What is HD Vinyl + Should DJs Care?

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

As first reported on Pitchfork, an Austrian company called Rebeat got a $4.8 million investment to make “HD Vinyl” a reality. It could mean new vinyl pressings are louder, have higher audio fidelity, longer playing times, and might even be cheaper. Keep reading to learn what it could mean for the industry, consumers, and maybe even DJs.

“It offers better sound quality, higher frequency response, 30% more playing time, and 30% more amplitude than current vinyl records. It also eliminates the toxic chemicals currently used in the vinyl mastering process, while completely removing tangential/radial error.

For manufacturers, there’s also no quality gap between the first and last copy produced (no stamper wear).” – from HDVinyl.org

What is “HD Vinyl”?

The original story for “High Definition Vinyl” actually starts in 2016 – when a European patent was filed for the process. The patent talks about “a high definition analogue audio storage medium” (you can read the full thing here) but in short the process discussed is:

  • Use CAD software to model what audio should look like on a record
  • Using a laser to “cut” the modeled audio into vinyl (meaning no special chemicals used like in traditional vinyl processes)

By using a laser and digital based system, the patent and Rebeat claim that they’ll be able to put more information onto a vinyl record than with traditional processes.

Is It Really “HD”, Though?

Now, when a company starts putting “HD” next to a familiar product, it’s fair to be cautious about what they’re claiming. There are no strict requirements around using the term HD – here’s a perfect worst-case example:

Yes, HD glasses are a real product. That doesn’t mean they increase the resolution that your eyes see, though.

A great analysis by Gizmodo on the Rebeat announcement actually digs into the reasons why enthusiasts can be (cautiously) optimistic. You can read the full thing, but in summary:

  • Traditional vinyl pressing goes through at least three physical copies before being pressed to the product is sold to end consumers – with HD Vinyl they cut every ceramic record stamper directly from a master audio file.

  • No serious chemicals are needed for the process as there is no lacquer/electroplating process in HD Vinyl.
  • HD Vinyl claims to be able to add 30-40% more music onto an LP by “optimizing the space between the grooves”

“Due to the high precision laser and wear-less stampers, we can provide what we call ‘perfect groove.’ The shape of the groove on HD vinyls doesn’t change. So it will be possible to produce needles that fit perfectly into the groove, which is not possible yet. The additional content can be used for more volume or better dynamic or longer playing time or a combination of those three.” -Rebeat CEO Günter Loibl, via Gizmodo

  • Multiple industry experts they spoke to (Grado Labs, Pro-Ject Audio Systems, etc) seems to think that this new process holds legitimate promise

Why Invest In Vinyl Technologies in 2018?

Pioneer DJ’s low-cost PLX-500

Vinyl continues to do really well in the consumer market, having hit another yearly high in 2017 according to Neilsen reports. The DJ world isn’t an exception, but the startup cost in playing all vinyl for new DJs tends to be a barrier to entry for many. We’ve seen plenty of efforts from companies like Pioneer DJ really dig into creating low-cost quality DJ vinyl players for beginners – like the PLX-500 series.

But the cost of acquiring new music on vinyl still is a huge limiter for many DJs on budgets who want to spin wax. One of the reasons why vinyl costs so much: there are dramatically few record pressing plants that are capable of the process, and the chemical lacquers that they use can be costly and challenging to source.

The real question is if the market will actually allow lower-cost vinyl to exist with HD Vinyl. In theory, the cost of materials should go down over time, but there’s no discussion of savings in the Gizmodo article:

We asked Rebeat’s Loibl if these records would be more expensive for consumers. He said we should expect that it will be similar to any new media format that comes out. “At the beginning HD Vinyl will cost more because labels will charge more and stores will charge more. But once the catalog of HD vinyls is big enough price will be nearly the same like for traditional vinyl.”

When Will We See HD Vinyl In Stores?

The output from Rebeat is expected to be later this year at the Making Vinyl conference in Detroit in October – with a goal of having actual pressings hit stores by Summer 2019.

Would you be more likely to DJ on vinyl if it were easier to get new music on it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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