Vinyl records can be a daunting thing for people who didn’t grow up going to the store and buying them. The labels make it seem like there’s a whole bunch of different types of vinyl records out there, and that just looking at the numbers makes any sense. Here, we’ll break it down as simply as possible: what do the numbers 33, 45, and 78 RPM mean?
What Do the Different Numbers for Records Mean?
The number you see associated with a record is the revolutions per minute (RPM), aka how many times it spins in a complete circle for minute. 33, 45, and 78 are the most frequent commercially available vinyl records. The speeds at which the records were set are frequently used to describe them. Some examples include “45s,” “Singles” and “7s,” which are all terms that refer to 7-inch singles with a single song.
78RPM records are included because they are an option when talking about vinyl record speeds, however they are extremely rare. As opposed to today’s PVC records, these are frequently vintage shellac records.
What is A 78 or Shellac Record?
78rpm records are a type of record made from shellac, which is a hardened resin secreted by the lac bug. They were typically made to be 10″. These records were made before vinyl became popular. Shellac records can be played with a regular vinyl if you have a stylus that is setup to play this type of record. Shellac records are hard to find and rare to find in pristine condition due to the age. At 78 rpm, music can play for each side
10-inch records = 3 minutes per side
12-inch records = 5 minutes per side
What is 33 RPM?
A 33 record is a 10″ or 12″ vinyl record spinning at 33 1/3 rpm that has two two sides. These came after shellac and offered longer playtime, hence why you will see them referred to as LP (long-play).
By printing information onto a smaller-sized record without sacrificing audio quality, 33 RPM recordings become a household name. In a matter of seconds, this format was able to play for nearly 22 minutes on each side.
What is 45 RPM?
A 45 record is a 10″ vinyl record spinning at 45rpm. This included the 12″ version commonly used by radio hosts and DJs.
As with 33 1/3 RPM recordings, 45 RPM records had the advantage of being smaller. Because they were physically smaller than 78s, it was possible to create them at a lower cost. 45s swiftly overtook 78s in the popularity stakes because of their size, which was comparable in terms of sound quality, compared to the 78s.
Is There A Difference in Sound Quality between an LP and 45?
It depends, there are many factors that go into the sound quality including the mastering for the specific pressing. In general terms, the faster a vinyl turns, the higher the sound quality. So using this logic, all things equal the 45 rpm record should sound better than a 33. However, this is not always the case. This is due to the fact that 33-1/3 rpm and 45 rpm records have different sized grooves and different sized needle. In the case of 45s, the smaller record combined with these factors leads to a faster wear on the vinyl and if you are wanting to collect them, it can be difficult to find a good condition record for your collection.
We hope this article helps you understand the meaning behind and some of the terminology used for record speed. We included these three vinyl speeds because they are the most popular and are used in the industry. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Looking for more great 45 info, see The History of the 45 rpm Record.