Here at Well Tempered we always advise on checking your test pressings thoroughly before the finished run of artwork copies is pressed.
When Approving Test Pressings you are approving the work that the cutting engineer has done, and also the galvanic process at the plant. But what exactly are you checking for?
Years ago an acetate would be cut by the engineer at the time of mastering, so the artist would be able to check the test press against this. However nowadays it is not financially viable for everyone to do this, so for most artists and record labels a test pressing is the first time that they are able to hear how the mastering engineers work sounds on the vinyl format.
Firstly it is important that you listen to a test press on a turntable that is set up correctly with a clean needle, otherwise you might be hearing faults in your setup rather than what is actually on the recording. The galvanic process from lacquer to test press is a complicated procedure and test pressings are your one opportunity to check this. Your test presses are made from the same stampers as the final run, so will sound exactly the same. More information on this process can be found here
It is important to check that there are no skips or locked grooves in the record, these problems can occur at both mastering stage and during processing. Skips occur more often towards the middle of the record, so make sure you listen to each side from start to finish.
Surface noise can be a problem created during processing. This can be continuous throughout the record or sometimes a short noise sounding like a pop or click – this should not be confused with distortion, as distortion is created during mastering & cutting. If your music is bass-heavy then the cutting engineer could be cutting deeper grooves in the lacquer, making this harder to separate at the plant. The processes used in order to deal with deeper grooves differs from plant to plant but will usually result in a higher chance of surface noise.
Test Pressings pass through a quality control department at the pressing plant and often skips will be detected and resolved prior to them being sent to the customer. Often when listening to a test press the customer will be so focused on listening for skips and pops, and also to the mastering that they will forget to check for the simplest of mistakes. Are the a & b sides labelled correctly? Is the correct catalogue number etched into the runout groove? Is the running order correct?
If you do detect a problem then it is important that you relay your issues as clearly as possible, with time references. Well Tempered have many years experience in resolving problems at test pressing stage and will always make sure that the source of the problem is identified and rectified as quickly as possible.