When entering the world of vinyl, it’s important to understand the different speeds that a turntable can play, and for this a little history lesson is in order. Records come in 3 different sizes: 33s, 45s and 78s, and each size needs to be played at a different speed. For a turntable to play a 33 for example, the turntable drive must spin the platter at 33RPM (rotations per minute). 45s must to be played at 45RPM and 78s at 78RPM.
The 78s were the original record and remained standard for the first half of the 20th century. They hold one song per side and need to be played at the fastest speed. In 1948 the 33s were introduced. These records play at a slower speed and can hold much more music, an entire album in fact. They generally store about 20-30 minutes worth of music on each side and you’ll need to manually turn the record over to hear the B side.
Due to the increased play time, the 33s became known as ‘long-plays’, which was shortened to ‘LPs’. One year later 45s were created. These records are smaller in size, hold one song per side and are affectionately known as ‘singles’. Even now, decades on, this language is still being used in the music industry.
The majority of turntables play all 3 speeds. You simply need to adjust the control on the turntable to match the size of the record (ie if you’re playing a 33 then set it to 33RPM). For some turntables, you might need to use an adaptor to play 45s or 78s but these will clearly come with instructions. Some turntables such as the Crosley Bermuda only play 2 speeds (33s and 45s), although this won’t be a problem if you don’t have any 78s.
The easiest way to determine what speeds you need your turntable to play is to consider your existing record collection and/or your collecting intentions. Are you planning on playing singles? If not, you only need to be worried about one speed, the 33s. If you plan on collecting singles then check the specifications to see if your turntable plays 45s and 78s.