Most vintage vinyl records measure somewhere between 120 – 150g, and or many years, these specifications seemed to work just fine. In more recent years, however, we’re commonly sold much heavier new pressings, often labeled as “Audiophile Quality 180g”.
So does 180g vinyl really make any difference to the overall listening experience? Or is it all a great swindle set up by record companies?
You’ll often hear folks claim that heavier weight vinyl allows for deeper grooves and more “detail,” but in reality, the technical standards for cutting grooves to vinyl master discs are exactly the same for all records regardless of weight. Therefore, the weight of a vinyl record has little to no impact on sound quality; the cut grooves are determined at the mastering stage, not by the record weight.
In fact, the standard grooves cut into a piece of vinyl are so small that it’s likely you could successfully press a perfectly good record at 100g (or even lower). The record would feel like a flimsy piece of sh*t, but hey, technically, it would play and sound just fine.
When all is said and done, it’s the source music material – alongside the mastering and manufacturing process – that truly affects sound quality. The impact of vinyl weight (in comparison) is negligible. Having said that, there are still many benefits to heavier weight vinyl records – here are some considerations.
180g vinyl is more durable
Increased durability is perhaps the most obvious benefit of heavyweight vinyl. By durability, I mean the improved resistance to breakage or warping over time; the grooves themselves are in no way more enduring.
Heavy vinyl feels nicer
Anyone who’s ever held a new 180g vinyl record will know what I mean about the imposing weight that gives a reassuring impression of quality.
Decreased Wow & Flutter
Some pressing plants believe the larger mass of thicker records can help reduce wow & flutter as they enable the platter to move at a more constant speed. However, the plant linked above are quick to add the following caveat: “…on low-end turntables, the added weight can cause extra pressure and friction on the platter.”
Thicker records naturally improve isolation to protect your stylus from vibration interference; you could just purchase a cork slip mat, of course, but all the same, increased disc weight should help absorb some vibrations.
Slightly off topic: When playing 180g vinyl, it’s worth considering your VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) – particularly if you have a nice thick cork mat – as the raised height can throw off your VTA setup, resulting in poor cartridge alignment.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for sonic nirvana in a slightly thicker record, you’re likely to be disappointed. Ultimately, the quality of the source material, alongside careful maintenance and setup of your turntable and records is what will ultimately have the greatest bearing on sound quality. And while it’s true that 180g pressings were historically associated with higher quality standards throughout the mastering and production process, the weight of the record itself says more about where they’re trying to position vinyl records in the market than anything else.
Pretty much all new records are 180g these days, and while this trend represents a quality standard that I welcome, it does lead to some presumptions of better quality that aren’t always true. The issue is particularly noticeable with the re-issue of classic albums on vinyl. Just like remastered CD’s, there’s a pretty noticeable push from big record labels to re-sell their back-catalogue on vinyl under the pretense of “improved quality.” You could argue that 180g pressings are just part of an overall veneer designed to persuade affluent consumers they should invest in yet another copy of that classic Beatles album.
This spectacle alone would be fine if you could be confident of improved (or at least faithfully re-created) sound quality. However, sadly, this is not always the case. Record companies are notoriously illusory when it comes to stating specific details of source material used to create re-issues and compilations. There’s a general feeling among many collectors that, in some cases, record companies have gone as far as to cynically release vinyl records using CD files as source material. Whether this is true or not, record companies should always strive to use the best source material possible when pressing a vinyl record. Quite simply, anything less than the best available source is a cynical attempt to swindle the record buying public.
Considering the above, it’s best to take that 180g sticker with a pinch of salt. Spend some time researching the quality of a pressing before committing to purchase (if you can). Discogs has a wealth of information; also, online forums such as stevehoffman.tv are a good source for listener opinions. Purchase the best copy you can afford (or find), and if that happens to be a 180g pressing – think of it as a nice bonus.