Sound recording and reproduction is the electrical,
mechanical Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Machine (mechanical), a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement * Mechanical calculator, a device used to perform the basic operations ...
, electronic, or digital inscription and re-creation of
sound In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. In human physiology and psychology, sound is the ''reception'' of such waves and their ''perception'' by ...
waves, such as spoken voice, singing,
instrumental music An instrumental is a recording normally without any vocals, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a big band setting. Through semantic widening, a broader sense of the word song may refer to instrum ...
, or sound effects. The two main classes of sound recording technology are analog recording and
digital recording In digital recording, an audio or video signal is converted into a stream of discrete numbers representing the changes over time in air pressure for audio, or chroma and luminance values for video. This number stream is saved to a storage ...
. Sound recording is the transcription of invisible vibrations in air onto a storage medium such as a phonograph disc. The process is reversed in sound reproduction, and the variations stored on the medium are transformed back into sound waves. Acoustic analog recording is achieved by a microphone diaphragm that senses changes in atmospheric pressure caused by acoustic sound waves and records them as a mechanical representation of the sound waves on a medium such as a phonograph record (in which a stylus cuts grooves on a record). In magnetic tape recording, the sound waves vibrate the microphone diaphragm and are converted into a varying electric current, which is then converted to a varying magnetic field by an electromagnet, which makes a representation of the sound as magnetized areas on a plastic tape with a magnetic coating on it. Analog sound reproduction is the reverse process, with a bigger
loudspeaker diaphragm In the field of acoustics, a diaphragm is a transducer intended to inter-convert mechanical vibrations to sounds, or vice versa. It is commonly constructed of a thin membrane or sheet of various materials, suspended at its edges. The varying air ...
causing changes to atmospheric pressure to form acoustic sound waves. Digital recording and reproduction converts the analog sound signal picked up by the microphone to a digital form by the process of sampling. This lets the audio data be stored and transmitted by a wider variety of media. Digital recording stores audio as a series of binary numbers (zeros and ones) representing samples of the amplitude of the audio signal at equal time intervals, at a sample rate high enough to convey all sounds capable of being heard. A digital audio signal must be reconverted to analog form during playback before it is amplified and connected to a loudspeaker to produce sound. Prior to the development of sound recording, there were mechanical systems, such as wind-up music boxes and, later, player pianos, for encoding and reproducing instrumental music.

Early history

Long before
sound In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. In human physiology and psychology, sound is the ''reception'' of such waves and their ''perception'' by ...
was first recorded, music was recorded—first by written music notation, then also by mechanical devices (e.g., wind-up music boxes, in which a mechanism turns a spindle, which plucks metal tines, thus reproducing a melody). Automatic music reproduction traces back as far as the 9th century, when the Banū Mūsā brothers invented the earliest known mechanical musical instrument, in this case, a
hydropower Hydropower (from el, ὕδωρ, "water"), also known as water power, is the use of falling or fast-running water to produce electricity or to power machines. This is achieved by converting the gravitational potential or kinetic energy of ...
ed (water-powered)
organ Organ may refer to: Biology * Organ (biology), a part of an organism Musical instruments * Organ (music), a family of keyboard musical instruments characterized by sustained tone ** Electronic organ, an electronic keyboard instrument ** Hammond ...
that played interchangeable cylinders. According to Charles B. Fowler, this "...cylinder with raised pins on the surface remained the basic device to produce and reproduce music mechanically until the second half of the nineteenth century." The Banū Mūsā brothers also invented an automatic flute player, which appears to have been the first
programmable machine A program is a set of instructions used to control the behavior of a machine. Examples of such programs include: *The sequence of cards used by a Jacquard loom to produce a given pattern within weaved cloth. Invented in 1801, it used holes in punc ...
. Carvings in the Rosslyn Chapel from the 1560s may represent an early attempt to record the Chladni patterns produced by sound in stone representations, although this theory has not been conclusively proved. In the 14th century, a mechanical bell-ringer controlled by a rotating cylinder was introduced in Flanders. Similar designs appeared in barrel organs (15th century), musical clocks (1598), barrel pianos (1805), and music boxes (ca. 1800). A music box is an automatic musical instrument that produces sounds by the use of a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or disc so as to pluck the tuned teeth (or ''lamellae'') of a steel comb. The fairground organ, developed in 1892, used a system of accordion-folded punched cardboard books. The player piano, first demonstrated in 1876, used a punched paper scroll that could store a long piece of music. The most sophisticated of the piano rolls were "hand-played," meaning that they were duplicates from a master roll which had been created on a special piano, which punched holes in the master as a live performer played the song. Thus, the roll represented a recording of the actual performance of an individual, not just the more common method of punching the master roll through transcription of the sheet music. This technology to record a live performance onto a piano roll was not developed until 1904. Piano rolls were in continuous mass production from 1896 to 2008. A 1908 U.S. Supreme Court copyright case noted that, in 1902 alone, there were between 70,000 and 75,000 player pianos manufactured, and between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 piano rolls produced.

