Recorded Sound
Home Up Ham Shack Video Astronomy Earth Computing Radio Supply Store










My Discovery of Historic Sound Recording



One of the oldest disc records in my collection is one of the first disc recordings produced in the Columbia laboratories.  Those early disc records, produced before the turn of the nineteenth century, were thick, heavy, and clumsy.  The fragile records were so delicate that the heavy steel needle used to reproduce the sound from the grooves of the records would actually grind away at the groove pattern and degrade the recording each time it was played.  Often after a few dozen plays, if the record hadn't already broken, the sound was so badly deteriorated that it was barely audible.  Before the dawn of electrical recording, records were not mass-produced.  An artist would have to spend days performing the same song over and over again into an apparatus that looked like a lamp shade.  The recording that was produced lasted for only a few plays.  In fact, the first record ever made (by Thomas Edison in 1877) was recorded onto aluminum foil because the "needle" could so easily form a pattern into the material.  Eventually, wax masters were invented from which other records could be "stamped", leading the way for the mass-production of the phonograph record.  Many of the early Columbia records feature an "announcer" talking or introducing the record in a way that sounded very much like an advertisement!  Click here for a sample of Columbia recording from 1899.



It seems that all of my life I have been fascinated with sound.

The simple, yet seemingly miraculous reproduction of sound on a flattened disc of plastic material overwhelmed me as a child.  It was just magic.  My curiosity exploded one day when I discovered that I could roll an ordinary sheet of paper into a cone and carefully set the pointed end of the cone on a record that was turning on my phonograph turntable and listen to the music on the record without speakers, wires, or electric!

I loved music.  My parents had a respectable collections of record albums, and I quite vividly remember the day they bought a new console stereo system to play them on.  I was about four years old when I heard stereo for the first time.  It was a 1967 RCA Stereophonic "Victrola", perhaps the last record machine to bear the famous name.  No longer just a "talking machine", the phonograph had come a long way over the course of nearly a century.  The RCA company was now marketing the "stereophonic" sound as the ultimate in sound reproduction, and it was.

Today, we call recordings "stereo", but if you lived through the dawn of the stereo experience (or just have the opportunity to go back and visit that era via some old recordings), you know that its definitely NOT the same (today we have more of a blended, surround-sound)!  True stereo had two completely separate and different channels.  I sat awestruck in front of the stereo while some instruments played out of the right speaker and others came from the left.  The stereo was a long box-like piece of furniture that took up an entire wall of our dining room.   The speakers were situated at the extreme ends to maximize the stereo experience.  I was finally just getting used to the miracle of hearing the "tin-can" sound come through a paper horn, and now this!  How could it be?  I was consumed by the fascination of recorded sound.  Next was to come "quadraphonic" and natural surround-sound.  Was there no end to the wonders of sound reproduction?

One Christmas, when I was about eleven, I got a cassette tape recorder.  Needless to say, it was my favorite gift!  Now I discovered that there was a way to reproduce sound on magnetic coated cellophane tape.  That took the cake because not only could I record the sound, but then I could erase it and record over the same spot on the tape!  I experimented with many recording techniques and became quite the little expert on home recording.  I knew just how to dub background sounds over a previous recording and how to record from just about any sound source for optimal quality.

Then came the digital age and it fascinated me even more.  At this point, we can not only record sounds in a fidelity that rivals the real thing, be we can also create it out of imagination and thin air (and pass it off as the real thing)!  It became apparent that I was destined to archive these sound treasures and my quest to learn the history behind them.  That brings me to this page.  Long ago, another facet of my fascination with recorded sound began, and it spread backward in time to discover the origin of the science of sound reproduction. 


The History of Recorded Sound

Here is a timeline representing the history of recorded sound.  You will find a fascinating story here if you were ever curious about how and when these things came to be.  There is media embedded within the timeline to help bring the story of the history of recorded sound to life!





