Sound recording has undergone enormous change since its inception in 1857. That first sound recording was a visible recording of sound vibrations that could be seen, but not “played back.” Nor did it present true sound; it simply provided a record of sound as waves “drawn” on paper. It was a recording of sound, however, and sound waves were shortly thereafter engraved onto metal as a groove that could be “played back” as true sound. But metal plates were of little use as playable recordings at the time.
Not until 1877, when Thomas Edison invented the cylindrical phonograph, did sound recording with practical playback capabilities come into being. Reproduction of the cylinders was a drawback, but it brought the interest of sound recording to the forefront for scientists and inventors.
The year 1887 also saw the advent of the gramophone or phonograph, which was able to form grooves on a flat disk that could be played back on a turntable. Sound vibrations were imprinted across the width of the groove rather than by adjustments in the depth of the groove, as was characteristic of cylinder recordings. Flat disks made it much easier to reproduce sound recordings, using stamping processes that did not sacrifice the quality of the master. Sound recordings were initially stamped onto phonograph disks made of rubber, which was soon followed by a layer of shellac on a disk. Neither was stable nor pleased the ear.
Principles of magnetic sound recording were introduced in 1898 and evolved into wire recordings some twenty years later. Though used through the 1950s, wire sound recordings were cumbersome and inconvenient, and were used mainly for voice dictation relating to legal and business matters.
Phonograph recording, though, did evolve to consist of a flat disk, generally vinyl, with a spiraled groove that starts near the outer edge and ends near the center of the disk. Phonograph records were used successfully to record and play back music, for the most part, but were also used to record vocals for purposes of instruction, storytelling, and comedic productions. Sound recordings were stamped into grooves on softened vinyl disks, allowed to harden, then played back on turntables that slowly spun the disk. Sound vibrations were transferred through a fine needle that fitted into the groove of the spinning phono record and were translated electronically through amplifiers to speakers. Phonograph sound recordings became the major form of sound reproduction that lasted through the latter half of the 20th century, and essentially facilitated the boom of popular forms of music. In fact, easy distribution of vinyl phonograph records essentially birthed the enormous music industry that exists today.
Film and tape recordings of sound developed, but needed care and protection from heat and elements. The technological capabilities of tape sound recording brought additional changes to recording of sound and music. Magnetic taping survived as a major form of sound recording and dispensing music, alongside vinyl disks, for several decades. Magnetic sound recordings were replaced by compact disks (CDs), which are used heavily today. Sound recording on CDs seemed to be destined to be replaced by small plastic cards, which are able to hold more information. However, it appears that electronics are taking over completely. Sound recordings are being distributed via the Internet to files on computers and computerized pocket-size iPods and other such devices. Avid music enthusiasts do not even have to wait for CDs to hit the store shelves anymore. They just download their favorite artists’ latest recordings, attach earphones, and go.
This article provides an overview of the history of sound recording. If you would like to submit an article about sound recording or any other music-related subject, please feel free to do so here at Media Positive Radio.
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