The History of Music Players: The Early Years

Tags: Infographics

Music has changed a lot over the years, not just in the genres that are popular but in the devices we use to listen to our favourite songs. These days, a pair of headphones is virtually all you need, but things haven’t always been this way…


The Phonautograph

The phonautograph was the first device to be able to record sound, and was invented by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville in 1857.

The Phonograph

Invented in 1877, the phonograph was the first method of recording and playing back sound. It was the phonograph that gave a little-known inventor, named Thomas Edison, international fame. Edison went onto invent the motion picture camera and the lightbulb, amongst a few other things…his 2,332 worldwide patents shows he wasn’t just a one hit wonder.

The Gramophone

Invented around 10 years after the phonograph, Emile Berliner revolutionised the music industry by using flat discs (or records) to record  on and produce sounds, rather than the cylinders that were used previously. Records were made of glass and you were required to use the hand crank to listen to the sounds of the songs that were produced through the gramophone speaker.

After a few years, Berliner (and partner Eldridge Johnson) introduced a motor to keep records playing at a steady speed, rather than having to hand-crank them.


Victor Talking Machine

After legal disputes between Berliner, Johnson and their former business partners, they moved on to form a separate company known as “RCA Victor”. In order to accommodate a wide range of records being produced at the time, the Victor Talking Machine (released 1906) had variable speed settings.


Columbia Records

In 1908, introduced the first double-sided phonograph records, doubling the storage capacity of each record (that were now made of plastic, rather than glass).


Electric Recordings

In 1924, electrical records started to replace the now outdated acoustic recordings due to a much superior sound quality. Acoustic records had to be recorded in a single live take, with a diaphragm capturing the sounds and a needle cutting the music straight into records.


LPs (Long Playing records)

In 1948, LPs – also known as “albums” – were invented, with Nathan Milstein performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto on the first ever LP release, with Beethoven’s 8th symphony and a Frank Sinatra piece following soon after on 10 inch vinyls.

The LP spins at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute and, despite being over 65 years old, is still the standard format for vinyl albums played on turntables, minor refinements excluded. 


Multitrack Recording

Multitrack recording was introduced in 1962 after the idea was experimented with by guitarist, composer and inventor Les Paul. Multitracking allows a musician to record separate sound sources onto the same ‘track’ – allowing the synchronised and simultaneous playback that we’re used to hearing in songs every single day today. 


The Rise of Portable Media

After these foundations were laid, music started to turn much more portable – with casettes, CDs and more.

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