Banning, CA (February 10, 2020)—After a number of internal explosions, Apollo Masters, a Banning, CA manufacturer of lacquer discs used for making vinyl record masters, suffered a massive fire on Thursday, February 6. While vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years—the format sold more than $224 million worth of product in 2019 alone—the fire may severely bottleneck that success, as Apollo is reportedly one of only two companies worldwide (the other being MDC in Japan) that produce lacquer master discs.
SR 243 closed south of I-10 due to fire. Use alternate routes. Unknown duration. pic.twitter.com/muPVeCfTHj
— Caltrans District 8 (@Caltrans8) February 6, 2020
In the wake of the blaze, Apollo said in a statement, “To all of [our] wonderful customers, it is with great sadness we report the Apollo Masters manufacturing and storage facility had a devastating fire and suffered catastrophic damage. The best news is all of our employees are safe. We are uncertain of our future at this point and are evaluating options as we try to work through this difficult time. Thank you for all of the support over the years and the notes of encouragement and support we have received from you all.”
According to the Desert Sun newspaper, the three-alarm fire began around 8 a.m. that day, raging for nearly three hours inside the 15,000-square-foot facility until it was contained by 82 firefighters called to the scene. While some employees were onsite when the fire began, no one was hurt.
Apollo owns the majority of the North American lacquer disc market, with some industry pros estimating it may provide up to 75% of the industry’s discs worldwide.
Apollo’s dominance was bolstered by its 2007 purchase of competitor Transco Masters, resulting in it producing not only Transco’s lacquers but also its styli for Neumann and Westrex cutting heads, so a shortage of styli is now expected as well.
According to an Analog Planet interview with mastering engineer Miles Showell of Abbey Road, MDC is said to have upwards of 80% of the European market for lacquer discs, but it is reportedly not accepting new customers in the wake of the Apollo fire. With no immediate path forward, the hunt is on for existing lacquer blanks to be hoarded in the near-term.
While some point to the alternative mastering technique Direct Metal Mastering (DMM) as an interim possibility since it uses copper instead of lacquer, the process was never popular during its heyday of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and reportedly only seven DMM cutting facilities are left, with five in Germany and one each in the Netherlands and Czech Republic. The last North American DMM site, New York City’s Europadisk, shuttered in 2005 and reportedly sold its two DMM lathes for $72,500 to the Church of Scientology for use on internal projects.