With the switch from analogue to digital within just a couple of decades, we have witnessed the music landscape change drastically. However, after the era of cassettes and compact discs, and during the current age of digital streaming, vinyl records have now made a comeback. With an entire new generation discovering these shiny records, the resurgence of this bygone medium has now led to record companies remastering and rereleasing old classics, as well as multiple artists releasing their albums on this vintage format.
While the sharp sound quality may not be its biggest selling point, vinyl records are more about providing a unique listening experience. The process of taking out a record from its colourful cover, watching the stylus spin across the surface, listening to the music barrel out of the speakers — the ritual of the whole experience is the reason why it has outlived all other audio formats.
If you are looking to build a collection, Neo-Online has given an overview below of all that you need to know about vinyl records.
What Is Vinyl?
Named after the material that records are printed on, vinyl is an analogue format. This means that there is a continuous signal, the voltage of which varies with the pressure of sound waves. In other words, the grooves on a record are basically a sound wave drawn in a single continuous line. A turntable decodes that in real time, resulting in what is heard on the speakers.
This is in contrast to digital formats, in which the sounds are converted into bits and stored electronically.
A Brief History
Initially, vinyl records were known as gramophone records or phonograph disc records. These were a commercial form of storage and reproduction of music in the 1800s. They became the dominant format in 1912, when they replaced phonograph cylinders (another music storage device).
These were eventually superseded by compact discs when they were introduced in 1991. Due to a significant reduction in demand, vinyl records were made in smaller batches, and were mostly used by DJs (especially in the genre of rock).
In the mid-2000s, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was used in their manufacturing, thus bringing about the name ‘vinyl records’.
However, by the year 2020, an upward trend was observed in the sales of vinyl records. Customers not only included those who have been long since loyal to the format, but also music aficionados who appreciated the tangibility of vinyl.
The Difference between LP and EP Records
The different vinyl record formats include long-playing vinyl records (LP) and extended play vinyl records (EP). The latter are 7 inches in size and play at 45 RPM (rotations per minute). They can contain high-quality audio, with up to 2 tracks per side. They are about half in length compared to LPs.
First released in 1952, the 10-inch LP records can play at 33 1/3 RPM and contain up to 5 tracks per side. They were once the popular choice of formats among artists because they were quite affordable. When digital formats were introduced, the term ‘LP’ was still used to denote a full-length album.
How a record plays is directly related to its mass. Although all of them generally weigh around 120 grams, some records can weigh up to 200 grams. The thicker and heavier the record, the higher the volume (since the grooves are much deeper). Plus, they do not damage as easily as thinner pressings.
However, it is important to remember here that a vinyl record of any mass and thickness degrades each time you play it.
Depending on how much music they contain, vinyl records come in different sizes. A standard 7-inch single record holds less music and is, hence, smaller and less costly. There is a limit to how much sound can be recorded on each side before the quality starts to diminish, as the grooves are too narrow to contain the entire sound recording in detail. This is why single records are usually issued as a double album on vinyl – this allows for much improved sound quality.
While vinyl records are typically black in colour, most new albums or singles are pressed on coloured vinyl (usually as limited-edition releases). Similarly, picture records are also widely available today (these are records that have an image or some elaborate design art on the sides).
However, there is an ongoing debate that black vinyl has better sound quality in comparison, as the carbon black added to the plastic that is used for pressing makes the record more durable — when, in fact, the difference is only minimal.
How Vinyl Records Are Graded
Vinyl records are graded based on the condition they are in.
- Bad or B: Broken or unable to play the record
- Poor or P: Low audio quality, damaged cover, barely able to play
- Fair or F: Just about playable, can be restored
- Good or G: Average sound quality due to regular playing, could have scratches and/or a slightly worn out cover
- Very Good or VG: Used record but in good quality, no significant damage
- Excellent or Ex: Almost new, cover could be slightly scuffed
- Mint or M: Brand new condition
How to Use a Record Player
Vinyl records come in two sides: A and B. Take note of the side of the particular song you want to play, and lock the record on the player. To begin playing, raise the tonearm to the outer edge of the record and then turn on the switch. When the record starts spinning, the arm should be lowered down slowly until the needle comes in contact with the record. This is when you will start hearing the music.
The tracks are separated by thin circles on the record, making it easy for you to identify the starting of each song and skip to the one you want to listen to.
How to Store Vinyl Records
It is important to invest in effective storage solutions for your collection, like quality vinyl storage boxes. The following are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep the records enclosed in both inner and outer sleeves.
- Store them in a cool, dry place.
- Be sure to clean them properly and regularly to avoid dust collecting on them.
- Don’t stack them as they are likely to get warped over time. This can also cause them to get cracked due to the heavy weight. Instead, they should be placed in an upright manner.
In a Nutshell
The revival of vinyl records is more than just a trend. They will continue to exist as long as there is a demand — and their enduring popularity evidently shows that they are here to stay.