Types Of Vinyl Records: What You Need To Know

Types Of Vinyl Records: What You Need To Know

If you’re just developing your interest in vinyl records and have acquired a portable record player like those in our review article, you need to understand the different types of vinyl records.

Interestingly, there are different sizes of vinyl records and these are played at different speeds. That’s why most record players have variable speeds that you can select.

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The manufacturing process for vinyl records has also changed over the years so older records are made from different materials compared to more recent vinyl records.

This means that the sound quality of older albums is likely to be different to those made in recent years.

Let’s explore how the various types of vinyl records vary from each other.

Vinyl Records Are Available In A Range Of Sizes

Basically, vinyl records come in three different sizes and this has an impact on what is stored on the record and their playback time.

7-Inch Records

7 inch vinyl record playing on a record player

Back in the 1950s and 60s, 7-inch records were very common. Often, to play these records on a modern record player, you’ll need a special adapter or spindle. However, a normal stylus can be used to play these records.

These 7-inch single records will have just one song on either side. Because they have wider grooves compared to other record sizes, their sound quality is often superior.

10-Inch Records

When looking through older records, you might find 10-inch ones. These need to be played at 78 RPM. You’ll find that they’re a fair bit thicker than more modern albums.

However, you can find modern 10-inch records that are released as limited editions. They usually feature an extended version of a hit single as well as bonus tracks and unique artwork.

12-Inch Records

Most vinyl enthusiasts will be familiar with 12-inch vinyl records. These are the most commonly available and you will even find new releases in this size.

Almost any genre of music can be found on these records including classical music, jazz, pop, country, rock and heavy metal.

12-inch records are normally full-length albums and will store a full set of songs. Generally, one of these albums can play for around 45 minutes by playing both sides of the entire album.

Although the majority of 12-inch records are full albums, you can find some 12-inch singles as well. These are designed to be played at 45 RPM and may feature one to two songs on either side.

These large singles will often feature extended versions of popular songs. These were commonly used by DJs in the seventies and eighties due to the remix of popular songs and their slightly extended playtime.

Understanding RPM

record player showing three different RPM speeds

RPM relates to the speed that the vinyl record should be played at. It stands for revolutions per minute. There are commonly three different RPM speeds that records are designed to be played at. These are 33 ⅓, 45 and 78 RPM.

However, while you’re out perusing second-hand albums at one of your local record stores, you might come across some rare vinyl records that need to be played at 16 ⅔ or 8 1/3 RPM speeds.

So, what does all this mean? Let me explain.

33 ⅓ RPM Records

Most 12-inch albums will play at 33 ⅓ RPM. This is generally the slowest speed and allows record labels to fit more songs onto one record. 

These records are the standard of most albums available today. They became the norm back in 1948 when the record label, Columbia Records, released albums that could play a complete symphony or classical performance on just one side of the record. 

Interesting fact: Compact discs came into production during the time that 78’s were still regarded the standard in vinyl records. This meant that 33 ⅓ had a much slower start than was probably expected.

45 RPM Records

Most 7-inch records need to be played at 45 RPM speed. This means that they’ll rotate faster than those played at 33 ⅓ RPM. Commonly referred to as singles, these vinyl records will have one song on either side with the more popular one on the “A” side and a lesser-known song on the “B” side.

Interesting fact: 45s were first released by RCA Victor in the 1950s in response to Columbia Record’s release of the 33 ⅓ albums. It was common for radio stations to have a wide collection of 45s as they could readily find the most popular songs as singles.

78 RPM Records

Older vinyl records that are heavier and thicker need to be played at 78 RPM. These vintage records are known as shellac records and have a totally different feel to more modern vinyl records. 

Due to their weight and thickness, they need to be played at a faster speed. However, this increase in speed means that fewer songs can be stored on each album.

If you have a collection of these, you’ll realize that you need a special stylus to play them. Their unique construction also means that these records have a very different audio quality. Music lovers and vinyl record collectors often search for these at second-hand record stores because of their unique qualities.

As these types of vinyl records are no longer made, they’ve become collectible items and some of these can fetch high prices depending on their condition and their rarity.

Interesting fact: Seventy-eights were created by Emile Berliner way back in 1888. In those early years, she created a variety of records to be played at RPMs between 70 and 80 speeds. In 1925, 78 RPMs became the standard for 10-inch records.

Interesting Facts About The Rare 16 ⅔ And 8 ⅓ Types Of Vinyl Records

Although quite difficult to find these days, these two speeds were commonly used for spoken-word recordings. They included educational records and recordings of books. 

These records play at a much slower speed than music records which meant that they contained a lot more content. Some common examples of 8 ⅓ records are:

If you do happen to find one of these rarities, you probably won’t be able to play them on a modern record player because these don’t support those speeds. You might find an older record player that’s capable of playing these records but you’ll probably need a special stylus to play them.

