I am excited to introduce a new treatment as part of the Vinyl Archivist’s array of services: Record Flattening. After receiving  a number of inquires in the past, I have been testing out a few different methods of record flattening over the past year. I finally decided to purchase an Orb DF-01iA+, one of the best units available.

For a reasonable expectation of what the DF-01iA+ can do with warped records, Mockingbird Distribution, the US distributor for Orb, has written the most succinct explanation:

“Without over-bending something in the opposite direction, like straightening a piece of metal with a hydraulic press, some warps can only be made “less bad”. Many records will come out better, but not perfect. Can you get it perfectly flat? Yes, but to do so usually requires more heat than the vinyl can withstand before losing the groove. The entire idea of the Orb flattener is to gradually heat, then gradually cool, with the purpose of relaxing the vinyl enough for the warp to be eased back out with as much finesse as possible.”

Before & After Case Study: Matao with Atilla Engin ‎– Turkish Delight

What are the benefits of using the DF-01iA+?

Japan-based Orb enjoys a reputation for continually developing and improving its unique treatment process. The DF-01iA+ uses a high-tech, automated process whereby heat is applied evenly on contact to only the outer edge (for warping) and inner label of the record (for dishing). The most important and delicate part of the record–the groove architecture–remains nearly unaffected by the process. It has a semiconductor film applied in the top and bottom heaters of the unit allowing for a uniform heating process, combined with an even pressure. The result attempts to remove warps while preserving the sonic output of the record, and is considered by many to be the gold standard for warp reduction and elimination.

Analog playback is all about physics. Even warps you might consider minor will affect the tracking force and angle of your cartridge. The pitch and harmonics on warped records get distorted: the tonearm and cartridge are being forced to contend with the constantly moving grooves. If you’ve leveled your turntable and properly set azimuth, VTF, and rake angle, record flattening with the DF-01iA+ helps to ensure that your records will be in closer harmony with those crucial playback variables, aiming for a record that your turntable will more easily track.

The “+” model allows for additional types of records to be flattened using Orb’s adapters, including 7″/10″/12″ formats, and records with both Groove guard and those that are flat:

image via LondonJazzCollector

Flat records are most common in pre-1960s production and in contemporary heavy weight 180g+ records.

What can you expect from a record flattening treatment?

As most collectors know, no two records are the same. Despite delivering superior sound, vinyl as a medium has often been lacking in quality control when manufactured, and can suffer long term effects of improper storage, or the vagaries of inconsistent temperatures when shipped. This can lead to a record picking up an edge warp, or becoming dished.

Record flattening is not always effective depending on the severity of the warp, and results are not always guaranteed. By its very nature, adding heat to a vinyl record can cause lasting damage if not done right. I approach each record cautiously, starting the treatment on the lowest heat setting, only increasing the heat should that not provide satisfactory results. It is nearly impossible to get a warped record perfectly flat, but the process can greatly reduce the warp, salvaging playback and improving fidelity.

Each record sent to me for flattening includes an ultrasonic cleaning to ensure that it is at its most pristine when placed in the flattener, and there is no chance of debris entering the process.

Interested in getting your own records flattened? Get in touch and we can begin to discuss the process.

What can go wrong, or why flattening isn't magic

Unlike record cleaning, the flattening process is not without risk. Please read the below carefully to decide if a flattening treatment is right for you:

Uncontrolled heat is the enemy of vinyl, as anyone who’s mailman left their record sitting in the sun can attest. The DIY method of putting a warped record between two sheets of glass and leaving in the sun, or putting it in the oven means you have no control over heat distribution, and can damage the grooves. I’ve tried using the VinylFlat, a commercial version of this basic idea. While it provides a more stable base for holding the record, and more controlled temperature within its pouch, it still heats the entire record.

Some warps that are heavily localized on one area can often need more than one session in the machine, but it provides excellent results on any dished LP or mild warp. Any warp that has caused the grooves to be deformed cannot be fixed. The flattener only flattens, it cannot move the grooves forward or back when they are deformed.

Some very old vinyl compounds are unstable and respond poorly to heat (they bubble as the gasses are coming out of the vinyl). Orb specifically warns against attempting to flatten records lighter than 115g. There are other vinyl formulations that cannot withstand the heat: any Flexi discs or SP/Shellac records, lightweight records pressed during the 1973/74 Oil Crisis, RCA (non-groove guard), Sheffield Lab, BMG-UFA / Universal Music European Union, early Nixa Records, Super Analogue Disc, Nippon Grammophone Stelet33 Series.

Needless to say, if your record is irreplaceable, do not send it for flattening. If you are at all in doubt, flattening should only be considered if you have nothing to lose. I have done my best to use both the manufacturer’s info, and that crowdsourced from audio forums to create a list of known formulations that cannot withstand heat.

Engaging my service is at your own risk, and I cannot be held liable for any damage caused by a flattening attempt.

Have any questions? Please reach out and I will be happy to discuss your specific records or answer any questions not covered here.

Record Flattening

Per Record

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Includes an Ultrasonic cleaning of the record before flattening