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Playing 78rpm records

78rpm very often denotes 10” shellac SP (short play) gramophone records that were mainly produced between 1925 and 1950. The traditional tracking force applied by an acoustic gramophone using an original needle was over 50 grams. Playing these old and often irreplaceable records regularly with that much downforce could potentially damage the record.

A modern dedicated SP cartridge, allows you to play them again and again with very minor impact on the record, as the tracking force of a modern phono cartridge is circa 5 grams.

In order to play these records your turntable needs to be able to operate at 78rpm. Audio-Technica’s AT-120XUSB, AT-120XBT-USB, AT-140XP, and AT-LP5X all operate perfectly at 78rpm. Additionally, with the exception of the AT-LP5X, the pitch is adjustable, which is a useful feature as a lot of SP records were not always engineered at exactly the right speed.

It is important to never use a cartridge designed for standard LP vinyl records on an SP record. The groove of an SP record is much wider than the groove of a vinyl LP. Using an LP record stylus, typically with a radius of around 0.6mm, on a 78rpm record will result in more noise than music as it will “bottom out”. This means the stylus will be dragging along the bottom of the groove, which can be covered in dust/dirt and doesn’t contain any audio information anyway.

Playing SP records with an LP stylus will result in damage to both the record and the cartridge. The typical radius size of an SP stylus is from 2.5mm to 3.5mm, about 5 times the size of the typical styli used for LP records. You can find Audio-Technica’s range of SP styli and cartridges here.

When changing your stylus to an SP stylus to replay 78rpm records, the downforce required is much greater than what is needed on a vinyl record. The needle is more likely to skip with a lower downforce due to the speed at which records spins and the material it is made from. The tonearm needs to be set up with around 5g downforce with number 5 selected on the anti-skate dial. If your turntable doesn’t go up to 5 on the anti-skate dial, set to the maximum it allows.

When you revert back to playing 33/45rpm vinyl records remember to switch back to your original stylus, and reset the downforce and anti-skate settings, or you could damage your records. If you need assistance setting up your tonearm then this article will help.

If you want to discuss 78rpm records in more detail, please contact us.