The digitalization of the music industry has leveled the playing field for artists. An album can be written, recorded and streamed from a bedroom without an expensive recording studio or predatory record label. This do-it-yourself ethic is not new. The bands have been recording and releasing albums on their own or through friendly record stores for decades.

Digitization has also created a glut of available music, which can make it difficult for new bands or artists to break through the noise. Plus, popular artists with record deals always get the lion’s share of the attention. I’m pretty sure every Beyonce outing is now a national holiday. For all other artists, the resurgence of vinyl and cassette has rekindled the ability to give or sell something tangible to their fans – a physical keepsake that could offer a closer emotional connection to the music. While making copies of tapes has been a home hobby since the 1980s, vinyl required a third-party specialist in cutting records. At least, until recently.

Teen Engineering $149 PO-08 Record Factory combines the nostalgia of a Fisher-Price turntable with the utility of a machine capable of cutting vinyl. You will have to put it together yourself and master each song specifically for the device. Even after all that work, your music will probably sound like it’s being played on AM radio. It may sound like a nightmare to some, but it’s potentially wonderful to others.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

The PO-08 is a rebrand of magazine publisher Gakken’s “Easy Record Maker” – a disc cutter/player designed by Yuri Suzuki. Teenage Engineering worked with Suzuki on their build and even includes an interview with the designer in the included magazine/instruction booklet.

Although the turntable looks like a toy, Teenage Engineering tells you (over and over) that it’s not recommended for children under 12. It’s really designed for “kids” between the ages of 17 and 64 – for the type of person who has three bands, strong opinions about direct-drive turntables, a very active Discogs account and a DIY attitude. Oh, and also the patience to fiddle with tiny parts for hours to create a single, not-so-perfect mono copy of a song. Yes, it works, but it’s a lo-fi representation of a professionally created record; The Factory is an EZ bake oven for vinyl.

Building the Record Mill takes about 60-90 minutes, and it gives you the confidence to take it down when you realize that, for example, you haven’t attached the needle cable properly. I had to do exactly this when there was no sound after first assembling the device – everything seemed to work but there was no actual sound.

Having to put the device together also gives some insight into the inner workings of the Record Factory, which is pretty clever. The cutting needle vibrates through a small speaker to burn your audio onto one of Teenage Engineering’s blank discs. A tiny gear system moves the needle forward and after three to four minutes (depending on recording speed), your song is written onto the vinyl.

But all that led to this was a series of adjustments. If you’re the type of person who needs something to “just work” without too much tinkering, stay away from the PO-08.

You start with your original recording and at the end of the registration you get a mono performance. Single channel audio is a technical limitation of the device. To ensure incoming audio is mono, the Record Factory comes with a minijack cable that takes the left and right channels of your stereo signal and merges them. You also end up losing fidelity, which is another technical limitation. The upper and lower ends of a song can easily get muddy, and too much bass will cause the cutter needle to jump.

A turntable with an arm that ends in a cutter, touching a black disc.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

You can try to fix this problem yourself, but it’s smarter to use Teenage Engineering’s online audio mastering tool. Just download the file, wait a few minutes, and the site spits out something that works better with the device. This process results in the loss of all the intricate details of your song. The low end gets slightly muddy or disappears altogether while the high end loses its bite. If you’re looking for clean, exact copies, skip the PO-08 altogether.

45 minutes after mastering your audio, you can save a disc. During this time you will adjust the pressure of the cutter arm, listening very carefully to the audio sent to the device to make sure it is not distorted and, if it is, lowering the volume. But you can’t go too low, otherwise the signal won’t be strong enough to burn. This means that you have to open the equalizer and make adjustments (so many adjustments) until the sound is good (enough).

You are now ready to put it on wax (as they used to say). Except before creating a recording that you can share, you should cut the audio to a test vinyl. You record for 10 seconds, wash the record with water to remove any excess bits from the grooves, then put the Record Factory into play mode and listen to your masterpiece.

A close up of the cutting needle at the Teenage Engineering Record Factory.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

Test recording isn’t so bad until you realize that Teenage Engineering has sold out the discs needed for platinum and hasn’t shared information on when they’ll be back in stock. This makes testing all the more important.

A word of warning: the cutter slows down the deck, so when played back at normal speed it may sound a little higher pitched. Like low level Chipmunks. So be sure to drop your file into the appropriate tools online to adjust your song. Except it probably still needs some work if you want the closest representation of your song available from the PO-80, which means you’ll, surprise surprise, have to make more adjustments. I made five test cuts before I was finally ready to create my first one-song home vinyl record.

On top of all that, the turntable itself isn’t a big player either. It sounds like you’re listening to music under the sea. It’s fun to create and play on the same device, but it’s best to put the record on a suitable turntable. On my Technics SL-1200 MK2, the mono audio with treble and bass cut sounded a bit off compared to the original and the fidelity fell far short of the quality of the professional vinyls in my collection. Still, it’s exactly what I expected and I’m happy with the end result.

The Record Factory lives or dies according to the expectations of its owner. There are two types of people in this world: those who lose their sanity and patience in the face of the slightest inconvenience, and those who live to tinker and experiment.

A front view of the Teenage Engineering Record Factory PO-08.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

The second group are people like me, and are excited about the difference in sound between a home-produced record, a cassette tape, and a digital file. My band usually records on a digital eight track but I also use a four track cassette from the late 80’s. There’s something special about sending a fan a home produced vinyl recording. The PO-08 is for people who find beauty in the inherent potential for errors in DIY analog recordings.

The Record Factory will find its niche of users who will spend hours creating the perfectly imperfect vinyl copy of their song. Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t already own a PO-08 turntable, they’ll have to find one of these beauties on eBay or Craigslist. The strongest move is to search for the Gaken branded version on eBay. These turntables are much cheaper (under $100) than the Teenage Engineering version.

Teenage Engineering told Engadget that they have no plans to produce any more sold-out turntables, which is a shame. Not all musicians can afford to have hundreds of records produced by a third party. But, if they can find a record factory (they’re currently selling $250-$500), they can cut a one-of-a-kind vinyl that they can share with friends and fans while they wait to make it big. . As long as they’re happy to do so on a toy designed for very patient music nerds who are happy to trade their loyalty for something real.

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