If you’re new to vinyl, you have probably wondered “what’s so special about smaller vinyl records”? Are they better quality? Are they rare and valuable? Do I need a special record player to play small vinyls? We answer all your small record questions, and more, in this blog!
Can I Play Small Records On My Record Player?
Yes, almost every record player can play small (7 inch) records. You will need to use an adaptor to play small records that have a larger centre hole (1.5 inch) but these are rare and not commonly produced.
How Do You Play Small Records?
To play 7 inch records, you simply need to place it on your record player like any other record, position the needle arm to the first song and select the right speed setting.
However, not all record players can play all small records so you need to check 3 things: your records RPM, your record player speed settings and your record’s hole size.
1. What RPM Is My Record?
Most small records will play at 45RPM, which is faster than normal 12 inch records which play at 33 1/3 RPM. This is for 2 reasons.
First, because the record spins faster at 45RPM, it will have less playtime available (4-5 minutes) which is perfect for a 1 song single. If it played at 33 1/3 RPM, it would have up to 7 minutes playtime, leaving a lot of empty space on the record.
Second, recording a vinyl at 45RPM means more audio information is available per second, at the expense of total playtime per side. This means the sound quality is superior on 45RPM 7 inch records.
Your record will have the RPM it was recorded at on the cover, or vinyl itself. Another way is to simply play it at any speed and listen. If it is played at the wrong speed, it will sound too slow/low-pitched, too fast/high-pitched or distorted.
2. Does My Record Player Have The Right Speed Setting?
Now you know what RPM your small record needs to be played, you need to check if your record player can spin at that speed. Fortunately, 95% of all record players have at least 2 speed settings: 33 1/3 and 45 RPM. As small records are designed to be played at 45RPM, simply select this speed to play your record.
If your record player does not have a 45RPM speed setting, you will not be able to play 45RPM 7 inch records. You will only be able to play 33 1/3 RPM small records but they are not as common, because they have the same audio quality as full album records but with less playtime.
3. What Size Hole Does My Small Record Have?
Lastly, check if the hole in the centre of your record is larger than normal. The normal hole size on a record is 0.283 inches in diameter but less commonly, small records can have a larger hole at 1.5 inches in diameter.
If your record has a normal sized hole, which almost all small records in production today do, you can simply place it on your record player as normal to play it. If your record has a larger hole, you will need to buy an adaptor for it to be able to spin. Fortunately, these are cheap to buy and very easy to use as they just fit on to your record player spindle.
Why Do Some Small Records Have A Larger Hole In The Middle?
When small records were first invented, there was a difference in manufacturing methods between the USA and the UK and Europe. A lot of North American Manufacturers printed them with larger holes but due to their impracticality, requiring additional equipment to play them, they soon became unpopular and the smaller, standard sized hole was adopted as the worldwide standard. The benefit of the larger hole is that they allow for a greater centre of gravity which meant records would wobble less and had more room on the outer edges to fit more audio on.
More specifically, the company RCA designed a range of record players that could ‘stack’ records on top of each other in order to automatically play the next vinyl, removing the need to manually change vinyl as often. This required a thicker spindle so they manufactured many records with the bigger 1.5 inch hole with the intention that people would have to purchase RCA records to play them on their record players. However, as time went on and the world mostly adopted the standard 0.283 sized hole, they became less popular.
There are still larger hole records in production today but they are far less common as they require an adaptor to play them, making them impractical for very little benefit in return.
What Is The Difference In Record Size, Speed And Playtime?
Records mostly come in 2 sizes (7″ and 12″) and 2 speeds (33 1/3 and 45 RPM) with 10 inch records and 78 RPM being far less common and rarely produced due to their impracticality. Below is a full breakdown of every record size, speed, playtime, rarity and use.
|Record Size||RPM||Average Playtime||Notes|
|7 Inch (small)||33 1/3 RPM||7 Minutes||Lowest Quality Small Record due to smaller playtime for the same audio quality as an album.|
|45 RPM||5 Minutes||Most Common 7 Inch Record, used to play 1 song per side. They offer superior sound quality than the same song on a full album.|
|78 RPM||1-2 Minutes||Extremely Rare due to limited playtime and most record players can’t play at 78RPM.|
|10 Inch (rarely in production)||33 1/3 RPM||13 minutes||Rarely made at any time.|
|45 RPM||10 Minutes||Rarely in production.|
|78 RPM||7-8 Minutes||Rarely in production.|
|12 Inch (standard album)||33 1/3 RPM||20 Minutes||Most Common Record Album.|
|45 RPM||14 Minutes||Less Common Record Album as it has greater sound quality but with room for 2 less songs.|
|78 RPM||9-10 Minutes||Rare Record as it can only hold up to 3 songs and most record players can’t play at 78RPM.|
Why Are Some Records Smaller?
