A phonograph record (also known as a gramophone record, especially in
British English, or record) is an analog sound storage medium in the
form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The
groove usually starts near the periphery and ends near the center of
the disc. At first, the discs were commonly made from shellac;
starting in the 1950s polyvinyl chloride became common. In recent
decades, records have sometimes been called vinyl records, or simply
vinyl, although this would exclude most records made until after World
The phonograph disc record was the primary medium used for music
reproduction until late in the 20th century. It had co-existed with
the phonograph cylinder from the late 1880s and had effectively
superseded it by around 1912. Records retained the largest market
share even when new formats such as the compact cassette were
mass-marketed. By the late 1980s, digital media, in the form of the
compact disc, had gained a larger market share, and the vinyl record
left the mainstream around 1991. From the 1990s to the 2010s,
records continued to be manufactured and sold on a much smaller scale,
and were especially used by disc jockeys (DJs) and released by artists
in mostly dance music genres, and listened to by a niche market of
audiophiles. The phonograph record has made a notable niche resurgence
in the early 21st century – 9.2 million records were sold in the
U.S. in 2014, a 260% increase since 2009. Likewise, in the UK sales
have increased five-fold from 2009 to 2014.
As of 2017, 48 record pressing facilities remain worldwide, 18 in the
United States and 30 in other countries. The increased popularity of
vinyl has led to the investment in new and modern record-pressing
machines. Only two producers of lacquers remain: Apollo Masters in
California, and MDC in Japan.
Phonograph records are generally described by their diameter in inches
(12-inch, 10-inch, 7-inch), the rotational speed in revolutions per
minute (rpm) at which they are played (8 1⁄3,
16 2⁄3, 33 1⁄3, 45, 78), and their time
capacity, determined by their diameter and speed (LP [long playing],
12-inch disc, 33 1⁄3 rpm; SP [single], 10-inch disc,
78 rpm, or 7-inch disc, 45 rpm; EP [extended play], 12-inch
disc, 33 1⁄3 or 45 rpm); their reproductive quality, or
level of fidelity (high-fidelity, orthophonic, full-range, etc.); and
the number of audio channels (mono, stereo, quad, etc.).
Vinyl records may be scratched or warped if stored incorrectly but if
they are not exposed to high heat, carelessly handled or broken, a
vinyl record has the potential to last for centuries.
The large cover (and inner sleeves) are valued by collectors and
artists for the space given for visual expression, especially when it
comes to the long play vinyl LP.
1 Early history
2 78 rpm disc developments
2.1 Early speeds
2.2 Acoustic recording
2.4 78 rpm materials
2.5 78 rpm disc size
2.6 78 rpm recording time
2.7 Record albums
2.8 78 rpm releases in the microgroove era
3 New sizes and materials
3.1.2 Microgroove and vinyl era
4.1 High fidelity
4.2 Stereophonic sound
4.4 Other enhancements
5.1 Types of records
5.2 Common formats
5.3 Less common formats
6.1 Vinyl quality
7.3 Frequency response and noise
7.4.1 History of equalization
7.5.1 Evolutionary steps
7.6 LP versus CD
10 Current status
10.1 2012 vinyl LP charts
11 See also
12.1 Explanatory notes
13 Further reading
14 External links
Edison wax cylinder phonograph c. 1899
The phonautograph, patented by Léon Scott in 1857, used a vibrating
diaphragm and stylus to graphically record sound waves as tracings on
sheets of paper, purely for visual analysis and without any intent of
playing them back. In the 2000s, these tracings were first scanned by
audio engineers and digitally converted into audible sound.
Phonautograms of singing and speech made by Scott in 1860 were played
back as sound for the first time in 2008. Along with a tuning fork
tone and unintelligible snippets recorded as early as 1857, these are
the earliest known recordings of sound.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Unlike the
phonautograph, it was capable of both recording and reproducing sound.
Despite the similarity of name, there is no documentary evidence that
Edison's phonograph was based on Scott's phonautograph. Edison first
tried recording sound on a wax-impregnated paper tape, with the idea
of creating a "telephone repeater" analogous to the telegraph repeater
he had been working on. Although the visible results made him
confident that sound could be physically recorded and reproduced, his
notes do not indicate that he actually reproduced sound before his
first experiment in which he used tinfoil as a recording medium
several months later. The tinfoil was wrapped around a grooved metal
cylinder and a sound-vibrated stylus indented the tinfoil while the
cylinder was rotated. The recording could be played back immediately.
