Heavy Metal Analogue

In order to explain the significance of the following story, some prequels are required.

Prequel #1: I’m one of those people who enjoys an addiction to collecting what other people call “junk” – things you find in flea markets, estate sales, and the like. Normally I only come home with old fountain pens that need to be restored, however, occasionally, I stumble across other things.

Prequel #2: Many people have vinyl records lying around, but not many people know how they’re made. The LP that you put on your turntable was pressed from a glob of molten polyvinyl-chloride (PVC), pressed between two circular metal plates called “stampers” that had ridges in them instead of grooves. Easy of those stampers was made by depositing layers of (probably) nickel on another plate called a “metal mother” which is essentially a metal version of your LP. That metal mother was made by putting layers on a “metal master” (also with ridges instead of grooves) which was probably a lamination of tin, silver, and nickel that was deposited in layers on an acetate lacquer disc, which is the original, cut on a lathe. (Yes, there are variations on this process, I know…) The thing to remember in this process is

  • there are three “playable” versions of the disc in this manufacturing process: your LP, the metal mother, and the original acetate that was cut on the lathe
  • there are two other non-playable versions that are the mirror images of the disc: the metal master and the stamper(s).

(If you’d like to watch this process, check out this video.)

Prequel #3: One of my recurring tasks in my day-job at Bang & Olufsen is to do the final measurements and approvals for the Beogram 4000c turntables. These are individually restored by hand. It’s not a production-line – it really is a restoration process. Each turntable has different issues that need to be addressed and fixed. The measurements that I do include:

  • verification of the gain and response of the two channels in the newly-built RIAA preamplifier
    (this is done electrically, by connecting the output of my sound card into the input of the RIAA instead of using a signal from the pickup)
  • checking the sensitivity and response of the two channels from vinyl to output
  • checking the wow and flutter of the drive mechanism
  • checking the channel crosstalk as well as the rumble

The last three of these are done by playing specific test tracks off an LP with signals on it, specifically designed for this purpose. There are sine wave sweeps, sine waves at different signal levels, a long-term sine wave at a high-ish frequency (for W&F measurements), and tracks with silence. (In addition, each turntable is actually tested twice for Wow and Flutter, since I test the platter and bearing before it’s assembled in the turntable itself…)

Prequel #4: Once-upon-a-time, Bang & Olufsen made their own pickup cartridges (actually, it goes back to steel needles). Initially the SP series, and then the MMC series of cartridges. Those were made in the same building that I work in every day – about 50 m from where I’m sitting right now. B&O doesn’t make the cartridges any more – but back when they did, each one was tested using a special LP with those same test tracks that I mentioned above. In fact, the album that they used once-upon-a-time is the same album that I use today for testing the Beogram 4000c. The analysis equipment has changed (I wrote my own Matlab code to do this rather than to dust off the old B&K measurement gear and the B&O Wow and Flutter meter…)

If you’ve read those four pieces of information, you’ll understand why I was recently excited to stumble across a stamper of the Bang & Olufsen test LP, with a date on the sleeve reading 21 March, 1974. It’s funny that, although the sleeve only says that it’s a Bang & Olufsen disc, I recognise it because of the pattern in the grooves (which should give you an indication of how many times I’ve tested the turntables) – even if they’re the mirror image of the vinyl disc.

Below, you can see my latest treasure, pictured with an example of the B&O test disc that I use. It hasn’t “come home” – but at least it’s moved in next-door.

P.S. Since a couple of people have already asked, the short answer is “no”. The long answers are:

  • No, the test disc is no longer available – it never was outside of the B&O production area. However, if you can find a copy of the Brüel and Kjær QR 2010 disc, it’s exactly the same. I suspect that the two companies got together to produce the test disc in the 70s. However, there were also some publicly-available discs by B&O that included some test tones. These weren’t as comprehensive as the “real” test discs like the ones accompanying the DIN standards, or the ones from CBS and JVC.
  • No, the metal master is no longer in good enough shape to use to make a new set of metal mothers and stampers. Too bad… :-(

P.P.S. If you’re interested in the details of how the tests are done on the Beogram 4000c turntables, I’ve explained it in the Technical Sound Guide, which can be downloaded using the link at the bottom of this page. That document also has a comprehensive reading list if you’re REALLY interested or REALLY having trouble sleeping.