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Acetates are of interest to the collector because they are the rarest format of all. they also sometimes contain exclusive mixes of songs.

  1. What is an Acetate?
  2. Spotting one
  3. Technical stuff
  4. The "CD Acetate"
  5. Care
  6. how to find acetates

  What is an acetate  

An acetate is a transitional stage between the master tape and the finished vinyl record
Originally acetates were used for home recording in the days before tape recorders. A machine actually cuts the grooves into the acetate like a lathe. This can be computerised, or done manually by the engineer.

The acetate is used to assess whether the music has been successfully transferred to disc. It is checked by the sound engineer. There may be only one copy made of a particular recording, sometimes more are cut and sent to the studio and band members for approval.
The acetate comes before making the master, and allows the sound to be checked without great expense. Sometimes DJs and remixers will get acetates cut in order to have an exclusive mix to play out!
It is unusual for more than a dozen to be manufactured, so from the collector's point of view an acetate is a rare find indeed! If the recording is rejected the acetate may be the only record that survives. The rejected cut may simply be poor quality, however the artist may have opted to use a different take of the song, if so, the acetate becomes much more precious.

  Spotting one!  

An acetate looks like a vinyl record, but it is actually a metal plate covered in a layer of acetone.

Spotting an acetate, Look for the following:
  Technical stuff  

I am endebted to Paul of Aardvark Record Mastering for his detailed email.
here is the technical information he sent.

Acetates were originally used for home recording in the days before tape recorders. They usually used a crystal cutter head that had a frequency response of about 100hz to about 3khz. The output level was about -2db below standard reference level. Commercial cutting heads could get from about 50hz to about 10Khz, and about +6db of level.

Nowadays with the feedback, moving coil cutterheads, the response jumped to about 20hz to 18Khz, many times reaching 22Khz, and the levels of +10 are possible. Aardvark cuts their plates at +6 as +10 puts way too much risk on the cutterhead. Even at +6, we damage the head about 10 times a year, and that cost from $100 to $1000 for repair depending on the parts damaged and if we can do the work in house. European dance club music runs about +6db, so we are satisfied with those levels.

The wear on an acetate is higher than that of a vinyl pressing. A chipped stylus will rip up an acetate with one play. With the higher levels, the fact that we cut the grooves as deep as possible, and today's playback styluses tracking at much lighter pressures, the acetates of today last much longer than those of the older days. Originally, an acetate of the 1940s was expected to last 5 to 10 plays. This was due to the lower sound levels, and mostly due to the stylus pressure of one ounce, or about 30 grams. Radio stations used acetates for commercials and other "spots" These lasted about 50 plays, due to the fact that they tracked them at about 5 grams. With todays playback styluses, I have had reports from DJs of acetates lasting over 100 plays, and still going.

Read the Aardvark page in full at
for a detailed explanation of the entire mastering and cutting process.

  The "CD Acetate"  

When mastering to CD the Recordable CD or CDR is used in a similar way to acetates, with the sound being checked from a CDR.

In the early days of the CD some dealers sold these CDRs for very high prices and referred to then as "CD Acetates". The CDs used genuinely in studio or pressing plant are just as rare as acetates, however the growing availability CD Recorders has made them very easy to duplicate of forge.
CDRs have also become so cheap that they are often used instead of promos, with hundreds being manufactured and distributed.
The term CD Acetate has not survived


As you can see from the information above, Acetates degrade rapidly when played.
So you should record your acetates back to tape if you wish to listen to them more than once! Accept that Acetates obtained secondhand may have been played a few times, so the sound quality may already be poor.

Never clean acetates with alcohol-based cleaners. It will dissolve them! Use distilled water instead.

Store in the same way as vinyl LPs, In a cool, dark place, away from damp and dust.

  Where to find acetates  

Unlike promos, you cannot simply get onto mailing lists, to get acetates you will need to buy them.
Furthermore there are no dealers who specialise in the format. Some suppliers such as Energy appear to get a few in.

Acetates do turn up occasionally on boxes of promos Etc however you will be very lucky to find one by a name artist!

For more help on tracking elusive items try the Rare Record Finder

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Bootlegs | Cut-outs | Flexis | Pirates | Promos

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