Types of Vinyl Records

by Helen Appling | Updated: November 10, 2021

Are you on your way to being a vinyl enthusiast? A key consideration is to understand the various types of vinyl records. So, how many are there?

We can broadly categorize vinyl records into three types in terms of RPM, or revolutions per minute. These are 78, 33 1/3, and 45 RPM vinyl records. A higher RPM roughly translates to higher sound quality, because more definition can be fitted into the same space. Higher frequencies are reproduced much better in 45 RPM vinyl records, for example, than in 33 1/3 ones.

The other way to categorize vinyl records is by their sizes. There are three main sizes – 12 inches, 10 inches, and 7 inches. Unsurprisingly, the larger the record, the more songs it can hold.

12 inches LP or Long Playing records

Full-length albums are recorded on LPs. These are thick and black records. 12 inch LP records are generally played at 33 1/3 RPM, but it’s also likely for you to find some that play at 45 RPM.

Each side of a 12 inch LP can hold 22-26 minutes of music. In total, that’s 44-52 minutes of music, the length albums don’t cross for the most part. Albums that are longer come with more than one disc.

12 inches Single records

These are similar to the previous type, but instead of holding entire albums on each side, they only hold singles on each.

The two sides are typically called “A-side” and “B-side” with one song each from an album.

12-inch single records are typically used by DJs. The B-side usually holds another song, but might also be dedicated to a remix, live recording, or another variation of the same single that’s on the A-side or that of another song from the same album.

B-sides are generally recognized as the space for a less important song or a bonus track, but there have been cases where the B-side single turned out to be a bigger commercial success than the A-side, the single that the artist intended to be seen as their superior work. Most notably, Queen’s News of the World album featured We Will Rock You as a B-side, while We Are the Champions on the A-side. Of course, We Will Rock You turned out to be the more popular of the two.

7 inches Single records

These are fairly smaller in size (7 inches vs. 12 inches) and can only hold music up to 5 minutes, though there are exceptions. 7-inch records play at 45 RPM and a vinyl player comes equipped with an adapter to play these records.

The hole in the center is also marginally bigger than the one in the middle of a 12-inch vinyl record.

The main use of 7 inches single vinyl records is in jukeboxes (the larger hole aids in this). 7-inch singles can also have the same song on both sides.

EP or Extended Play records

Extended Play or EP records hold more music than 7-inch ones, but less than LPs.

EPs play at either 45 RPM or 33 1/3 RPM. These are generally more versatile in terms of RPM and size. Most EPs can easily hold more songs than 12-inch singles and 7-inch singles. They can also come in any size ranging from 7 inches to 12 inches.

Typically, you will find EPs carrying 2-5 songs.

180 gm records

Most of the vinyl records weigh somewhere between 120 gm and 140 gm. But, there’s another type of record – ones that weigh 180 gm. The thicker vinyl record effectively reduces noise and improves the bass and treble qualities of the music.

180 gm records are audiophile-grade music records and don’t break easily.

Flexi discs

Flexi discs are records that are made out of flexible plastics or coated paper. These are very thin. Flexi discs used to be quite the fad in everything from a vending machine to a magazine as a bonus.

The main purpose of Flexi discs was to advertise new music. Think of it as a demo of the real thing. If you like the music or the artist, then you can go ahead and buy the LP version. Consequently, it’s easy to see why Flexi discs didn’t reproduce the sound in the highest quality.

Flexi discs might sound like an ingenious advertisement idea, but the trend was quickly smothered in its infancy by audiophiles and also by the advent of digital music (and the rising popularity of music CDs).

Nevertheless, Flexi discs will remain to be a neat marketing gimmick and it’s not an understatement when we say that they served their purpose well. Artists use Flexi discs even today, albeit rarely, to market new music purely thanks to its inexpensiveness.

Wrapping up

That’s not the end of the story! Vinyl records come in far more shapes and sizes than you can imagine. Some come with pictures on them while others come in band-specific cuts. Historically, the history of vinyl records is a fascinating one and once you take a dive down this lane, you will only find pleasant surprises.

For example, the Japanese toy manufacturer Bandai came up with its own gimmick when it launched the 3 inches single vinyl records back in the 2000s. This format died pretty quickly.

A large variety of shapes and sizes also means that there are strong differences in sound quality. For example, colored records or records with pictures usually offer a lower music quality than black ones.

It’s important to understand the nuances of vinyl records and how different shapes, sizes, and speeds affect the music quality.

Die-hard audiophiles know that black vinyl records provide much better sound fidelity and are the only true “reproduction” of a song once performed. But, on the other end of the spectrum, you also have music lovers who like cool shapes, sizes, and colors. They might or might not consider vinyl records to be the holy grail of true sound quality, but they do like to stand out from the crowd.

Nothing is quite like listening to Pink Floyd on a pink vinyl record, even if Pink’s story is reproduced in slightly lower fidelity.

What do you think? Which side do you belong to?