What is a vinyl? Everything You Need to Know

4 mins read

The original way to listen and share music, vinyl records have been popular since the 50s. The last decade has seen vinyl making an even bigger comeback into the mainstream as users seek physical copies of their favourite artists and albums.

This article gives you an entry level knowledge of all things vinyl records.

What Are Vinyl Records?

Vinyl Records are simply media storage in the form of a rotating disc. These analog music storage devices feature inscribed modulated spiral grooves and are typically 12 inches, 10 inches, or 7 inches in diameter.

Where Does the Term “Record” Come From?

The term ‘records’ pre-dates ‘vinyl records’. Records weren’t always made using Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – This is only a more recent material. Prior to that records were made using a type of resin called shellac.

The term ‘vinyl records’ is a later adoption named after the material used to make.

History Of Vinyl Records

We’ll go into more detail of the history of vinyl records in our dedicated article. In short records have been used to store and play music since the early 1800s gaining prominence in the early 1900s. Throughout the 1900s records were one of the primary ways of listening to music with the greats such as Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones all having their best works pressed onto records.

1991 saw the release of CDs which were easier to produce and smaller. This saw the decrease in sale of vinyl records as users switched to a modern way of consuming music which could be more portable than ever.

Vinyl records have seen a recent resurgence after the rise of popular streaming platforms such as Spotify. Users are switching back to vinyl collections to have physical copies of their favourite artists work, vinyl collections are also making their way out of the attics and loft to be publicly displayed.

How Are Vinyl Records Made?

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) granulate is heated to 160 degrees Celsius at which point it enters a viscous state and can be shaped into small vinyl cakes and placed in the press. The cakes weigh around 160 grams. The mould is heated to 180 degrees Celsius when the firm vinyl liquefies. A pressure of 110 tonnes is applied to press the cake into a vinyl gramophone record. It is then cooled with water. This production step takes about half a minute. 

For more details about the vinyl manufacturing process see our guide.

How Does Vinyl Records Work?

We’re go into more detail about this in a dedicated article. To put it simply, a vinyl record works by the groves on imprinted on the disc being read by the stylus as it rotates. The stylus generates an electric signal which is transferred to an amplifier – The amplifier then conducts this signal to the speakers – This is just heard as the sound.

How To Use A Record Player?

We’re going to assume you have a record player that setup. If you are looking to setup your record player then follow this article where we’ll going into more detail.

First things first, ensure the record player is on a flat, stable surface. Vinyl records should be handled with care try not to touch the record itself with your hands of fingers, holding using the edges and the middle of the disc is best for a long lasting record.

To use a record player ensure the mat is on the record player, this ensures the record doesn’t slip. Place the record onto the turntable (most records will have a side A and B – Check the back of the record sleeve to see which side you want to play).

Modern record players have an automatic stylus / needle – This ensures you don’t scratch the record. If it’s an older model simply lift the stylus arm (it’s quite light) place it on the outer edge of the record lowering carefully, the needle will find the natural groove of the vinyl record and begin to play. Always be careful not to press down or push the needle on the record. Avoid forcible moving the needle when it’s on the record this may scratch the record

CD Vs. Vinyl Record

Although the shape of both CD and Vinyl Records are the same, they are actually very different. Both are storage devices, the main difference is the format, Vinyl Records store the music via analogue whereas CDs store the music digitally – This is then read by a laser.

Music quality has always been debated. Fundamentally digitally encoded sounds are stored at a higher quality so CDs are technically the better quality, however vinyl enthusiastic will tell you that some form of loss is evident in analogue to digital transfer and therefore vinyl’s sound is truer to the recorded version.

What Are The Different Types Of Vinyl Records?

There are four core types of vinyl records that you’re most likely to come across today.

  • 12 Inch LP (Long-playing) Albums
  • 7 Inch Singles
  • 12 Inch Singles
  • 10 Inch Records

There are multiple version of these which you may come across when buying / building up your own vinyl collection.

We’ll go into more detail about the variants including coloured and dinked records within another article. 

What Are LP And EP?

LP (Long Play Records)

Simply put these were the standard 12-inch diameter vinyl record you’d get which played at the speed of 33 RPMs.

In the modern music space LP usually refers to an album with a 2-sided disc having the capacity to have up to 44 minutes of music stored, or around 10 to 12 tracks.

EP (Extended Play)

Usually seen as a ‘mini-album’ these are longer than singles but usually around half the length of an album. EP’s playing time is usually between 15-22, enough for 3-5 tracks to be recorded.

Artists sometimes opt for EP’s when they are new and releasing their first solos, have additional songs but not enough for an album, or want to release a set of variants for die-hard fans.

EP vs. LP – Summarised

To provide a quick recap:

  • LP in music means Long Play and is a full length album.
  • EP in music means Extended Play and is a half length album.
  • EP is extended in the sense that it’s longer than a single.

What are vinyl records? – Summary

We hope this gives an intro into Vinyl Records and answers some of the very basic questions. We’ve got plenty more articles and guides to help you get started as well as more advanced guides and reviews for collectors and enthusiasts.

Music enthusiast with a love for vinyl, gigs and festivals. Here to educate, review, discuss and share the love of music and vinyl records for the next generation.

Latest from Blog