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 more depends on other factors. 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. 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. 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.