Microforum is bringing modernized vinyl production to Toronto

The music duplication company expands into record-making thanks to new locally made presses by Viryl. That's right: new and local presses.

Microforum president Frank Stipo apologizes for the lack of heat as he guides us on a tour of his west-end plant. 

The gas has been cut off so Enbridge employees can work on upgrading the site’s connections for the massive boiler that will provide the steam for his new vinyl presses. It’s the last major hurdle before Microforum begins pressing records – and it can’t come soon enough for Stipo.

“We’ll be the only plant in Canada, because Precision in Burlington still isn’t up and running yet,” Stipo explains excitedly.

The vinyl revival has been in full swing for years, but while media reports can make it seem like a new plant is opening every few months, most of those new operators are using antique presses that have turned out to be extremely difficult to maintain and keep running. 

That’s a big part of the reason competitors like Calgary’s Canada Boy Vinyl have recently shut down, despite the high demand for vinyl from both the independent and major labels. 

“Everyone is dealing with 50-year-old equipment, and if the original guys who were running it aren’t around, they can not run,” Stipo says. “Nobody knows what button to push or what screw to tighten when something needs to be adjusted. Even some plants in the U.S. that have 10 or 20 [individual machines] – realistically they can only use half of them, if they’re lucky, because the rest are just for spare parts.”

Microforum is breaking into the market by taking a different approach. The Toronto company started out making floppy discs in the 90s, eventually moving on to CDs and DVDs as well as a variety of printing services. Adding vinyl to the mix will make it one of the few one-stop shops in the world, able to handle everything from pressing the vinyl to printing album jackets. 

What really sets Microforum apart, though, is that it’s one of the first companies using modern computerized presses, designed and built by Viryl Technologies, a 10-minute drive away from the plant.

Viryl might be a brand-new company, but owner Chad Brown isn’t a rookie when it comes to pressing records. He spent years working with the medium during the era when vinyl was predominantly supported by the dance music scene. He cut his teeth struggling with vintage presses, and always wanted to update and automate the process. When vinyl started making its comeback, he saw an opportunity to make that dream a reality.

“I pressed records for about seven years at Acme Vinyl, and I always fantasized about rebuilding the machines, but we never had enough money to do it,” Brown recalls. “That was the era when everyone wanted vinyl but no one wanted to pay for it.

“We’re the only ones in the world building computerized automated presses. There’s been no money put into this technology for 35 years. When you talk to people at old pressing plants, lots of them have lost hands and fingers. Having safety guards was important to us. At Acme, I got burned many times and have the scars to prove it.”

Not only are Viryl’s presses significantly safer, but they’re faster and can achieve a higher level of quality consistency, too, thanks to digital temperature controls and sensors that transmit readings back to Viryl’s headquarters for -analysis. 

That data flashes by on monitors hanging from the ceiling of the shop, where they’ve been running a prototype press through its paces to help Microforum complete its first batch of orders, which were delayed while they waited on their upgraded gas connections.

For the first time in years, Toronto musicians won’t have to wait months (or years) for their records to be shipped from distant pressing plants. And for the first time ever, those records will be manufactured with modern state-of-the-art equipment designed and manufactured locally. 

Over the next year, Microforum will add a total of six presses, letting the company take on large runs for the major labels and batches as small as 100 copies, opening up the medium to boutique labels that have been pushed out of the market by vinyl’s mainstream resurgence.

Watch a record being made. Video by Tanja-Tiziana.

benjaminb@nowtoronto.com | @benjaminboles

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