History of recorded sound timeline

1857 – Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invents the Phonautograph in Paris. Twenty years before Edison invented the recording process, Frenchman Leon Scott de Martinville invented a device for recording sound. He called it the
Phonautograph The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. Previously, tracings had been obtained of the sound-producing vibratory motions of tuning forks and other objects by physical contact with them, but not of actual sound waves ...
and patented it on March 25, 1857. The Phonautograph recorded sound, tracing the shape of sound waves as undulations or other deviations in a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass, but it was not capable of playing sound back. A digitally converted phonautograph recording of ''
Au Clair de la Lune "" (, ) is a French folk song of the 18th century. Its composer and lyricist are unknown. Its simple melody () is commonly taught to beginners learning an instrument. Lyrics The song appears as early as 1820 i''Le Voiture Verseés'' with only ...
'' is now considered the earliest recognizable record of the human voice and the earliest recognizable record of music. 1877 – Charles Cros invents the Paleophone. Paris was clearly the centre of the world in the early days of sound recording. It was there that Leon Scott de Martinville invented his Phonautograph to capture sound onto paper in 1857 and 20 years later Charles Cros took the process forward by working out how to record sound onto a cylinder by tracing oscillations using a screw. In April 1877 he wrote a paper describing his thesis and submitted it in a sealed envelope to the Academy of Science in Paris. Before he got a chance to build a prototype, a hard working inventor by the name of Thomas Edison living thousands of miles away in the USA beat him to it. Edison had been independently considering the same problem and in late 1877 he built a machine that recorded and played back sound which he called a Phonograph. Edison became world famous whilst Charles Cros is largely forgotten. 1878 – Thomas Edison perfects a cylinder based Phonograph that he invented the previous year. It expanded on the principles of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville‘s phonautograph and recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder, and could both record and reproduce sounds. His first recording? It was the nursery rhyme “Mary’s got little lamb.”He also sets up the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company in the same year. 1880’s – Charles Sumner Tainter and Chichester Bell working under Alexander Graham Bell at his Volta Labaratory improved the phonograph cylinder including developing wax covered cardboard cylinders, ultimately creating a new form of recording machine: the Graphophone. 1887 – Emile Berliner changes the game by inventing the gramophone. Briefly based on cylinders, Berliner changed his methodology in 1888 to use discs with imprinted grooves on the flat side of a disc rather than the outside of a cylinder. He initially envisioned his invention would be a toy. 1888 – Columbia Records is born out of Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Graphophone Company. Columbia Records named after its home state, broke away from the North American Phonograph Company selling records and phonographs manufactured by Columbia itself. 1889 – William Barry Owen and Trevor Lloyd Williams register the Gramophone Company in London. On February 23rd 1889 William Barry Owen and Trevor Lloyd Williams registered the small, private Gramophone Company. Trevor Williams was a young lawyer working in the same hotel where Owen was staying in London. American born Owen was in London with the aim of securing large amounts in funding and investment to set up The Gramophone Company in the UK, however Owen didn’t have much luck with his high profile visitors and English businessmen so in a final attempt he leant a gramophone to his lawyer – Trevor Lloyd Williams. Williams was unimpressed by the new technology at first but became convinced of the future success of The Gramophone Company after a visit to meet the gramophone inventor himself, Emile Berliner, in Washington D.C. 1898 – Magnetic recording is demonstrated in principle by Valdemar Poulsen in his Telegraphone. Poulsen obtained a Telegraphone Patent in 1898, and later developed other magnetic recorders that recorded on steel wire, tape, or disks. None of these devices had electronic amplification, but the recorded signal was strong enough to be heard through a headset or transmitted on telephone wires. In 1900 at the World Fair in Paris, Poulsen had the chance to record the voice of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria which is widely believed to be the oldest surviving magnetic audio recording. 1902 – Successful moulding processes for cylinder recordings are developed and mass production begins. Previously only several hundred sale-able cylinders could be made from each recording, so the talent was booked for marathon sessions, hours long to create as many master copies of the recording as possible. 1904 – Enrico Caruso becomes the first super star recording artist. First recorded by the Gramophone Company, Caruso went on to make over one million pounds in royalties as a result of his contacts with the Gramophone Company. 1917 – First jazz recordings are made. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band made the music’s first recordings early in 1917, and their “Livery Stable Blues” became the earliest released jazz record. The band was made up of five musicians who had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a diverse and racially integrated group of musicians who played for parades, dances, and advertising in New Orleans. 1920 – First electrical recordings are made by scientists at the Bell Laboratories in the United States. The first electrical recording issued to the public was of November 11, 1920 funeral services for the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey, London. The microphones used were like those in contemporary telephones. They were inconspicuously set up in the abbey and connected by wires to recording equipment in a vehicle outside. Although electronic amplification was used, the resulting audio was weak and unclear. The novel procedure did, however, allow a recording to be made which would otherwise not have been practical in those circumstances 1925 – The invention of electrical recording allows all the major labels to start using microphones in studio sessions. The clear tone compared to acoustic recordings meant that acoustic recordings could no longer compete with their electrically recorded counter parts, so all the major labels moved over to electrical recordings. 1928 – Fritz Pfleumer develops magnetic tapes for sound recording in Germany. The tapes become widely used over the next decade with almost all studios adopting the new technology by 1935. In 1927, after experimenting with various materials, Pfleumer coated thin paper with iron oxide powder using lacquer as glue. He received a patent in 1928 for magnetic tape recording and on 1 December 1932 Pfleumer granted AEG the right to use his invention when building the world’s first practical tape recorder. 1929 – Flat discs become very popular making the cylinder obsolete and production of cylinders stops. 1931 – Alan Blumlein develops binaural sound (now known as stereo sound) at the Central Research laboratories at the EMI site in Hayes. After a night at the cinema Blumlein was frustrated that the sound from a character on screen could only be heard from a speaker at the other side of the room. To solve this problem, he invented the audio stereo system which is still in use today. He began by removing the idea that two loudspeakers represented the listeners’ two ears and instead sought to re-create the features of the sound field including directional information. 1934 – Lacquer coated discs are introduced. The introduction of lacquer-coated blank discs made instantaneous recording possible for broadcast and home recording. Very soon all the major networks began recording their programs on 16” lacquer-coated aluminum discs that could hold up to 15 minutes of audio recording on a side. Using lacquer coated discs was used well into the 1970’s when it was replaced by magnetic tape recording. 1934 – Talking Books for the blind. The American Federation for the Blind collaborated with the Library of Congress and RCA Victor records to make long playing audio books for the sight impaired. A year later the Royal institute of Blind People in London introduced their ‘Talking Books’ service. 1940 – Multi track recording developed. The guitarist, composer and technician Les Paul experimented with multi track recordings and his experiments lead to the development of 4 and 8 track recordings. These were later adopted by all the major studio’s in the 60’s with many of the Beatle’s and Rolling Stone’s Albums being the first to have 4 track records. Walt Disney’s animated feature Fantasia was one of the first commercial appearances of a four-track record, producing something similar to what is now known as surround sound. 1948 – All the major American labels introduce Vinyl records. (Shellac records are still available.) 1963 – Phillips develops the cassette tape. Their compact audio cassette was the first to combine to convenience of a tape recording format that did not require manual threading. It took about a decade before cassettes began to dominate the consumer market. 1964 – Vinyl records become the worldwide industry standard. Shellac discs are no longer produced commercially.