1857 The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. Invented by Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, it was patented on March 25, 1857. It transcribed sound waves as undulations or other deviations in a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass. Only recently, through computer computer-based image processing could these "sound pictures" be converted into audible sound to reveal the earliest human voices to be recorded.

Thomas Alva Edison, working in his lab, succeeds in recovering "Mary's Little Lamb" from a strip of tinfoil wrapped around a spinning cylinder. He demonstrates his invention in the offices of Scientific American, and the phonograph is born.

1878 The first music is put on record : cornetist Jules Levy plays "Yankee Doodle".
1881 Clement Adler, using carbon microphones and armature headphones, accidentally produces a stereo effect when listeners outside the hall monitor adjacent telephone lines linked to the stage of the Paris Opéra.
1887 Emile Berliner is granted a patent on a flat disc gramophone, making the production of copies practical.
1888 Edison introduces an electric motor-driven phonograph.
1895 Marconi achieves wireless radio transmission from Italy to America.
1898 Valdemar Poulsen patents his "Telegraphone", recording magnetically on steel wire.
1900 Poulsen unveils his invention at the Paris Exposition. Austria's Emperor Franz Josef records his congratulations.
Boston Symphony Hall opens with the benefit of Wallace Clement Sabine's acoustical advice.
1901 The Victor Talking Machine Company is founded by Emile Berliner and Eldridge Johnson.
Experimental optical recordings are made on motion picture film.
1906 Lee DeForest invents the triode vacuum tube, the first electronic signal amplifier.
1910 Enrico Caruso is heard in the first live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of New York.
1912 Major Edwin F. Armstrong is issued a patent for a regenerative circuit, making radio reception practical.
1913 The first talking movie is demonstrated by Edison using his "Kinetophone" process., a cylinder player mechanically synchronized to a film projector.
1916 A patent for the superheterodyne circuit is issued to Edwin Armstrong.
The Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) is formed. Today the SMPTE is very active in the Motion Picture field.
Edison does live-versus-recorded demonstrations in Carnegie Hall in New York.
1917 The Scully disc recording lathe is introduced.
E.C. Wente of Bell Laboratories publishes a paper in Physical Review describing a "uniformly sensitive instrument for the absolute measurement of sound intensity" : the condenser microphone.
1919 The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is founded. It is owned in part by United Fruit.
1921 The first commercial AM radio broadcast is made by KDKA, Pittsburgh, PA.
1925 Bell Laboratories develop a moving armature lateral cutting system for electrical recording on disk. Concurrently they introduce the Orthophonic Victrola "Credeza" model. This all-acoustic player, with no electronics, is considered a leap forward in phonograph design.
The first electrically recorded 78 rpm disks appear.
RCA works on the development of ribbon microphones.
1926 O'Neill patents iron oxyde-coated paper tape.
1927 The Jazz Singer is released as the first commercial talking picture, using Vitaphone sound on discs synchronized with film.
The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) is formed.
The Japan Victor Corporation (JVC) is formed as a subsidiary of the Victor Talking Machine Co.
1928 Dr Harold Black At Bell Laboratories applies for a patent on the principle of negative feedback. It was granted nine years later.
Dr Georg Neumann founds a company in Germany to manufacture his condenser microphones. It's first product is the Model CMV 3.
1929 Harry Nyquist publishes the mathematical foundation for the sampling theorem basic to all digital audio processing : the Nyquist theorem.
1931 Alan Blumlein, working for EMI in London, in effect patents stereo. His seminal patent discusses the theory of stereo, both describing and picturing in the course of its 70-odd individual claims a coincident crossed-eights miking arrangement and a "45-45" stereo disc-cutting system.
