LP vs. EP Records: What's the Difference?
With vinyl surging in popularity in recent years, many newcomers are still trying to figure out what all the lingo means. The question we get asked often is this: what’s the difference between LP vs. EP records?
LP stands for “long play,” and this type of record holds more music than EPs, which stands for “extended play.” LPs tend to be physically larger and contain entire albums of music, whereas EPs are smaller and have historically only included a single, plus the occasional bonus track or two.
LPs and EPs have different places in the music world, and vinyl lovers will enjoy having both in their collection. Read on to learn everything you need to know about LPs vs. EPs!
What Are LPs and EPs?
LP (long play) records are larger and contain more music than their EP (extended play) cousins. This has to do with vinyl technology, and the physical size of the record.
Vinyl records store sounds using microscopic subtleties in the patterns of their grooves. When you play a record on a record player, a stylus reads the tiny variations and transmits them as an electrical signal, which is sent to an amplifier and is translated into music.
Since the music is stored in grooves, it makes sense that the more grooves you have, the more music you can store. So when it comes to LPs vs. EPs, their different sizes mean they have different lengths and uses. You can fit more grooves, and more music, on a larger record.
LPs are typically 12” diameter vinyl records that spin at 33⅓ RPM (rotations per minute). These can hold up to 30 minutes of music on each side, or one hour of music in total, making them perfectly suited for most studio albums.
EPs, on the other hand, are usually 7” in diameter, and spin at 45 RPM. These can hold around 5 minutes of music on each side, or 10 minutes in total. Occasionally, you can also come across EPs that are 10” in diameter, holding up to 30 minutes of music in total, sort of like a half-album.
EPs have always been the preferred format for singles. Singles are individual track releases for additional promotion, like a hit song from an album.
Most singles fit on just one side of an EP, leaving the other side available for additional music. In the past, artists have used this to their advantage by including a bonus song or two as a special treat on the “B-Side” of their EP. Sometimes, B-Sides contain songs that haven’t been released anywhere else - you have to buy the EP to hear them.
The Origin of LPs and EPs
When vinyl started becoming popular in the 1930s and 40s, two different companies competed, each using different record formats.
Columbia Records made 12” diameter vinyl records, which spun on record players at 33⅓ RPM (rotations per minute). Each 12” record could hold around 30 minutes of music on each side, or 1 hour of music in total.
Their competitors, RCA Victor, made 7” records that spun at 45 RPM. These shorter, smaller records contained around the same amount of music as old 10”, 78 RPM records, which were the first ones to be made in the first half of the 1900s. (Today, 78 RPM records are essentially obsolete, and are no longer made.)
Between 1948-1950, Columbia and RCA fought “The War Of The Speeds” to popularize each of their record formats. In the end, both of them won, because each record could be used for different purposes. Columbia’s 12” record became the LP, and RCA’s 7” record became the EP.
Spinning LPs vs. EPs
Vinyl veterans and newcomers alike can find something to enjoy about both LPs and EPs.
When you spin an LP record, you can sit back and enjoy the full virtuosity of your favorite music in a continuous flow, with the warm analog sound that characterizes vinyl.
Since the 40s, LPs have always been the preferred format for entire albums, meaning artists recorded their works specifically with the intention for them to be played in this format. That’s why Pink Floyd’s legendary records like The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall flow so perfectly from one song to the next. Pick up any jazz LP ever made for more fantastic examples of this.
But sometimes, you just want the hits, and that’s when you should bust out the EPs. When you buy an EP, you’re buying an entire disc devoted to one of your favorite tracks. Besides the record, it also comes with unique cover art, and some B-Side rarities that you wouldn’t want to miss from your favorite artists.
Tracks on the B-Side can help provide an interesting context for the songs on the A-Side, and vice-versa. This can make EPs compelling works of art, providing a backdrop for the biggest hits. As an example, think of the difference between The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” (A-Side) and “I Am The Walrus” (B-Side), or “Get Back” (A-Side) and “Don’t Let Me Down” (B-Side).
In sum, every record collection should include both LPs and EPs. LPs are the classic albums that you can spin in one go on 12” vinyl, whereas EPs provide interesting flavors of your favorite songs, made on 7” vinyl. Pick up your favorite LPs and EPs from Binaural Records today!