The first device that could record actual
sound In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. In human physiology and psychology, sound is the ''reception'' of such waves and their ''perception'' by ...
s as they passed through the air (but could not play them back—the purpose was only visual study) was the
phonautograph The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. Previously, tracings had been obtained of the sound-producing vibratory motions of tuning forks and other objects by physical contact with them, but not of actual sound waves ...
, patented in 1857 by Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The earliest known recordings of the human voice are phonautograph recordings, called ''phonautograms'', made in 1857. They consist of sheets of paper with sound-wave-modulated white lines created by a vibrating stylus that cut through a coating of soot as the paper was passed under it. An 1860 phonautogram of
Au Clair de la Lune "" (, ) is a French folk song of the 18th century. Its composer and lyricist are unknown. Its simple melody () is commonly taught to beginners learning an instrument. Lyrics The song appears as early as 1820 i''Le Voiture Verseés'' with only ...
, a French folk song, was played back as sound for the first time in 2008 by scanning it and using software to convert the undulating line, which graphically encoded the sound, into a corresponding digital audio file.


Thomas Edison's work on two other innovations, the telegraph and the telephone, led to the development of the phonograph. Edison was working on a machine in 1877 that would transcribe telegraphic signals onto paper tape, which could then be transferred over the telegraph again and again. The phonograph was both in a cylinder and a disc form.


On April 30, 1877, French poet, humorous writer and inventor Charles Cros submitted a sealed envelope containing a letter to the Academy of Sciences in Paris fully explaining his proposed method, called the paleophone. Though no trace of a working paleophone was ever found, Cros is remembered by some historians as an early inventor of a sound recording and reproduction machine. The first practical sound recording and reproduction device was the mechanical phonograph cylinder, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and patented in 1878. The invention soon spread across the globe and over the next two decades the commercial recording, distribution, and sale of sound recordings became a growing new international industry, with the most popular titles selling millions of units by the early 1900s. A process for mass-producing duplicate wax cylinders by molding instead of engraving them was put into effect in 1901.The development of mass-production techniques enabled cylinder recordings to become a major new consumer item in industrial countries and the cylinder was the main consumer format from the late 1880s until around 1910.


The next major technical development was the invention of the gramophone record, generally credited to Emile Berliner and patented in 1887, though others had demonstrated similar disk apparatus earlier, most notably Alexander Graham Bell in 1881. Discs were easier to manufacture, transport and store, and they had the additional benefit of being marginally louder than cylinders. Sales of the gramophone record overtook the cylinder ca. 1910, and by the end of World War I the disc had become the dominant commercial recording format. Edison, who was the main producer of cylinders, created the Edison Disc Record in an attempt to regain his market. The double-sided (nominally 78 rpm) shellac disc was the standard consumer music format from the early 1910s to the late 1950s. In various permutations, the audio disc format became the primary medium for consumer sound recordings until the end of the 20th century. Although there was no universally accepted speed, and various companies offered discs that played at several different speeds, the major recording companies eventually settled on a ''de facto'' industry standard of nominally 78 revolutions per minute. The specified speed was 78.26 rpm in America and 77.92 rpm throughout the rest of the world. The difference in speeds was due to the difference in the cycle frequencies of the AC electricity that powered the stroboscopes used to calibrate recording lathes and turntables. The nominal speed of the disc format gave rise to its common nickname, the "seventy-eight" (though not until other speeds had become available). Discs were made of shellac or similar brittle plastic-like materials, played with needles made from a variety of materials including mild steel, thorn, and even sapphire. Discs had a distinctly limited playing life that varied depending on how they were manufactured. Earlier, purely acoustic methods of recording had limited sensitivity and frequency range. Mid-frequency range notes could be recorded, but very low and very high frequencies could not. Instruments such as the violin were difficult to transfer to disc. One technique to deal with this involved using a
Stroh violin The Stroh violin or Stroviol is a type of stringed musical instrument that is mechanically amplified by a metal resonator and horn attached to its body. The name Stroviol refers to a violin, but other instruments have been modified with the ...
which uses a conical horn connected to a diaphragm that in turn is connected to the violin bridge. The horn was no longer needed once electrical recording was developed. The long-playing 33 rpm microgroove LP record, was developed at Columbia Records and introduced in 1948. The short-playing but convenient 45 rpm microgroove vinyl single was introduced by RCA Victor in 1949. In the US and most developed countries, the two new vinyl formats completely replaced 78 rpm shellac discs by the end of the 1950s, but in some corners of the world, the 78 lingered on far into the 1960s. Vinyl was much more expensive than shellac, one of the several factors that made its use for 78 rpm records very unusual, but with a long-playing disc the added cost was acceptable. The compact 45 format required very little material. Vinyl offered improved performance, both in stamping and in playback. Vinyl records were, over-optimistically, advertised as "unbreakable". They were not, but they were much less fragile than shellac, which had itself once been touted as "unbreakable" compared to wax cylinders.