Arthur Keller and associates at Bell Labs in New York experiment with vertical-lateral stereo disk cutter.
1932 The first cardioid ribbon microphone is patented by Dr. Harry F. Olson of RCA, using a field coil instead of a magnet.
1933 Magnetic recording on steel wire is developed commercially.
Snow, Fletcher and Steinberg at Bell Labs transmit the first inter-city stereo audio program.
1935 AEG (Germany) exhibits its Magnetophon Model K-1 at the Berlin Radio Exposition.
BASF prepares the first plastic-based magnetic tapes.
1936 BASF makes the first tape recording of a symphonic concert during a visit by the touring London Philharmonic, with Sir Thomas conducting Mozart.
Von Braunmül and Weber apply for a patent on the cardioid condenser microphone.
1938 Benjamin B. Bauer of Shure Bros. engineers a single microphone element to produce a cardioid pickup pattern called the Unidyne, Model 55. This later becomes the basis for the well-known SM57 and SM58 microphones.
Under the direction of Dr. Harry Olson, Leslie J. Anderson designs the 44B ribbon bidirectional for RCA.
RCA develops the first column loudspeaker array.
1939 AC biasing of magnetic tape is accidentally discovered by German researchers working with an unstable, oscillating record amplifier.
Independently, Marvin Camras working at Armour Research in the U.S. develops AC bias for wire recorders.
Western Electric designs the first motional feed-back, vertical-cut disk recording head.
Major Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, makes the first experimental FM broadcast.
The first of many attempts is made to define the VU meter standard.
1940 Walt Disney's Fantasia is released with 8-tracks stereophonic sound.
1941 Commercial FM broadcast begins in the U.S.
AEG adds AC bias to the record circuit of its Magnetophon.
Arthur Addy of English Decca devises the first motional feedback, lateral-cut disk recording head, later used to cut their ffrr high-fidelity recordings.
1942 The RCA LC-1A loudspeaker is developed as a control-room monitor.
Dr Olson patents a single ribbon cardioid microphone (which later is developed as the RCA 77D and -DX), and a phased-array directional microphone.
the first stereo tape recordings are made by Helmut Kruger at German Radio in Berlin.
1943 Altec develops their model 604 coaxial loudspeaker.
1944 Alexander M. Poniatoff forms Ampex Corporation to make electric motors for the military.
1945 Two Magnetophon tape recorders are sent back to the U.S. in multiple mailbags by Army Signal Corps Sergeant John T. (Jack) Mullin.
1946 Webster-Chicago manufactures wire recorders for the home market.
Brush buids a semiprofessional tape-recorder as their Model BK401 Soundmirror.
3M introduces Scotch No 100, a black oxide paper tape.
Jack Mullin demonstrates hi-fi tape recording with his reconstructed Magnetophon at an IRE meeting in San Francisco.
1947 Colonel Richard Ranger begins to manufacture his version of a Magnetophon.
Bing Crosby and his technical director Murdo McKenzie agree to audition tape recorders brought by Jack Mullin and Richard Ranger. Mullin's is preferred, and he is brought back to record Crosby's Philco radio show.
Ampex produces its first tape recorder, the model 200.
Major improvements are made in disk-cutting technology : the Presto ID, Fairchild 542 and Cook Feedback cutters. The Williamson high-quality power amplifier circuit is published. The first issue of Audio Engineering is published. Its name is later shortened to Audio.
1948 The Audio Engineering Society (AES) is formed in New York City.
The microgroove 33 1/3 rpm long-play vinyl record (LP) is introduced by Columbia Records.
Scotch types 111 and 112 acetate-base tapes are introduced.
Magnecord introduces its PT-6, the first tape recorder in portable cases.
1949 RCA introduces the microgroove 45 rpm, large hole, 7-inch record and record/player adaptor.
Ampex introduces its model 300 professional studio recorder.
Magnecord produces the first US-made stereo tape recorder, employing half-track, staggered-head assemblies.
A novel amplifier design is described by McIntosh and Gow.
1950 Les Paul modifies his Ampex 300 with an extra prevue head for sound-on-sound overdubs.
IBM develops a commercial magnetic drum memory.
