The earliest rotation speeds varied widely.
Most records made in 1900-1925 were recorded
at 74-82 revolutions per minute (RPM). However
a few unusual systems were deployed. The Dutch
Philips company introduced records whose rotational
speed varied such that the reproducing "needle"
ran at a constant linear velocity (CLV) in the
groove. These records also, unusually, played
from the inside to the outside. Both of these
features were to be emulated by the modern day
Compact Disc. The London Science Museum displays
a Philips record marked as "Speed D".
It is one of these CLV disks.
1925, 78.26 rpm was chosen as the standard because
of the introduction of the electrically powered
synchronous turntable motor. This motor ran
at 3600 rpm with a 46:1 gear ratio which produced
78.26 rpm. In parts of the world that used 50
Hz current, the standard was 77.92 RPM (3000
rpm with a 38.5:1 ratio), which was also the
speed at which a strobe disc with 77 lines would
"stand still" in 50 Hz light (92 lines
for 60Hz). Thus these records became known as
78s (or "seventy-eights"). This term
did not come into use until after World War
II when a need developed to distinguish the
78 from other newer disc record formats, an
example of a retronym. Earlier they were just
called records, or when there was a need to
distinguish them from cylinders, disc records.
Standard records was also used, although the
same term had also been used earlier for two-minute
and RCA's competition extended to equipment.
Some turntables included spindle size adapters,
but other turntables required snap-in inserts
like this one to adapt RCA's larger 45 rpm spindle
size to the smaller spindle size available on
nearly all turntables.After World War II, two
new competing formats came on to the market
and gradually replaced the standard "78":
the 33? rpm (often just referred to as the 33
rpm), and the 45 rpm. The 33? rpm LP (for "long
play") format was developed by Columbia
Records and marketed in 1948. RCA Victor developed
the 45 rpm format and marketed it in 1949, in
response to Columbia. Both types of new disc
used narrower grooves, intended to be played
with a smaller stylus (typically 0.001"
(25 µm) wide, compared to 0.003"
(76 µm) for a 78) so the new records were
sometimes called Microgroove. In the mid-1950s
all record companies agreed to a common recording
standard called RIAA equalization. Prior to
the establishment of the standard each company
used its own preferred standard, requiring discriminating
listeners to use preamplifier with multiple
selectable equalization curves.
number of recordings were pressed at 16? RPM,
but these were mostly used for radio transcription
discs or narrated publications for the blind
and visually impaired, and were never widely
commercially available, although it was still
common to see turntables with a 16 RPM speed
setting produced as late as the 1970s. The older
78 format continued to be mass produced alongside
the newer formats into the 1950s, and in a few
countries, such as India, into the 1960s. As
late as the 1970s, some children's records were
released at the 78 rpm speed.
commercial rivalry between RCA Victor and Columbia
Records led to RCA Victor's introduction of
what it had intended to be a competing vinyl
format, the 7" (175 mm) /45 rpm disc. For
a two-year period from 1948 to 1950, record
companies and consumers faced uncertainty over
which of these formats would ultimately prevail
in what was known as the "War of the Speeds".
Eventually the 12" (300 mm) 33? rpm LP
prevailed as the predominant format for musical
albums, and the 7" (175 mm) 45 rpm disc
or "single" established a significant
niche for shorter duration discs, typically
containing one song on each side. The 45 rpm
discs typically emulated the playing time of
the former 78 rpm discs, while the LP discs
provided up to one half hour of time per side
(though typically 15 to 20 minutes). The 45
rpm discs also came in a variety known as Extended
play (EP) which achieved up to 10-15 minutes
play at the expense of attenuating (and possibly
compressing) the sound to reduce the width required
by the groove.
the mid-1950s through the 1960s, in the U.S.
the common home "record player" or
"stereo" would typically have had
these features: a three- or four-speed player
with changer (78, 45, 33?, and sometimes 16?
rpm); a combination cartridge with both 78 and
microgroove styluses; and some kind of adapter
for playing the 45s with their larger center
hole. The large center hole on 45s allows for
easier handling by jukebox mechanisms. RCA 45s
can also be adapted to the smaller spindle of
an LP player with a plastic snap-in insert known
as a "spider"; such inserts were prevalent
starting in the 1960s.
playing or recording records at the wrong speed
was a common amusement. For example, playing
the song "I'm on Fire" from Bruce
Springsteen's 33.3 LP at a 45 speed gives the
singer a falsetto singing voice that sounds
very much like Dolly Parton. Conversely, playing
a 45 rpm recording of Dolly Parton at 33.3 gives
her a voice a husky, almost masculine tone.
effect was used in 1966 by Cork Marcheschi of
California group the Ethix (and later of Fifty
Foot Hose), who issued an experimental single,
"Bad Trip", which could be played
at any speed. Canadian musician Nash the Slash
also took advantage of this speed/tonal effect
with his 1981 12" disc Decomposing, which
featured four instrumental tracks that were
engineered to play at any speed (with the playing
times listed for 33?, 45 and 78 rpm playback).
Faster playback made the tracks sound like punk
rock or power pop, while slower speeds gave
the songs a thick, heavy metal effect.