Sound recording began as a purely mechanical process. Except for a few crude telephone-based recording devices with no means of amplification, such as the telegraphone, it remained so until the 1920s. Between the invention of the phonograph in 1877 and the first commercial
digital recording In digital recording, an audio or video signal is converted into a stream of discrete numbers representing the changes over time in air pressure for audio, or chroma and luminance values for video. This number stream is saved to a storage ...
s in the early 1970s, arguably the most important milestone in the history of sound recording was the introduction of what was then called ''electrical recording'', in which a microphone was used to convert the sound into an electrical signal that was amplified and used to actuate the recording stylus. This innovation eliminated the "horn sound" resonances characteristic of the acoustical process, produced clearer and more full-bodied recordings by greatly extending the useful range of audio frequencies, and allowed previously unrecordable distant and feeble sounds to be captured. During this time, several radio-related developments in electronics converged to revolutionize the recording process. These included improved microphones and auxiliary devices such as electronic filters, all dependent on electronic amplification to be of practical use in recording. In 1906, Lee De Forest invented the Audion triode vacuum tube, an electronic valve that could amplify weak electrical signals. By 1915, it was in use in long-distance telephone circuits that made conversations between New York and San Francisco practical. Refined versions of this tube were the basis of all electronic sound systems until the commercial introduction of the first transistor-based audio devices in the mid-1950s. During World War I, engineers in the United States and Great Britain worked on ways to record and reproduce, among other things, the sound of a German U-boat for training purposes. Acoustical recording methods of the time could not reproduce the sounds accurately. The earliest results were not promising. The first electrical recording issued to the public, with little fanfare, was of November 11, 1920, funeral service for
The Unknown Warrior The British grave of the Unknown Warrior (often known as 'The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior') holds an unidentified member of the British armed forces killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. Hanson, Chapters 23 & 24 He was g ...
in Westminster Abbey, London. The recording engineers used microphones of the type used in contemporary telephones. Four were discreetly set up in the abbey and wired to recording equipment in a vehicle outside. Although electronic amplification was used, the audio was weak and unclear, as only possible in those circumstances. For several years, this little-noted disc remained the only issued electrical recording. Several record companies and independent inventors, notably Orlando Marsh, experimented with equipment and techniques for electrical recording in the early 1920s. Marsh's electrically recorded Autograph Records were already being sold to the public in 1924, a year before the first such offerings from the major record companies, but their overall sound quality was too low to demonstrate any obvious advantage over traditional acoustical methods. Marsh's microphone technique was idiosyncratic and his work had little if any impact on the systems being developed by others. Telephone industry giant Western Electric had research laboratories with material and human resources that no record company or independent inventor could match. They had the best microphone, a condenser type developed there in 1916 and greatly improved in 1922, and the best amplifiers and test equipment. They had already patented an electromechanical recorder in 1918, and in the early 1920s, they decided to intensively apply their hardware and expertise to developing two state-of-the-art systems for electronically recording and reproducing sound: one that employed conventional discs and another that recorded optically on motion picture film. Their engineers pioneered the use of mechanical analogs of electrical circuits and developed a superior "rubber line" recorder for cutting the groove into the wax master in the disc recording system. By 1924, such dramatic progress had been made that Western Electric arranged a demonstration for the two leading record companies, the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Columbia Phonograph Company. Both soon licensed the system and both made their earliest published electrical recordings in February 1925, but neither actually released them until several months later. To avoid making their existing catalogs instantly obsolete, the two long-time archrivals agreed privately not to publicize the new process until November 1925, by which time enough electrically recorded repertory would be available to meet the anticipated demand. During the next few years, the lesser record companies licensed or developed other electrical recording systems. By 1929 only the budget label Harmony was still issuing new recordings made by the old acoustical process. Comparison of some surviving Western Electric test recordings with early commercial releases indicates that the record companies artificially reduced the frequency range of recordings so they would not overwhelm non-electronic playback equipment, which reproduced very low frequencies as an unpleasant rattle and rapidly wore out discs with strongly recorded high frequencies.

Optical and magnetic

In the 1920s, Phonofilm and other early motion picture sound systems employed
optical recording The history of optical recording can be divided into a few number of distinct major contributions. The pioneers of optical recording worked mostly independently, and their solutions to the many technical challenges have very distinctive features, su ...
technology, in which the audio signal was graphically recorded on photographic film. The amplitude variations comprising the signal were used to modulate a light source which was imaged onto the moving film through a narrow slit, allowing the signal to be photographed as variations in the density or width of a ''sound track''. The
projector A projector or image projector is an optical device that projects an image (or moving images) onto a surface, commonly a projection screen. Most projectors create an image by shining a light through a small transparent lens, but some newer typ ...
used a steady light and a photodetector to convert these variations back into an electrical signal, which was amplified and sent to loudspeakers behind the screen. Optical sound became the standard motion picture audio system throughout the world and remains so for theatrical release prints despite attempts in the 1950s to substitute magnetic soundtracks. Currently, all release prints on 35 mm movie film include an analog optical soundtrack, usually stereo with Dolby SR noise reduction. In addition, an optically recorded digital soundtrack in Dolby Digital and/or Sony SDDS form is likely to be present. An optically recorded timecode is also commonly included to synchronize CDROMs that contain a DTS soundtrack. This period also saw several other historic developments including the introduction of the first practical magnetic sound recording system, the magnetic wire recorder, which was based on the work of Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen. Magnetic wire recorders were effective, but the sound quality was poor, so between the wars, they were primarily used for voice recording and marketed as business dictating machines. In 1924, a German engineer, Kurt Stille, improved the Telegraphone with an electronic amplifier. The following year, Ludwig Blattner began work that eventually produced the Blattnerphone, which used steel tape instead of wire. The BBC started using Blattnerphones in 1930 to record radio programs. In 1933, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi's company purchased the rights to the Blattnerphone, and newly developed Marconi-Stille recorders were installed in the BBC's Maida Vale Studios in March 1935. The tape used in Blattnerphones and Marconi-Stille recorders was the same material used to make razor blades, and not surprisingly the fearsome Marconi-Stille recorders were considered so dangerous that technicians had to operate them from another room for safety. Because of the high recording speeds required, they used enormous reels about one meter in diameter, and the thin tape frequently broke, sending jagged lengths of razor steel flying around the studio.


