Post By: Alan
Vinyl records are produced in a variety of formats, and have a variety of terms describing them. Most of us kids that grew up with CDs don't know too much about this stuff, so I have prepared this handy guide!
It should also be noted that vinyl records have gone through a wide variety of format changes over the years. From their size to their playback speed to the depth of the grooves, and even the way in which the grooves are read, there are tons of formats out there, most of which are obsolete and very hard to find. I only want to focus on the main formats that are being used today, so this guide is not complete by any means. If you really want to get into the history of vinyl, I highly recommend Wikipedia's page about the Gramophone record.
With that said, here is the abridged version from Vinyl Revinyl!
EPs and LPs...Huh?
I have seen these acronyms all over the place in music shops for as long as I can remember. However, to call something an EP or an LP is generally not very accurate way to describe a record. In short, EP stands for "extended play", and is generally used to describe a 7" 45 RPM record. LP stands for "long play", and is often used to describe 12" 33 RPM records. However, these definitions are not completely sufficient because EP and LP are used to describe a variety of other record formats, most of which are out of print and obsolete. In general, all you need to know is that some people use the term EP to describe a single or short record with a few songs. LP is generally used to describe full-length albums.
Why is a single 7" record referred to as "Extended Play"?
The reason is that this new EP format did allow for extra playing time compared to what was offered at the time. Back in the bad old days, large records (10 and 12") would only play about 3-4 minutes per side. 7" EPs can play up to 12-15 minutes per side, hence the name "extended play".
Record Speeds: 33, 45 and 78 RPM
Records are played back at a certain RPM (rotations per minute) on your turntable. However, to be played back at that speed, it must also be recorded on to the record at that speed. Records that rotate at faster speeds generally contain more musical data, and are said to sound better.
These days, most records that you'll come across are recorded at 33 or 45 RPMs. 78 RPM records are still out there, but as far as I know, no one is making them. Many newer turntables won't even play them because they don't have a setting for 78 RPMs.
Most records that are recorded at 45 RPMs are singles. Many of these records feature a large center hole so they can be used with jukeboxes and record changing mechanisms. To play a 45 on a turntable with a small spindle (the needle in the middle of the platter), you need a plastic "spider" that snaps into the center of the record so it can be played.
However, not all 45 RPM records are singles, or "EPs". Some LPs are being released at a playback speed of 45 RPM. Some believe that 45 RPM records sound better than 33 RPM records, and some audiophile-grade records use the faster 45 RPM format. I recently picked up Metallica's Master of Puppets in the 45 RPM format, but don't have a comparable 33 RPM record to compare it to, so I can't comment on improvements in sound over a 33 RPM record. I can say that it sounds WAAAAAY better than a CD.
Here's some more interesting trivia:
Some old record formats play back at 120 RPM.
Another failed record format playback speed is 16 2/3 RPM (Half that of a 33 RPM)
Record grooves are about 25 microns (.001 inches) wide.
Some records are read by the stylus from the center of the record, outward (CDs operate this way too), as opposed to being read from the outside of the record in.
Alright! I hope you learned something here. Kick back, and enjoy the music!
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