Scientific American article that introduced the tinfoil phonograph
to the public mentioned Marey, Rosapelly and Barlow as well as Scott
as creators of devices for recording but, importantly, not reproducing
sound. Edison also invented variations of the phonograph that used
tape and disc formats. Numerous applications for the phonograph
were envisioned, but although it enjoyed a brief vogue as a startling
novelty at public demonstrations, the tinfoil phonograph proved too
crude to be put to any practical use. A decade later, Edison developed
a greatly improved phonograph that used a hollow wax cylinder instead
of a foil sheet. This proved to be both a better-sounding and far more
useful and durable device. The wax phonograph cylinder created the
recorded sound market at the end of the 1880s and dominated it through
the early years of the 20th century.
Emile Berliner with disc record gramophone
Lateral-cut disc records were developed in the United States by Emile
Berliner, who named his system the "gramophone", distinguishing it
from Edison's wax cylinder "phonograph" and American Graphophone's wax
cylinder "graphophone". Berliner's earliest discs, first marketed in
1889, but only in Europe, were 12.5 cm (approx 5 inches) in
diameter, and were played with a small hand-propelled machine. Both
the records and the machine were adequate only for use as a toy or
curiosity, due to the limited sound quality. In the United States in
1894, under the
Berliner Gramophone trademark, Berliner started
marketing records of 7 inches diameter with somewhat more substantial
entertainment value, along with somewhat more substantial gramophones
to play them. Berliner's records had poor sound quality compared to
wax cylinders, but his manufacturing associate Eldridge R. Johnson
eventually improved the sound quality. Abandoning Berliner's
"Gramophone" trademark for legal reasons, in 1901 Johnson's and
Berliner's separate companies reorganized to form the Victor Talking
Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey, whose products would come to
dominate the market for many years.
Emile Berliner moved his
company to Montreal in 1900. The factory, which became the Canadian
RCA Victor still exists. There is a dedicated museum in
Montreal for Berliner (Musée des ondes Emile Berliner).
In 1901, 10-inch disc records were introduced, followed in 1903 by
12-inch records. These could play for more than three and four
minutes, respectively, whereas contemporary cylinders could only play
for about two minutes. In an attempt to head off the disc advantage,
Edison introduced the Amberol cylinder in 1909, with a maximum playing
time of 4 1⁄2 minutes (at 160 rpm), which in turn were
superseded by Blue Amberol Records, which had a playing surface made
of celluloid, a plastic, which was far less fragile. Despite these
improvements, during the 1910s discs decisively won this early format
war, although Edison continued to produce new Blue Amberol cylinders
for an ever-dwindling customer base until late in 1929. By 1919 the
basic patents for the manufacture of lateral-cut disc records had
expired, opening the field for countless companies to produce them.
Analog disc records would dominate the home entertainment market until
they were outsold by the digital compact disc in the late 1980s (which
was in turn supplanted by digital audio recordings distributed via
online music stores and
Internet file sharing).
78 rpm disc developments
Hungarian Pathé record, 90 to 100 rpm
Early disc recordings were produced in a variety of speeds ranging
from 60 to 130 rpm, and a variety of sizes. As early as 1894,
Emile Berliner's United States
Gramophone Company was selling
single-sided 7-inch discs with an advertised standard speed of "about
One standard audio recording handbook describes speed regulators, or
governors, as being part of a wave of improvement introduced rapidly
after 1897. A picture of a hand-cranked 1898
Berliner Gramophone shows
a governor. It says that spring drives replaced hand drives. It notes
The speed regulator was furnished with an indicator that showed the
speed when the machine was running so that the records, on
reproduction, could be revolved at exactly the same speed...The
literature does not disclose why 78 rpm was chosen for the
phonograph industry, apparently this just happened to be the speed
created by one of the early machines and, for no other reason
continued to be used.
A multinational product: a duet sung in Italian, recorded in the U.S.
in 1906 by the Victor Talking Machine Company, manufactured c. 1908 in
Hanover, Germany, for the Gramophone Company, Victor's affiliate in
By 1925, the speed of the record was becoming standardized at a
nominal value of 78 rpm. However, the standard differed between
places with alternating current electricity supply at 60 hertz (cycles
per second, Hz) and those at 50 Hz. Where the mains supply was
60 Hz, the actual speed was 78.26 rpm: that of a 60 Hz
stroboscope illuminating 92-bar calibration markings. Where it was
50 Hz, it was 77.92 rpm: that of a 50 Hz stroboscope
illuminating 77-bar calibration markings.