Magnetic tape recording uses an amplified electrical audio signal to generate analogous variations of the magnetic field produced by a tape head, which impresses corresponding variations of magnetization on the moving tape. In playback mode, the signal path is reversed, the tape head acting as a miniature electric generator as the varyingly magnetized tape passes over it. The original solid steel ribbon was replaced by a much more practical coated paper tape, but acetate soon replaced paper as the standard tape base. Acetate has fairly low tensile strength and if very thin it will snap easily, so it was in turn eventually superseded by polyester. This technology, the basis for almost all commercial recording from the 1950s to the 1980s, was developed in the 1930s by German audio engineers who also rediscovered the principle of AC biasing (first used in the 1920s for wire recorders), which dramatically improved the frequency response of tape recordings. The K1 Magnetophon was the first practical tape recorder, developed by AEG in Germany in 1935. The technology was further improved just after World War II by American audio engineer John T. Mullin with backing from Bing Crosby Enterprises. Mullin's pioneering recorders were modifications of captured German recorders. In the late 1940s, the Ampex company produced the first tape recorders commercially available in the US. Magnetic tape brought about sweeping changes in both radio and the recording industry. Sound could be recorded, erased and re-recorded on the same tape many times, sounds could be duplicated from tape to tape with only minor loss of quality, and recordings could now be very precisely edited by physically cutting the tape and rejoining it. Within a few years of the introduction of the first commercial tape recorder—the Ampex 200 model, launched in 1948—American musician-inventor Les Paul had invented the first multitrack tape recorder, ushering in another technical revolution in the recording industry. Tape made possible the first sound recordings totally created by electronic means, opening the way for the bold sonic experiments of the Musique Concrète school and avant-garde composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, which in turn led to the innovative pop music recordings of artists such as
The Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band, formed in Liverpool in 1960, that comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They are regarded as the Cultural impact of the Beatles, most influential band of al ...
and The Beach Boys. The ease and accuracy of tape editing, as compared to the cumbersome disc-to-disc editing procedures previously in some limited use, together with tape's consistently high audio quality finally convinced radio networks to routinely prerecord their entertainment programming, most of which had formerly been broadcast live. Also, for the first time, broadcasters, regulators and other interested parties were able to undertake comprehensive audio logging of each day's radio broadcasts. Innovations like multitracking and tape echo allowed radio programs and advertisements to be produced to a high level of complexity and sophistication. The combined impact with innovations such as the endless loop broadcast cartridge led to significant changes in the pacing and production style of radio program content and advertising.

Stereo and hi-fi

In 1881, it was noted during experiments in transmitting sound from the Paris Opera that it was possible to follow the movement of singers on the stage if earpieces connected to different microphones were held to the two ears. This discovery was commercialized in 1890 with the Théâtrophone system, which operated for over forty years until 1932. In 1931, Alan Blumlein, a British electronics engineer working for EMI, designed a way to make the sound of an actor in a film follow his movement across the screen. In December 1931, he submitted a patent application including the idea, and in 1933 this became UK patent number 394,325. Over the next two years, Blumlein developed stereo microphones and a stereo disc-cutting head, and recorded a number of short films with stereo soundtracks. In the 1930s, experiments with magnetic tape enabled the development of the first practical commercial sound systems that could record and reproduce high-fidelity stereophonic sound. The experiments with stereo during the 1930s and 1940s were hampered by problems with synchronization. A major breakthrough in practical stereo sound was made by Bell Laboratories, who in 1937 demonstrated a practical system of two-channel stereo, using dual optical sound tracks on film. Major movie studios quickly developed three-track and four-track sound systems, and the first stereo sound recording for a commercial film was made by Judy Garland for the MGM movie '' Listen, Darling'' in 1938. The first commercially released movie with a stereo soundtrack was Walt Disney's ''
Fantasia Fantasia International Film Festival (also known as Fantasia-fest, FanTasia, and Fant-Asia) is a film festival that has been based mainly in Montreal since its founding in 1996. Regularly held in July of each year, it is valued by both hardcor ...
'', released in 1940. The 1941 release of Fantasia used the Fantasound sound system. This system used a separate film for the sound, synchronized with the film carrying the picture. The sound film had four double-width optical soundtracks, three for left, center, and right audio—and a fourth as a "control" track with three recorded tones that controlled the playback volume of the three audio channels. Because of the complex equipment this system required, Disney exhibited the movie as a roadshow, and only in the United States. Regular releases of the movie used standard mono optical 35 mm stock until 1956, when Disney released the film with a stereo soundtrack that used the Cinemascope four-track magnetic sound system. German audio engineers working on magnetic tape developed stereo recording by 1941. Of 250 stereophonic recordings made during WW2, only three survive: Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto with Walter Gieseking and Arthur Rother, a Brahms Serenade, and the last movement of Bruckner's 8th Symphony with Von Karajan. Other early German stereophonic tapes are believed to have been destroyed in bombings. Not until Ampex introduced the first commercial two-track tape recorders in the late 1940s did stereo tape recording become commercially feasible. Despite the availability of multitrack tape, stereo did not become the standard system for commercial music recording for some years, and remained a specialist market during the 1950s. EMI (UK) was the first company to release commercial stereophonic tapes. They issued their first ''Stereosonic'' tape in 1954. Others quickly followed, under the His Master's Voice (HMV) and
Columbia Columbia may refer to: * Columbia (personification), the historical female national personification of the United States, and a poetic name for America Places North America Natural features * Columbia Plateau, a geologic and geographic region i ...
labels. 161 Stereosonic tapes were released, mostly classical music or lyric recordings. RCA imported these tapes into the USA. Although some HMV tapes released in the USA cost up to $15, two-track stereophonic tapes were more successful in America during the second half of the 1950s. The history of stereo recording changed after the late 1957 introduction of the ''Westrex stereo phonograph disc'', which used the groove format developed earlier by Blumlein. Decca Records in England came out with
FFRR FFRR Records (sometimes credited as Full Frequency Range Recordings) is a dance music label previously run and founded by English DJ Pete Tong. Originally the dance music label of London Records, FFRR is currently a sublabel of Parlophone, ...
(Full Frequency Range Recording) in the 1940s, which became internationally accepted as a worldwide standard for higher quality recording on vinyl records. The Ernest Ansermet recording of Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka was key in the development of full frequency range records and alerting the listening public to high fidelity in 1946. Until the mid-1960s, record companies mixed and released most popular music in monophonic sound. From mid-1960s until the early 1970s, major recordings were commonly released in both mono and stereo. Recordings originally released only in mono have been rerendered and released in stereo using a variety of techniques from remixing to pseudostereo.

