Record-pressing robot helps bring back vinyl

Take a tour of the Toronto factory behind the first record-pressing machines to be built in more than 30 years.
We're having a record renaissance. (Andre Hofmeister)

Call it nostalgia. Call it retromania. Call it a record renaissance!

Ironically, in today's digitally-driven world, vinyl has been making a steady comeback. Sales of vinyl in 2016 were the highest in 25 years.

This past year, money spent on vinyl outpaced digital downloads for the first time.

But what about those poor old record-pressing machines? They can't keep up with the new demand.

So now, new record-pressing machines are being built: the first in more than 30 years.

Rob Brown is the Chief Operating Officer of Viryl Technologies. His Canadian-made Warm Tone machine is the first fully-automated, iOS-controlled press.

"We took the same tried-and-true record-pressing process that was behind the presses that worked in the '70s and '80s and we basically applied modern automation to it," Rob says.

"The molds are essentially the same, the stampers are essentially the same, but it's all operated by a programmable logic circuit and has sensors at every step of the process."

Spark host Nora Young visited Viryl Technologies on the outskirts of Toronto, where Rob explained how the Warm Tone press was created as a result of a void in the market.

Decades-old machines are being brought back into service, as technicians try to restore them.

But they aren't enough. "With vinyl records coming back to the volume that their selling at today, there's this huge backlog," says Rob. "There's just weren't enough old presses around."

The old presses were often worn out, and getting them to function reliably was a challenge.

"Our presses are serviceable, fully-automated, and we're able to get the best cycle time."

Vinyl is projected to be a billion dollar industry this year. As for Rob's theory on vinyl's resurgence?

He thinks that if people are going to choose a physical option to listen to, vinyl is the logical option because of its audio quality and analog nature.

"It's kind of the most substantial thing that you can hold in your hand, you can put on your wall... it's an art form in itself... right down to the record."

What about the Cassette Comeback? 

Check out this post from 2014.

Spark senior producer Michelle Parise spoke with Paul Banwatt of the band The Rural Alberta Advantage, all about their shared love of the cassette.