Early recordings were made entirely acoustically, the sound being
collected by a horn and piped to a diaphragm, which vibrated the
cutting stylus. Sensitivity and frequency range were poor, and
frequency response was very irregular, giving acoustic recordings an
instantly recognizable tonal quality. A singer practically had to put
his or her face in the recording horn. Lower-pitched orchestral
instruments such as cellos and double basses were often doubled (or
replaced) by louder instruments, such as tubas. Standard violins in
orchestral ensembles were commonly replaced by Stroh violins, which
became popular with recording studios.
Even drums, if planned and placed properly, could be effectively
recorded and heard on even the earliest jazz and military band
recordings. The loudest instruments such as the drums and trumpets
were positioned the farthest away from the collecting horn. Lillian
Hardin Armstrong, a member of King Oliver's Creole
Jazz Band, which
Gennett Records in 1923, remembered that at first Oliver
and his young second trumpet, Louis Armstrong, stood next to each
other and Oliver's horn could not be heard. "They put Louis about
fifteen feet over in the corner, looking all sad."
An electronically recorded disc from Carl Lindström AG, Germany, c.
During the first half of the 1920s, engineers at Western Electric, as
well as independent inventors such as Orlando Marsh, developed
technology for capturing sound with a microphone, amplifying it with
vacuum tubes, then using the amplified signal to drive an
electromechanical recording head. Western Electric's innovations
resulted in a broader and smoother frequency response, which produced
a dramatically fuller, clearer and more natural-sounding recording.
Soft or distant sounds that were previously impossible to record could
now be captured. Volume was now limited only by the groove spacing on
the record and the amplification of the playback device. Victor and
Columbia licensed the new electrical system from
Western Electric and
began issuing discs during the Spring of 1925. The first electrically
made classical recording was Chopin's "Impromptus" and Schubert's
"Litanei" played by Alfred Cortot.
Wanamaker's ad in
The New York Times
The New York Times offers records "by the
latest Victor process of electrical recording". It was recognized
as a breakthrough; in 1930, a Times music critic stated:
... the time has come for serious musical criticism to take
account of performances of great music reproduced by means of the
records. To claim that the records have succeeded in exact and
complete reproduction of all details of symphonic or operatic
performances ... would be extravagant ... [but] the article
of today is so far in advance of the old machines as hardly to admit
classification under the same name.
Electrical recording and
reproduction have combined to retain vitality and color in recitals by
Examples of Congolese 78 rpm records
A 10-inch Decelith blank for making an individually cut one-off
recording. A German product introduced in 1937, these flexible
all-plastic discs were a European alternative to rigid-based lacquer
Electrically amplified record players were initially expensive and
slow to be adopted. In 1925, the Victor company introduced both the
Orthophonic Victrola, an acoustical record player that was designed to
play electrically recorded discs, and the electrically amplified
Electrola. The acoustical Orthophonics were priced from US$95 to $300,
depending on cabinetry. However the cheapest Electrola cost $650, the
price of a new car in an era when clerical jobs paid about $20 a week.
The Orthophonic had an interior folded exponential horn, a
sophisticated design informed by impedance-matching and
transmission-line theory, and designed to provide a relatively flat
frequency response. Its first public demonstration was front-page news
in The New York Times, which reported:
The audience broke into applause ...
John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa [said]:
'[Gentlemen], that is a band. This is the first time I have ever heard
music with any soul to it produced by a mechanical talking
machine' ... The new instrument is a feat of mathematics and
physics. It is not the result of innumerable experiments, but was
worked out on paper in advance of being built in the
laboratory ... The new machine has a range of from 100 to 5,000
[cycles], or five and a half octaves ... The 'phonograph tone' is
eliminated by the new recording and reproducing process.
Gradually, electrical reproduction entered the home. The spring motor
was replaced by an electric motor. The old sound box with its
needle-linked diaphragm was replaced by an electromagnetic pickup that
converted the needle vibrations into an electrical signal. The tone
arm now served to conduct a pair of wires, not sound waves, into the
cabinet. The exponential horn was replaced by an amplifier and a
Great Depression of the 1930s hobbled the phonograph industry.
