LP (Long-playing) Albums
Introduced in 1948, LP (long-playing albums were a huge improvement on the existing shellac 78 RPM records that were both brittle and limited to less than five minutes of playback time per 12-inch side. New LP discs were made of PVC (vinyl) and played with a smaller-tipped microgroove stylus at 33 1⁄3 rpm. Each side of a 12-inch record can include up to 26 minutes of music per side. The LP was popular with classical music due to the longer playback time, but was eventually picked up by pop and rock acts in the 1960s as artists took advantage of the longer playing time to create a more complete body of work.
12 Inch Singles
The 12-inch single variation first appeared during the disco era in the 1970s. Generally cut at 45 RPM, they feature wider groove spacing and shorter playing time compared to LPs, which permits a broader dynamic range or louder recording level (among other benefits – see 45 RPM notes above). Twelve-inch records are popular in dance music, where DJs use them to play in clubs. By the 1980’s, record labels would often release 12-inch singles containing extended versions or club remixes of pop music.
Picture discs and colored vinyl
We’ve all seen those picture discs hanging on the wall in record shops. The roots of picture disc records go back further than you might think; as far back as around 1900, in fact, when the Canadian Berliner Gramophone Company had the “His Master’s Voice” dog-and-gramophone trademark lightly etched into the playback surface of some seven-inch shellac records as an anti-piracy measure. More often, however, when we think of picture discs, we think of collector’s items with full-color graphics over the playback surface. Sadly, most of these releases are style over function and don’t sound particularly good. Most lack dynamics, and sound thin and noisy.
Colored vinyl is more popular than ever. There is much debate as to how much the color in vinyl makes a difference to sound quality (if at all). Generally speaking, most engineers seem to agree that there simply isn’t enough evidence to point to one color being better or worse than another. Even if one color did sound minutely different to another, there are so many other more important factors, such as the quality of mastering and record production.
Many of the earlier long-playing microgroove records, were, in fact, 10 inches. And, in many cases albums would consist of multiple 10 inch LP’s grouped together to form a multi-disc album release. It was initially thought that classical music listeners would require the longer playback time of a 12 inch LP, whereas pop music listeners would stand the shorter run time of 10 inch LPs; they were wrong, and the 12 inch LP eventually won the day.
7 Inch Singles
The 7 Inch (or “45”) is the most common form of vinyl single. At their peak in the 1950’s and 60’s, the 7 inch helped to fuel the early years of rock and roll culture thanks to their relative affordability compared to more expensive 12 inch LPs. The 7-inch 45 rpm record was first released in 1949 by the RCA Victor company as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs.