Feeling Groovy: Cut Your Own Vinyl Records With the PO-80 Record Factory

Just like they did before tape

  • Teenage Engineering’s PO-80 Record Factory will engrave music into blank vinyl discs. 
  • These mono records can be played like any other record. 
  • Musicians can record, scratch, and re-record their own tunes.
Teenage Engineering PO-80 Record Factory with vinyl discs

Teenage Engineering

Forget home-taping or music streaming. Now you can cut your own vinyl records at home. 

Swedish musical instrument design supremos Teenage Engineering is selling a record player that can both cut and play vinyl. Depending on how you look at it, the $150 PO-80 Record Factory is either a neat gimmick and perfect Christmas gift or a seriously cool tool for musicians. Either way, it also gives us an excuse to look at the weird world of vinyl recordings. 

"With the recent release of TE's new PO-80 home vinyl cutter, people are wondering if records made at home can sound as good as commercially-pressed records. The answer is yes—and no," Gideon Waxman, musician and publisher of the Strong Sounds website, told Lifewire via email. "On one hand, the PO-80 offers a high-quality cutting system that rivals commercial presses. But on the other hand, there are some key differences that make home-pressed records sound different."

Self Scratching

The PO-80 is a collaboration with Japanese artist, designer, and musician Yuri Suzuki and is also a rebranding of Suzuki's own Record Maker made for Japanese manufacturer Gakken.

The PO-80 has a cutting arm and a playback arm. To make a record, you connect an audio source via aux cable or USB and play it into the device while recording. It's just like making a tape, except you only get one chance. Thankfully, the blank vinyl discs are $20 for 10, or $2 a pop. Recordings are also mono and can be made at either 45 or 33 rpm (revolutions per minute), with three or four minutes of recording time, respectively.

But who would buy this? Well, as previously mentioned, it might make a nice novelty gift, but the main market for this may be musicians who are forever in search of new ways to screw with their sound. For example, if you like to scratch records, wik-a-wik-a-wik-style, now you can scratch your own sounds. 

"[It] has traditionally been next to impossible to scratch your own samples without either A: sending [them] out to a company to cut a custom vinyl, which is pretty expensive, or B: Buying $2k worth of DJ gear and using Serato (a sampling app). This little TE device actually gives you the ability to record your own samples and then scratch on them later," musician Burly-Johanssen-24 said in a Reddit thread.

And it's also just neat to be able to offer vinyl copies of your own music. You could sell limited editions at gigs, for example. 

Master Record

But hold on. You probably don't want to plug your Ableton Live project straight into the PO-80 and record that. To sound good on vinyl, music has to be properly prepared or mastered. You can do this yourself, or you can run your audio through Teenage Engineering's online Mastering Machine tool

"Mastering for vinyl, digital, and CDs is a markedly different process. If you upload a bad master going to a digital service provider (DSP) like Spotify, the worst that will happen is the song sounding bad and your friends making fun of your bad taste in music," music producer Elliott Beenk told Lifewire via email. "If you have a bad master pressed to vinyl, if the bass is too loud, or the grooves too deep, the needle can literally jump off the record and lead to a faulty batch of records."

Teenage Engineering’s PO-80 Record Factory

Teenage Engineering

Back when direct-to-disc recording was the norm, artists not only had to get everything right in one take, they also had to kind of self-master their sound. Like a lot of music technology, it changed how musicians performed. 

"Even Billie Holiday, that sort of whiney vocal that you know? A lot of the reasons why she had this very constrained vocal sound, that is now iconic, was that she needed to make sure to not make the needle jump as it was recording," Charlie Harding, songwriter and host of Switched on Pop, said on the VergeCast podcast. "If there were too many fluctuations in the voice, the needle could skip and ruin the recording, and so part of the vocal technique is actually determined by the technological requirements of Billie Holiday's era." 

The PO-80 might be a gimmick, but people have already shown it can also be a legit musical tool. And when it looks this good and is so reasonably priced, it's easy to see why Teenage Engineering has already sold out of the first batch.

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