RCA, which bought the
Victor Talking Machine Company
Victor Talking Machine Company in 1929,
introduced an inexpensive turntable called the Duo Jr., which was
designed to be connected to their radio sets.
78 rpm materials
The earliest disc records (1889–1894) were made of variety of
materials including hard rubber. Around 1895, a shellac-based material
was introduced and became standard. Formulas for the mixture varied by
manufacturer over time, but it was typically about one-third shellac
and two-thirds mineral filler (finely pulverized slate or limestone),
with cotton fibers to add tensile strength, carbon black for color
(without which it tended to be an unattractive "dirty" gray or brown
color), and a very small amount of a lubricant to facilitate release
from the manufacturing press.
Columbia Records used a laminated disc
with a core of coarser material or fiber. The production of shellac
records continued throughout the 78 rpm era which lasted until
the 1950s in industrialized nations, but well into the 1960s in
others. Less abrasive formulations were developed during its waning
years and very late examples in like-new condition can have noise
levels as low as vinyl.
Flexible, "unbreakable" alternatives to shellac were introduced by
several manufacturers during the 78 rpm era. Beginning in 1904,
Nicole Records of the UK coated celluloid or a similar substance onto
a cardboard core disc for a few years, but they were noisy. In the
Columbia Records introduced flexible, fiber-cored
"Marconi Velvet Tone Record" pressings in 1907, but their longevity
and relatively quiet surfaces depended on the use of special
gold-plated Marconi Needles and the product was not successful. Thin,
flexible plastic records such as the German Phonycord and the British
Filmophone and Goodson records appeared around 1930 but not for long.
The contemporary French Pathé Cellodiscs, made of a very thin black
plastic resembling the vinyl "sound sheet" magazine inserts of the
1965–1985 era, were similarly short-lived. In the US, Hit of the
Week records were introduced in early 1930. They were made of a
patented translucent plastic called
Durium coated on a heavy brown
paper base. A new issue debuted weekly, sold at newsstands like a
magazine. Although inexpensive and commercially successful at first,
they fell victim to the
Great Depression and US production ended in
Durium records continued to be made in the UK and as late as
1950 in Italy, where the name "Durium" survived into the LP era as a
brand of vinyl records. Despite these innovations, shellac continued
to be used for the overwhelming majority of commercial 78 rpm
records throughout the format's lifetime.
RCA Victor introduced vinyl plastic-based Victrolac as a
material for unusual-format and special-purpose records. One was a
16-inch, 33 1⁄3 rpm record used by the Vitaphone
sound-on-disc movie system. In 1932,
RCA began using Victrolac in a
home recording system. By the end of the 1930s vinyl's light weight,
strength, and low surface noise had made it the preferred material for
prerecorded radio programming and other critical applications. For
ordinary 78 rpm records, however, the much higher cost of the
synthetic plastic, as well as its vulnerability to the heavy pickups
and mass-produced steel needles used in home record players, made its
general substitution for shellac impractical at that time. During the
Second World War, the United States Armed Forces produced thousands of
12-inch vinyl 78 rpm
V-Discs for use by the troops overseas.
After the war, the use of vinyl became more practical as new record
players with lightweight crystal pickups and precision-ground styli
made of sapphire or an exotic osmium alloy proliferated. In late 1945,
RCA Victor began offering transparent red vinyl De Luxe pressings of
some Red Seal classical 78s, at a De luxe price. Later, Decca Records
introduced vinyl Deccalite 78s, while other record companies used
vinyl formulations trademarked as Metrolite, Merco Plastic, and
Sav-o-flex, but these were mainly used to produce "unbreakable"
children's records and special thin vinyl DJ pressings for shipment to
78 rpm disc size
In the 1890s, the recording formats of the earliest (toy) discs were
mainly 12.5 cm (nominally 5 inches) in diameter; by the
mid-1890s, the discs were usually 7 inches (nominally 17.5 cm) in
By 1910, the 10-inch (25.4 cm) record was by far the most popular
standard, holding about 3 minutes (180 s) of music or other
entertainment on a side.
From 1903 onwards, 12-inch records (30.5 cm) were also sold
commercially, mostly of classical music or operatic selections, with 4
to 5 minutes (240 to 300 s) of music per side. Victor, Brunswick
and Columbia also issued 12-inch popular medleys, usually spotlighting
a Broadway show score.
Other sizes also appeared. Eight-inch (20 cm) discs with a
2-inch-diameter (51 mm) label became popular for about a
decade[when?] in Britain, but they cannot be played in full on most
modern record players, since the tone arm cannot play far enough in
toward the center without modification of the equipment.
78 rpm recording time
The playing time of a phonograph record depends on the available
groove length divided by the turntable speed. Total groove length in
turn depends on how closely the grooves are spaced, in addition to the
record diameter. At the beginning of the 20th century, the early discs
played for two minutes, the same as cylinder records. The 12-inch
disc, introduced by Victor in 1903, increased the playing time to
three and a half minutes. Because the standard 10-inch 78 rpm
record could hold about three minutes of sound per side, most popular
recordings were limited to that duration. For example, when King
Jazz Band, including
Louis Armstrong on his first
recordings, recorded 13 sides at
Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana,
in 1923, one side was 2:09 and four sides were 2:52–2:59.
In January 1938,
Milt Gabler started recording for Commodore Records,
and to allow for longer continuous performances, he recorded some
Eddie Condon explained: "Gabler realized that a jam
session needs room for development." The first two 12-inch recordings
did not take advantage of their capability: "Carnegie Drag" was
3m 15s; "Carnegie Jump", 2m 41s. But at the second session,
on April 30, the two 12-inch recordings were longer: "Embraceable You"
was 4m 05s; "Serenade to a Shylock", 4m 32s. Another
way to overcome the time limitation was to issue a selection extending
to both sides of a single record. Vaudeville stars Gallagher and Shean
recorded "Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean", written by Irving and Jack
Kaufman, as two sides of a 10-inch 78 in 1922 for Cameo. Longer
musical pieces were released as a set of records. In 1903
England made the first complete recording of an opera, Verdi's Ernani,
on 40 single-sided discs. In 1940, Commodore released Eddie Condon
and his Band's recording of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in four
parts, issued on both sides of two 12-inch 78s. The limited duration
of recordings persisted from their advent until the introduction of
LP record in 1948. In popular music, the time limit of
3 1⁄2 minutes on a 10-inch 78 rpm record meant that
singers seldom recorded long pieces. One exception is Frank Sinatra's
recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Soliloquy", from Carousel,
made on May 28, 1946. Because it ran 7m 57s, longer than both
sides of a standard 78 rpm 10-inch record, it was released on
Columbia's Masterwork label (the classical division) as two sides of a
12-inch record. The same was true of John Raitt's performance of
the song on the original cast album of Carousel, which had been issued
on a 78-rpm album set by American Decca in 1945.
In the 78 era, classical-music and spoken-word items generally were
released on the longer 12-inch 78s, about 4–5 minutes per side. For
example, on June 10, 1924, four months after the February 12 premier
of Rhapsody in Blue,
George Gershwin recorded an abridged version of
the seventeen-minute work with
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. It was
released on two sides of Victor 55225 and ran for 8m 59s.
78 rpm records were normally sold individually in brown paper or
cardboard sleeves that were plain, or sometimes printed to show the
producer or the retailer's name. Generally the sleeves had a circular
cut-out exposing the record label to view. Records could be laid on a
shelf horizontally or stood on an edge, but because of their
fragility, breakage was common.
German record company Odeon is often said to have pioneered the album
in 1909 when it released the
Nutcracker Suite by
Tchaikovsky on 4
double-sided discs in a specially designed package. However, the
Deutsche Grammophon had produced an album for its
complete recording of the opera Carmen. The practice of issuing albums
was not adopted by other record companies for many years. One
exception, HMV, produced an album with a pictorial cover for its 1917
The Mikado (Gilbert & Sullivan).
By about 1910,[note 1] bound collections of empty sleeves with a
paperboard or leather cover, similar to a photograph album, were sold
as record albums that customers could use to store their records (the
term "record album" was printed on some covers). These albums came in
both 10-inch and 12-inch sizes. The covers of these bound books were
wider and taller than the records inside, allowing the record album to
be placed on a shelf upright, like a book, suspending the fragile
records above the shelf and protecting them.
In the 1930s, record companies began issuing collections of
78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music in
specially assembled albums, typically with artwork on the front cover
and liner notes on the back or inside cover. Most albums included
three or four records, with two sides each, making six or eight tunes
per album. When the 12-inch vinyl LP era began in 1948, each disc
could hold a similar number of tunes as a typical album of 78s, so
they were still referred to as an "album", as they are today.
