How Long Do Vinyl Records Last? Answered!

Published Categorized as Vinyl 101

Have you ever been sat in your perch listening to your favorite records and all of a sudden wondered upon the mortality of your records? You are not alone! I do not doubt that we have all at some point wondered just how long do vinyl records last?

Thus, today, we will be elucidating for you the factors that come into play when considering the mortality of our record collection, as well as coming to terms with how and why this is not such an easy question to answer as some other aspects of audiophilia.

What are Vinyl Records Made of?

Vinyl records are made of polyvinyl chloride, which is best understood if we think of it as a combination of crude oil and chlorine, one of the reasons that the answer to the question of how long do vinyl records last is a lot longer than the original shellac records from days of yore.

how are vinyl records made

The substance might even be somewhat familiar. You might, for example, have come across it around the house, for a lot of plumbing hardware, as well as other related things, are made with the very same material, though it is more often in these situations referred to as PVC, which might now sound more familiar to you.

Polyvinyl chloride is originally more or less completely clear, providing space for some apposite opportunities for experimental color combinations in the production of vinyl.

You will likely have noticed, however, that the most common color for vinyl records is still black, almost certainly for financial reasons, ultimately saving record producers money during the process by using a cheaper color to most other alternatives, and especially in comparison to some of the bolder color combinations.

record sizes

Of which there are essentially infinite possibilities and which you can find experimented with on releases past and present. In fact, you might have noticed yourself that it is common for reissues of older albums to feature colored discs, with the music pressed onto a color related to the cover of the album.

I recently acquired a copy of the Twin Peaks soundtrack as performed and recorded by experimental pop band Xiu Xiu, wherein the two discs were a stark blue and red to mirror the two stark circles on both sides of the cover, likely a representation of the two opposed lodges within the show (if you know, you know).

Fair Wear and Tear

It should go without saying that the more you play a record, the more it will deteriorate. In contrast to physical formats like CDs, for example, there is a far more physical relationship between the format and that which reads the information imbibed within.

vinyl vs cd

In the specific example of the vinyl record, a needle of a record player will need to physically scrape itself against the surface of the disc so that the data and vibrations can be translated from within the grooves and out through the adjoining speaker setup or headphones.

Thus, it should not be hard to see how, even over a relatively short period of time, your precious records could be played to mush. This was an altogether common occurrence back in the day when records were popular, when they were the go to medium for storing and spreading the good musical word.

My own parents have told me of times when they play a record so much that it would literally wear through the entire disc and onto the turntable platter! In a time with a far less saturated music industry and no sign of digital streaming platforms providing overwhelming choices at the click of a button, it is not hard to see how this could once have been the case.

No doubt the materials which records are manufactured from are of an even at least slightly better quality, but the point still stands, that records are finite and have a lifespan. Perfectly mimicking the typically more organic sound of the record format, the disc is alive and so can perish if mistreated or used too much. Sound familiar?

How long do vinyl records last? Seeing as all are made from slightly different materials and concoctions of polyvinyl chloride, it would be impossible to say, though the life span is very much in your hands.

Factors that Affect How Long do Vinyl Records Last

As with all aspects of the vinyl record industry, the question of how long do vinyl records last is multi faceted and informed by a number of different factors, which we will here explore for your own research purposes, not least being the need to learn how to clean vinyl records.

LV_Complete-Care-Cleaning-Kit-1

Stylus / Tone Arm

The stylus or tone arm that you are using can have a crucial effect on the sanctity of your records, the quality of the stylus and / or tone arm having a correspondent effect to the amount of wear that they imbibe onto the disc being played.

Cheaper record players setups, such as those manufactured by Crosley and the like, will come with tone arms and styluses that are cheaper and of apocryphal quality, often without the addition of a counterweight, which is a crucial tool to combat the wearing away of one’s records, allowing you to set the apposite pressure that the needle sits on and reads the grooves of the record.

vinyl pressing prices

Since it is the needle that does the eventual damage to a record disc, it stands to reason that having a tool that can control how much pressure this needle is applying to the surface of the disc can only be a good thing.

Likewise, you will want to make sure that the needle and the cartridge themselves are of a good enough quality that, in coming into regular contact with your record collection.

They are up to the task of treating your collection with the respect and love it deserves and that you yourself would wish upon it. If you have any doubts that the needle might not be in good contition you can proceed into changing your record player needle.

