When several different words like vinyl, record, and LP are thrown around as casually as a baseball, it’s easy to get confused.
In modern society, most people are talking about the same medium of music storage but there is indeed a subtle difference between the terms.
Generally, vinyl, records, and LPs all refer to the flat discs that are used to store music in an analog format and are played on a turntable. However, the subtle difference is that vinyl is associated with the specific material used to make records and LPs refer to a particular size record.
So, while many people use the terms interchangeably to refer to a vinyl record, they are not the same thing.
As we dive a bit deeper into the history of analog music, it’ll become more clear what each of the terms means and why they are not identical triplets, even though they are part of the same family.
For a long time, the term “vinyl” has been used to refer to records and it is commonly accepted as that. However, vinyl and records are technically not the same things since vinyl refers to the material used to make the record. Modern-day records are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), hence the term vinyl.
As much as you have probably heard someone talk about “vinyl” or a “record” as individual terms, you have probably also heard them talk about a “vinyl record” as a singular term in itself. This is because vinyl can be used as an adjective to indicate what type of record is being specified.
It’s the same conversational standard that applies to something as mundane as denim jeans. Jeans are a garment, whereas denim is a material so they are technically not the same thing.
But if you say that you’re looking for a new pair of denim, most people understand that you mean denim jeans and not another garment like a shirt. Also, almost all jeans are made from denim these days, so when you talk about jeans, everyone knows that you’re probably talking about denim ones.
In this example, vinyl would be the equivalent of denim, and jeans would be the equivalent of a record.
Furthermore, vinyl does not specify the size of the record and, therefore, does not specify if it is a full-length album or an extended play (EP). So, vinyl could refer to any size vinyl record, whether it be 7inch, 10inch, or 12inch.
The most striking difference between an LP and a record is that an LP is a specific-sized record, whereas a record, in general, could reference any size. At first glance, these two seem to be the same and people certainly treat them as the same in daily conversations.
However, if we take it back to basics, we can see that LP is an abbreviation for Long Play and Long Play specifically refers to a full-length album. This means that LPs are full-length 12inch records played at 33⅓ RPM that typically fit 10-12 tracks.
Like many other things in life, record terminology is way more complicated than it needs to be. If a 12inch record was the only size record that was made, then LP and record would essentially be the same, but this isn’t the case.
Records are mass-produced in three main sizes: 7inch, 10inch, and 12inch. These sizes remain fixed for production lines since they work with the turntable speed settings that are designed for record players.
If you’ve seen a speed switch on a turntable that is labeled 33, 45, or even 78RPM, it is so that you can play a variety of record sizes.
You may dislike the different record sizes for the mental mess that they create. Not to mention the limitations they propel when choosing a turntable that doesn’t accommodate every record size. However, there is a rainbow at the end of this storm in the form of providing options for different-sized albums.
Since 10inch records are commonly used to store extended plays (EPs) of around 3 to 6 tracks, artists have more freedom to release smaller albums.
On top of that, the small 7inch records allow artists to release 1 to 2 tracks at a time, when cut at 45 RPM. In the analog music realm where music storage sizes are already limited to the physical record size, unlike digital music, it isn’t the worst idea to have at least three different size options!
The world of records has been through a rollercoaster of changes and one of the biggest changes has been the material used to make records. Back in 1925, all records were made out of shellac which is a resin secreted by a lac insect on certain trees.
These records were fondly referred to as simply records or as shellacs, as a reference to the material used to make them. This is exactly how vinyl is now colloquially used to refer to records.
Later on, when different-sized records were introduced into production lines, people started referring to these shellac records as 78s, as a reference to the speed in RPM used to play them, which was associated with a 10inch size.
It was only when the demand for the shellac material increased during World War II that record manufacturers moved over to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as the new material for records.
Can you guess why the demand for shellac increased over that period? It’s because shellac is explosive. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that your beloved shellac record will spontaneously combust!
But in a time of war, flammable materials were in high demand, and resources were funneled accordingly. So, the production of records made out of shellac was stunted when the material was needed for a more pressing reason.
Modern-day records are still made from vinyl so most of the records that you come across today are made from vinyl. However, there are certainly still some shellac records lurking around either being sold online or in hibernation in someone’s old basement.
If you’re still wanting to learn more about the material used to make vinyl records, head over to What is a Vinyl Record & What are Vinyls Made Of?.
The rivalry between vinyl and vinyls has been an ongoing gray area for vintage music lovers for a long time now. Officially, vinyl is a noun and an adjective without any mention of vinyls as the plural of the word; meaning that even when you’re talking about multiple vinyl records, vinyl would be the correct word to use, not vinyls.
However, just because vinyls isn’t accepted in a dictionary, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t accepted in casual conversation. If you strongly feel that the plural of vinyl should be referred to as vinyls, then that’s your preference and there aren’t any vinyl police that will lock you up for breaking any laws.
We can’t guarantee that people won’t give you a strange look if you refer to your vinyls collection instead of your vinyl collection, but you won’t be hunted down with pitchforks.
Trying to gauge whether something is better based on a subjective scale is a bit of a never-ending battle. Vinyl has both strengths over digital, as well as weaknesses. So, this isn’t a question that can be answered in a simple yes or no manner.
Many will wholeheartedly declare that vinyl is better than digital but usually what they mean is that vinyl has certain qualities that they prefer over digital music.
Analog music, in the form of vinyl records, holds a strong advantage as a lossless storage medium. Unlike digital MP3 files that are compressed and go through multiple conversions that can result in a loss of information, analog records are somewhat “direct” imprints of the live music.
This method of capturing music means that the recording tends to be closer to how the artist intended it to sound. It encourages the nuances to come through and makes the tracks feel more alive.
Many people love the warmth of the sound that comes from vinyl and the way the music is played organically. For people who want an authentic experience, vinyl can be the best way to achieve it.
However, digital music is much more suited to particular genres of music. Vinyl tends to struggle in the highs and lows so music that has high-pitched frequencies can suffer from distortion, and bass-heavy notes can knock the needle around and cause unwanted irregularities.
Furthermore, digital files offer a dynamic range of 90dB whereas analog offers 70dB. The larger range of digital files means that they can support a greater range of loud and soft notes in a recording before noise distortion becomes an issue.
So, if you’re someone who loves deep bass or dubstep, you may prefer listening to digital musical files rather than diving into vinyl where you will likely feel limited.
Understanding the Subtle Differences
When words like vinyl, record, and LP are used interchangeably, it’s easy to think that they’re the same thing.
They certainly share their similarities, but while the word record describes the discs that store analog music in their general meaning, vinyl refers to records of any size that are specifically made from polyvinyl chloride.
In addition, an LP (Long Play) record is a full-length album, so an LP could be made from either shellac or vinyl, but it is specifically a 12inch size record. In casual conversation, most people can get away with using records, vinyl, and LPs synonymously.
But if we look deeper, we can see that they do differ in subtle ways and it is helpful to know why they are different.
- Hands-On: Victrola Premiere V1 Music System Review
- How to Clean a Record Player (& Needle) – With Photos
- Vinyl VS Record: Are They the Same Thing? What About an LP?
- How to Fix a Warped Record: Is it Possible to Unwarp Vinyl?
- How Much is a Record Player? Are They Worth the Cost?
Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.