Difference Between CD, LP, and EP

By Adam Crowson

Cassette tapes and 8-tracks were supposed to kill LPs, but they didn't. Instead, the CD killed them--or so we thought. In the digital age, the LP has seen a revival with hipsters and music buffs who collect or buy vinyl for the coolness factor, nostalgia or just because. It's interesting that in the digital age, the CD is the one music format that is suddenly on the ropes. This article explains the differences between the LP, the CD and the EP, and hopes to answer everything you wanted to know, but were maybe too afraid to ask.

The LP

An LP on a turntable

The long-playing (LP) album is a vinyl record that plays at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (RPMs) on a turntable and measure 10 or 12 inches in diameter. Because of the slower speed and larger diameter of the LP, one 12-inch LP has a total play time of approximately 45 minutes. The LP is an analog format medium, with the music embedded into a groove on each side of a record. The groove starts on the outside of the record and spirals its way to the inside, resulting in continuous play of the record once the needle is positioned on the vinyl. Due to its continuous track, an LP does not offer the listener the option to skip songs without physically replacing the needle.

The CD

The compact disc

The compact disc (CD) is a plastic disc that measures 12 cm in diameter and is used to store digital music files. The CD introduced the digital age of music, which was a switch from the continuous analog format of the LP.

The CD allows listeners to choose which songs they want to hear and when they want to hear them. The songs are digital files embedded onto the disc, allowing users the ability to skip over a song and/or put a disc on shuffle so the songs play in a random order.

The CD also holds more music than the LP. Unlike the 45 minutes of play one record allows, one CD is able to nearly double that time with 80 minutes of play. It would take two records with songs equally spread out over the four sides to match the 80 minutes of music held on a CD.

The EP

The extended-play (EP) album is a release that isn't a full album of music, but is more than just a single. The EP is typically 3 or 4 songs put out by an artist that is most commonly seen as a preview for an upcoming album or a promotional item sent to critics. It can also be used as a means for an artist to release songs that didn't make the cut for an album, commonly referred to as "B sides," that fans may want to hear.

Time Frame

The LP originated in 1948, gained popularity through the 1950s and introduced the concept of the album, a format for musicians to release a collection of related work. The LP declined with the introduction of CDs in the 1980s, but the format is still produced today, as vinyl has found a niche with some music listeners who enjoy collecting records.

The CD originated in 1982. It became more popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s due to the availability and drop in price of CD players, but also because the CD was compact and became portable, allowing listeners to take their music anywhere.

The EP originated in the 1950s and 1960s as a compilation of music or as an album sampler released on an LP. The concept of the EP survives as a way to hear music not released on an album or as a sample of the music appearing on an upcoming album. It's often released in CD format as a promotional item for up-and-coming artists, but it is also readily available in a digital download format. More well-established artists release EPs containing extra songs that they know their fans will buy.

Fun Fact

Alice in Chains'

Alice in Chains' "Jar of Flies," released on Jan. 25, 1994, was the first EP to hit Number 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart. The album contained some of the band's biggest hits, including "No Excuses" and "I Stay Away."

Drawbacks

The LP is very stationary. Unlike a CD player, most record players don't run on batteries, so listeners can't take records everywhere. One needs time to listen to them, and one must flip the record over to listen to an album in its entirety. The LP is does not rank high on sound quality, which can be another drawback. A record player works by having a needle pick up the sound on the record's groove and transmit it through wires to the speakers. The result is a raw, scratchy sound. CDs and digital files have a clean, crisp sound.

The negative for CDs in the digital age is that, like the LP, they are now considered bulky. A listener can now carry 31-plus days worth of music on an .mp3 player, so yeah, CDs are a major inconvenience. Plus, the audio quality of CDs, although still very much OK, is slowly being replaced by high-quality digital files.

The negative for EPs is that consumers don't get a full album, which is why they are often overlooked if one can get the same songs on a full album or via digital download.

About the Author

Adam Crowson is a professional journalist with experience as a homeowner, parent and photographer. He has served as a copy editor and page designer at a daily newspaper since 2006, and previously worked as a reporter for a weekly newspaper. Crowson holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication.