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What Is A 7-Inch Record?

7-inch Record

Did you know that there’s more than one type of vinyl record out there?

While the most common records today are 12-inch, 33 ⅓ RPM LPs, 7-inch records are still important pieces of vinyl history. In addition, the 7-inch record is far from obsolete, with many artists opting to release singles in this format. 7-inch records can hold between 4-6 minutes of recorded music on each side, and they typically play at 45 RPM, which is faster than a standard LP


Any vinyl collector should know about 7-inch records, how to spot them, and how they differ from other types of vinyl. In this post, we’ll fill you in on all the info you need about these little records, including whether your turntable can play them.


The Different Vinyl Sizes, Explained

Generally speaking, there are three different sizes of records that you’ll commonly find at your local pre-owned vinyl emporium. However, these three varieties of vinyl are often classified by the speed that they play at rather than their size. They’re often referred to as 33s, 45s, and 78s. 7-inch records are typically called 45s.


33s

33s, also known as LPs, are the most common form of records in the modern music industry. These records play at 33 ⅓ RPM and are usually 10 or 12 inches wide. They are often called LPs (Long Plays) because of their capacity to hold numerous songs on each side. LPs often have five or six songs on side A and five or six more on side B, as opposed to the one song per side found on a 45.

  • 33s are the slowest vinyl records, as well as the widest. Their size and slowness are the key factors that allow these records to store so much music on each side. 
  • However, lower RPM (revolutions per minute) can have a small detrimental effect on sound quality. This is because the faster a record spins, the more accurately it can recreate a recording.
  • With 33s, listeners trade out a bit of sound quality for higher storage capacity. These records may spin slower, but that means they can hold an album worth of songs between their two sides.
  • The advent of the 33 revolutionized the music industry by making it viable to record and release full-length albums instead of singles. The emphasis on longer projects allowed artists to create in new ways, crafting cohesive sets of songs that fans could listen to in order for a richer experience.

45s

7-inch records are often referred to as 45s due to their play speed being 45 RPM. These records are noticeably smaller than their LP counterparts, and they spin significantly faster. The higher RPM gives 45s superior sound quality, but it also means that only a few minutes of recorded sound can be stored on each side. 

  • 45s are often used as promotional material for an upcoming album. An artist might release a standout track from a full-length LP as a 7-inch single, along with a lesser-known track on side B.
  • The use of 7-inch records for singles led to the coining of the term “B-side,” which refers to the deep cut track that is often found on side B of a 7-inch single. B-sides are usually not as marketable as the songs on side A of a 7-inch record. However, you’ll often find B-sides that are hidden gems from one of your favorite artists’ discographies. 
  • 7-inch records, unlike 78s, are made from the same material as their larger counterparts.
  • 45s predate 33s and were some of the earliest vinyl records to be released. In the age of 7-inch singles, albums were still uncommon, with many musicians focusing on releasing just two songs at a time – a single and a B-side.

78s

In the early days of the gramophone, the precursor to the modern turntable, 78-RPM, 10-inch records were the standard. These records were hard shellac discs rather than true vinyl. They spun much faster than many modern records, giving them the potential for great sound quality. However, a 78 could only hold around 3 minutes of recorded music per side due to the high RPM and relatively small size.

  • Shellac, the material used for 78s, is made from the secretions of the lac bug, which were dissolved in an alcohol solution, then shaped into plastic. This material was chosen for early records due to its resistance to moisture and the ease with which it could have grooves etched into it. 
  • However, shellac didn’t stay the dominant material for records for long. The discs made from this material were extremely fragile, and many early turntable owners dropped and shattered their fair share.
  • The 78-RPM record dominated the market for nearly half a century, but the dawn of the 33 made these shellac discs nearly obsolete. The ability of a 33 to hold so much more music on each of its sides made it an ideal format for music fans. 

The Rise (And Fall) of the 45

While 45s were a mainstay in the record industry during the latter half of the 20th century, they’re relatively uncommon today. Bands in the 70s and 80s would use the 7-inch format to release EPs (Extended Plays), collections of more songs than a single, but fewer songs than an album. EPs are still commonly released by bands today, albeit in digital formats.

These days, many record players are not configured to play 45s or 78s. Instead, the modern turntable is typically built for LPs only. However, since many audiophiles are still fans of the faster, smaller records of ages past, some turntables can still be found that play these records.


Can My Turntable Play 45s?

Since the modern record industry is primarily centered around LPs, some record players can’t play 45s or 78s at all. However, many turntables can be outfitted with an adapter that retrofits them to play these smaller records. An adapter for 7-inch records is usually relatively inexpensive – you can usually find one on Amazon for less than $20 – but it’s important to make sure that the adapter that you pick is compatible with your turntable.


In addition, if you’ve got aspirations to collect all sizes and speeds of records, it’s a great idea to purchase a three-speed turntable. These record players are designed to play records at three speeds – 33 ⅓ for LPS, 45 for 7-inch, and 78. For a three-speed turntable, you’re not going to need to purchase any kind of aftermarket adapter or other extra gear. Instead, you’ll simply flip a switch to adjust the speed.


Do 45s Sound Better Than 33s?

This question is a topic of intense debate in the record-collecting community. The general consensus is that faster records can offer better sound quality to a listener due to their ability to more accurately recreate a recording. However, speed isn’t the only factor that comes into play here.


While a 45 might offer better sound quality in theory, the weight and condition of a record matter, too. If you’ve got a brand new 45 without warping or scratches that is as heavy as possible, it’s likely to sound better than a 33, but only slightly so. Otherwise, new LPs tend to be a better bet.


Conclusion

Want to learn more about the different types of vinyl records? Make sure to check out The Sound of Vinyl blog. There, you’ll find a wide array of articles to help you out on your vinyl collecting journey.


Sources:

Top 6 things I learned about 78 RPM records | My Vinyl Countdown

Can My Record Player Play All Sizes of Record? | Vinyl Record Life

Why Records Are 12 Inches Wide: The Record | NPR

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