#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

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39 comments

    1. Heavier vinyl is less prone to warping, but I agree with your post.

      One thing to consider, and I have not gone so far as to confirm this, but I have read the calibration can be off on some turntables due to thicker records. The thicker record will especially effect a lower mass arm table and a cheaper quality turntable as the thicker vinyl will cause the tonearm to sit higher, and the counterweight can’t compensate. My guess is you would need more downforce on a 200g record than a 120g record due to the difference in thickness.

      Unfortunately, the 180g has a lot to do with the price being wayyyy too high, in my opinion. Cd’s have dropped in price and vinyl prices have doubled, tripled, quadrupled etc. in the same time period.

      Be aware of sub-par record companies that are pressing onto 180g for the sales. They know they can get more money. They often use bad digital sources and do not have the right people or presses and the sound is awful.

      We as consumers should do our due diligence, check the net, check Discogs notes, Amazon notes, vinyl and music websites to find out about particular, unscrupulous companies out to make a quick buck. Many vinyl newbies will buy crap records and think that is just how it sounds. The 180g stickers will fool them into believing that it is better. They don’t use their ears as the judge of quality.

      Cool that you talked to Gerry Mcghee. I want to tour his plant one day.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I should have mentioned warping. I suppose because I never allow my records to get warped it escaped my mind.

        I’d love to tour his plant. Maybe we could approach him and ask him for a tiny bit of his time for an article. Dunno if it would be worth his time?

        I think you have a point about the counterweight issue. Now, I’ve never adjusted mine.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ve got plenty of 180 gram but nothing 200 (or higher) in my collection. I just like considering myself an ‘audiophile’ so I buy them whenever I see that word on the sticker. Hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I consider myself picky about some things, but I’m not much of an audiophile. Some people say I have tin ears. I dunno. I love music, I’d hate to think that I can’t appreciate it as much as a true audiophile if I have shitty ears.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you brought this up to your readers, Mike. As much as I love holding a nice heavy slab of vinyl (carefully) in my hands, I know that the sound is no better than a well manufactured 120g LP. Of course, those 180g & 200g albums feel really nice, especially inside the packaging. A few years ago I got Rush’s “Clockwork Angels” on double 180g vinyl and it’s almost as heavy as a CD box set. Same with some recent Tom Petty (RIP) and a few other artists I can’t remember because my music collection has been in storage for two years (coming to an end in about a month, finally).

    One thing for people to consider when they question to obscene prices being charged for new vinyl is that heavier vinyl costs more to manufacture AND to ship. I think a lot of music lovers don’t care if they’re spending a lot as long as they get something that “feels” substantial.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh Rich that Clockwork record would be very nice! I only have CD. But it’s signed by Geddy and Alex so I’m OK with that ;)

      I do like that substantial feel. Here’s another example. I have an old Terminator 2 DVD set that came in a heavy steel box. It’s SOLID. And I’ve never upgraded to blu-ray or any other more recent version. That solid box is too cool for school!

      Like

  3. Great post, Mike. I don’t have any 200 gram vinyl, but a fair few on 180.

    Interestingly, Music on Vinyl appears to capitalise on the vinyl buyer, but carrying the ‘audiophile quality’ sticker on their releases (I haven’t had any complaints about the quality of the press, right enough). But then, as much as I think ‘audiophile quality’ is a nonsense, I guess an audiophile is a label folks tend to give themselves and some may be of the opinion that thicker vinyl means better sound.

    Coincidentally, the best sounding records I have happen to be 180 gram.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m much more about having the album in a physical format I’ll listen to. I rarely play CDs, as I just love the ritual of listening to records.

        That said, I do want the record to be a particularly nice item to hold and look at, as well as it being a nice sounding LP.

        Like

      1. The MOV I own all sound great. My only issue being that the artwork is often pretty shabby (very saturated, which I assume is the result of low quality image files).

        I don’t tend to buy reissues of older albums unless it’s something difficult to get hold of (either cause there aren’t many for sale or the original press is too expensive).

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I had to throw out a bunch of 78s today. I’m sure they were fine when they left the person’s house, but getting boxed up, moved around, donated at my work, then piled on a cart and finally getting to my work station, they were all in pieces. The acetate wasn’t very durable!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. A few points you guys may already know.
      78’s are made of shellac, not vinyl.

      Also 78’s require a special stylus. If your record player has a 78 speed, you have to put a different stylus on to play it, or risk damaging your stylus.

      Like

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