1950s to 1980s

Magnetic tape transformed the recording industry. By the early 1950s, most commercial recordings were mastered on tape instead of recorded directly to disc. Tape facilitated a degree of manipulation in the recording process that was impractical with mixes and multiple generations of directly recorded discs. An early example is Les Paul's 1951 recording of '' How High the Moon'', on which Paul played eight overdubbed guitar tracks. In the 1960s Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, and
The Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band, formed in Liverpool in 1960, that comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They are regarded as the Cultural impact of the Beatles, most influential band of al ...
(with producer George Martin) were among the first popular artists to explore the possibilities of multitrack recording techniques and effects on their landmark albums '' Pet Sounds'', '' Freak Out!'', and ''
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band ''Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'' is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 26May 1967, ''Sgt. Pepper'' is regarded by musicologists as an early concept album that advanced the roles of sound composi ...
''. The next important innovation was small cartridge-based tape systems, of which the compact cassette, commercialized by the Philips electronics company in 1964, is the best known. Initially a low-fidelity format for spoken-word voice recording and inadequate for music reproduction, after a series of improvements it entirely replaced the competing consumer tape formats: the larger 8-track tape (used primarily in cars) and the fairly similar ''Deutsche Cassette'' developed by the German company Grundig. The Deutsche Cassette was not particularly common in Europe and practically unheard-of in America. The compact cassette became a major consumer audio format and advances in electronic and mechanical miniaturization led to the development of the
Sony Walkman Walkman, stylised as , is a brand of portable audio players manufactured and marketed by Japanese technology company Sony since 1979. The original Walkman was a portable cassette player and its popularity made "walkman" an unofficial term for ...
, a pocket-sized cassette player introduced in 1979. The Walkman was the first personal music player and it gave a major boost to sales of prerecorded cassettes, which became the first widely successful release format that used a re-recordable medium: the vinyl record was a playback-only medium and commercially prerecorded tapes for reel-to-reel tape decks, which many consumers found difficult to operate, were never more than a niche market item. A key advance in audio fidelity came with the Dolby A noise reduction system, invented by
Ray Dolby Ray Milton Dolby (; January 18, 1933 – September 12, 2013) was an American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system known as Dolby NR. He helped develop the video tape recorder while at Ampex and was the founder of Dolby Labo ...
and introduced into professional recording studios in 1966. It suppressed the background of hiss, which was the only easily audible downside of mastering on tape instead of recording directly to disc. A competing system, dbx, invented by David Blackmer, also found success in professional audio. A simpler variant of Dolby's noise reduction system, known as Dolby B, greatly improved the sound of cassette tape recordings by reducing the especially high level of hiss that resulted from the cassette's miniaturized tape format. The compact cassette format also benefited from improvements to the tape itself as coatings with wider frequency responses and lower inherent noise were developed, often based on cobalt and chrome oxides as the magnetic material instead of the more usual iron oxide. The multitrack audio cartridge had been in wide use in the radio industry, from the late 1950s to the 1980s, but in the 1960s the pre-recorded 8-track tape was launched as a consumer audio format by the Lear Jet aircraft company. Aimed particularly at the automotive market, they were the first practical, affordable car hi-fi systems, and could produce sound quality superior to that of the compact cassette. The smaller size and greater durability — augmented by the ability to create home-recorded music mixtapes since 8-track recorders were rare — saw the cassette become the dominant consumer format for portable audio devices in the 1970s and 1980s. There had been experiments with multi-channel sound for many yearsusually for special musical or cultural eventsbut the first commercial application of the concept came in the early 1970s with the introduction of
Quadraphonic Quadraphonic (or quadrophonic and sometimes quadrasonic) sound – equivalent to what is now called 4.0 surround sound – uses four audio channels in which speakers are positioned at the four corners of a listening space. The system allows for t ...
sound. This spin-off development from multitrack recording used four tracks (instead of the two used in stereo) and four speakers to create a 360-degree audio field around the listener. Following the release of the first consumer 4-channel hi-fi systems, a number of popular albums were released in one of the competing four-channel formats; among the best known are Mike Oldfield's '' Tubular Bells'' and Pink Floyd's '' The Dark Side of the Moon''. Quadraphonic sound was not a commercial success, partly because of competing and somewhat incompatible four-channel sound systems (e.g., CBS,
JVC JVC (short for Japan Victor Company) is a Japanese brand owned by JVCKenwood corporation. Founded in 1927 as the Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan and later as , the company is best known for introducing Japan's first televisions and for ...
, Dynaco and others all had systems) and generally poor quality, even when played as intended on the correct equipment, of the released music. It eventually faded out in the late 1970s, although this early venture paved the way for the eventual introduction of domestic surround sound systems in home theatre use, which gained popularity following the introduction of the DVD.

