A vinyl gramophone or phonograph record consists of a disc of polyvinyl chloride plastic, engraved on both sides with a single concentric spiral groove in which a sapphire or diamond needle, stylus, or laser is supposed to run, from the outside edge towards the centre (though it should be noted that on a very small number of albums, like "Goodbye Blue and White" by Less Than Jake, a hidden track, or the entire side, will be played from the centre out).
While a 78 rpm record is brittle and relatively easily broken, both the LP 33 1/3 rpm record and the 45 rpm single records are made from vinyl plastic which is flexible and unbreakable in normal use. 78s come in a variety of sizes, the most common being 10 inch (25cm) and 12 inch (30cm) diameter, and these were originally sold in either paper or card covers, generally with a circular cutout allowing the record label to be seen. The Long-Playing records (LPs) usually come in a paper sleeve within a colour printed card jacket which also provides a track listing. 45 rpm singles and EPs (Extended Play) are of 7 inch (17.5cm) diameter, the earlier copies being sold in paper covers. Grooves on a 78rpm are much coarser than the LP and 45.
- 12" 331/3 rpm long-playing (LP) format
- 7" 45 rpm (single) format
Less common formats
- 12" 45 rpm extended-playing (Maxi Single) format
- 10" 331/3 rpm long-playing (LP) format
- 10" 45 rpm extended-playing (EP) format
- 7" 331/3 rpm extended-playing (EP) format
- 162/3 rpm format for voice recording
- 12" and 10" picture discs & shaped discs
- Specialty sizes (5",6",8",9",11",13")
History and development
Although replaced by digital media such as the compact disc as a popular mass marketed music medium, vinyl records continue to be manufactured and sold in the 21st century. Currently the most common formats are:
- 12" / 45 rpm Maxi Single
- 12" / 331/3 rpm LP
- 10" / 45 rpm EP
- 7" / 45 rpm Single
The sound quality and durability of vinyl records is highly dependent on the quality of the vinyl used. Most vinyl records are pressed on recycled vinyl. Unrecycled "Virgin" or "Heavy" (180-220 g) was commonly used for "classical" music, although it has been used for some other genres. Today, it is more and more common in vinyl pressings that can be found in most record shops. Even modern albums like Shellac's and Mission of Burma's latest are pressed on 180 gram, though most are reissues of classic albums, like The Clash's series of reissues. These albums tend to withstand the damage caused by normal play better than regular vinyl.
Vinyl vs. compact discs
In the early days of compact discs, vinyl records were still prized by audiophiles because of the supposed better reproduction of analogue recordings and playback. Early compact discs were perceived as screechy and as distorting sounds on the high end, not as "warm" as vinyl especially in recordings that require wide dynamic range (eg. classical recordings). This has resulted in a backlash on the digital music formula in its early years.
Though digital audio technology has improved over the years, some audiophiles still prefer what they perceive as the warmer and more detailed sounds of vinyl over the harsher and glazed sounds of CDs.
For DJs, mostly in the electronic dance music or hip hop genres, vinyl has another advantage over the CD: the direct manipulability of the medium. While with CDs or cassettes one has only indirect manipulation options (the play/stop/pause etc. buttons), on a record one can put the needle a few tracks farther in- or outwards and accelerate/decelerate the spinning or even reverse the direction (if the needle and record player is built to withstand it).