Want to make a record?
The Desktop Record Cutter promises to let users cut vinyl and/or vinyl-like records within the comfort of their own home. This tiny, modern record lathe is a fraction of the size and cost of a professional lathe like the $50,000 Neumann VMS. The Neumann is several hundred pounds and uses huge vacuum systems, helium tanks, and a mountain of control gear. The Desktop Record Cutter is only a little larger than your average turn table, cuts vinyl in real time (kind of like dubbing a tape), and has a projected sale price of $6,500 “I was initially building the DRC just for me,” Paul Tayar, 33, the primary developer for the DRC, said. “As it evolved, I saw potential for it to be scaled up to a point that everybody could have one on their desktop, next to their 3D printer and tablet.”
The traditional way to get your band’s music on vinyl is to send it to a pressing plant. The plant transfers that unlistenable garbage onto a soft, waxy thing called a lacquer (lacquers are actually toxic and flammable to the point of being explosive when cut, so they’re not exactly something you’d want on your desktop). The plant then uses the lacquer to create metal stampers, which actually make your records in the vinyl presses. It usually takes months, thousands of dollars, and requires a minimum order in the hundreds. The DRC uses a diamond cutting stylus to cut whatever music you want directly into a variety of materials, but is geared toward the use of plastic blanks. The plastic records cut using the DRC will play longer than anyone could bear to listen, according to Tayar.
The Kickstarter for the DRC has blown its goal out of the water, raising over three times as much as its stated goal of $10,000. One key element to its success is the promise that all funds will be used to expand production and reduce the selling price, something that is restricting interested parties from buying the desktop lathe. “If we can get enough support, we can scale up production and bring the costs down substantially,” Tayar said. “Even without this, we are working on making The DRC obtainable for the everyday user and have slated development of a consumer model.”
Scotty Heath, 36, owner of Tankcrimes Records, thinks that with label backing a band could use the DRC to keep up with the fast-moving digital world, creating social commentary while issue are still red-hot. “It would be so cool if a band released an actual record right after Ferguson. It’s so easy to write and record a hardcore song with home recording, but it takes forever to get records pressed,” Heath said. “With something like this you could really have your finger on the pulse. No one is doing that because everyone wants something physical. Maybe the DRC could fill the gap.”
The one thing holding Heath back? The price and cost of materials to run the machine. As much as he want to create vinyl mixtapes for his friends, or limited edition records for specific shows, he’s going to wait for a price drop. There are actually already a couple similar products on the market, although they remain hidden deep within the lathe troll community so very few people own them. Vinylium out of Switzerland offers the Kingston Dub Cutter at a similar price point and there’s a German guy named Souri who sells a machine called the Vinyl Recorder.
Michael Dixon, 35, is a lathe cut record maker and owner of PIAPTK Records. He visits libraries and schools to give presentations on the history and science of sound records. He also does live lathe record cutting performances with vintage lathes for parties. He is considering buying a DRC for personal use, but doesn’t think the machine is anything groundbreaking or revolutionary. “I don’t think this is any kind of game changer, at least from where I sit. Other lathes have been available before, and the costs to buy and run them have been, and are, too high. There will probably be more places popping up for people to buy hi-fi single one-off dub plates, but it’s not going to revolutionize the industry and allow every band in the world to easily release their own vinyl record, or allow vinyl nerds to stop shopping at record stores,” Dixon said.
According to Dixon, the DRC method of cutting polycarbonate plastic blanks ($6 each) using a $300-$400 diamond stylus that you would be lucky to get 50 records out of makes each record end up costing about $12. And that’s for a blank record without packaging or a cover. “Figuring in the time and money involved, this is not particularly cost effective for your average music fan,” Dixon said.
The cutting head, the most difficult technical hurdle to overcome when building these machines, is another issue. The one shown in the DRC Kickstarter video is a 1940s Audax mono head. There is currently no stereo cutting heads available to purchase, so Tayar has teamed up with a company to develop their own cutting head. “It may take some time to refine the head to the level of a Neumann but we are confident in achieving good results in the short term,” Tayar said. Dixon, who was sure to mention that he really was impressed with the engineering of the product, wasn’t so sure about that short time frame. “The devil is in the details on these things, and it would not surprise me at all if it took 3-4 years before these lathes were mass produced and ready for purchase,” he said.