In theory, heavier/thicker vinyl is a better playback medium than lighter/thinner vinyl because a heavy/thick record will vibrate less during playback and will deal with heat created during playback more efficiently.
In reality, there are too many variables involved, so that none of the theory really matters. Some of the best-sounding LPs in my collection are thin, flimsy, floppy discs. I have one or two thick "audiophile" LPs that are awful.
Most of the thick "audiophile" records sound good, but it's less to do with the thickness of the vinyl than to the care put into the mastering and manufacturing.
One of the down sides is that it makes it virtually impossible to settle in on one VTA - thats hard enuf to achieve if you have just one thickness. Other than that I think the real benefits from thickness are overstated - I'd rather see greater quality control in the pressings.
Hmmm... Responses are all over the place here, and each is correct. But let me see if this will add some clarity to someone who is new to this game. Note to begin: 120 gram, 180 gram, 200 gram actually refer to the weight of the "glob" of vinyl that is dropped onto the press when the record is pressed. The result is a thicker record, but the measure is by weight of the vinyl. 120 gram has been the industry standard.
Elizabeth sets the right context for understanding the history. In the 70's, vinyl got to be very expensive with the oil shortage. Manuafacturer's tried everything they could think of to cut costs, including making the vinyl thinner, using re-cycled vinyl, using fillers and additives. Records became so thin, they just "wilted" when you held them in the middle - like Dali's clock paintings. But the biggest culprits were re-cycled vinyl and the various fillers and additives. The formulation of the vinyl can make a big difference in getting good sound. Different formulations DO sound different. Thus, in the early 80's one started seeing in the marketing materials references to "virgin vinyl."
But there truly is a downside to thin vinyl that is TOO thin.
Stereo discs are cut with both a lateral motion and a vertical motion. Really thin vinyl limits how deeply the grooves can be cut, and this in turn compresses the information that can be encoded in the grooves. Also, I've read that you can get interference from the reverse side of the disc. (This was part of the rational for Classic Records and Speakers Corner to cut their 45 rpm recordings on one-side discs; the other part of the rational was to improve contact with the turntable platter on the underside. Only those manufacturers can address how much practical difference they heard when they tested this, if they ever did. Acoustech/Analogue Productions are pressing their 45 rpm reissues on two sides with marvelous results.) The industry standardized on 120 gram vinyl as the point at which this problem was largely resolved.
Also, vinyl resonates just like anything else. Here a bit more mass helps damp the resonance created by the stylus in the groove.
Still, with good quality virgin vinyl and reasonable record thickness (e.g., 120 grams), standard 120 gram records can sound very very good, and like another person commented, some of the best sounding records in my collection are 120 gram records. Might those records sound better if pressed on heavier vinyl? Probably, all things being equal. But all things are never equal for us as end users/listeners. There are too many variables for most of us to be able to do a listening tests where the variable are controlled.
My subjective experience over the years leads me to the conclusion that it is not all a marketing gimmic, at least not between 120 and 180. However, I think the differences in made by changing the weight can be swamped by difference created by changing the vinyl formulation or using re-cycled versus virgin vinyl. Is there a difference between 180 gram and 200 gram? I don't think so; I think that is marketing gimmick. But, the only 200 gram vinyl out there is a different vinyl formulation, so there are two variables at play. My guess, and its only a guess, is that the bigger difference heard (and I do hear it) is the result of a difference in the formulation of the vinyl, not the weight.
All theory aside, the results are what matter. I, too, have heard heavy-weight vinyl that sounds terrible and light weight vinyl that sounds marvelous. But, I think the mastering experts, like Stan Ricker and Steve Hoffman, would tell us that they prefer to have their work pressed on heavier vinyl given a choice.
And, to Newbee's point, the difference in thickness does mean that we have to adjust our VTA settings when switching between 120 and 180 gram vinyl. If one is not doing that, the sound of one or the other is going to be way off from what it can be. .