Any good record player or turntable worth its salt will allow you to change the needle cartridge, and many audiophiles would recommend you do this pronto, especially if you have laden yourself with the grief of a Crosley.

Production and Printing

Since each vinyl production plant will use slightly different methods and slightly different machinery to produce and print and manufacture a record, it is no wonder that there are varying answers to the question of how long do vinyl records last.

Methods and machinery ought to be the parts that can be standardised, at least to a certain extent! It is when humans are involved that things really get out of hand.

There is really no way to homogenise and account for the sheer amount of aleatoric flexing that occurs when humans are involved, so the fact that there will always be staff working at a pressing plant of varying skill levels will mean that the records are cared for in infinitely different ways, intricate depths of minutiae that is barely worth thinking about really.

how long do vinyl records last

This is not even to consider the sheer amount these variations can multiply from pressing plant to pressing plant. This can be of particular relevance in this present moment, where record pressing plants are repeatedly hard pressed and over worked and backlogged with records from the past two years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, for whatever reason, there will undoubtedly be some pressing plants that spend longer on all of the relevant quality checks than some others, meaning that the answer to the question of how long do vinyl records last will always vary. Also, aboviously the vinyl pressing price will vary from plant to plant based on the above.

Materials and Thickness

It should go without question that the materials used in the production of a record have an effect on the overarching question of how long do vinyl records last. Sure enough, most records will be produced with a similar chemical foundation of polyvinyl chloride, but, as with the amount of human variation that can be involved in the process, the mixture too can vary considerably sometimes.

The most common instances of this occur when a record company reuses the mixture from older records to make new ones, effectively recycling the polyvinyl chloride used to make records that did not sell in their initial form.

Any resident audiophile will tell you that a recycled record like this will produce an inherently inferior record in terms of audio fidelity, though with the current rate of climate change this might be a worthy sacrifice.

More relevant to today, perhaps, is the way that record companies can also cut costs by pressing records to thinner discs, which will mean that the discs are bound to last a far shorter time than they might otherwise.

There was a particular trend of this in the 1980s when record companies were particularly hard pressed to make ends meet. What with the present vinyl boom, the standard seems to be somewhere between 120g and 180g of weight for each disc, though just how far this goes to changing the answer to the question of how long do vinyl records last is constantly up for debate and is a consistent point of contention for audiophiles everywhere.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully this collation of resources on the mortality of your record collection has been of some use, enabling you either to assess just how long your favorite records have in the grand scheme of things and / or allowing you to make some changes to the way you treat your records so that they can last that bit longer!

FAQs How Long Do Vinyl Records Last?

Do vinyl records get worn out?

Very much, yes, and this is a precise tenet to understanding the record format, and one of the main reasons that vinyl recording was left in the past in the first place. To work at all, the needle of the turntable needs to come into contact with the grooves of the record, an act of friction which can, over time, wear away the face of the record, not only degrading the overall fidelity of specific or whole parts of a record, but eventually even wearing through the entire disc and onto the other side if not careful.

How many times can you play a vinyl record before it wears out?

Unfortunately, there is no set amount of times that a vinyl record can be played before it is deemed unfit for the job anymore. This is for a number of factors, and it is precisely the sheer multitude of these factors that mean it is impossible to even give a rough estimate as to how many times a record is good to be played. Not only are the specific materials involved important to consider, as well as the fact that there is not much standardisation amongst thicknesses of record discs on the market, there is also the fact that a record’s lifespan is very much reliant on how it is treated by the user.

How long can vinyl records hold?

Though there are no real limits for the sizes and lengths of vinyl records, there are certain industry standards that are more or less adhered to across the board. If complied with, these industry standards mean that a standard 12 inch records that plays at 33 1 / 3 rpm will be able to hold around 23 minutes of music. By this same logic, a 7 inch record played at 45 rpm can hold around 4 minutes, though this extends to 6 minutes if the record is produced and printed to be played at 33 1 / 3 rpm.

What is the lifespan of vinyl?

Unfortunately, there is no set amount of times that a vinyl record can be played before it is deemed unfit for the job anymore. This is for a number of factors, and it is precisely the sheer multitude of these factors that mean it is impossible to even give a rough estimate as to how many times a record is good to be played. Not only are the specific materials involved important to consider, as well as the fact that there is not much standardisation amongst thicknesses of record discs on the market, there is also the fact that a record’s lifespan is very much reliant on how it is treated by the user.

Published
Categorized as Vinyl 101

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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