About 78 rpm records

The 78 rpm record was the primary format for music sold during the period from the early 1900s into the 1950s.  The name “78s” only became necessary in the late 1940s, to differentiate them from the newly-introduced 33 1/3 rpm LPs (“Long Plays”) and 45 rpm singles.  Before that, 78s were simply called records. 

78s only hold about 4 minutes of music per side.  This is because the record groove is quite large compared to “microgroove” LPs and 45s.  So while 78s will play on equipment designed for LPs and 45s, it is probably best to think of 78s as a completely different format that needs dedicated equipment designed for their playback. 78s have a largely undeserved bad reputation when it comes to sound quality, because many people try to play them using equipment not meant for them.

When playing 78s, it is best to have equipment that can deal with these three issues:

  1. Speed:  Obviously the turntable must spin at 78 rpm.
  2. Stylus:  Because 78s have a record groove that is around seven times larger than microgroove records, the stylus should also be much larger in order to pick up the music correctly.  A stylus used for microgroove records will fall to the bottom of a 78 rpm record, so you will hear mostly noise and dirt. The music is up on the sides of the groove.
  3. Equalization:  There is not actually a true “natural” representation of sound waves on an LP or 45 rpm record.   The lower notes (frequencies) are put on a record in a compressed fashion and are then de-compressed upon playback.  Your phono preamp is responsible for the de-compression on playback.  It is the process of compressing the low notes that allows LPs to hold as much as 25 minutes on a side of a record, because the groove is so much narrower.  While 78s do require some equalization, it is very different than that used on micro-groove records.  So playing 78s back through the phono input on your stereo makes for an inaccurate and unnatural sound.  

For these reasons, the best way to accurately play 78s is on equipment that was engineered properly for 78s. Keep in mind that recordings from any era were designed around the abilities of the format (record) and the electronics of that era.   Therefore, using the appropriate vintage equipment to play these recordings will yield a sound much closer to their natural origins. Mixing recordings and the electronics from different eras often produces a suboptimal sound.  Sound Exchange is happy to provide playback systems for 78s that are both cost effective and sound good.  

78 rpm records also have a reputation for breaking easily.  This is largely true when compared to vinyl records (note: some 78s are also made of vinyl).  But shellac 78s do hold one big advantage over vinyl LPs and 45s, in that they are much less susceptible to scratches and can still sound good even when they are visibly damaged. This was true even for 78s when they were new: they just didn’t ever look quite as good (shiny and smooth) as LPs, but they still sound fine when played with the right equipment.

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The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience

  • History

    Intro To The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience

    Welcome to the Sound Exchange reference guide about vinyl records. On these pages we will explore any and all topics that are relevant to the enjoyment of vinyl records. Read more...

    The Emergence of Long Play (1948)

    The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience began with the emergence of the 10” and 12”, 33 1/3 rpm, Long Play, Micro-Groove, Vinyl Record in 1948, and its smaller sibling, the 7” 45 rpm record. Read more..

    Modern Long Play Records

    The modern long play, micro-groove record brought to the market had a tremendous impact on artistic creativity. Read more..

    The Modern Vinyl Record (1960s)

    It has a relatively long playing time and does so while reproducing sound in what is called high fidelity. Read more..

    The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience Timeline

    Let’s put all of this information in the form of a timeline. Read more..
  • Analog Vs. Digital

    Which is better, CDs or Vinyl Records?

    This question can be reduced to studying their differences. Read more..

    How Sound is Created and Heard

    This discussion begins with the creation of sound itself. Everything in nature that creates a sound creates an analog sound, which also happens to be the only kind of sound that we can hear. Read more..

    Analog to Digital Conversion

    The digital process begins at the point where the electrical impulses generated by the microphone are encoded onto a recording device. Read more..

    Playback Pros and Cons

    An analog recording doesn’t attempt to describe the sound as it simply records its input continuously, so it doesn’t have the sample size and sampling rate issues that digital has. Read more..

    What about CDs?

    First you must remember that the specification for CDs was developed way back in 1979. Read more..

    My Thoughts on Digital Vs. Analog Sound

    The vinyl record is my preferred media for active listening to recordings made in the 1950s and into the 1980s. Read more..
  • Stereo Recordings

    Stereo Recordings

    Any discussion about music and sound reproduction will eventually make reference to how it is presented to the listener. Read more..

    Stereophonic Recordings (1960s)

    Regarding stereo recordings, when stereo first came out it was a brand new world and exactly how to represent a recording in a stereo format was very subjective. Read more..

    Mono Vs. Stereo Recordings

    Beginning with the comparison of Mono and Stereo recordings, it was typical that both mono and stereo records were made from the late 1950s until around 1970 when they ceased production of mono records. Read more..

    Quadraphonic Recordings

    Finally let me touch upon quadraphonic recordings as they appeared on vinyl records. Read more..
  • Turntables

    The Record Player

    “For the record,” a record player is generally thought of as a turntable with a built-in amplifier and speaker(s). Portable units are typically record players. Read more..

    Anatomy of a Turntable

    The turntable has several basic components including the plinth (base), the revolving platter, the tone arm, the cartridge and stylus, and the mechanical and electronic components to make it all work. Read more..

    Reducing Unwanted Noise

    Isolating the noise generated from the turntable’s motor from the platter is essential. Read more..

    Choosing a Quality Turntable

    So how do you know how good a turntable really is regardless of cost? Read more..

    Turntable Belt Replacement

    Occasionally, belt drive turntables require turntable belt replacement.

    All about Phono Cartridges

    At the heart of any turntable system is the phono cartridge. Read more...
  • Other Stereo Equipment

    Classic Stereo Equipment

    Stereo equipment is one more significant variable that can greatly affect the Classic Vinyl Listening Experience. Read more..

    Phono Preamps: Amplification and Equalization

    When the discussion turns to the phono preamps (short for pre-amplifier) we are really getting down into minute details of the record groove in order to understand its role and its importance. Read more..

    Purchasing Quality Preamps

    Like all components of a stereo system there are significant variations in quality in the preamps, which has significant effects on the quality of the playback of your records. Read more..
  • Records

    On First Pressings

    Typically, a first pressing is defined as what the actual record album looked like when it first came off the manufacturing line. Read more..

    Grading the Condition of Records

    At Sound Exchange we use visual grading (as opposed to play grading) for our records. We do not grade jackets, only the vinyl itself. Read more..

    About 78 rpm records

    The 78 rpm record was the primary format for music sold during the period from the early 1900s into the 1950s. Read more..

  • Taking Care Of Your Records

    Record Storage

    Always store your records in a cool, dry, dark environment in an upright position (never flat) that is high off the ground, and that provides some airflow around them. Read more..

    Tips for Handling Records

    Always handle your records by the label and the outer edge and never ever touch the record grooves except when performing a deep cleaning. Read more..

    That’s Not a Scratch on Your Vinyl – It’s Dirt!

    Dirt and static electricity may cause good records to sound “scratchy”. A proper cleaning will remove dirt and static electricity from the vinyl. Read more..

    How Often Should Records Be Cleaned?

    Record cleaning, like most any other type of cleaning, is a matter of degree. Read more..

    Record Cleaning Solution

    Wet cleaning of vinyl records is the best way if not the only way to really get them clean and to get them free of static electricity. Read more..

    How to Clean a Record

    Use plenty of solution and really get the record wet while being very, very careful to keep the solution off of the record label, as it will cause the paper label to “rise” or stain the label, etc, and it will never look like new again. Read more..

    Salvaging Vinyl

    An old trick of “last resort” is to actually play a record while wet. Read more..