Why do many vinyl albums of classical music have Sides 1 / 4 on the first record and 2 / 3 on the second? An example of this is the RCA Red Seal recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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    It's not just classical music --a large percentage of double album sets in all genres are programmed that way --the reason is as Steve describes below. – Chris Sunami Feb 12 '18 at 14:17

Many phonographs were able to play multiple records in sequence with a mechanism that would hold one or more records on the turntable, and one or more additional records elevated on the center post.

At the end of one record, the mechanism sensed the tone arm reaching close to the center of the record, and then lifted it, pulled it out beyond the edge of the records. The system then dropped the bottom record of those on the center post, leaving the rest of them. Then the tone arm mechanism moved the tone arm to the outside of the record and lowered it to the record.

The mechanism was pretty ingenious, but it couldn't flip records over. So, to play a long piece, it would play one side of each record until the stack was exhausted. Then it was up to a person to flip the stack to play the opposite sides in sequence.

So, when playing records 1A/1B, 2A/2B, 3A/3B, 4A/4B in such a mechanism, the play order would be 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, (flip), 4B, 3B, 2B, 1B. The "B" sides would go the other way because flipping the whole stack would put them in the opposite order.

Purists would take offense at the idea of letting records drop like that, but it was an irresistible convenience to people who could tolerance slightly quicker wear of their records.

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    Dropping the discs didn't cause any damage. What the purists objected to was primarily the loss of friction between platters, leading to a little "wow" in the playback, and to some extent the inaccuracy of stylus angle as the platter stack rose. IIRC some high-end turntables actually raised the tone arm on each dump but I could be dreaming that one. – Carl Witthoft Feb 12 '18 at 12:16
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    I still have my mother's old stackable record player from the 60s and it still works perfectly! :) Why can't they make audio equipment that durable any more? – Chris Sunami Feb 12 '18 at 14:16
  • @ChrisSunami because people won't pay for quality anymore. It's all the Walmart model. "Just give me something cheap." – Randy Howard Feb 12 '18 at 18:54
  • @ChrisSunami because it is bad for sales and the shareholders. Most devices are specifically designed to break down after some time so the consumer must buy another. This is why they're putting computers into everything these days - then you can program the device to break itself down soon after the guarantee expires. – ossbuntu Feb 13 '18 at 13:17
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    Oh I know, it was just a rhetorical question. But I still play records all the time, and it amazes me how a 50 year old player --that hasn't been treated particularly well --is still cranking away just fine. – Chris Sunami Feb 13 '18 at 13:53

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