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The following is a brief chronology of the introduction of recorded sound formats commonly found in libraries, sound archives, and private collections. As with nearly all technological developments, there are broad periods of overlap. Audio formats rarely, if ever, either gained prominence or became obsolete instantly. For instance, discs began to outsell cylinders after 1910, but Edison continued to manufacture cylinders for home use until 1929. Wax cylinders were used for dictation into the 1950s. Lacquer instantaneous discs remained in use as a recording mediumz as late as 1970.
The Acoustic Era Edit
- The North American Phonograph Company introduces brown wax cylinders. Intended primarily for office dictation, they gain use for entertainment and home recording.
- Emile Berliner's U.S. Gramophone Co. begins sales of mass-produced flat disc recordings for home entertainment. Discs could not be "homemade."
- Thomas A. Edison's National Phonograph Company begins selling cylinders commercially.
- Moulded (i.e., mass-produced) cylinders are introduced.
- Edison introduces "Diamond Discs," vertically modulated flat discs.
The Electrical Era Edit
- Major record companies begin using microphones and electrical amplifiers in recording and playback processes, which results in recordings of higher fidelity. Nevertheless, recordings are still cut directly to wax blanks that cannot be edited. Therefore, a mistake during a performance may render the disc useless. It is in this era, too, that disc recording speeds are standardized to 78 rpm (revolutions per minute).
Late 1920s Edit
- Instantaneous recording on blank aluminum discs provides a means to make custom single recordings. They are used to record radio broadcasts, personal "home" recordings, ethnographic field recordings, and many other genres.
- With the introduction of lacquer-coated discs and the portable Presto brand recorder in 1934 and 1935, tens of thousands of discs are made every year until the late 1940s, when magnetic tape supplants the medium.
- Wire magnetic recorders intended for commercial use are demonstrated. They are used by the U.S. government during World War II and are marketed to the public after the war.
- Widespread commercial use of magnetic tape begins in the United States. The open reel format is used to prerecord radio programs, and magnetic tape eventually replaces discs as the medium for making a commercial recording master. Because tape can be easily edited and used for multitrack recording, it has a significant impact on the content of recordings.
- Polyvinyl chloride compounds begin to supplant shellac compounds in the manufacturing of commercial records. Discs made of vinyl compounds were first introduced in the early 1930s.
- Columbia Records introduces a long-playing disc that uses a narrow (micro) groove and revolves at 33⅓ rpm, enabling a recording on one side to be as long as 20 minutes or more. It is called an LP, or album, the latter name deriving from earlier 78-rpm disc sets.
- RCA Victor introduces a long-playing 7-inch disc that plays at 45 rpm as competition to Columbia's LP. By the mid-1950s, LPs dominate the market for long-form recordings, and 45s supplant 78s.
- The Phillips Compact Cassette tape cartridge is first sold in the United States.
- The first Dolby tape noise reduction system is introduced.
- Pulse code modulation (PCM) adapters that enable digital audio to be recorded on videotape stock are introduced. Broad commercial use begins in 1978.
- The Sony Walkman portable cassette player is introduced in the United States.
The Digital Era Edit
- The digital audio tape (DAT or R-DAT) is introduced. Intended to replace analog cassettes in the consumer market, it is not a success. However, it is widely used for professional recording.
- The downloadable Winamp player for MP3 files is released, and the proliferation of MP3 audio files follows. MP3, short for MPEG-1/2 Audio Layer III, is a lossy compressed audio file format that creates audio files small enough to be distributed over the Internet easily.
- Apple, Inc. opens its online iTunes store. The success of the retailer helps to alleviate music business losses from piracy, but diminishes sales of the long-form (compact disc-length) recordings.
- Sales of recordings as physical formats and digital files decrease while free and subscription music streaming services gain in popularity.
- ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation, at 6-7.