Audio components

The replacement of the relatively fragile vacuum tube by the smaller, rugged and efficient transistor also accelerated the sale of consumer high-fidelity sound systems from the 1960s onward. In the 1950s, most record players were monophonic and had relatively low sound quality. Few consumers could afford high-quality stereophonic sound systems. In the 1960s, American manufacturers introduced a new generation of ''modular'' hi-fi components — separate turntables, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, both combined as integrated amplifiers, tape recorders, and other ancillary equipment like the graphic equalizer, which could be connected together to create a complete home sound system. These developments were rapidly taken up by major Japanese electronics companies, which soon flooded the world market with relatively affordable, high-quality transistorized audio components. By the 1980s, corporations like Sony had become world leaders in the music recording and playback industry.


The advent of digital sound recording and later the
compact disc The compact disc (CD) is a digital optical disc data storage format that was co-developed by Philips and Sony to store and play digital audio recordings. In August 1982, the first compact disc was manufactured. It was then released in O ...
(CD) in 1982 brought significant improvements in the quality and durability of recordings. The CD initiated another massive wave of change in the consumer music industry, with vinyl records effectively relegated to a small niche market by the mid-1990s. The record industry fiercely resisted the introduction of digital systems, fearing wholesale piracy on a medium able to produce perfect copies of original released recordings. The most recent and revolutionary developments have been in digital recording, with the development of various uncompressed and compressed digital audio file formats,
processors A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor, main processor or just processor, is the electronic circuitry that executes instructions comprising a computer program. The CPU performs basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, a ...
capable and fast enough to convert the digital data to sound in real time, and inexpensive mass storage. This generated new types of portable digital audio players. The minidisc player, using ATRAC compression on small, re-writeable discs was introduced in the 1990s, but became obsolescent as solid-state non-volatile flash memory dropped in price. As technologies that increase the amount of data that can be stored on a single medium, such as Super Audio CD, DVD-A, Blu-ray Disc, and HD DVD became available, longer programs of higher quality fit onto a single disc. Sound files are readily downloaded from the Internet and other sources, and copied onto computers and digital audio players. Digital audio technology is now used in all areas of audio, from casual use of music files of moderate quality to the most demanding professional applications. New applications such as internet radio and podcasting have appeared. Technological developments in recording, editing, and consuming have transformed the record, movie and
television Television, sometimes shortened to TV, is a telecommunication medium for transmitting moving images and sound. The term can refer to a television set, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, ...
industries in recent decades. Audio editing became practicable with the invention of magnetic tape recording, but technologies like MIDI, sound synthesis and
digital audio workstation A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integr ...
s allow greater control and efficiency for composers and artists. Digital audio techniques and mass storage have reduced recording costs such that high-quality recordings can be produced in small studios. Today, the process of making a recording is separated into tracking, mixing and mastering. Multitrack recording makes it possible to capture signals from several microphones, or from different takes to tape, disc or mass storage allowing previously unavailable flexibility in the mixing and mastering stages.


There are many different digital audio recording and processing programs running under several computer operating systems for all purposes, ranging from casual users and serious amateurs working on small projects to professional sound engineers who are recording albums, film scores and doing sound design for video games.
Digital dictation A dictation machine is a sound recording device most commonly used to record speech for playback or to be typed into print. It includes digital voice recorders and tape recorder. The name "Dictaphone" is a trademark of the company of the same n ...
software for recording and transcribing speech has different requirements; intelligibility and flexible playback facilities are priorities, while a wide frequency range and high audio quality are not.

Cultural effects

The development of analog sound recording in the nineteenth century and its widespread use throughout the twentieth century had a huge impact on the development of music. Before analog sound recording was invented, most music was as a live performance. Throughout the medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and through much of the Romantic music era, the main way that songs and instrumental pieces were ''recorded'' was through music notation. While notation indicates the pitches of the melody and their rhythm many aspects of the performance are undocumented. Indeed, in the Medieval era, Gregorian chant did not indicate the rhythm of the chant. In the Baroque era, instrumental pieces often lack a tempo indication and usually none of the
ornaments An ornament is something used for decoration. Ornament may also refer to: Decoration * Ornament (art), any purely decorative element in architecture and the decorative arts *Biological ornament, a characteristic of animals that appear to serve o ...
were written down. As a result, each performance of a song or piece would be slightly different. With the development of analog sound recording, though, a performance could be permanently fixed, in all of its elements: pitch, rhythm, timbre, ornaments and expression. This meant that many more elements of a performance would be captured and disseminated to other listeners. The development of sound recording also enabled a much larger proportion of people to hear famous orchestras, operas, singers and bands, because even if a person could not afford to hear the live concert, they may be able to hear the recording. The availability of sound recording thus helped to spread musical styles to new regions, countries and continents. The cultural influence went in a number of directions. Sound recordings enabled Western music lovers to hear actual recordings of Asian, Middle Eastern and African groups and performers, increasing awareness of non-Western musical styles. At the same time, sound recordings enabled music lovers outside the West to hear the most famous North American and European groups and singers. As digital recording developed, so did a controversy commonly known as the analog versus digital controversy. Audio professionals, audiophiles, consumers, musicians alike contributed to the debate based on their interaction with the media and the preferences for analog or digital processes. Scholarly discourse on the controversy came to focus on concern for the perception of moving image and sound. There are individual and cultural preferences for either method. While approaches and opinions vary, some emphasize sound as paramount, others focus on technology preferences as the deciding factor. Analog fans might embrace limitations as strengths of the medium inherent in the compositional, editing, mixing, and listening phases. Digital advocates boast flexibility in similar processes. This debate fosters a revival of vinyl in the music industry, as well as analog electronics, and analog type plug-ins for recording and mixing software.