78 rpm releases in the microgroove era
For collectible or nostalgia purposes, or for the benefit of
higher-quality audio playback provided by the 78 rpm speed with
newer vinyl records and their lightweight stylus pickups, a small
number of 78 rpm records have been released since the major
labels ceased production. The most notable attempt at this was in
1951, when inventor
Ewing Dunbar Nunn founded the label Audiophile
Records, which released a series of 78 rpm-mastered albums that
were microgroove and pressed on vinyl (as opposed to traditional 78s,
with their shellac composition and wider 3-mil sized grooves). This
series came in heavy manilla envelopes and began with a jazz album
AP-1 and was soon followed by other AP numbers up through about AP-19.
Around 1953 the standard LP had proven itself to Nunn and he switched
to 33 1⁄3 rpm and began using art slicks on a more
standard cardboard sleeve. The
Audiophile numbers can be found into
the hundreds today but the most collectable ones are the early
78 rpm releases, especially the first, AP-1. The 78 rpm
speed was mainly to take advantage of the wider audio frequency
response that faster speeds like 78 rpm can provide for vinyl
microgroove records, hence the label's name (obviously catering to the
audiophiles of the 1950s "hi-fi" era, when stereo gear could provide a
much wider range of audio than before). Also around 1953, Bell Records
released a series of budget-priced plastic 7-inch 78 rpm pop
music singles.
In 1968, Reprise planned to release a series of 78 rpm singles
from their artists on their label at the time, called the Reprise
Speed Series. Only one disc actually saw release, Randy Newman's "I
Think It's Going to Rain Today", a track from his self-titled debut
album (with "The Beehive State" on the flipside). Reprise did not
proceed further with the series due to a lack of sales for the single,
and a lack of general interest in the concept.
In 1978, guitarist and vocalist
Leon Redbone released a promotional
78 rpm record featuring two songs ("Alabama Jubilee" and "Please
Talk About Me When I'm Gone") from his Champagne Charlie
Stiff Records in the United Kingdom issued a 78 by Joe "King"
Carrasco containing the songs "Buena" (Spanish for "good," with the
alternate spelling "Bueno" on the label) and "Tuff Enuff". Underground
comic cartoonist and 78 rpm record collector Robert Crumb
released three vinyl 78s by his Cheap Suit Serenaders in the
In the 1990s
Rhino Records issued a series of boxed sets of
78 rpm reissues of early rock and roll hits, intended for owners
of vintage jukeboxes. The records were made of vinyl, however, and
some of the earlier vintage 78 rpm jukeboxes and record players
(the ones that were pre-war) were designed with heavy tone arms to
play the hard slate-impregnated shellac records of their time. These
vinyl Rhino 78's were softer and would be destroyed by old juke boxes
and old record players, but play very well on newer 78-capable
turntables with modern lightweight tone arms and jewel needles.
As a special release for
Record Store Day
Record Store Day 2011, Capitol re-released
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys single "Good Vibrations" in the form of a 10-inch
78 rpm record (b/w "Heroes and Villains"). More recently, The
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band has released their tribute to blues
Charley Patton Peyton on Patton on both 12-inch LP and
10-inch 78 rpm. Both are accompanied with a link to a digital
download of the music, acknowledging the probability that purchasers
might be unable to play the vinyl recording.
New sizes and materials
See also: LP record
A 12-inch lp being played. The stylus is in contact with the surface.
Grooves on a modern 33 rpm record.
Uncommon Columbia 7-inch vinyl 33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove
ZLP from 1948
Both the microgroove LP 33 1⁄3 rpm record and the
45 rpm single records are made from vinyl plastic that is
flexible and unbreakable in normal use, even when they are sent
through the mail with care from one place to another. The vinyl
records, however, are easier to scratch or gouge, and much more prone
to warping compared to most 78 rpm records, which were made of
RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl
long-playing record, marketed as program-transcription discs. These
revolutionary discs were designed for playback at
33 1⁄3 rpm and pressed on a 30 cm diameter
flexible plastic disc, with a duration of about ten minutes playing
time per side.
