Toronto company hopes to make vinyl records with new technology

A Toronto company will become the first in Canada to produce old-school vinyl records, but using a technology that's brand new.

Microforum will use new hi-tech machines to press vinyl records

Noble Musa with one of the vinyl records his company Microforum is starting to manufacture. (David Donnelly, CBC News)

A Toronto company will become the first in Canada to produce old-school vinyl records, using a technology that's brand new.

Toronto CD and DVD manufacturer Microforum has been looking to take a spin on vinyl for the past couple years but there was always a problem: the only option meant buying machines with the same old technology that produced records for our parents and grandparents. 

Noble Musa, Microforum's vice-president of sales and marketing, visited some vinyl manufacturing plants and returned unwilling to take the risk.

"You see these 40 or 50-year-old machines running and you shake your head, going, 'There's no way I'm getting into this.'"

His reluctance continued, despite watching sales numbers for vinyl explode, with double-digit increases every year, and artists kept approaching his company, keen to go vinyl.

Musa describes it as a bottleneck for bands and singers right now, with some waiting as long as a year to put their music on a vinyl record. He plans to help end that.

Records produced with the new technology. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Musa and his company are seizing on what they see as a big opportunity. Eventually, they plan to have six shiny new pressing machines on the go at once, spitting out as many as 24,000 vinyl records a day.

Musa believes vinyl will stick around, despite the explosion in digital downloads. Sales numbers compiled by the monitoring company Neilsen show 2016 had the highest yearly sales of vinyl ever to date, up 29 per cent over the year before.

"There's a groundswell" in the resurgence of records, he explains. "It's not going to take over streaming, obviously. I call that the fast-food of the music industry ... but every once in a while you want to get that fine dining experience."

These PVC pellets will be put through a boiler, then flattened into a vinyl record. (David Donnelly, CBC News)

Microforum is buying state-of-the-art vinyl production machines from another Toronto company, Viryl Technologies, based in Etobicoke. 

Rob Brown, the chief operating officer of Viryl, and his team are still putting together their first machine at Microforum, hoping to finish it by next week. 

Rob Brown oversees the modernized vinyl production machine created by his company Viryl Technologies. (CBC)

Brown stands in front of a whirring prototype model that's been running tests for the past three months, proudly explaining how they plan to transform the LP business.  So far, the entire production takes eight to 10 weeks. The final stage, transforming lumpy vinyl 'pucks' into shiny records, clocks in at just 25 seconds.

In addition to touch screens, these new machines are covered in sensors to constantly check pressure, temperature and timing, all with the goal of producing a top-quality record with great sound. And, in this age of smartphones and smart machines, company executives can also check in on the progress of the record presses from their phone or computer.

So far, just one of Viryl's machines is in operation, at a company in Dallas, Texas.

Filling a gap

Brown believes his business will help fill a gap, since companies that built the original vinyl production machines don't even exist anymore. They closed down back when records had supposedly died out the first time. As company heads at Microforum saw, LP manufacturers still using the old technology face big challenges.

"There [are] no service parts available," Brown explained. "When they break down, you have to make a part from scratch, learn how to service it yourself ... Troubleshooting the electronics can take days."

Microforum has added new staff for its new venture into vinyl, including marketing manager Aine Guiney, focused solely on the LP side of their business.

She's already got a goal to fit into this Toronto company's local roots:

"There's a favourite album of mine that came out in 2016, Views ... I would certainly like to press in the six for Mr Drake one day."