Sadly this is not April 1st, and this is not a joke. The Banning CA facility housing Apollo/Transco lacquer manufacturing burned today and is apparently a total loss. More than 80 firefighters fought the dangerous chemical-laden fire. I haven't had a chance to get into the story details but hopefully no one was seriously injured in the blaze.

This leaves but one lacquer producer in the world: Japan-based MDC. Whether or not Apollo/Transco plans on rebuilding or whether California with its stringent environmental protection laws will even allow it, remains to be seen. It's not going to be easy even if Apollo/Transco plans on rebuilding because there's no "off the shelf solution and will take quite a bit of time in any case.

That leaves DMM for those who aren't MDC customers. That company fielded calls from around the world telling anxious potential customers that it was not able to take on any new business.

This is a major catastrophe for the vinyl-loving community.

Anton D's picture

Most importantly, hoping no one harmed.

Then, we can mourn the lost vinyls.

I even feel badly for MDC. I am sure they hate to have to tell people they can't help them.

Severe bummer.

pnuts's picture

Very sad news. However, I read that it sounded fantastic!!!

MalachiLui's picture

...and there are no reports of injuries.

hiwattnick's picture

Thank you, Malachi for already reading the article, and letting us know right off the bat, that apparently no injuries have taken place. This is nonetheless still terrible news, but once again, at least people are alright.
Still a huge loss for the vinyl community.

samman's picture

Could someone go into a little more detail for us lay people. Based on the story, it appears that there are only TWO places in the world that produce lacquers for vinyl pressings. Do I have that correct? I thought places like Chad's AP produced everything in house? So the only place the whole world has left for producing records is Japan? DMM or Direct Metal Mastering? I'm confused. Someone explain this process to me. And if this is true, why in the hell hasn't another company started up years ago in the wake of the vinyl resurgence? Apparently there's for more players in this field.

Timbo21's picture

I'm an ex-cutting engineer from the UK. We only ever used Transco lacquers. Lacquers contain an aluminium core. Pressing plants obviously are not set up for it. Completely different coating in any case since lacquers are soft and designed for a heated cutting stylus to cut like a hot knife cuts through butter. It's no doubt not been worthwhile for pressing plants to get into when you think thousands of LP's are made from a single lacquer.

Timbo21's picture

DMM bypasses the silvering process since you cut directly onto copper. There are advantages and disadvantages. You can't cut as loud onto DMM because it can't cut as deep as lacquer, but you get cleaner cut because you've bypassed the need for electroplating that covers the lacquer with a metal coating, and you don't get groove degradation with DMM. DMM is very good for albums, especially long sides. Not great for louder cuts such as dance 12" singles

Timbo21's picture

You also need a special lathe. You can't have a dual lacquer/DM lathe. DMM is pretty rare, especially these days. Most vinyl mastering houses don't have them

shawnwes's picture

The lacquer manufacturing equipment would have to be designed & built from scratch. It's not like you can order up a lacquer production line like you can a Warm Tone lp press.

Timbo21's picture

Most cutting houses don't have DMM . You can't have dual DMM/lacquer lathes. They are pretty rare these days. They weren't that common in the first place. DMM gauges out copper which ends up like wire wool. Completely different cutter head and stylus, too. IIRC DM uses diamond and lacquer sapphire.

shawnwes's picture

More convenient but generally not the same quality esp listening through a high end cartridge.

abelb1's picture

So there were only two producers of vinyl lacquers in the whole world, Transco and MDC, and we just lost one? This sounds bad. I always wondered where blank lacquers came from, and I had no idea there were so few suppliers. This is very bad news. I hope no one was hurt, and I hope others can spring up the same way new pressing plants have since the start of the vinyl revival.

ArcAudio's picture

I'm sure prices will go up across the board from current suppliers to audiophile labels.

PAR's picture

...if due to the lack of lacquers and cutting stylii the whole business folds. That could be a real risk not only at the production end but it may be that any resulting extended lead time for new releases will make it unattractive to the record labels. Imagine if you have a hot new album out on silver disc, available for streaming and download and you find out the earliest a vinyl release can be is 18 months in the future due to the lack of available lacquers.

ArcAudio's picture

From current suppliers, the cost will go up...thus the labels will pass on to the consumer. Especially in the US.

PeterPani's picture

than make something new. Come on somebody and make audio analog laserdiscs. Still the best sounding analog source. And I have nearly all 15 ips commercial tapes at home and play them on an Revox with high quality tubed preamps. Regarding sound quality vinyl comes third, for consumers reel comes second, but laserdisc first. So, please some company jump in!

fredbro44's picture

I wonder if record pressing plants have a backup of lacquers in stock for the short term.

adw's picture

Though the comments have been hugely informative, in my opinion, on this question; though Michael has already characterized this event as a major catastrophe for the analog community, might Michael, at his convenience, further address the implications of this event from his perspective, perhaps after summoning opinions from his many contacts, including within the community of turntable and related equipment manufacturers, who presumably have a very deep interest in this calamity indeed?