Legal status

In copyright law, a ''phonogram'' or ''sound recording'' is a work that results from the fixation of sounds in a medium. The notice of copyright in a phonogram uses the sound recording copyright symbol, which the
Geneva Phonograms Convention The Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms, also known as the Geneva Phonograms Convention, is a 1971 international agreement relating to copyright protection for sound recor ...
defines as ℗ (the letter P in a full circle). This usually accompanies the copyright notice for the underlying musical composition, which uses the ordinary © symbol. The recording is separate from the song, so copyright for a recording usually belongs to the record company. It is less common for an artist or producer to hold these rights. Copyright for recordings has existed since 1972, while copyright for musical composition, or songs, has existed since 1831. Disputes over sampling and ''beats'' are ongoing.

United States

United States copyright law defines "sound recordings" as "works that result from the fixation of a series of musical, spoken, or other sounds" other than an audiovisual work's soundtrack. Prior to the Sound Recording Amendment (SRA), which took effect in 1972, copyright in sound recordings was handled at the state level. Federal copyright law preempts most state copyright laws but allows state copyright in sound recordings to continue for one full copyright term after the SRA's effective date, which means 2067.

United Kingdom

Since 1934, copyright law in Great Britain has treated sound recordings (or ''phonograms'') differently from musical works.''Gramophone Co., Ltd. v. Stephen Carwardine Co'' 9341 Ch 450 The ''
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988c 48, also known as the CDPA, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that received Royal Assent on 15 November 1988. It reformulates almost completely the statutory basis of copyright law ...
'' defines a sound recording as (a) a recording of sounds, from which the sounds may be reproduced, or (b) a recording of the whole or any part of a literary, dramatic or musical work, from which sounds reproducing the work or part may be produced, regardless of the medium on which the recording is made or the method by which the sounds are reproduced or produced. It thus covers vinyl records, tapes,
compact disc The compact disc (CD) is a digital optical disc data storage format that was co-developed by Philips and Sony to store and play digital audio recordings. In August 1982, the first compact disc was manufactured. It was then released in O ...
s, digital audiotapes, and MP3s that embody recordings.

See also



Further reading

* * Barlow, Sanna Morrison. Mountain Singing: the Story of Gospel Recordings in the Philippines. Hong Kong: Alliance Press, 1952. 352 p. * Coleman, Mark
''Playback: from the Victrola to MP3, 100 years of music, machines, and money''
Da Capo Press, 2003. * * Gronow, Pekka
"The Record Industry: The Growth of a Mass Medium"
''Popular Music'', Vol. 3, Producers and Markets (1983), pp. 53–75, Cambridge University Press. * Gronow, Pekka, and Saunio, Ilpo, "An International History of the Recording Industry", ranslated from the Finnish by Christopher Moseley London; New York : Cassell, 1998. * Lipman, Samuel,"The House of Music: Art in an Era of Institutions", 1984. See the chapter on "Getting on Record", pp. 62–75, about the early record industry and Fred Gaisberg and Walter Legge and FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording). * Millard, Andre J., "America on record : a history of recorded sound", Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1995. * Millard, Andre J.
" From Edison to the iPod"
UAB Reporter, 2005, University of Alabama at Birmingham. * Milner, Greg
"Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music"
Faber & Faber; 1 edition (June 9, 2009) . Cf. p. 14 on H. Stith Bennett and "
recording consciousness Recording consciousness as described by Bennett (1980, p. 114) is the consequence of "a society which is literally wired for sound" in which, according to Middleton (1990, p. 88) "this consciousness defines the social reality of popular m ...
". * Read, Oliver, and Walter L. Welch, ''From Tin Foil to Stereo: Evolution of the Phonograph'', Second ed., Indianapolis, Ind.: H.W. Same & Co., 1976. ''N.B''.: This is an historical account of the development of sound recording technology. pbk. * Read, Oliver, ''The Recording and Reproduction of Sound'', Indianapolis, Ind.: H.W. Sams & Co., 1952. ''N.B''.: This is a pioneering engineering account of sound recording technology. * , San Diego University * St-Laurent, Gilles, "Notes on the Degradation of Sound Recordings", ''National Library f CanadaNews'', vol. 13, no. 1 (Jan. 1991), p. 1, 3–4. * McWilliams, Jerry. ''The Preservation and Restoration of Sound Recordings''. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1979. * Weir, Bob, et al. ''Century of Sound: 100 Years of Recorded Sound, 1877-1977''. Executive writer, Bob Weir; project staff writers, Brian Gorman, Jim Simons, Marty Melhuish. oronto? Produced by Studio 123, cop. 1977. ''N.B''.: Published on the occasion of an exhibition commemorating the centennial of recorded sound, held at the fairground of the annual Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ont., as one of the C.N.E.'s 1977 events. Without ISBN

External links

Audio Engineering Society

Oral history of recorded sound
Interviews with practitioners in all areas of the recording industry. British Library
History of Recorded Sound. New York Public Library

Noise in the Groove
– A podcast about the history of the phonograph, gramophone, and sound recording/reproduction.
Audio Engineering online course
under Creative Commons Licence
Archival Sound Recordings
– tens of thousands of recordings showcasing audio history from 19th century wax cylinders to the present day. British Library
International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)

Recorded Music
A History of Central Florida Podcast
* Millard, Andre
"Edison's Tone Tests and the Ideal of Perfect Reproduction"
''Lost and Found Sound'', interview on National Public Radio. * {{DEFAULTSORT:Sound Recording And Reproduction Audio engineering Mass media technology Recording and reproduction Recording and reproduction *