Small Records are commonly used to release singles that are limited edition, unique looking or re-releases like remasters. They are particularly aimed at collectors because their lower playtime makes it less practical to listen to, needing to manually change records more often.
Small records also allow artists to sell singles that are a higher quality than their full 12 inch album counterpart. For example, a lot of Led Zeppelin’s albums were recorded and released at 33 1/3 on 12 Inch records in order to fit all of the album’s songs on 1 vinyl. Years later, remastered songs from these albums were released as 45RPM singles, which produce a superior sound quality as more audio information is pressed onto the grooves.
Are Small Records Always Better Quality Than Albums?
Although most 12 inch record albums are printed at a reduced sound quality than small records (33 RPM vs. 45RPM), some albums are still recorded at 45 or even 78 RPM, but this is less common.
The reason most 12 inch albums are recorded at 33 1/3 RPM is so they can fit the full albums worth of songs on 1 vinyl. 12 inch albums recorded at higher quality suffer from reduced playtime which may mean spreading the songs across multiple vinyls, making it a less practical choice for the average listener.
Small records on the other hand, have enough space to fit 1 song on with more audio information, without leaving a tonne of unused space which would make them feel wasteful. The choice between record sizes ultimately comes down whether you want greater sound quality or greater practicality, by not having to change the record as much.
This is similar to digital audio formats today like Mp3 vs. WAV. WAV format contains far more audio information on, resulting in better sound quality but has a far greater file size as a result. If you only had 1GB of space, would you prefer fewer, high quality songs or more, lesser quality songs?
So Does A Bigger RPM Mean Better Quality?
Only if the song was produced in a higher quality format too. A faster speed means more audio information can be processed per second. This allows producers to print more audio information on to the vinyl, such as higher frequencies and low-end, resulting in a better quality sound. However, records can still be printed at 45RPM without being produced to a higher quality, meaning the waveforms are spread out but don’t house any additional audio information.
This may seem pointless but some bands might just want to release singles for limited edition runs, or with unique artwork for collectors, instead of doing a remaster. It’s always worth checking if a small record was produced at 45RPM on purpose if you want to buy the highest quality record.
Why Aren’t More Records 78RPM?
78RPM records are very rarely produced due to their impracticality, except with some classical and jazz artists as their song lengths are unusual compared to other genres.
78RPM records can be produced with more audio information on but most people can’t hear the difference compared to a 45 RPM record. This means that 78RPM records sound largely the same as 45RPMs to the average listener but with less playtime, making them impractical to purchase. When they were first released in the 1950s, manufacturers discovered there wasn’t a huge demand for them and as they were expensive to print, they stopped producing them, shifting focus to sales of 7 Inch 45 RPM and 12 Inch 33 1/3 RPM.
Can You Hear The Difference Between a 78RPM and 45RPM Record? (stats from our poll!)
Are Small Records Worth More Money?
Small Records are rarely more valuable than normal records just because of their size. It is more important to look at a combination of other factors such as;
- The rarity of the record if it is part of a limited edition run
- If it has a unique front cover
- If it was printed at an unusual RPM for it’s size e.g. 78 RPM on a 7 inch vinyl
- If it was one of the first print’s, such as the manufacturer printing the first 1000 in one location before printing the rest elsewhere
- If it was an ‘accidental’ print with mistakes on it
If you would like to know if your small record is valuable, search online to find people selling it with the exact same size, speed, cover and manufacturer. If you can’t find it, speak to a professional vinyl collector or seller!
Small records are usually made to be played at 45RPM and as most record players come with this speed setting, it is highly likely you will be able to play your small records. The exception to this is if you have an older record that was manufactured with a larger centre hole. If you have one of these, then you simply need to buy an adaptor to play it.