Back in Time - A Brief History of the Vinyl Record

We all love them now, but where did the vinyl record originate?

DMS - 06 Sep 2017

As any audio enthusiast will tell you, there’s something about listening to an album on vinyl that just cannot be emulated. Despite living in an age of subscription-based streaming, where access to all the music in the world is at our fingertips, there is still a growing movement of music lovers out there who balk at the audio quality of anything other than virgin vinyl spinning on a finely calibrated record player.

Across the Western world, vinyl records have made a remarkable comeback. Independent labels, some of whom had never stopped pressing vinyl, were quick to spot the changing tide and drive the need for a new era of short run vinyl pressing services. Once the major labels followed suit it was clear that the vinyl resurgence would be here to stay. New vinyl manufacturing plants continue to pop up, some recommissioning Soviet-era record presses to help meet the growing demand.

But where did the vinyl record originate?

The Edison-Scott years

In the year 1857, a brilliant French inventor by the name of Edouard-Leon Scott, created a specialist device which utilized a vibrating pen which graphically represented sounds, onto small paper discs. This device was known as a Phonautograph, and it was primarily created to help us get a better understanding of the characteristics of sound. It wasn’t until Thomas Edison began showing an interest in this device however, that things really got interesting. In 1878, Edison took this concept and turned it into a machine that was capable of replaying the sounds that it recorded. The device utilized a stylus that was designed to cut grooves of sound onto cylinders and discs made of tinfoil.

The Gramophone

A little over a decade later, German-born US inventor Emile Berliner patented the very first record player – the Gramophone. This device had to be manually operated at 70 RPM and it functioned by playing a rubber vulcanite disc, 7 inches in size with small lateral grooves cut into its exterior.

The Red Seal line

Over the next 13 years, records would undergo a series of material alterations and formatting changes, until 1901, where the Victor Company released its Red Seal line, capable of playing shellac records in the form of 10 inch, 78 RPM records. In terms of formatting, the 78 RPM format proved to be the most superior for the next 47 years.

LPs to the present day

In 1948, thanks to CBS, we were introduced to the world’s first LP (Long Play) vinyl record. Created by Peter Goldmark, this vinyl record had a capacity of around 21 minutes per side and was 12 inches wide, playing at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM. This changed the face of the music industry to the album-centric format we all still abide by today. Shortly after, RCA Victor introduced their own LP, which turned at 45 RPM and was just 7 inches in size. These vinyl record formats are the very same that we use today, and that is once again growing in popularity.

The vinyl format is still widely hailed as the optimum in sound quality and listening pleasure, many challengers have come and gone but records have endured the test of time like no other.

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