In Croatia, where I live, it is called a gramophone record, and English speakers call it simply ‘records’. No matter how familiar this format is to you, there is a lot of interesting and valuable information about vinyl that is little known. By reading this list, I hope you will learn something new, have fun, and maybe walk into your favorite record store more informed after reading it.
10 Fun Facts About Vinyl Records
- Vinyl is chemically related to alcohol and got its name from wine.
The real name of “vinyl” is polyvinyl chloride or PVC. It belongs to the vinyl or ethenyl chemical group, whose chemical formula is very close to that of ethylene, which, mixed with water, gives ethanol or drinking alcohol. Vinyl got its name from wine, which was named by the German chemist Hermann Kolbe in 1851. Most of the PVC or vinyl compound consists of chlorine (57%), while the other 43% is derived from crude oil.
- Vinyl is the best possible choice of material for making records.
Due to the mentioned composition, vinyl is obtained easily and very cheaply. It is relatively strong and resistant, resistant to moisture and liquids (except, of course, extremely corrosive), and is relatively easy to decompose. What is particularly interesting about vinyl is that it is easy to produce transparent and in different colors.
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- Black vinyl is more durable than transparent and colored.
Although vinyl copies of albums in a special color, transparent or “splattered” with color (“splattered” vinyl) look nicer and fetch a higher price as collectors’ copies due to their rarity, they are more sensitive than ordinary black vinyl due to special manufacturing techniques and wear out faster. Therefore, if you want a record that will withstand long and frequent listening, choose black.
- The part of the record that is under the needle reaches a temperature of 230 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although it is scary to read such information, there is no reason to worry. The needle moves across the record fast enough not to stop too long in one place, therefore the temperature, which is achieved by friction, drops quickly in the place the needle has just passed. However, after a few tens or hundreds of listens, depending on the quality of the record and especially the quality and condition of the needle, the record will have visible and audible damage – mild at first, but gradually increasing.
- All bass tones on the record are 20 decibels lower, and all treble tones are 20 decibels higher compared to the original master recording.
True audiophiles already know all about this. In order to reduce the noise level when playing vinyl, all bass tones are “muted” and high tones are “boosted”. That’s why the bass is better heard (in principle) on a CD, while for the same reason, the sound of cymbals, hi-hats, and treble in general is clearer and more pronounced on a record. Audiophiles usually compensate for the lack of bass with high-quality speakers and equalizers (devices for fine-tuning tones), while also paying attention to the isolation of the turntable itself so that speakers with strong bass do not cause the turntable to vibrate and thus affect the quality of its operation. An additional reason for this compromise is to save space on the record in order to fit as much music as possible. Therefore, releases of a particular album on two discs are almost always of better quality than those where the entire album is printed on only one disc.
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- Vinyl doesn’t (necessarily) sound better than CD.
Although the “return” of vinyl is justified by the fact that people simply want to listen to technically quality music, this is only true in comparison to mp3 digital files or even worse music formats. Album copies on CD are still often superior in sound compared to those on record: it all comes down to how the process of transferring the music from the recording to a commercial CD or vinyl copy was carried out, and possibly to the quality of the material itself from which the CDs and records were made. Related to that, there is a popular myth that vinyl is “analog music” and CD is “digital”. Much is digital in the process of recording music and making vinyl, not only today but for the last 30 years or so. The most important information for the sound quality of a certain phonogram (solid sound medium) is the source of the music printed on it. As a rule, records sound worst when the sound source is a CD (this is usually reflected by the relatively favorable price), and those whose sound sources are original (especially analog) master tapes sound best. This is most often highlighted on the cover itself, and the quality is, of course, followed by the price. Among the more expensive vinyl albums are those labeled ‘mobile fidelity’, and their price does not drop below $50.
- The weight of the record is almost irrelevant to the quality of reproduction.
On the covers of new albums, we can often see a label where it is stated that it is a 180- or even 200-gram record. Even a small child would conclude that it is obviously a higher quality copy than the “ordinary” one… Just how much does the “ordinary” record weigh? It is, therefore, a 40-60 gram heavier record, which for each of us means that the record will be more difficult to break or damage. Also, it is more stable during playback. The downside is that a thicker record often has less space inside the cover, which means that there is a possibility that the cover will show the so-called “ring wear”, i.e. signs of circular wear caused by the pressure of the record on the cover. All other differences are minimal or non-existent.
- The speed of rotation of the record is chosen randomly.
Many of you have seen the “mathematical formula” 33+45=78 somewhere, but there is no specific link between this formula and the speed of the records. Bakelite (‘shellac’) records were spinning at 78 revolutions per minute because a German scientist for the first time succeeded in adequately reproducing a bakelite record at exactly that speed. A similar story is related to vinyl records and their speed of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. In the early 1930s, such a record was launched on the market by the company RCA Victor, but the project soon collapsed due to the great economic crisis that followed. The format was picked up by CBS and released for sale, to which RCA responded with 45rpm records. This speed was more favorable for singles played in jukeboxes, the most popular music players at the time. Classical music lovers stuck to 33 1/3 records because they could listen to entire symphonies without having to constantly change records on the record player.
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- In the past, records were produced with a rotation speed of 16 2/3 revolutions per minute.
In the age of experimentation with record spin speed, a 16 2/3 rpm record came onto the market, which is half the speed of 33 1/3 (again, for no particular reason). It managed to grab a piece of the market in the 50s and 60s, after which it mostly stopped being produced. It soon became clear that it was not suitable as a format for music due to the too-slow rotation, so these types of records were mostly pressed with “spoken word” pieces, including readings from the Bible and children’s stories. This format also came to life in (probably) the only car record player ever. Between 1956 and 1959, Chrysler installed a “Highway Hi-Fi” system in its vehicles, which could only play records at this speed, and which was specially produced by Columbia Special Products. The systems were soon withdrawn from the market due to high costs and impracticality.
- There are records that are pressed in such a way that their ‘beginning’ is in the middle of the record.
This pressing technique is called ‘reverse cutting’. In short: the needle is placed near the middle of the record (where the music or sound on a normal record ends) and the record starts spinning in the opposite direction from the usual direction, which slowly moves the needle toward the edge of the record. When it reaches the edge and the last notch, it continues to rotate on it until the turntable turns off. Playback of such records is possible only on a record player with a ‘reverse’ playback function, although some Internet users claim that this is also possible with standard record players.