Rushton, FYI - "virgin vinyl" as a marketing concept is not a product of the '80s. I have a bunch of Longines Symphonette LP sets from the '60s that promote their virgin vinyl materials. I'm sure this was not new in the '60s or exclusive to Longines Symphonette.
regarding steve hoffman's preferences for heavier vinyl, he has stated on his own website his dislike for 200g. and i don't know if the thickness of vinyl has anything to do with it, but there is enough complaints about the quality of classic's 200g releases (although i've never had any problem with them) to make you wonder if 180g is good enough. open for ongoing discussion...
Rex - interesting, I'd never seen the use before the 80s.
Elizabeth - "Quiex II" is stated by Classic Records to be a different formulation, but they are all somewhat different from pressing plant to plant. Some of CR's re-releases on Quiex II do sound better than the earlier releases with a somewhat sweeter top end that improves somewhat on the notoriusly poor CR string tone (they haven't been remastered, so the vinyl is the only change). As I understand the process, the vinyl comes in pellet form. .
A dealer friend gave me a "Hershey Kiss" piece of vinyl years ago. I don't really have any way to confirm this now but he told me it was a genuine piece of MFSL vinyl as they purchased it, ready for the stamping process. It does look exactly like that particular piece of candy. It has been sitting close to my turntable since the early 80's as a novelty. It's about 3" in diameter by 1 1/2" tall.
Rushton, wonderful post. I actually have some 104g (Telefunken) records that sound surprisingly good. Yesterday I played a new Cyprien Katsaris/Liszt LP and was worried the record would be too thin. Yet the piano tone was decent and the dynamics were certainly uncompressed. Elizabeth was right, choice of mastering techniques and other variables matter more than the weight of the vinyl. OTOH I'm reasonably sure I heard some intervinyl resonances that might have been better damped by a thicker record.
Yea Dan ed i understand. I guess you know what i m getting at that old subject VTA with different weighted records. I did buy a 5X lighted magnifying glass to get a better look at the position of my stylus.
We all know when dialed in VTA can make the difference between very nice sound and most excellent sound.
Well to give you a very good estimate based on several years of routinely performing these measurements on over 1000 LPs, see below.
100 gram = 1.00 mm 120 gram = 1.20 mm 150 gram = 1.50 mm 180 gram = 1.80 mm 200 gram = 2.00 mm
These numbers are approximate but consistently close every time they are checked. I have a set of calipers modified specifically for this purpose. I'm actually impressed that the numbers are mostly consistant.
Of course there are a couple that fall outside the norm (+/- 0.05 mm).
One thing is for sure my Triplaner and my ears will let me know when VTA is off. But now that i have your valuable information along with Tri letting me know that 1 revolution of the VTA towers dial is 1/40th of an inch. I can get mighty close with any weight record. That breaks down to 1/40th=0.025 decimal in. That equals 0.635mm per revolution of the dial.
Wow now i m getting real scientific and i know in the end my ears will let me know if i need to make further VTA adjustments but i should be close.
I m retired now and have plenty of time on my hands guys.
My turntable (Technics) makes it very easy to adjust VTA to compensate for differences in thickness, to make sure tonal balance affected by VTA remains fairly constant.
Concerning the variety of record weights (e.g., 140g, 180g, 200g), different weights have different resonant frequencies, but a record grip like the KABUSA dampens the record's resonant frequency and minimizes that difference. I use the KABUSA and it helps put a Dynaflex and a Classic in the same sonic ballpark.
But after all that, there is--to these ears--an audible difference in sound quality of the 200g Classics I have. They reveal superior recovery of low level detail more like the master tape itself. I think these differences are attributable to:
1) Classic's tendency to use the original 2-track master rather than a copy (1 less generation of deterioration) 2) Bernie Grundman doing the mastering 3) Bernie's tube-driven cutter
I suspect the tube-driven cutter particularly enhances the low level resolution, as low amplitude linearity is probably the strongest suit of tube-driven electronics.
I just got two wonderful 200g Classics this week, and they stun me every time I put one on for their comprehensive retrieval of everything that went on in the studio. I have a mid-priced system, certainly nothing expensive, but with the Classics (a Holly Cole and a Norah Jones), I don't just hear the music, I hear how they made the music, right down to being able to visualize how the vocalists are shaping their mouths to sing the notes.
