Standards and Innovations
Quality Record Pressings' Mark Huggett explains some of the key features that set QRP apart from all other pressing plants:
The production of the highest quality vinyl records requires control of the myriad, mutually dependent variables in the vinyl record manufacturing process including, timing, pressure and most importantly temperature. As a consequence, QRP's process takes advantage of state-of-the-art technology to mitigate variation in these important factors and provide a consistent, high-quality product resulting in reduced waste and enhanced customer satisfaction.
Temperature Probes in Die
While producing a consistent biscuit of the correct size and temperature is more of an art than a science, it is only the first step in the process of making a record that rivals the subtle nuances of a live performance. If the die is not at a uniform optimum temperature for each step of the process, the resulting record will have non-fill and drag marks which are caused by temperature variations in the die surface and result in a substandard listening experience. QRP makes use of high quality sensitive temperature probes in the die itself to control the pressing and release process. This results in a record that is a more accurate reproduction of the original sound than is available elsewhere.
Through the use of steam and pressure, the die is heated and cooled by induction. Uneven contact between the die and the stamper results in temperature variations that reduce the quality of vinyl records by introducing variations in the width and depth of the individual grooves. Only by ensuring uniform contact between the die and the stamper can consistent quality be produced in each groove of the record. QRP ensures consistent temperature across the entire printing surface of the die by the use of a vacuum system that ensures even contact of the die with the stamper. As a consequence, the listener's needle tracks more smoothly and provides the listener with a more faithful reproduction of the music.
Double Steam Valve
Temperature control is the key to producing the highest quality records. QRP has innovated the use of a unique double steam valve system that reduces die temperature cycle time and provides a finely tuned level of temperature control of the heating and cooling process. Records are produced without the temperature variations that result in unacceptable inconsistencies from record to record in the manufacturing process.
QRP engineers were aware of the negative affect on the record manufacturing process of the minute-to-minute as well as season-to-season changes in ambient temperature, humidity and other aspects of the weather at a record manufacturing facility. Rather than relying on old-fashioned cooling tower technology used throughout the industry, QRP's state-of-the-art facility uses chiller technology to eliminate the impact of these variables that affect the quality of the records. The chillers provided water at a consistent temperature and pressure to all phases of the manufacturing process no matter what the season to eliminate the variations that affect the quality of records produced elsewhere.
Programmable Logic Control
With the variables of temperature, pressure and timing under control, QRP's unique microprocessor system allows both the operator and the engineer a level of control capability and feedback simply unavailable with manual valves and control systems. Second by second, the press operator can monitor and maintain production standards and press systems. From a central display and control system, the engineer can spot and correct variations as they occur. In addition, as the unique physical structure of each press results in small variations in the production process, each press can be finely tuned individually to increase consistency and quality.
Traditionally, the manufacturing environment has always been an inherently dirty place. Dust and other debris in the air not only can affect the quality of vinyl records but also the consistent functioning of the machines that produce them. In the manufacture of vinyl records even the most minute speck of dust or debris can adversely affect the meticulously detailed structure of the grooves in a record. QRP uses stringent clean room protocols to create and maintain a manufacturing environment free of these factors. This results in higher-quality records and less variation in equipment function. QRP's use of a clean room system for the manufacturing environment effectively eliminates the dust and dents found in the products of other facilities.
Just as ambient temperature, humidity and variations in steam and water pressure affect the quality of a vinyl record, so do the minute environmental vibrations from nearby equipment. Unwanted harmonic vibration transmitted to the die during the pressing process causes distortion of the record's grooves and other noise as well as other unwelcome changes in the physical structure of the grooves in a record. QRP's use of a custom-designed press isolation system mitigates the effect of these ambient vibrations resulting in record after record of unprecedented quality and consistency.
Steam Pressure Regulation
Providing steam at the proper temperature to the press is only the beginning. The fine control of steam pressure is vital to the vinyl record process. Within the press itself, steam pressure and therefore die temperature can vary, causing unevenness in the production process. QRP's unique steam pressure regulation system is integral to each press, allowing steam pressure to be delivered and regulated within the press itself. This removes unwanted inconsistencies that affect not only the quality of each record, but all records produced by the press.
Quality Record Pressings General Manager and Plating Technician Gary Salstrom explains some of the key features of QRP's plating department:
Room environment controlled to a consistent temperature and humidity. Environmental consistency is a must when dealing with lacquers. The cut groove is prone to change with high temperature, high humidity and time being the villains. The sooner the lacquer is plated (within the proper parameters) the better the fidelity of the final pressing.
12 Rofory Europa Film
We have 12 Europa Film plating positions. Known for making the most consistent stampers within the tightest tolerances from day to day. These tanks are known to be workhorses in the record plating industry. Each of the plating positions will have been rebuilt to work as new with modifications to the filtration and distribution of solution to the plating surface.
Plate Same Day
Lacquers are slivered and plated on the same day as received. No matter how busy we are, all lacquers will be given the highest priority to help prevent pre-echo or high-end loss. The freshest silver solution and cleanest makeup water possible is used each day.
Low Temperature Pre-Plating
Lacquers are pre-plated in a stationary, low temperature, low amperage plating tank. Low temperature, low amperage plating equals the highest quality of reproduction possible by limiting the possibility of pre-echo or high-end loss and creating the finest grain of nickel at the most important stage in the plating cycle. We also use a proprietary silver spray formulation that is made fresh on a daily basis.
Stamper Tapers and Weights
Our stamper tapers and weights are tightly controlled to consistently match our pressing dies. The taper (thickness from center to edge) is critical in that it must match the taper of the pressing die to enable the vinyl pressing to come out flat. The weight is critical in that mismatched stamper weights can create non-fill and stitching problems. A wide variance in stamper weight can cause a differential in heating and cooling transference from the die through to the stamper surface creating both molding and release problems at the time of pressing.