RCA Victor's early introduction of a long-play disc was
a commercial failure for several reasons including the lack of
affordable, reliable consumer playback equipment and consumer wariness
during the Great Depression. Because of financial hardships that
plagued the recording industry during that period (and RCA's own
parched revenues), Victor's long-playing records were discontinued by
There was also a small batch of longer-playing records issued in the
very early 1930s: Columbia introduced 10-inch longer-playing records
(18000-D series), as well as a series of double-grooved or
longer-playing 10-inch records on their Harmony, Clarion & Velvet
Tone "budget" labels. There were also a couple of longer-playing
records issued on ARC (for release on their Banner, Perfect, and
Oriole labels) and on the Crown label. All of these were phased out in
Vinyl's lower surface noise level than shellac was not forgotten, nor
was its durability. In the late 1930s, radio commercials and
pre-recorded radio programs being sent to disc jockeys started being
pressed in vinyl, so they would not break in the mail. In the
mid-1940s, special DJ copies of records started being made of vinyl
also, for the same reason. These were all 78 rpm. During and
after World War II, when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some
78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac,
particularly the six-minute 12-inch (30 cm) 78 rpm records
V-Disc for distribution to United States troops in World
War II. In the 1940s, radio transcriptions, which were usually on
16-inch records, but sometimes 12-inch, were always made of vinyl, but
cut at 33 1⁄3 rpm. Shorter transcriptions were often
cut at 78 rpm.
Beginning in 1939, Dr. Peter Goldmark and his staff at Columbia
Records and at
CBS Laboratories undertook efforts to address problems
of recording and playing back narrow grooves and developing an
inexpensive, reliable consumer playback system. It took about eight
years of study, except when it was suspended because of World War II.
Finally, the 12-inch (30 cm) Long Play (LP)
33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove record album was introduced by
the Columbia Record Company at a New York press conference on June 18,
1948. At the same time, Columbia introduced a vinyl 7-inch
33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove single, calling it ZLP, but it
was short-lived and is very rare today, because
RCA Victor introduced
a 45 rpm single a few months later, which became the standard.
Arthur Fiedler demonstrating the new
RCA Victor 45 rpm player and
record in February 1949.
Unwilling to accept and license Columbia's system, in February 1949
RCA Victor, in cooperation with its parent, the
Radio Corporation of
America, released the first 45 rpm single, 7 inches in
diameter with a large center hole. The 45 rpm player included a
changing mechanism that allowed multiple disks to be stacked, much as
a conventional changer handled 78s. The short playing time of a single
45 rpm side meant that long works, such as symphonies, had to be
released on multiple 45s instead of a single LP, but
RCA claimed that
the new high-speed changer rendered side breaks so brief as to be
inaudible or inconsequential. Early 45 rpm records were made from
either vinyl or polystyrene. They had a playing time of eight
Another size and format was that of radio transcription discs
beginning in the 1940s. These records were usually vinyl, 33 rpm,
and 16 inches in diameter. No home record player could
accommodate such large records, and they were used mainly by radio
stations. They were on average 15 minutes per side and contained
several songs or radio program material. These records became less
common when tape recorders began being used for radio transcriptions
On a few early phonograph systems and radio transcription discs, as
well as some entire albums, the direction of the groove is reversed,
beginning near the center of the disc and leading to the outside. A
small number of records (such as The Monty Python Matching Tie and
Handkerchief) were manufactured with multiple separate grooves to
differentiate the tracks (usually called "NSC-X2").
Edison Records Diamond Disc label, early 1920s. Edison Disc Records
always ran at 80 rpm.
The earliest rotation speeds varied considerably, but from 1900-1925
most records were recorded at 74–82 revolutions per minute (rpm).
Edison Disc Records consistently ran at 80 rpm.
At least one attempt to lengthen playing time was made in the early
1920s. World Records produced records that played at a constant linear
velocity, controlled by Noel Pemberton Billing's patented add-on speed
governor. As the needle moved from the outside to the inside, the
rotational speed of the record gradually increased as the groove
diameter decreased. This behavior is similar to the modern compact
disc and the CLV version of its predecessor, the
but is reversed from inside to outside,.
In 1925, 78.26 rpm was standardized when the 60 Hz AC synchronous
motor was introduced to power turntables. The motor ran at
3600 rpm, so that a 46:1 gear ratio would produce 78.26 rpm.
In regions of the world that use 50 Hz current, the standard was
77.92 rpm (3,000 rpm with a 77:2 ratio). At that speed, a
strobe disc with 77 lines would "stand still" in 50 Hz light (92
lines for 60 Hz). After World War II, these records became
retroactively known as 78s, to distinguish them from the newer disc
record formats known by their rotational speeds. Earlier they were
just called records, or when there was a need to distinguish them from
cylinders, disc records.
