Audiophile graded 180 and 200 gram vinyl have flooded the market. For a few dollars more (usually) we get thicker and heavier records.
But does 180 gram heavyweight vinyl sound better than standard 140 gram records?
There is no strong correlation between the weight and the sound quality of vinyl records. The size and depth of the grooves are exactly the same on light and heavy records. The main dominators whether a record sound good or bad are the quality of the source, mastering and manufacturing process. Not the weight of the record.
So, is 180 gram records mostly a marketing trick?
In my opinion. Yes.
Back in the day, high quality labels like Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (Wikipedia) used heavier vinyl to manufacture their Ultra High Quality Records (UHQR). But, the heavier vinyl was primarily used to support the high-level manufacturing process. Using 180 gram vinyl was not a key contributing factor to the increased sound quality directly.
The increased sound quality came from using original master tapes, state-of-the-art mastering techniques, high quality “virgin” vinyl and a high quality manufacturing process.
The heavyweight UHQR from Mobile Fidelity was the real deal.
Click here if you want to see Mobile Fidelity records available on Amazon. They are usually not cheap.
Following Mobile Fidelity and other high-end record labels, mainstream labels started pressing 180 gram vinyl as well. To charge a premium and sell more.
The problem is that mainstream labels often use mediocre (or even poor) source material, mediocre mastering, mediocre vinyl, and mediocre pressing to make 180 gram records.
And then label them “audiophile graded 180 gram vinyl” to charge a premium.
Making us believe that the weight of the vinyl is the determining factor for the sound quality of the record.
The sad truth is that more often than not there is nothing “audiophile” about these records at all.
It is usually just marking. In my opinion.
Today, 180 gram vinyl are more or less the standard. If it isn’t 180 gram, it doesn’t sell. It seems.
My personal experience is that newer 180 gram records often sound worse than older 140 gram records. Heavyweight vinyl is not a guarantee for good pressing and good sound at all.
There might, however, be a few minor benefits with 180 gram vinyl. At least in theory.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of 180 gram vinyl. Based on research and my experience.
Pros of 180 gram vinyl
One of the perceived benefits with 180 gram records is that they feel more expensive and robust in our hands. There is a tangible feeling of higher value.
Another benefit is that more weight will make the record more stable on the platter. Which might give the cartridge and needle better working conditions to read the grooves with higher precision. It can, however, be argued that the effect of this on sound quality is minor.
Cons of 180 gram vinyl
The biggest downside with 180 gram vinyl is that vinyl enthusiasts have to pay more. And, unfortunately, often without getting a substantially better product. Or a better product at all.
One of my experiences with heavy vinyl is that they give more issues with static electricity than lighter records when the indoor air gets dry during the winter. It seems to me like it is harder to remove static electricity from heavier records using my Milty anti-static device than what is the case with normal 140 gram vinyl. It might be that the ticker vinyl holds on to static electricity “better” than thinner vinyl.
Another experience of mine is that 180 gram vinyl get more problematic than 140 gram vinyl when the records actually get warped. And quite often, 180 gram vinyl seems to come warped straight from the factory. With 140 gram vinyl it is easier to level out the bends when put on the platter, while the more rigid 180 gram vinyl is harder to deal with when warped.
The determining factors for good sounding vinyl
There are mainly 4 factors that determine the sound quality of a vinyl record. You guess it. Weight is not one of them.
1. Quality of recording
The quality of the original recording will significantly affect the quality of the sound that ends up in our speakers.
2. Quality of source material
The quality of the source that holds the recordings is a key determinator for the sound on the record. This is why the serious high-end labels prefer original master tapes for their productions.
When the source material is on tapes that are copies of copies of copies of the original master tapes, the sound quality will usually suffer.
3. Quality of mixing
Mixing vinyl records is an art. It is a process that can limit the sound quality when done without the necessary touch and experience.
4. Quality of the manufacturing process
High-end labels use quality “virgin” vinyl and state-of-the-art pressing processes to produce records that sound great and have little surface noise.
While many mainstream labels don’t.
Vinyl Buying Tips
Don’t get hung up in the weight of the vinyl. It is almost irrelevant.
Do your research and make sure the record is from a good label, made from good source material with good mastering.
If it is 140 gram that is fine. If it is 180 gram, which is often will be nowadays, that is fine too. It doesn’t really matter.
A healthy approach, for most of us, is not to spend our lives tracking down the highest quality pressings that are made in the history of time and buy nothing else.
The important thing is to avoid the bad pressings. The records that just won’t sound good no matter what.
How are vinyl made?
Below is a great video that shows how vinyl records are made.
How heavy are vinyl records?
Standard 12 inch vinyl records weigh around 140 grams. Heavyweight vinyl is most often 180 gram, but can sometimes weigh 200 grams and even 220 grams.
Does vinyl records sound better?
Being fully analog in nature, vinyl records are often perceived as warmer, richer and smoother sounding than digital music sources like CD and MP3. The downside of being fully analog is that vinyl records can be more problematic than digital sources when it comes to noise.
Does new vinyl sound better?
An old record in mint condition can sound as good or better than newer records. The factors that determine how good a record sound is its condition, the quality of the source material used to make the record, the quality of the mastering, the quality of the raw material and the quality of the manufacturing process. New records can be of both good and poor quality. There are a lot of bad pressings on new records, unfortunately.
Does black vinyl sound better?
The color of the PVC / Vinyl used is not a key factor for the sound quality of vinyl records. Colored vinyl sounds good if it is quality pressing. Just as for black vinyl.
Can every turntable play 180 gram vinyl?
Every turntable that can play a 12 inch record can play 180 gram vinyl. The 180 gram record will slightly alter the Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) of the tonearm. Because the record is slightly thicker and will rise the tip of the tonearm (cartridge) slightly. But not significantly and nothing to think about as long as you are not a slightly mad Stereophile with a $50,000 turntable.
What about 200 gram vinyl?
200 gram vinyl is heavyweight vinyl taken one step farther than 180 gram vinyl. Which in itself will have no real sound quality benefits over standard 140 gram vinyl or 180 gram vinyl. A 200 gram vinyl record will have extraordinary good sound quality only if high quality source material, mastering, vinyl and manufacturing process is used.
What is the size of 180 gram vinyl?
The size of a 180 gram vinyl record is just the same as the size of a standard 140 gram vinyl record. Which is 12 inches.
How thick are vinyl records?
A standard 140 gram vinyl record is approximately 2.1 mm thick.
A 180 gram vinyl record is approximately 2.8 mm thick.
What is audiophile grade vinyl?
Audiophile grade vinyl was a term originally used by labels that went out of their way to produce extraordinarily good sounding vinyl. Unfortunately, the term has later been adopted by many mainstream labels that produce ordinary sounding records. It can probably be argued that “audiophile graded vinyl” is mostly a marketing term nowadays and does not guarantee better pressings or sound quality.