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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Record player

Leon Scott de Martinville invented the "Phonautograph", the world's first phonograph. He delivered his design in a sealed envelope to the French Academy in early 1857 and on March 25 of that year, he received French patent #17,897/31,470 for his device.

The phonautograph only created visual images of the sound and did not have the ability to play back its recordings. Scott de Martinville's device was used for scientific investigations of sound waves and proved useful in the study of vowel sounds. However, it wasn't commercially viable.

An early phonautograph (1859). The barrel is made of plaster of paris.

Several phonautograms recorded before 1861 were successfully played as sound in 2008 by optically scanning them and using a computer to process the scans into digital audio files.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made the oldest known recording of an audible human voice on April 9, 1860. He recorded an unknown woman on his phonautograph machine singing the French folk song. Au clair de la lune".  A  ten second clip was retrieved from the original soot-covered paper phonoautograph recording by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California in 2008.


The phonograph was accidentally invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison while trying to record telegraph signals. His device was the first machine that was able to both capture and reproduce analog sound.

Edison's first phonograph recorded onto tinfoil cylinders had low sound quality and destroyed the track during replay so that one could listen only once.

Edison cylinder phonograph, circa 1899

A redesigned model using wax cylinders was produced soon after by Alexander Graham Bell. Sound quality was still low, and replays were limited before wear destroyed the recording, but the invention enjoyed some popularity.

Edison incorporated various elements into his Phonograph that would become staples that can be found in recording devices to this day.

Edison's intention was to market his Phonograph as a business dictation machine. The concept of recorded music didn't cross his mind.

A 'G' (Graham Bell) model Graphophone being played back by a typist 

The "gramophone", playing gramophone records, was invented by Emile Berliner of Washington DC in 1887, using seven-inch, single-sided discs. In the early years, the audio fidelity was worse than the phonograph cylinders marketed by Edison Records.

The name "gramophone" was despised by linguistic purists who tried to at least amend it to "grammophone."

From the mid-1890s until the early 1920s both phonograph cylinder and disc recordings and gramophone machines to play them on were widely mass-marketed and sold. The disc system gradually became more popular because of its cheaper price and better marketing by disc record companies. Edison ceased cylinder manufacture in the autumn of 1929, and the history of disc and cylinder rivalry was concluded.


On April 1, 1928, the first gramophone that could automatically change records, Victor's "Automatic Orthophonic," went on sale.

The record player was the successor to the gramophone, following the advent in the 1920s of the use of electricity in the recording and reproducing processes. It was essentially a turntable, pick-up, and arm which reproduced the music or other sounds recorded on discs (gramophone records), usually through its own amplifier and speaker.

A 1930s portable wind-up gramophone from EMI (His Master's Voice)

The radiogram was a single device capable of both receiving radio broadcasts and playing gramophone records. It was developed during the 1930s, with the wider domestic use of radio sets and electricity, and incorporated a record player which made use of the radio's amplifier and speaker. Popular for its convenience and for aesthetic reasons, it was the forerunner of the music center.

In 1955 The Chrysler Corporation launched high fidelity record players for their 1956 line-up of cars. They discontinued it six years later.

By the 1960s, cheaper portable record players and record changers which played stacks of records in wooden console cabinets were popular, usually with heavy and crude tonearms in the portables. The consoles were often equipped with better quality pick-ups.

The 1970s saw the inclusion of a deck for playing compact cassettes as well as a record player and receiver, and the term music center came into common use.

Sources Compton Encyclopedia, Europress Family Encyclopedia 1999

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