Line Out Music & the City at Night

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Records Ain't Made of Vinyl.

Posted by on Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 2:47 PM

Some records are made of styrene, a cheap and very easily degradable through "normal" wear, plastic. Since I'm a layman and not a chemist (or something smarty pants!?), read this internet nerd quote (from this site) 'cause it explains how styrene was used to make phonograph records:

Styrene (properly, Polystyrene). Hard, relatively inflexible plastic used to press records, mainly 7-inch singles, mainly using the Injection Moulding process. The material is heated to a liquid form and is then squirted or injected into the closed stampers in the press. This requires that the labels be either glued or painted on after the record leaves the press. The cost savings to the manufacturer comes from the extended life of the stampers because of the lack of a heating cycle to the stampers. The material can also be reused without noticeable change to its moulding properties. Styrene records will therefore usually have very quiet surfaces when found in an UNPLAYED Mint condition, but unfortunately they will wear to a noisy condition rapidly, especially if played with a bad stylus or an improperly tracking tonearm. They also are more prone to Cue Burn. The Columbia Records Pittman, New Jersey pressing plant was once the major source of Injection Moulded Styrene pressings, and pressings from this plant are found on MANY small labels. Look for the glued-on labels. Painted-on labels can be found on records from the Amy/Bell/Mala group.

Styrene was used to make records for years. Even here in the NW it was popular...wonder why your Sonics 45 looks great but kinda sounds...dirty? Pressed on STYRENE. Wonder why the title sticker on your Golden Crest label Wailers 45 just FELL the fuck OFF? Pressed. On. STYRENE!! The material is so poor an unplayed record might have inherent issues. It's obvious when crisp highs/or an "S" sound might playback as "ssshhhh" or the loud bits sound distorted. So, if you hear an occasional odd rattling/buzz over top the music on that "dead stock/unplayed/M-" $300 funk 45 you just got? Aw shit...STYRENE!!! Even with a nice (expensive) stylus there can be problems getting good playback...sometimes it can make a styrene 45 sound better, sometimes it doesn't. And don't ever add tracking weight to the tone arm if you hope to get the stylus deeper in the groove, that could make things worse! Styrene is SOFT and you might effectively sandpaper out the grooves, degrading the sound and causing hiss. Old turntables, Dansettes and portables, even home hi-fi/stereos, had tone arms that could weigh TEN GRAMS, so if vintage is your style you might NOT wanna play your (depending on how much you paid for 'em, I reckon) old 45s on that old gear. Styrene is also fragile. A couple times when cleaning a styrene 45 it BROKE IN MY HAND, cracked from the edge to the spindle hole. HAVE I MADE MY POINT YET?

Now, with all that said, as so many labels used styrene, if you buy old 45s, it is impossible to avoid. If you care (provided you're still reading!! HA!), you can kinda tell the difference without even playing the record, a styrene 45 weighs less than vinyl 45s, and, when tapped on the edge, say with a ring, it "ticks"...vinyl "tocks."

Okay...styrene is EVIL, but...I DO have plenty of styrene 45s that play great. Of course, I dont' play em out, not if they cost much, or play them often, but I can burn 'em, right, I'll listen to 'em that way. If I wannna play a styrene 45 out, if its a cheapy, I'll buy a double and play that copy. And if you care, as a fellow record nerd, just make sure your gear is set up properly AND you have good gear, not even GREAT gear, but gear that RESPECTS the medium. Um...I know that sounds goofy, but REALLY, it counts.

There you go, your record nerd/collector lesson for the day.

(This post is regarding comments in THIS post, BTW.)


Comments (7) RSS

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cosby 1
Very cool, these are a bunch of things I didn't know about styrene. This explains why my copy of 'Friday On My Mind' sounds like it's being broadcast by an AM station 3 counties away.

Stupid plastic.
Posted by cosby on October 6, 2010 at 3:55 PM · Report this
This post stresses me out.
Posted by Regina on October 6, 2010 at 8:49 PM · Report this
i <3 u
Posted by smh on November 11, 2010 at 12:41 AM · Report this
Hi !
The only way to properly playback those wicked styrene records (not only 45s, but some labels like King, Cameo/Parkway, LeGrand etc. dared to issue LPs on styrene), is to utilize a correct conical size stylus: 1 mil. (25µm) for mono, and 0.7 mil. (18µm) for stereo.
An elliptical stylus will ruin the groove permanently at the first play!
Mono carts like Ortofon’s D25M or OM pro S do a fine job once burnt-in for about 40 hours. They’re inexpensive are widely available.
Shame on a major like Columbia records that started this infamous practice 50 years ago.
Posted by discjockey2006 on November 12, 2010 at 7:46 AM · Report this
Agreed, styrene is K-rap. However, when taken care of correctly, styrene records can last forever. No special kind of stylus is required to play a styrene record, 1 mil for mono and .7mil for stereo or mono. When playing a styrene or any record as a DJ might and back-queing the record, a conical stylus MUST be used. Any record can be que-burned and will be after many plays, but using a conical stylus will put off the inevidable. Styrene records have been given a bad rap as far as sound quality goes. They can sound quite good when mastered and manufactured correctly. I have many vinyl records that sound worse than their styrene counterparts. I do prefer vinyl records overall, but many times, in the case of 45rpm records, you don't always have a choice of what the record is made out of. All new and current 45's are made out of vinyl. Styrene records have been extinct for at least a decade.

As a background, I have been a recorded media collector for over 50 years and specialize in 45rpm records with a collection of over 10K. I am acknowledged in Jerry Osbornes publications and I have been published in "Goldmine" magazine.
Posted by jukeboxexpress on October 3, 2011 at 12:00 AM · Report this
I agree that polystyrene 33s and even 78s have been pressed. I have a couple of 1954-1955 12 in..Royale 33s of Ken Griffin and Leroy Anderson. I also have a couple of 1955 polystyrene 10 in. Mercury 78s of the Patti Page hit "Croce di Oro". Bell's 7 in. microgroove 78 economy hit series and the scarce Argentine Columbia microgroove 7 in. 78 pressings of US early 50s hits can be ruined by old style 78 players. Correct stylus choice and tracking force is just as important with these as they are for stereo LPs. Even some of the 7 in. Bell 78 labels state "Use LP Needle" ! Of course the 10 in. 78 polystyrene singles should be played with a 3 mil stylus tracking at no more than 7 grams.

Posted by Bill Smyth on January 27, 2013 at 6:31 PM · Report this
From about 1958 to 1962, Dot Records (home of Pat Boone, Billy Vaughn, Lawrence Welk, etc.) pressed most of their Mono LPs in Polystyrene, while pressing their Stereo counterparts in Vinyl.
Posted by MrMeadowlark on June 7, 2013 at 2:40 PM · Report this

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