Most serious vinyl collectors know this rule of thumb of vinyl pressings: without any further information, you want to own the first issue from the country of the original recording. That is most likely to guarantee that you’re getting a copy made from the original master tape. The assumption here is that the original master stayed in-country and copies were dispatched to be mastered, lacquered, plated and pressed elsewhere, with varying results. But a lot can happen between the master tape and final pressing. “There are thousand ways for us to screw up a record even starting from a perfect lacquer, says Rick Hashimoto of RTI in Camarillo, CA. The difference is that we’ll keep at it until we get it right.”
Over time, each country developed its own reputation for quality, or a lack thereof. Japanese pressings, for example, were known for quiet vinyl, that is vinyl with low surface noice, and a better overall sound quality, regardless of the origin of the master tape. In the US, we had wildly varying quality levels depending on all of the factors that go into making a record. This was particularly through the mid-Eighties when vinyl was the most popular format and companies would use recycled vinyl, short pressing times, or poor quality control to keep up with volume. As production volume went down in the Nineties, quality was good as the weaker plants got out of the business, but few were buying those records.
It was in the late nineties that Chad Kassem decided to make a bet on vinyl and bought a number of old presses. Many in the industry looked at it hopefully, but also as a risky venture when others in the industry were moving away from 2-channel audio into home theater. Why would anyone spend money on a dying format? Today, Kassem’s plant QRP (part of Acoustic Sounds) is widely regarded as one of the top pressing plants in the US, along with RTI in Camarillo, CA. Both QRP and RTI are used by many of the audiophile music labels based in the United States.
American Made Audio recently attended the Making Vinyl conference in Hollywood, CA and was reminded just how many pressing plants, big and small, there still are in the US, with new plants opening in Oakland, CA, (Second Line Vinyl); New Orleans, LA (Louisiana Red Hot Records); and Memphis, TN (Memphis Record Pressing), just to name a few who attended the event. Vinyl Pressing Plants lists 31 vinyl pressing plants throughout the United States (and many more globally, if you’re looking for a local source outside of the US).
For those who care about the quality of their vinyl, they often care about where it’s made: individual factories have reputations for their quality, good and bad. Given QRP’s reputation for high quality, Vinyl Me, Please, the subscription vinyl service, created a photo essay of the QRP plant where some of their titles are pressed. Visit it here.