Are There Other Vinyl Record Types?

Apart from the different record sizes and speeds, you’ll find a few other different types of vinyl records by different record companies that you might come across.

LP Records Or Long-Playing Vinyl Records

long playing vinyl record on a turntable

You’ll often find 12-inch records with a 33 ⅓ RPM labeled as LPs. This means that they store a number of songs on both sides and have a playtime of around 45 minutes of music if you play both sides.

Interestingly, some LPs are designed to play at 45 RPM. This is because they offer better audio quality and less distortion at this faster speed.

These vinyl records were introduced back in the late 1940s and are still being produced today.

EP Records Or Extended Play Vinyl Records

EPs generally store fewer songs and have a shorter playtime than LPs. These can be found in all three sizes – 7-inch, 10-inch or 12-inch although 10-inch EPs are quite rare.

These vinyl records can also have different recommended speeds and some will run at 33 ⅓ RPM while others will run at 45 RPM. EPs generally have around four to five songs on them.

These can be popular with music enthusiasts who want to discover new artists.

Flexi Disks

flexi disk on turntable

Flexi disks were used by magazine publications in the 1980s. They were made from super thin and flexible vinyl. However, due to their construction, these flexi disks generally had inferior sound quality.

Popular magazines such as Creem and Rolling Stone would include one of these disks with their publications. These would feature interviews with famous artists and exclusive tracks not found on regular albums.

In addition, music artists would often use these as purely promotional items. They would give them away at their concerts with the merchandise that they sold.

These disks were often 7 inches in size and had shallow grooves which is why the sound quality is not as good as regular albums. However, they are still coveted by collectors due to their uniqueness and rarity now.

Brightly Colored Records

colored records

Some record labels decided to add a bit of novelty to new release albums by making them a bright color rather than the standard black. Popular colors included blue, red, yellow, green and even multi-colored records.

While you might think that these colored vinyl records are quite rare and valuable, this is not the case. Making colored records is just as simple as coloring the polyvinyl chloride pellets that are used to manufacture modern vinyl records.

Vinyl Record With Pictures On Them

In your search for the records that you want to collect, you might find discs that have pictures on them. These are also not all that rare but they might be more difficult to find than colored records.

There’s one disadvantage to these types of records, however. Their sound quality might not be as good as other types of vinyl records. Therefore, while these are great to add to your collection, they’re not ones you want to play on a regular basis due to their diminished sound quality.

Vinyl Records In Unusual Shapes

As the music industry tried to find new and novel ways to present record albums, they played around with producing records in unusual shapes such as those shaped as people’s faces or even in shapes that resembled the different states of the United States.

Vinyl Records Made From Unusual Materials

Some record labels even went as far as making records from some rather unusual materials such as wood or chocolate. While these might add a novel touch to your collection, they might not have the best audio quality.

Apart from vinyl records made in unusual shapes and from unusual materials, there are also records that have other unique features such as those covered with frosted glitter or clear vinyl records covered with rainbow glitter.

Tips For Caring For Your Vinyl Record Collection

caring for vinyl records

To keep your vinyl record collection in pristine condition, here are a few tips for caring for your records:

  • As much as possible, try to avoid touching the surface of the vinyl as this could impart oil and other residue into the grooves of the record and distort the sound. Vinyl records should always be held by their edges with just your fingertips.
  • Always place your records back into their plastic or paper sleeves after you’ve played them to protect them from dust and airborne particles.
  • Records should be stored upright and not laid flat on top of each other. This will stop them from warping.
  • Make sure you store your record collection in a cool and dry location.
  • Dust off your vinyl records with a carbon fiber brush before playing them to remove dust and other possible debris.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are vinyl records still popular?

Absolutely! Even with the release of cassette tapes and then later, compact discs, vinyl records are still highly popular among collectors and music enthusiasts. This is because the sound achieved by playing a record is quite unique when compared to more modern types of music.

Are new vinyl records still being released?

You might be surprised to learn that many popular artists still like to produce their music offerings on vinyl records as well as compact discs. Popular artists include Taylor Swift and Adele.

What are dubplates?

While researching vinyl records, you might come across dubplates. These are sample vinyl records made by recording studios prior to creating a master record to use for mass production.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a collector of vinyl records or you’re just getting started, there is a huge range of different types of vinyl records that you might like to consider adding to your collection.

Apart from the more common 12-inch albums that play at the 33 ⅓ RPM speed and the 7-inch singles that play at the 45 RPM speed, there are also older recordings that play at the 78 RPM speed.

For new collectors, it’s handy to know the difference between these so that you know what you want to look out for and how to play them once you’ve found some to add to your collection.

Music and vinyl record enthusiasts might also like to look out for some of the rarer vinyl record types so that if you come across one, you’ll know that you’ve just uncovered a rarity that you might like to add to your collection.