1951 The hot stylus technique is introduced to disk recording.
An Ultra-Linear amplifier circuit is proposed by Hafler and Keroes.
Pultec introduces the first active program equalizer, the EQP-1.
The germanium transistor is developed at Bell Laboratories.
1952 Peter J. Baxandall publishes his (much-copied) tone control circuit.
1953 Ampex produces a 4 tracks, 35mm magnetic film system for 20th-Century Fox's Christmas release of The Robe in Cinemascope and stereo sound.
Ampex introduces the first high-speed, reel to reel duplicator as its Model 3200.
Emory Cook presses experimental dual-band, left-right binaural discs.
1954 EMT (Germany) introduces the lectro-mechanical reverberation plate.
Sony produces the first pocket transistor radios.
Ampex produces its model 600 portable tape recorder.
G.A. Briggs stages a live-versus-recorded demonstration in London's Royal Festival Hall.
RCA introduces its polydirectional ribbon microphones, the 77DX.
Westrex introduces its model 2B motional feedback lateral-cut disk recording head.
The first commercial stereo tapes are released.
1955 Ampex develops Sel-Sync (Selective Synchronous Recording), making audio overdubbing practical.
1956 Les Paul makes the first 8-tracks tape recordings using the Self-Sync method.
1957 Elektra releases the first electronic music recording : Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the moon.
Westrex demonstrates the first 45/45 stereo cutter head.
1958 The movie Forbidden Planet is released, with the first all-electronic film score, composed by Louis and Bebe Barron.
Stefan Kudelski introduces the Nagra III battery-operated transistorized field recorder, which its Neo-Pilot sync system becomes the de facto standard of the film industry.
1959 The first commercial stereo disk recording appear.
EMI fails to renew the Blumlein stereo patent. Hello - anybody home ?
1961 3M introduces the first 2-tracks, closed loop capstan-drive recorder, the M-23.
The FCC approves the FM stereo broadcast format.
1962 The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) sets the standard for the timecode format.
3M introduces Scotch 201/202 Dynarange, a black oxide low-noise mastering tape with a 4 dB improvement in s/n ratio over Scotch 111.
1963 Philips introduces the Compact Cassette tape format and offers licences worldwide.
Gerhard Sessler and James West patent the electret microphone.
The Beach Boys contract Sunn Electronics to build the first large full-range sound system for their rock music tour.
1965 The Dolby Type A noise reduction system is introduced.
Robert Moog shows elements of his early synthetizers.
Eltro (Germany) makes a pitch/tempo shifter, using a rotating head assembly to sample a moving magnetic tape.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass tour with a Harry McCune Custom Sound System.
1967 Richard C. Heiser devises an acoustical measurement scheme called Time Delay Spectrometry, which paves the way for the revolutionary TEF technology.
Altec-Lansing introduces the concept of room equalization, utilizing variable multiband filters.
The Monterey International Pop Festival becomes the first large rock music festival.
The musical Hair opens on Broadway with a high-powered sound system.
The first operational amplifiers are used in professional audio equipment, most notably as summing devices for multichannel consoles.
1969 Dr Thomas Stockham begins to experiment with digital tape recording.
Bill Hanley and Company design and build the sound and lighting system for the Woodstock rock music festival.
3M introduces Scotch 206 and 207 magnetic tapes, with a s/n ratio 7 dB better than Scotch 111.
1970 The first digital delay line, Lexicon's Delta-T 101, is introduced and becomes widely used in soud reinforcement installations.
Ampex introduces 406 mastering tape.
1971 Denon demonstrates 18-bit PCM stereo recording using a helical-scan video recorder.
RMS and VCA modules are introduced by dbx.
1972 Elecrto-Voice and CBS are licensed by Peter Schreiber to produce quadraphonic decoders using his patented matrixes.
A patent is issued to David Blackmer for a log-RMS detector.
1973 A patent is issued to Blackmer for a VCA with a log control voltage.
