"High-definition" vinyl is coming to drag your turntable into the 21st century
Austrian company Rebeat is looking to fundamentally change the way vinyl records are mastered, promising to bring what it calls "HD vinyl" to stores sometime in 2019. With the triumphant resurgence of vinyl in recent years as other forms of physical media sales have dwindled, this attempt at "high definition vinyl" is claimed to result in longer playing time, more amplitude than current records, and better sound quality.
Sales trends over recent years have been incredibly clear. People are buying less physical media, and streaming more. CDs still account for a large volume of music sales but they are undoubtedly on the downturn. Vinyl sales, on the other hand, have been slowly growing year by year until, in 2017, Sony Japan went so far as announcing it will be reopening its first vinyl plant in 30 years.
Rebeat first patented its novel vinyl production method in 2016, and now, after an influx of new funding, can finally move ahead and start producing the innovative product. The technique redefines the entire process of record production, from mastering the audio to stamping the vinyl.
The first step converts digital master audio data into a topographical image that represents a 3D inverted surface model of the music. Extra mastering on the data can be done at this stage, and because the exact width of each groove can be evaluated, each record can be optimized to reduce unnecessary gaps in the grooves. This can either extend the playing time of a single side or expand the amplitude to make the record louder with a better signal to noise ratio.
The next stage uses laser engraving to generate a 3D image onto a ceramic plate. Unlike traditional vinyl pressing, which uses a nickel stamper, this process utilizes ceramics that don't wear out as quickly as nickel. Classically, from pressing to pressing, the audio quality of a record diminishes as the plate loses its detail, but Rebeat claims its ceramic plates will be able to press up 10,000 records without beginning to show wear.
HD vinyls will also be backwards compatible and able to be played on any existing turntable, but the company also says it will look into producing its own special turntables designed to best engage with the new HD records in the future.
Rebeat CEO Günter Loibl has announced the first test stamper plates will be revealed later this year, and then hopefully we'll be able to get our first real audio test of what records produced using this process sounds like. At this stage, the concept is still a little theoretical, but the idea of laser engraving vinyl stamping plates from computer-assisted 3D models genuinely sounds like an impressive way to bring the sound of vinyl into the 21st century.
Source: HD Vinyl
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So the question is, with the earbud/bluetooth/relatively cheap speaker systems used by the vast majority of audio enthusiasts, will any of them actually be able to tell the difference with this so-called "HD" sound? Unless it eliminates the hiss common in vinyl recordings, I seriously doubt it.