Does Vinyl Weight Actually Matter?
What Is Vinyl Weight?
Vinyl records can be as light as 40g or as heavy as 180g. The weight of a record depends largely on the speed it is designed to be played at. Most modern records are intended to be played at a speed of 33 RPM and are 12 inches wide. 12" records can range in weight from 80g to 180g.
Differences in speed, size, and weight can all affect the listening experience that you have with a specific record. While the changes in sound quality caused by these factors may be hard for untrained ears to pick out, many seasoned vinyl enthusiasts contend that heavier records have better sound quality. If you are serious about collecting vinyl, you need to know about the differences between lighter and heavier records.
This post is all about vinyl weight. In the paragraphs that follow, we'll specifically be focusing on 180g vinyl. The heaviest records on the market, 180g vinyl, have seen a rise in popularity due to their alleged superior sound quality. But does vinyl weight matter, and if so, how? Keep reading to find out!
The Different Vinyl Speeds, Explained
Below is a list of the most common vinyl speeds and the key differences between them.
- 45s: This type of record is seven inches and weighs 40g. The smallest size of vinyl records, these were designed to be played at 45 RPM. These records are commonly called "45s" in reference to the speed at which they're played. Looking at a 45 next to a 12-inch record, the 12-inch vinyl dwarfs the 45 in size.
- 78s: Measuring 10 inches wide and weighing more than 45s, 78s can only hold a few songs per side due to their size and the high RPM at which they are played. A 10-inch record typically weighs over 100g and is made from shellac rather than vinyl. 78s are played considerably faster than typical 12-inch or 7-inch records.
- 33s. The most common records on the market today are 12-inch records designed to be played at 33 RPM. These records can weigh as much as 180g. They are often called LPs – short for "long-play records." The two sides of a 12-inch 33 can hold a full album worth of songs.
Does A 180g Vinyl Sound Better?
The differences in sound quality between lighter and heavier records continue to be a topic of intense debate. Many audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts argue that 180g vinyl yields noticeably better sound. However, others will tell you that the supposed increase in sound quality is really just a placebo. What's the truth?
In reality, the answer to the question of whether heavier records sound better is a bit complicated. Below are a few factors that lead many record collectors to believe that 180g vinyl is superior. Once you're familiar with these factors, you'll have to decide for yourself what to believe.
180g = Longer-Lasting Records
One important factor to consider when exploring the topic of vinyl weight is durability. The heavier a record is, the more resistant it is to getting warped or worn down. Like any other form of physical media, records are vulnerable to damage from dust, dirt, scratches, and, of course, being dropped. A heavier record is more resistant to wear, meaning it can last longer than its lightweight counterparts.
The more damaged a record gets, the more you'll notice a decline in the quality of sound that you get from it. Dust, scratches, and other forms of wear can cause noticeable distortion in the signal that you get from your records.
If you've ever played an old record and noticed lots of scratching and popping noises coming from your speakers as it spins, you're experiencing distortion. This distortion usually comes from cosmetic damage to a record that it accrues over the years. Heavier records are designed to withstand the type of damage that can cause noise and distortion, so they may be able to ultimately produce better sound in the long run.
However, there's nothing inherently better about the sound quality that you get from a 180g record than a 100g record in pristine condition – it's mostly damage that causes a decline in sound quality.
180g = A More Stable Stylus
Although the sound quality gap between 180g records and their lighter counterparts can primarily be explained by the durability of heavier records, there's also one other factor that can play a role. Heavier records have more stability as they spin on your turntable. This added stability can stop your record player's stylus, or needle, from wobbling as it reads the grooves in a record. Less wobbling can mean a more consistent, low-noise sound.
However, although heavier records may be easier on your stylus, a high-quality stylus and cartridge may be more important in the long run than the weight of your records. A low-quality cartridge will inevitably affect the sound that you get from a record, no matter how heavy the record is or how good of condition it's in. If your record player's components are subpar, even the highest-quality vinyl won't sound good.
Because your cartridge plays such an important role in the sound quality that you get from your turntable, it's one of the best parts to invest in. If you're not satisfied with the quality of the cartridge that came with your turntable, you can replace it with one made by a third-party manufacturer. A new cartridge is almost always cheaper than getting a completely new turntable, and it may make a bigger difference in terms of sound quality.
Can You Still Listen To Lower-Weighted Records And Get Good Sound?
You sure can. While vinyl weight can impact your listening experience, you can still get great sound out of 120-140g records. The majority of records produced during the first few decades after the invention of vinyl were lighter than 180g, and these records can still produce excellent sound. However, 180g records are significantly more durable than their lighter counterparts. This increase in durability means heavier vinyl may maintain its sound quality for longer than a lighter record would.
If you put a 120g record from 1965 on your turntable today, it may be more susceptible to warping and noise than a more recent 180g record. If you want your records to maintain their sound quality for as long as possible, heavier weight is the way to go.
Records will inevitably be susceptible to different forms of damage, no matter how durable they are. However, if you protect and care for your record collection, you'll be able to get better sound quality for as long as possible. Record care takes time and effort, but it's worth it to preserve and maintain your collection. One simple, practical step you can take to extend the lifespan of your records is storing them well.
Hang On – Do Records Actually Sound Better Than MP3s?
With all this talk about vinyl and sound quality, you may be asking one very relevant question – does vinyl actually sound better than digital audio? After all, if you can get superior sound quality from streaming songs on your phone, why bother with a turntable and records?
The short answer to this question is yes.
Vinyl records can indeed produce superior sound, and listening to your favorite albums as LPs is an incredibly rewarding experience. However, there are plenty of factors that can influence the way a record sounds, including:
- The quality of your turntable overall
- The quality of your turntable's parts, especially the cartridge
- The condition your records are in (worn-out records will produce more noise)
- Your speakers
- Your preamp – the device that amplifies the electrical signal produced by your record player's cartridge and makes it audible
- Your listening environment
- The type of record you are listening to – the record's weight, size, and RPM can all impact sound quality in small but important ways.
When you take all these factors into consideration, you can undoubtedly get an incredible and unbeatable listening experience from vinyl. However, listening to vinyl is also a commitment and an investment – it's far easier and more convenient to settle for streaming and digital audio, but it's not worth it to compromise.
If you take the leap and make the switch to listening to your favorite albums on vinyl, you're making a decision that will change your relationship with music forever. Vinyl is a format that gives you an intimate, immersive, and engrossing listening experience in a way that streaming and digital audio never could. With a great turntable, high-quality speakers, a solid preamp, and well-maintained records, you'll be well on your way to getting sound that even the pickiest of audiophiles would approve.