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He plays Counting Crows' debut album, August and Everything After, which QRP also recently pressed. "If the guys in this band ever heard this, they'd fire every fuckin' engineer or producer they ever hired before," he says.
There are only about 15 vinyl pressing plants in the United States and 30 worldwide. This relative scarcity would seem to suggest opportunity. But opening a pressing plant is not as simple as buying some machines and hiring some workers to operate them. It has been decades since new pressing equipment was built. After CDs were introduced, manufacturers assumed that the record presses and plating tools required to make vinyl records would become obsolete, and they stopped producing them.
To start their pressing plant, Kassem and his team had to track down old presses and then recondition them. The 10 presses and assorted machinery now churning inside QRP were hauled to Salina from such locations as London, Sweden and South Korea.
Finding someone with the knowledge and ability to oversee a pressing plant presented another challenge; plating and pressing records is a highly specialized skill. Kassem was able to convince Gary Salstrom to leave RTI in California, where he had earned a reputation as one of the most respected plating technicians in the world, move to Salina, and become QRP's plant manager. (Salstrom's wife grew up in Overland Park, which worked in Kassem's favor.)
"It was very shrewd of Chad to bring Gary in," says Marc Mickelson, the founder and editor of the Audio Beat, an online audiophile publication. "He's a really renowned guy in the audiophile world."
"There are only a few Garys in the world," Kassem says. "His expertise pushes us to a serious level. Because of Gary, we're able to produce the absolute highest-quality records."
Salstrom says he simply shares Kassem's philosophy about QRP serving discerning listeners. "We can't compete with [pressing plants] Rainbo and United. They're bigger, and they can offer lower prices," he says. "But the quality is not as good as ours. And there's a larger group of people out there moving toward quality, and those are the people that are seeking us out."
In the beginning, QRP cranked out only the albums that Acoustic Sounds wanted to press and sell. Quickly, though, QRP attracted customers: Smaller labels looking to press vinyl that had to wait in line behind the Sonys of the world to get their records done. Now bigger labels are calling, having heard the quality of other QRP releases.
So what is QRP doing that's so different than other plants? "If you overcook vinyl, you get dead spots," Salstrom says. "We keep plate lacquers at lower temperatures — plates at higher temperatures can induce pre-echo and high-end loss."
"I hate to make the analogy to McDonald's, because QRP is producing the equivalent of gourmet food, but there's a uniformity to the process at QRP that is kind of McDonald's-like," Fremer says. "For instance, they've installed sensors inside the actual tools so they can control and monitor the temperature. Nobody else has those. Other companies depend on the skill and intuition of the pressmen. They've also installed a valve system, where they know the precise temperature of the water coming in and going out. In other plants, that temperature will vary, and it will affect the quality of the sound on the finished product. There are a lot of small things like that that they're doing to ensure quality. Basically they're using modern computer technology to take an old technology and make it much better, and much more consistent.