The Four-Speed Turntable

22 Jan 2015

Many people are familiar with the standard speeds for playing records:  33 ⅓, 45 and 78 RPM.  But what about those old turntables that came with four speeds?

That fourth speed was 16 ⅔ RPM, exactly half the speed of 33 ⅓.  Although these discs—usually 7-inches in diameter with a large 45 RPM-like hole—could hold up to 20 minutes of content, the speed was too slow to capture any real fidelity within its grooves.  Their primary use was talking books for the blind and spoken-word recordings (interviews, drama, documentaries) for radio station use.

There were, however, some exceptions.  A Miles Davis jazz record was released by the Prestige label.  Seeburg, the jukebox company, sold a record player designed to play background music in restaurants and offices; it used special 16 ⅔ RPM records. And who can forget the Highway Hi-Fi, Chrysler’s in-dash turntable?

Although turntables (especially portable ones) were sold with four speeds through the 60s, the format died a most-deserved death.

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