Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Put the needle to the record!

And here came the turntable… Originally known as the gramophone, the phonograph (or the record player) got invented back in 1877 by Thomas Edison, meant to record but also reproduce sound recordings. The recordings, played on such a device, consisted of waveforms that were engraved onto a a tinfoil sheet phonograph rotating cylinder rotating or… disc! And while the cylinder or disc was rotating, a stylus (or needle) would trace the waveforms and vibrate to reproduce the recorded soundwaves…
Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880’s, including the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders, and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a zig zag pattern across the record. By the turn of the 20th century, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to gramophone records: flat, double-sided discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center. Other improvements were made throughout the years, including modifications to the turntable and its drive system (remember Technics’s direct drive system on their famous SL series), the needle and stylus, and the sound and equalization systems.

The gramophone record managed to be one of the dominant audio recording formats throughout most of the 20th century. From the mid-1980’s though, the phonograph use declined sharply because of the rise of the Compact Disc, as introduced by Dutch company Phillips (the same that would launch the tape recorder in the 60’s, but also the CD player 20 years later, itself followed by the CD recorder a couple of months after selling their artist rooster to Universal Records!) and therefore opening the path for the propagation of other digital recorded formats such as the omnipresent mp3

With no longer mass market influence, limited amounts of phonographs and phonograph records – the vinyls – continue to be produced nowadays though, destined to a niche of die-hard fans of the format…

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