Be aware that using the weight/thickness of an LP to estimate arm height is only valid when comparing LPs on the same record label (and from the same pressing plant and era). Different plants and engineers used different gear and adjusted it differently. Therefore, cutting stylus SRA's vary widely between similar weight LPs on different labels. A 180g Decca/London will not want the same arm height as a 180g RCA or Mercury or MFSL reissue. Not even close.
We use weight (as a proxy for thickness) just as you're planning to, but only within the context of a single record label. We have a baseline setting for a typical weight on each label, then adjust for different weights from there.
That's still just an estimate of course. Fine tuning for each LP is by ear.
Doug the Luke method is the only real way to get it right or i should say get it to sound right to your ears.
I sent in my TP last month for a check up and on return decided to spend the time to listen for those changes from different VTA/SRA settings since i was starting from scratch. In the end my previous settings were high with arm height, and i knew UNIverse likes in low in the back. I listen to blues and classic rock mostly and like a sound thats more on the bright side of things. To my amazement you dont loose that nice tingly sound when you lower the arm instead you get that and better mids, bass, stage and sound thats fantastic/more seamless. The funny part is i thought my setup sounded good before i sent my TP in go figure.
I love vinyl playback with its hands on routines what i needed to learn and after 40+ years of hands on, you should never think you know it all and sit pat.
Interesting thread and interesting comments how different vinyl thickness effects VTA and subsequently the sound. Reading Fremer's piece in the June 2010 issue of Stereophile, a difference of 1mm in record thickness has an insignificant, if any, effect on VTA and therefore sound. I quote: "A change in VTA as small as 1 degree requires a rather large (4 mm) vertical displacement at the pivot point of a 9" tonearm, which is why one online story, about using the thin shims included with the Ringmat system to 'fine-tune' SRA, is sadly misinformed. Use of all eight of the supplied shims and the total height change is 1.255mm, which represents a change in SRA/VTA of about 0.29 degree for a tonearm of 239mm effective length. Sorry, but once you're properly locked in at 92 degrees [he's referring to SRA], you're unlikely to be able to hear a difference of 0.3 degrees!"
Since the difference in thickness between a 100 gram and 200 gram record is 1 mm, this should have no real effect on VTA and therefore sound. This begs a question what those who claim it does have an effect and adjust VTA for different vinyl thickness actually hear.
I'd say one millimeter is one millimeter on either end, and change in VTA is a change in VTA. For simplicity, if you started parallel to the record surface, I don't see how one millimeter on one end could result in completely different SRA than one millimeter on the other end, except that they would work in opposite directions. But I've been listening till 5 am and doing extensive damage to my Scotch reserves so someone with a clear brain please chime in.
I just checked, and Mikey's math is correct. A 9" arm describes a circle with a circumference of about 1,436 mm. Since there are 360 degrees to a circle, that would mean 1mm translates to about 1/4 of a degree.
As legendary as Mr. Fremer's listening acumen is, however, in this case he doesn't substantiate that the 1/4 degree difference isn't audible. I have a tonearm with very easily adjustable VTA, but it's only a 6mm range. That's only about 1.5 degrees of total range. Why bother if it's inaudible? Yet I often raise or lower by 1 to 1.5 mm to get a little more transient attack (higher at pivot) or more fullness and less stridency (lower at pivot). I also have noticed that my 200g pressings tend to sound a little rolled off and bassy unless I raise the arm about one mm.
Adjusting VTA to get more fullness or upper frequency extension is certainly not a novel idea, and if I had a tonearm that allowed easy adjustment, I'd probably experiment with it. However, most tonearms don't allow hassle-free adjustments; I have to loosen and then tighten 2 tiny screws on my Classic tonearm to change VTA. If I wanted to get VTA "right" for every album I was listening to, I'd be doing more adjusting than actually listening. This plus the fact that you don't know the precise angle of the cutter head for every single album make VTA adjustments seem rather impractical to me.
On my tonearm, one revolution of the VTA knob is 1/2mm, assuming I am moving between LPs of similar thickness (weight). IME with this arm, adjustments of less than one turn often result in better timbres and tone. No doubt, the arm has to be capable of making incremental VTA changes easily (on-the-fly VTA/SRA is most desirable) and also capable of allowing the cartridge to present the results.