Let’s start by clearing up a common misconception.
Vinyl record sizes are not the same as vinyl record speeds.
They are related, but they are not equivalent.
And they don’t always correspond with each other in the same way.
This means that a certain record size does not always spin at the same speed.
Two records of the same size can be designed to spin at different speeds.
That is the first thing you need to know. But there is a lot more. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about vinyl record dimensions and rotation speeds.
Vinyl Record Sizes
If you are just beginning to explore the timeless allure of vinyl, getting to grips with the different record sizes and speeds is an important part of the journey.
This comprehensive guide will lead you through the history of vinyl record sizes, including 12-inch, 10-inch, and 7-inch records, as well as the varying speeds of 33, 45, and 78 RPM.
By understanding the significance of vinyl record sizes and speeds, you’ll be equipped to make informed choices that will help you build your perfect music collection on vinyl.
Whether you’re brand new to the world of vinyl or seeking to broaden your base knowledge, we’ll cover everything you need to know about record sizes and speeds and set you on your way to becoming a veritable vinyl junky. And it begins with a quick history lesson.
A Brief History Of Vinyl
The development of vinyl records of different types and sizes has been a fascinating journey intertwined with the evolution of music formats. In the late 19th century, commercial sound recordings were made on cylinders and disks made of materials like wax, tin, shellac, and celluloid.
However, it was the launch of the first commercial vinyl record by RCA Victor in 1931, with ten minutes of playing time per side, that marked a significant milestone in the history of vinyl records.
This format, characterized by a speed of 33 1/3 RPM and a 12-inch or 10-inch diameter, revolutionized the way music was consumed, allowing for longer playtime and improved sound quality.
In addition to the 12-inch LPs, the 7-inch vinyl record, also known as the 45, emerged as a popular format for single songs. With a speed of 45 RPM, the 7-inch records offered a convenient and affordable way for music lovers to collect and enjoy individual tracks. 45s have been popular since the 1950s.
Vinyl records continued to grow in popularity until CDs emerged in the 1980s, but their popularity has been experiencing a remarkable comeback in recent years. Let us now take a closer look at the three different sizes of vinyl records.
Standard Vinyl Record Size: The 12-Inch Vinyl Record
Nowadays, when it comes to the 12-inch vinyl record diameter, you’re usually stepping into the realm of full-length albums. This larger-sized vinyl disc can hold more information than its smaller counterparts and allows you to listen to an entire album from start to finish. Of course, you do need to flip the record over halfway through playback.
These 12-inch vinyl records play at 33 1/3 RPM, hold full albums, and are often referred to as LPs, short for “long playing” records.
In addition to the 12-inch size offering you the advantage of extended playtime, the increased physical space of the larger record also allows for enhanced sound fidelity, better capturing the nuances of the music.
But not all 12-inch vinyl records are ‘LPs’. There is also the 12-inch single.
The 12-inch single typically plays at a higher speed of 45 RPM, providing an optimal balance between playtime and audio quality for individual tracks or remixes.
This format allows you to savor a standalone musical piece with the full depth and clarity intended by the artist. It is often used to release longer versions of single tracks.
The 7-Inch Vinyl Record Diameter
The 7-inch vinyl record first appeared in February 1949 and holds a special place in music history. it is mainly associated with singles and EPs.
This format has been the go-to choice for singles and limited-release EPs, offering a convenient and affordable option for music enthusiasts to collect and enjoy individual tracks. The smaller size of the 7-inch record made it a more practical choice for single releases and shorter recordings.
The difference between 78 RPM and 45 RPM speeds for 7-inch records is also significant. While 78 RPM was a common speed for early shellac records and some early vinyl records, the introduction of the 45 RPM speed revolutionized the playback of 7-inch records.
The 45 RPM speed allowed for more content to be packed onto a single side of the record while maintaining high audio fidelity, making it the preferred speed for 7-inch singles and EPs ever since.
The 7-inch size offers several other advantages, including collectibility. Due to their association with singles and limited-release EPs, 7-inch records have become highly sought-after by collectors. Their smaller size also makes them easier to store and display.
The 10-Inch Vinyl Record
This is not the most common size, but it has an interesting history. The 10-inch vinyl record gained popularity in the early 20th century and played a pivotal role in shaping the early era of vinyl records.
Despite its smaller diameter, the 10-inch vinyl record offered a significant improvement in sound quality compared to earlier formats, contributing to the widespread industry adoption of vinyl over shellac.
10-inch records are the rarest size of vinyl record, due mainly to their time limitations. 7-inch records are used for higher-quality singles with up to 5 minutes of playback, and 12-inch records are mostly used for full albums, with around 20 minutes of playback on each side.
The 10-inch records offer a middle ground between 7 and 12-inch records, but they can only hold a few songs. Most 10-inch records were released before the 1950s and played at 78 RPM, making them unique additions for collectors.
While the faster playback speed improved sound quality at the time, it caused more wear and tear on the records, leading to a decline in their popularity. As the technology of both record players and the production of vinyl records improved, the 10-inch size disappeared. Nowadays, the size is only used for special-release discs and collectible items.
Modern Vinyl Record Speeds And Sizes
In the modern era, vinyl records tend to come in only two sizes: 12-inch for full-length albums and 7-inch for singles. The full-album 12-inch LPs are played at 33 1/3 RPM, and 7-inch singles are usually played at 45 RPM.
You may still come across the occasional recently-released 10-inch vinyl record, but they tend to only be used for special-release collectibles and for extra tracks released as part of box sets aimed at the serious collector.
Vinyl Record Dimensions: Final Thoughts
I hope you enjoyed this detailed exploration of the history, significance, and impact of vinyl record sizes and speeds. By delving into the evolution of 12-inch, 10-inch, and 7-inch records, as well as the varying speeds of 33, 45, and 78 RPM, I hope to provide you with the knowledge to make informed choices when building your vinyl music collection.
Understanding the historical context and technical aspects of vinyl records not only enriches your appreciation of this timeless medium, but also lays the foundation for an engaging journey into the world of vinyl. Whether you are starting from scratch or seeking to expand existing knowledge, I hope this guide serves as an invaluable resource for anyone embarking on a vinyl music adventure.