What does 3-speed turntable mean? A three-speed turntable can play all three standard sizes of vinyl records. Early mass-produced records were 10-inches in diameter and played at speeds of 78 rotations per minute (RPM). Columbia Records began releasing 12-inch vinyl records with speeds of 33 1/3 RPM in 1948. RCA released the 7-inch, 45 RPM record the following year.
The 33 1/3 RPM long-play (LP) record soon became the standard for album releases because it could hold more audio compared to the other record sizes. 45 RPM records became popular for singles while 78 records were phased out.
What Are the Different Sizes of Records?
There are three standard sizes of phonograph records – 7-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch. Almost every full-length album released after the 1950s is pressed on a 12-inch vinyl record with a playback speed of 33 1/3 RPM while the smaller 7-inch 45 RPM records are mostly used for singles.
The first records spun at speeds between 74 and 82 RPM. Before the use of electric motors, phonographs were hand-cranked. The average person cranked at a speed of about 80 RPM.
After the release of phonographs with electric motors, audio manufacturers determined that 78.26 RPM provided optimal playback. 78 RPM records with a diameter of 10-inches became the standard by 1925.
Following World War II, record companies started developing new formats – the 33 1/3 RPM (12-inch) record and the 45 RPM (7-inch) record. The newer formats featured narrower grooves, which required a smaller needle.
The 33 1/3 RPM format is also known as the long play (LP) format, as each side can hold about 15 to 22 minutes of audio. The smaller 45 RPM records can hold approximately five minutes of audio per side. However, RCA also released a format known as extended play (EP), which could store 10 to 15 minutes of audio with reduced clarity.
In the 1950s and 1960s, most families had three-speed or four-speed turntables. After record companies stopped releasing 78 RPM records, the two-speed turntable became the most common type of record player.
Can a Standard Turntable Play All Three Sizes?
Modern turntables are mostly two-speed turntables. They can play 33 1/3 RPM LPs and 45 RPM singles.
Playing a 10-inch record at 78 RPM requires needles that can track the wider grooves of the record. The tonearm also typically needs a stereo cartridge. Even if you add these modifications to a standard turntable, it still needs to support 78 RPM playback speeds.
Thanks to the increased popularity of vinyl records in recent years, some audio companies have started releasing three-speed turntables.
Three-speed turntables are mostly sought by collectors that want to play old 78 records. By the early 1960s, 78s were phased out in favor of the 33s and 45s. Some children’s records continued to be released on 78s into the 1970s.
Along with collectors, DJs occasionally use three-speed turntables to increase the variety of records that they can play. Unless you are a record collector or a DJ, you most likely do not have a three-speed turntable.