180 gram vinyl has been the subject of much debate among record nerds. Are thicker and heavier records actually “better” and if so, why?
While some misconceptions exist, there’s nothing really noteworthy about heavyweight vinyl. That doesn’t mean there are no benefits to be gained from 180g, or even 200-220g vinyl LP’s. This article hopes to answer some questions concerning vinyl weight.
Does 180 Gram Vinyl Sound Better?
No. Record weight has very little to do with the sound quality of the musical data engraved in the grooves. The depth of the grooves that are cut into the record surface are exactly the same, regardless of vinyl thickness or weight grade. However, one possible advantage to heavier vinyl is that it “marries” itself to your turntable’s platter better than lighter records do. The same concept applies to record weights/clamps and cork mats; anything that helps provide a vibration-free playing surface for your phono cartridge is a good thing. Besides that minor difference, the sound quality of a vinyl pressing depends almost entirely upon the quality of the source material and the mastering process. In other words, 180 gram vinyl isn’t any indication of a better sounding record. In fact, a great many records sold with the “180 Gram” hype stickers are often inferior Scorpio pressings. These are poorly mastered vinyl pressings, often sourced from a cd or even poor digital sources. These pressings may suit those who necessarily need it on wax and are looking for inexpensive reissues, but the recordings tend to sound rather flat. 180 grams cannot make up for poor mastering or source material. Just cos’ it’s on vinyl doesn’t necessarily mean that it sounds better.
Then Why Are Heavyweight Vinyl Records Still Considered Better?
What are the real benefits of heavyweight vinyl? Why is it so prominently marketed by the record labels and highly regarded by some collectors? Here are a few possible answers:
- A heavier vinyl platter is more robust and durable. A 180 Gram LP is not only more satisfying to handle and place on the turntable, but it offers more resistance to clutzy manipulation and other possible abuses. Ironically, this is not in reference to groove wear from being in contact with the stylus. Groove wear is the same for all records, regardless of their weight. That said, there is still a marked advantage to the robustness and durability of the vinyl platter itself.
- There are arguably some mechanical advantages to using heavier vinyl on your turntable. As previously mentioned, a heavier record provides a more stable platform for your stylus and cantilever suspension. This extra weight provides for a better marriage between record and turntable platter, thus reducing the amount of “bad” vibrations that reach your stylus. Isolation from unwanted vibration reduces sound degradation at this micro-level, where the pickup is working. From this standpoint, a heavier vinyl record can be seen as a type of physical upgrade to your system, but don’t expect any life altering difference to your sound.
- Historically, there is an implied quality standard associated with heavier vinyl pressings. When these heavyweight pressings first started appearing on the market, they were almost exclusively the territory of “audiophile” type labels. A thicker slab represented a higher quality standard being applied to the entire record making process, including the vinyl mastering and manufacturing. The final product sounded better but it was not exclusively due to the heavier record. Record labels like Analogue Productions and Speaker’s Corner make it their business to pay close attention to every detail of the vinyl making process. Their entire business plan revolves around providing the highest standards of quality, at every level of production. This process starts with the source recordings and continues down to improved mastering techniques and manufacturing. The heavyweight vinyl record is just one aspect of an entire process dedicated to quality control.
So what’s with all these lower quality 180 Gram pressings flooding the market today? Why are new records already warped, straight out of the shrinkwrap?
Possible answers include:
- A sharp increase in demand for music on vinyl led many imprints to use the 180 gram moniker as a marketing tool. A heavy record is more attractive to consumers. This is partially due to its aforementioned association to audiophile labels, to which they were once exclusive territory.
- From a production and marketing standpoint, this perceived added value often compensates for the marginally higher costs involved with using more material to press the records. Increased market demand for heavier vinyl has now made it a standard which is financially viable, even for smaller independent artists and labels.
- A sharp increase in demand for new records has created a bottleneck on the production side of things, often resulting in waiting times of 6 months or longer. Older record pressing machines are often running too hot, due to their full time operation schedule. This places undue stress on the outdated machinery, often resulting in a final product which is warped before it ever ships to the client. Have you ever purchased a brand new 180 gram record that was already warped? Yeah me too; we all have and it sucks. Poor quality control is something which should be somewhat alleviated with the introduction of new pressing plants, but the old machines are still being used 24/7 and the results aren’t always so good.
180 Gram Vinyl is not necessarily better, especially where it concerns sound reproduction. While it may provide a more satisfying tangible experience, its added value shouldn’t be overstated either. Heavyweight pressings can contribute towards an enjoyable listening experience, when coupled with similarly high recording and production standards. Leather seats may be an attractive feature in a car, but it won’t make a poorly constructed automobile drive any better. Thick vinyl is a wonderful feature but without the other necessary aspects which go into producing a great sounding record, it’s little more than a pleasant feature.
Special thanks to Sergio Redondo of Vinyl Gourmet, who’s original article was used as a source for writing this. Read it here.