m not cutting vinyl, The B2 ADC has a tight sound with amazing stereo imaging. The ability to hit the front-end transformers at different levels has opened up a whole new world for me. You can bury me with this thing!” -Pete Lyman, Infrasonic Mastering

Interview by Rich Williams

Recently at Burl Audio headquarters, we recorded a song with B1/B1D mic pres, and Mothership interface. We then mixed the track through select hardware, straight into our B32 Mix Bus, back into the Mothership. Then we sent the mixed file down to Pete Lyman, of Infrasonic Mastering. Using his B2 Bomber DAC and a Scully lathe built in 1978, he cut our track to lacquer and sent us the disc. All Burl from mic pre to lacquer.

This is an excerpt from a conversation we had with Pete shortly after, over beers and tacos in Los Angeles.

Pete: …The master is an aluminum disc with nitro cellulose lacquer on top. That’s the plate I sent you, the acetate. If you look at the center pin you’ll see the sheet of aluminum through the center. That’s the same material we use to cut the master but when we’re cutting a 12-inch, it gets cut into a 14-inch disc and then it goes through the plating process. It gets cut to a wider disc to provide handling room. Once it leaves Infrasonic Mastering, the disc is sprayed with silver, then put it in a galvanic tank (a charge tank filled with nickel pellets) and the nickel dissolves and adheres to the silver. After a few hours or so they take it out of the tank and peel apart a reverse metal image of the record. Then there is another version of that made, and those are the stampers used to press the test pressing. So what I cut for you is a pre test pressing basically. And that’s the best it will ever sound, there is no noise… nothing.

Are there other processes as well? What’s the other process?

Well, there is direct metal mastering. That’s a whole different mastering process where they cut into a copper disc directly. That eliminates one step of the galvanic process. DMM is good for really long sides and records that need the lowest possible noise floor. The bass response isn’t as good as lacquer so Hip Hop guys aren’t as into it. It’s not as easy to cut loud sides with DMM, and there are very few guys doing it. They do have a few DMM lathes running in Europe and a couple places in the US. In the US the only guys who I know of are at the Church of Scientology. I’ve heard they have two of the last VMS-82s, which were the flagship direct DMM lathes. There were only a handful of them produced.

So all that part of the process (the lacquer to plating) is done at the factory? After Infrasonic cuts the lacquer, it goes onto plating. A lot of factories have their own plating, But some of the smaller factories don’t. Especially in LA, it’s hard to get a permit to do electro plating anymore because of the environmental concerns. Rainbo Records in southern California has their own plating but when you get your record pressed at Bill Smith (also in SoCal) we actually send your lacquers to New Jersey to a company called Mastercraft.

So who are the guys you turned Will onto?

Bill Smith Custom Records, but the plating company is Mastercraft in New Jersey. They’re one of my favorites. I’ve been sending stuff there for years and they send the metal plates to Bill Smith.

So remind me one more time, what’s the tolerance for low end out at the sides? Is there anything we can do ahead of time in the mix to make things easier so you don’t have to do processing?

Try to keep most of the stuff under two or three hundred cycles in phase. So if you have room mics spread wide on the piano, just try to keep some of the low frequency stuff in phase but you don’t have to think about it too much. Centering the low is just something we have to do.

What if for instance you have a bass that was just panned, hard panned.

If it was hard panned and nothing is coming in through the other side, it’s no problem.

Ok, It’s just if it’s the same signal is phasing across, I got you…

That becomes problematic… The way the cutting head works, they call it a 45/45 system, so it’s basically like a V twin motorcycle engine, shaped like a V. There are two coils, similar to guitar pickups or speaker coils that connect to a shaft that hold the stylus. The coils vibrate and push down and sideways so your vertical movement is your center channel and the lateral movement is the sides. Your vertical is M and the sides are the S. And that is how it reproduces stereo. The lower frequencies are usually digging in. So if you have out of phase low frequencies, which typically cause the groove to swing more laterally, it swings it out. If it’s out of phase it’s basically trying to swing both ways, so there is no way one stylus can do that. It lifts out of the groove. You’ll watch the groove go and then all of a sudden it pinches. That is what causes skip. And if phasing is really bad the groove will just disappear.

How do you determine the level?

Level is based on a couple things – primarily on the length of the program on the side and also the potential for distorting. So when I cut your track, I cut it a little hotter but I didn’t cut it like I would cut a dance record. You know, I’ll cut a short dance record like 6 db above standard level.

And the needle can handle all of that?

Yes. The groove on a dance record is about three times thicker than on an LP. It has to be or it will just skip. But with music like that, there isn’t an expectation for it to be cut loud and you don’t want it to distort. Dance music guys tolerate a little bit of distortion because they want it loud. But you have to be careful, certain elements will distort easily, especially in the higher mid-range like horns, and some string instruments. I cut your record maybe a db or two above standard level. No reason to cut it any hotter than that. 3 db above standard would be as hot as I would ever try to cut something like that, and it’s not necessary. The trick is if you have shorter sides you just want to cut it as loud as you can because you want to try to get over the pressing noise. The noise floor for vinyl is not the same as a CD. Especially after pressing.

That was the thing! The first couple of plays we didn’t hear any real noise or anything it was great.

We played those once each just so I could spool them in for digital reference, but you won’t even hear ticks and pops. It’s crazy. The more you play it the more you’ll notice it will deteriorate. You start to loose high frequencies pretty quickly.

How do you like using the B2s to cut vinyl?

I love my B2 DAC’s. I have them in both of my rooms. Cutting vinyl lacquers from the B2 is amazing…more focused low end, better stereo field. It seems easier to cut using the B2, and everyone loves the results. One of our most important pieces of gear. The B2 ADC has become one my most important pieces of analog gear in my chain. Tight sound with amazing stereo imaging. The ability to hit the front-end transformers at different levels has opened up a whole new world for me. You can bury me with this thing!

Just keep cutting, don’t stop.

I couldn’t stop cutting if I wanted to. I’m really excited about getting my Neumann lathe going again. I just wanted to get it back to its original state.

When you have them both working (the Scully and the Neumann) how do you decide what goes on what. Does one do one kind of music better than another?

You know I think I’ll do all the really long sides on the Scully. I’m going to keep my Neumann pretty old school with no preview pitch system. All will be manual. Just have to ride it by hand, which is how I learned how to cut records. So I’ll do shorter sides on it. I’m going to do two different sets of electronics with it. I’ll do the Neumann solid state ones and an old Gotham vacuum tube setup with it. Super rad hi-fi tube thing. It will be pretty special.

What’s the story on the Scully electronics?

They are Neumann electronics, VG66, which are my favorites. I have two VG66 racks. Those are the good 60s racks, there are no IC’s, and they are all really good sounding.

So it’s all discreet circuit paths?

Yep… They are awesome. Some of the other models have lots of ICs in them. I prefer the sound of my racks.