Why do people hear phonographs

The record

For a long time sound recordings were out of the question

In 1589 the Italian physicist Giovanni Battista della Porta (1538-1615) thought about the "conservation of the spoken word". His solution: He wanted to keep the words in a container, but could not build a suitable device with the technical possibilities of his time.

Even 200 years later, sound recording still belonged to the realm of myths and fairy tales. In 1777, the poet Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794) told the story of the frozen post horn in his "Wunderbaren Reise des Freiherrn von Münchhausen": When it thawed in a warm room, it emitted the sounds that the postilion had blown into it in the icy cold would have.

The acoustic recording era begins

The first successes in sound recording took a long time to come before the end of the 19th century. At the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867, the French poet and philosopher Charles Cros (1842-1888) presented an automatic telegraph to the public.

This device already had the basic design features of the phonograph developed by Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) in 1878, but was not yet able to record any tones.

On July 18, 1877, Edison succeeded for the first time in capturing and reproducing the human voice. He used a needle-tipped membrane that he pulled over a strip of paraffin-coated paper. He said the word "Hello" aloud into the membrane. When he pulled the needle over the strip of paper again, he could hear what had been said before.

He asked the Swiss precision mechanic Kruesi to build the first phonograph based on his sketches. A steel roller covered with tin foil served as the sound carrier. Some of the devices still work today: if you turn the crank and speak into the funnel at the same time, the needle presses braille into the cylinder, which can then be played back.

Expensive gramophone records

The German emigrant Emil Berliner developed another sound carrier in the USA in 1888: the hard rubber record. In 1897 the first shellac records came onto the market. This round disc consisted of a mixture of shellac, rock flour, soot and vegetable fibers.

Record making remained an expensive technique for many years. In 1904 the price for a gramophone record was an impressive 2.50 marks. That was a lot of money at a time when a kilo of beef cost 1.42 marks and the average monthly salary was 50 marks. Nevertheless, the invention of the shellac record marked the birth of a new branch of industry.

In 1922 the wax casting process used for plate production since 1897 was replaced by the so-called matrix system - also known as the "father-mother-son process".

This method had the advantage that the matrices could be used for duplication as often as desired. Therefore, the records could be produced more cheaply and quickly. The wax forms, on the other hand, were lost with every copy run.

Store sound waves on a sound carrier

In 1924, the Bell Telephone Company developed the electro-acoustic recording process, which began a new era for the recording industry. In this process, the sound waves are recorded by a microphone and converted into electrical alternating voltage.

The electrical signals are then stored in the form of a graphic image as an analog pattern, i.e. in amplitude form, and can be copied onto a record. Each copy represents the output signal. But that also means: the more often a picture is copied, the worse it gets.

In 1926 the first amplifier was available with the invention of tubes and electrical converters. Now you no longer had to amplify the sound waves with a gramophone funnel, but could switch to the much more effective electrical recording and playback method.

Vinyl - the end of the shellac records

Another milestone in the history of sound carriers was the invention of the vinyl record in 1948 by the Hungarian-American physicist Dr. Peter Carl Goldmark (1906-1977). In the same year, the US record company Columbia introduced the first plastic record with microgrooves and 33-a-third revolutions per minute. This 30-centimeter record was called the "long playing record" or, in the German translation, the long-playing record (LP).

The US company RCA Victor launched the single record in 1949. It had a diameter of 17.5 centimeters at 45 revolutions per minute. The introduction of vinyl as a sound carrier material meant the end of shellac records, which were far more sensitive and expensive. EMI was the last company to cease production in 1958.

In the same year, stereophony was declared a compulsory recording technique at Deutsche Grammophon. The first experiments with this technology, which creates a spatial sound impression, had already been carried out in 1929 at the German broadcasting company.

In 1960 stereo LPs accounted for 25 percent of total record sales. From 1967 the British EMI produced all new releases only in stereo.

Since the new stereo records were mono-compatible and also conveyed a spatial sound experience, there were no problems with the market launch. You could hear stereo records on a mono record player and vice versa without any problems.

The quadrophony - a miss

So-called quadrophonic records were produced between 1971 and 1978. Quadrophony was a four-channel playback process that was used to improve spatial perception compared to the stereo system.

The technical problem was that the grooves on a record could only accommodate two channels. First the four output signals had to be combined on two channels. When playing a quadrophonic record, the two channels on the record had to be converted back into four channels.

The industry developed eight different systems for this, of which only two were able to prevail: the SQ matrix method from CBS / Sony and the CD-4 method from JVC. But even these two systems were not compatible with each other. As a result, the quadrophonic playback method found few buyers and production was discontinued in the late 1970s.

Only in the past few years has quadrophony reappeared as a surround sound system in the area of ​​cinema, video and television broadcasts. The channel separation is now carried out on a digital basis.