Michael Fremer's picture
Working on that
adw's picture

Thank you!

Fluxus's picture

Apollo/Transco provided somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of the lacquers used by the entire industry, depending on the source. MDC hasn't taken on new clients in years, running right at the bleeding edge of their capacity. And there are no DMM cutters in the US, and maybe a dozen in Europe.

Apollo is/was also the sole source of cutting stylii, and that will affect everyone over time, even those using MDC lacquers.

This doesn't add up to higher prices--it adds up to a massive roadblock right at the beginning of the record production process. No lacquers, no new records, once the current stock of lacquers pressing plants are holding have been used. Then they're running on represses only.

Even if one estimated that 20 percent of the manufacturing chain was still functional, between MDC supplies and DMM operations, what happens to the industry at large when 80 percent of it (which was already often operating right at capacity) can't work? The questions that "new" raises above unfortunately fall into place behind that: with little functional industry left other than represses and the used market, and the vinyl renaissance will likely dry up in a year or two, all the way up and down the line from ma and pa vinyl shops to turntable design.

Mathew006's picture

I don't know what "MDC" stands for but the company's name is "Public Record"
Actually lacquer manufacturing process requires stringent washing conditions like semiconductor industry.But business scale of lacquer is much smaller and ROE would be LOW.So it's not easy for newcomers.

MarcovS's picture

One out of two lacquer manufacturers, but the one and ONLY manufacturer of cutting needles as well it seems...

MarcovS's picture

one out of 2 manufacturers from lacquers but the one and ONLY manufacturer for cutting needles it seems...

PAR's picture

The subject of the small number of lacquer manufacturers was discussed by Michael in one of his show reports last year. The discussion also turned on the possibility of investing in a new plant. Mikey, now's your chance!

If marcivS is correct that Transco were also the only source of cutting stylii then this could mean curtains for new vinyl cut in the traditional way.

Last week this online magazine carried news of the new board of the Vinyl Alliance ( a trade body for the vinyl industry). Someone has already mentioned the likely poor return on investment for anyoine setting up a new lacquer production facility . Maybe the vinyl alliance could get its members to stump up to build one cooperatively on the basis that if they don't they are quickly going to go out of business.

cement_head's picture

Glad no one was hurt. But doesn't this underline the problem of having just one facility in the US? Kinda silly. Well, we'll all have to wait until they rebuild the facility or someone makes a new one.

shawnwes's picture

They have distributors outside of Japan. Perhaps they can add an extra shift to supply some of the demand although they've stated they're at capacity already but who knows?

The world is certainly their oyster at the moment.

It's a small part of overall expense of an lp when spread across 5k or more pressings so even if the price triples that won't in itself have a huge impact on the price of an lp but it's going to be very difficult for a company that only supplied 20% of the world's demand for blanks to scale up operations.

It would be a sad day if projects like Blue Note Tone Poet & 80th Anniv series, Music Matters, Acoustic Sounds, Speakers Corner, Resonance, etc are impacted long term by this.

shawnwes's picture

The makers of the Warm Tone press from Canada should put their collective brains together & see if they can come up with a solution.

shawnwes's picture

Makers of the Warm Tone vinyl press.

Bodyslam's picture

This fire takes out one of the two lacquer suppliers worldwide. It also takes out one of the two suppliers worldwide for cutting styli. There is one remaining supplier for lacquers, as noted above, MDC in Japan. The one remaining supplier for cutting styli is also in Japan: Adamant/Namiki. The cutting styli are branded Adamant. Namiki is the manufacturer of the diamond playback styli and jewel cantilevers used by many, many phono cartridge makers.

So the good news is that the lacquer cutting industry can continue. The bad news is that there is already increased pressure on these suppliers, and the cutting labs everywhere are scrambling to line up a steady supply for their needs. This is already being felt acutely in the mastering community.

Ortofan's picture

... it causes Best Buy to start stocking CDs in its stores again.

scottok's picture

He might as well start a lacquer business to go with the rest of his analog-saving business ventures.

Anton D's picture

Good call.

Hajidub's picture

Glad no one was injured. I do question what effect this will have on the crap offerings of upcoming RSD's.

MhtLion's picture

Please think about how many tons and tons and tons of harmful chemicals were released by this accident. Some people in the vicinity can get a cancel future unknowingly. Sometimes it's not about your hobby. A hobby is important, but not as important.