The $4000 Sound of a New Vinyl Record Made with Old Technology

By Wesley Fenlon

Record label Electric Recording Company uses 1960s technology to produce what may be the best-sounding (and most expensive) vinyl reissues ever.

Audiophiles are willing to spend countless hours, and countless dollars, to achieve musical nirvana. Not just any speaker system will do--the perfect speakers can cost as much as $100,000 a pair. The amplifier can cost another $10,000. And once you drop that kind of money, you can't just listen to MP3s--you've got to go vinyl, with an expensive turntable to boot.

Records, at least, are generally pretty cheap. But Pete Hutchinson, who runs the label Electric Recording Company, is pressing vinyl reissues of classic recordings that cost far more than the average grooved disc. How much more? Well, as BoingBoing writes, Hutchinson's new pressing of Mozart a Paris, by Fernand Oubradous, comes in a 7 LP boxset limited to 300 units and costs £2,495, or about $4,000.

In an interview with The Guardian, Hutchinson said he simply wanted to have the best-sounding records in the world. So what's the difference between a $4,000 record and a $5 copy of some Bee Gees album you'll find in any record store? The remastering process started with restoring equipment that's hardly been used for decades, in order to achieve the purest sound possible.

"The EMI reel-to-reel tape recorder on one side of the room, which had to be fully restored, would have been used at Abbey Road to record the Beatles and the Stones," writes The Guardian. "The mastering console in the centre, also built by EMI, came from Nigeria – but the real find, Hutchison tells me, was the pair of contraptions to our right: a valve-powered tape machine the size of an Aga and a vinyl-cutting lathe, both manufactured by the Danish company Lyrec in 1965. Hutchison found the two machines "shipwrecked" in a council garage in Cheshunt, bought them for £10,000 and spent three years and "10 times" the purchase price rebuilding them with the help of veteran sound engineers Sean Davies and Duncan Crimmins, guided by instruction manuals Davies had kept since the 1970s.

Valve technology all but disappeared in the mid-70s, when the studios switched over to cheaper transistors – a travesty, in Hutchison's view, exceeded only by the subsequent switchover from analogue to digital."

Hutchinson describes the sound produced by transistors as "hard and glassy" compared to the more textured tones of valves. To demonstrate the work that went into restoring the equipment, Electric Recording Company put out a short three minute documentary.

As much money as Hutchinson has put into the sound of the vinyl, he's also dedicated time and effort to the sleeve. Another short documentary shows the letterpressing process used to create a 1950s-style album cover and booklet.

Only diehard classical music fans will have the money to buy Hutchinson's records, but that's okay--they're probably the only ones with sound systems good enough to really hear what that $4,000 bought them.