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A Guide To Record Sizes and Speeds

12" Album, 10" Single,  7' Single

Vinyl records come in a few different sizes, and are to be played at a few different speeds. However, the speeds are not necessarily linked to the size of the record. In some cases, 12” records are to be played at the same speed as a 7” record.

The speed at which the record is played really comes down to how much music has been stored on the record itself. Shorter records, like singles, tend to be played faster than LPs, for example.

We are here to give you a brief overview of the different sizes and speeds you may encounter while dealing with vinyl records. The speed at which vinyls are played is absolutely crucial to taking care of them should you wish to play them. We hope to give you a bit of information to help.

Record Sizes

Vinyl Records come in three sizes: 7 inch (18 cm), 10 inch (25 cm) and 12 inch (30 cm).

12 inch (30 cm) Vinyl Records

The largest and most frequent size is 12”. Both sides of these records can store roughly 22 minutes of music, put together they give us a healthy 45 minutes of play! Not quite as much as their modern counterparts, but vinyls have their own classic charm that’s seeing them rise in popularity once again.

Fun fact: DJs tend to use singles of larger record sizes. Extra space on the disc means extra quality and more opportunities for DJs to get creative with their mixes!

7 inch (18 cm) Vinyl Records

The smallest size of 7” initially came about as a cheaper way to produce singles. It being smaller means it can’t store nearly as much music as the other sizes. However, at its base speed of 45 RPM, these smaller disks are a perfect method of distributing exclusive, extended cuts of songs. These tend to be around 5 minutes of play time, which is about the maximum storage of these records.

10 inch (25 cm) Vinyl Records

Lastly, the rarest size sits at 10”. All commonly running at an impressive 78 RPM! While they do have the highest RPM which increases their sound quality, this means that the longevity of the record is decreased due to requiring the record to spin faster, which we will cover in more detail below. These records didn’t last very long in the market, but they certainly left an important impact on the industry.

Record Speeds

Just as there are three sizes of records, there are also three speeds at which they are to be played. These speeds are measured in RPM, which stands for revolutions per minute. This refers to the number of times the record is spun within a minute.

While faster speeds create higher quality audio, they also lessen the amount of play on the record. With the record spinning faster, it has less time and space to store audio. Then with slower records, while they do lose some sound quality down to their speed, they are able to store much more audio down to spinning much slower.

45 RPM

The most common speed for 7” records is 45 RPM. A general consensus was found amongst listeners that they’d be willing to discard a bit of quality for the compromise of more music to listen to.

33 RPM

33 RPM is the standard speed for most LP’s and other 12” records. It can push the storage of the record to its limits much better than the other speeds can.

However, 33 RPM wasn’t always as prominent as it became. Only in 1948 did it finally emerge into the common market, as before that, radio stations would be using 78 RPM. At the time, listeners used radio rather than their own records. Why buy an expensive record when the radio plays them at higher quality and for free?

In 1948, Columbia Records broke onto the scene with their 33 system. It found popularity being marketed as being able to play entire classic performances without even having to flip the disk!

78 RPM

The third and final speed being 78 RPM, the fastest and least common. Despite its high-quality audio, as previously mentioned, records using this speed would be subject to holding significantly less music than those of slower RPMs. Records playing at this speed also tend to be much more fragile than their lower RPM counterparts, especially particularly old records. This speed is so uncommon, it’s doubtful you’d have to deal with it. It is in fact so uncommon that not all record players can play at 78 RPM!

Why Does Speed Matter?

With all of this in mind, it is absolutely crucial to know the speed at which your record should be played. Make absolutely sure to check you know what speed it needs to be played at, and that the record player has been adjusted accordingly. Should the disk be played at the wrong speed, it could be damaged to a point of never playing again. Records are already prone to being scratched on each play. Taking care of their speed at least guarantees that they will have plenty of plays left in them.

Cases, Frames and Sleeves

You could be the type that doesn’t really want to play your new records, but would rather display them. It’s not a bad idea, as the more you play a record, the more scratched and damaged it becomes. Each play will lessen its quality bit by bit.

Sleeves for 12” records tend to measure around 12.375”. It being a little bit bigger gives the record a bit of room to breathe and will make it easier to access should you need to recover it from its sleeve. 7” records are more of the same, though it wouldn’t be a waste to store a few of them in one sleeve given their small size.

12.5” is a good and recommended size for frames, allowing the record some space and avoiding any risks of bending or damaging it or its cover while storing or moving the record in and out of the frame. Smaller and more precise sizes are available, we would just advise caution when using them.

Overall

As a brief overview: There are three sizes of vinyl records being 7”, 10” and 12”.

There are three speeds at which vinyl records are to be played, being 33 RPM, 45 RPM and 78 RPM. It is vital to know the speed at which your record should be played at, to avoid damaging it and rendering it unplayable.

There are good materials such as frames and sleeves to preserve your records safely, and they can be found in the appropriate sizes for each size of record.

Vinyl records are a niche of their own. Some people look at them fondly as memories, while other people are brand new to them and simply wish to indulge in a new way to embrace music! All the same, it is a delicate form of media. It’s so important to understand what you own before you use it, and we at Life of Vinyl are here to help you with that. We have decades of experience in caring for and selling new and second hand vinyl records.

Enjoy your records, and take care of them! They need you!

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