1974 D.B. Keele pioneers the design of "constant-directivity" high-frequency horns.
The grateful Dead produces the "Wall of Sound" at the San Francisco Cow Palace, which incorporates separate systems for vocals, each of the guitars and for piano and drums.
3M introduces Scotch 250 mastering tape with an increase in output level of over 10 dB compared to Scotch 111.
DuPont introduces chromium dioxide cassette tape (CrO2).
A patent is issued to Blackmer for a feed-forward compressor design.
1975 Digital tape recording begins to take hold in professional audio studios.
Michael Gerzon conceives of and Calrec (England) builds the Soundfield Microphone, a coincident 4-capsule cluster with matrixed "B-format" ouptuts and decoded steerable 2- and 4-channel discrete outputs.
EMT produces the first digital reverb as its model 250.
Ampex introduces 456 high-output mastering tape.
1976 Dr Tom Stockham of Soundstream makes the first 16-bit digital recording in the U.S. at the Santa Fe Opera.
1978 The first EIAJ standard is established for the use of 14-bit PCM adaptors with VCR decks.
Sony markets its PCM-1 14-bit adaptor for consumer use with VCR decks.
A patent is issued to Blackmer for an adaptive filter (the basis of DBX types I and II noise reduction).
3M introduces metal particle cassette tape.
1980 3M, Mitsubishi, Sony and Studer each introduce multitrack digital recorders.
EMT introduces its Model 450 hard disk digital recorder.
Sony introduces a palm-size stereo cassette tape player called a "Walkman".
1981 Philips demonstrates the Compact Disc (CD).
MIDI is standardized as the universal synthetizer interface.
IBM introduces a 16-bit personal computer (PC).
1982 Sony introduces the PCM-F1, intended for the consumer market, the first 14-/16-bit digital adaptor for VCRs. It is eagerly snapped up by the professionals, sparking the digital revolution in recording equipment.
Sony releases the first CD player, the Model CDP-101.
1983 Fiber optic cable is used for long-distance digital audio transmission, linking New York and Washington, DC.
1984 The Apple Corporation markets the Macintosh computer.
1985 Dolby introduces the SR Spectral Recording system.
WGBH in Boston originates the first digital audio broadcast, sent direct to local radio stations in the U.S.
1986 The first digital consoles appear.
R-DAT recorders are introduced in Japan.
Dr Gunther Theile describes a novel stereo sphere microphone.
1987 Digidesign markets a Macintosh-based digital workstation using DAT for storage.
1990 ISDN telephone links are offered for high-end studio use.
Dolby proposes a 5-channel surround sound scheme for home theater systems.
The write-once CD-R becomes a commercial reality.
3M introduces 996 mastering tape, a 13 dB improvement over Scotch 111.
1991 Wolfgang Ahnert presents, as a binaural simulation, the first digitally modeling of an acoustic space.
Alesis unveils the ADAT, the first "affordable" digital multitrack recorder.
Apple debuts the QuickTime multimedia format.
Ampex introduces 499 mastering tape.
1992 Digital audio data-reduction record/play hardware and software is offered to consumers as Sony MiniDisc and Philips DCC.
The Nagra D is introduced as self-contained, battery-operated field recorder using Nagra's own 4-channel, 24-bit, open-reel format.
1993 In the first extensive use of "distance recording" via ISDN, producer Phil Ramone records the Duets album with Frank Sinatra.
Mackie unveils the first "affordable" 8-bus analog console.
1994 Yamaha unveils the ProMix 01, the first "affordable" digital multitrack console.
1995 The first solid-state audio recorder, the Nagra ARES-C, is introduced. It is a battery-operating field unit recording on PCMCIA cards using MPEG-2 audio compression.
Iomega debuts high-capacity "Jaz" and "Zip" drives, useful as removable storage media for hard-disk recording.
1996 Experimental digital recordings are made at 24 bits and 96 kHz.
Record labels begin to add multimedia files to new releases, called them "enhanced CDs".
1997 DVD video discs and players are now commercially available. An audio version with 6-channel surround sound is expected within two years.

Some of this information courtesy of Audio Engineering Society, Inc.



Don Vallone



KD2REU Lakeshore Weather Network



©1999-2022 Don Vallone