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The History of Audio Recordings


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Try as we may, it is impossible to get away from audio recordings in our daily lives. It starts perhaps with your alarm waking you up in the morning, all the voice mails that you receive and leave during your work day, your inexpensive MP3 player at the gym, or till you fall asleep listening to some soothing sounds of nature on the CD player on your nightstand. So how did we get here? Well, let's take a brief look at the history of audio recording.

In 1877, Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph. The phonograph was a result of his work on two other projects - the telegraph and the telephone. Edison wrapped a tin foil wrapped around a rapidly rotating cylinder. When he spoke, his words were converted into indentations on the tin foil. The machine would then play the words back to him. Later, when the actual prototype was built, Edison famously recorded and played back the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb", which became the first audio recording in the history of man!

In 1878, Oberlin Smith, an American mechanical engineer was inspired by Edison's invention of the phonograph. He found a way to convert the electrical signals from a microphone to indentations on a flat disc, and the first version of the “record" was born! Jules Levy's recording of Yankee Doodle is widely believed to be the first music recording in history.

In 1881, Clement Adler accidentally discovered the “stereo" effect. He did this by using carbon microphones and armature headphones.

In 1888, Emile Berliner, a German-born American came up with a way to record sounds on a flat disc. Later, in 1995, he managed to collect $25,000 in investments and set up the Berliner Gramophone Company. In 1898, he put out the first recordings on shellac discs.

In 1906, Lee DeForest invented the first vacuum tube that could amplify electronic signals. This invention ushered in the electronics age, and of course the electronics era of audio recordings.

In 1925, Bell Labs developed the first system with a moving armature to cut flat record discs. The armature was an electromagnetic device that controlled the movement of the cutting stylus. Joseph Maxfield and Henry Harrison lead the team that developed the armature. The first discs were designed to be played at 78 rotations per minute (rpm).

In 1935, BASF developed the first plastic-tape based magnetic tapes. The tape consisted of a foil of cellulose acetate as carrier material, coated with a lacquer of iron oxide as magnetic pigment and cellulose acetate as binder.

In 1946, Brush Development Corp. built a semiprofessional tape recorder. Within roughly the same timeframe, 3M introduced Scotch No. 100, a black oxide paper tape.

In 1949, the first microgroove 33-1/3 rpm long-play vinyl record (LP) records were introduced by Columbia Records. Acetate-based tapes are introduced.

In 1954, Sony produced the first pocket transistor radios, and Ampex produced its portable tape recorder. The first commercial 2-track stereo tapes are released.

In 1963, Philips introduced the Compact Cassette tape format. Mass production of cassette tapes started in Hanover, Germany in 1964, and music cassettes were first manufactured and distributed in 1965. The popularity of cassettes grew tremendously in the 1970s and 1980s, especially after portable cassette players such as the Walkman were introduced to the market.

In 1980, EMT introduced the first hard-disk digital recorder, and Sony introduced a palm-sized stereo cassette tape player called a “Walkman. "

In 1981, Philips demonstrated the Compact Disc (CD), and in 1982, Sony released the first CD player

In 1993, the first MP3 Players appear on the market. The big breakthrough in MP3 technology was a result of psychoacoustics, and the ability to compress a typical audio file from a 50 MB size, to a typical MP3 file of 3 to 5 MB. More on this compression process in a different article.

This is by no means a complete history of audio. Several other important milestones in the field of audio production, transmission, and recording could not be included here, but can be readily found on the world wide web using any of the standard search engines.

Dale Arnold
Please stop by for inexpensive MP3 players

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