Columbia and RCA's competition extended to equipment. Some turntables
included spindle size adapters, but other turntables required
triskelion snap-in inserts like this one to adapt RCA's larger
45 rpm spindle size to the smaller spindle size available on
nearly all turntables. Shown is one popular design in use for many
The older 78 format continued to be mass-produced alongside the newer
formats using new materials until about 1960 in the U.S., and in a few
countries, such as India (where some Beatles recordings were issued on
78), into the 1960s. For example, Columbia Records' last reissue of
Frank Sinatra songs on 78 rpm records was an album called Young
at Heart, issued November 1, 1954. As late as the 1970s, some
children's records were released at the 78 rpm speed. In the
United Kingdom, the 78 rpm single persisted somewhat longer than
in the United States, where it was overtaken in popularity by the
45 rpm in the late 1950s, as teenagers became increasingly
Some of Elvis Presley's early singles on Sun Records may have sold
more copies on 78 than on 45. This is because of their popularity in
1954–55 in "hillbilly" market in the South and Southwestern United
States, where replacing the family 78 rpm player with a new
45 rpm player was a luxury few could afford at the time. By the
end of 1957,
RCA Victor announced that 78s accounted for less than 10%
of Presley's singles sales, confirming the demise of the 78 rpm
format. The last Presley single released on 78 in the United States
RCA Victor 20-7410, I Got Stung/One Night (1958), while the last
78 in the UK was
RCA 1194, A Mess Of Blues/Girl Of My Best Friend
Microgroove and vinyl era
After World War II, two new competing formats entered the market,
gradually replacing the standard 78 rpm: the
33 1⁄3 rpm (often called 33 rpm), and the
45 rpm. The 33 1⁄3 rpm LP (for "long-play") format
was developed by
Columbia Records and marketed in June 1948. The first
LP release consisted of 85 12-inch classical pieces starting with the
Mendelssohn violin concerto, Nathan Milstein violinist, Philharmonic
Symphony of New York conducted by Bruno Walter, Columbia ML-4001. Also
released in June 1948 were three series of 10-inch "LPs" and a 7-inch
RCA Victor developed the 45 rpm format and marketed it in
March 1949. The 45s released by
RCA in March 1949 were in seven
different colors of vinyl depending on the type of music recorded,
blues, country, popular etc. Columbia and
RCA Victor each pursued
their R&D secretly. Both types of new disc used narrower
grooves, intended to be played with smaller stylus—typically
0.001 inches ("1 mil", 25 µm) wide, compared to
0.003 inches (76 µm) for a 78—so the new records were
sometimes called Microgroove. In the mid-1950s all record companies
agreed to a common frequency response standard called RIAA
equalization. Prior to the establishment of the standard each company
used its own preferred equalization, requiring discriminating
listeners to use pre-amplifiers with selectable equalization curves.
Some recordings, such as books for the blind, were pressed at
16 2⁄3 rpm.
Prestige Records released jazz records in
this format in the late 1950s; for example, two of their Miles Davis
albums were paired together in this format. Peter Goldmark, the man
who developed the 33 1⁄3 rpm record, developed the
Highway Hi-Fi 16 2⁄3 rpm record to be played in
Chrysler automobiles, but poor performance of the system and weak
implementation by Chrysler and Columbia led to the demise of the
16 2⁄3 rpm records. Subsequently, the
16 2⁄3 rpm speed was used for narrated publications for
the blind and visually impaired, and were never widely commercially
available, although it was common to see new turntable models with a
16 rpm speed setting produced as late as the 1970s.
1959 Seeburg 16 rpm record
Seeburg Corporation introduced the Seeburg Background
Music System in
1959, using a 16 2⁄3 rpm 9-inch record with 2-inch
center hole. Each record held 40 minutes of music per side, recorded
at 420 grooves per inch.
The commercial rivalry between
RCA Victor and
Columbia Records led to
RCA Victor's introduction of what it had intended to be a competing
vinyl format, the 7-inch (175 mm) 45 rpm disc. For a
two-year period from 1948 to 1950, record companies and consumers
faced uncertainty over which of these formats would ultimately prevail
in what was known as the "War of the Speeds". (See also format war.)
In 1949 Capitol and Decca adopted the new LP format and
gave in and issued its first LP in January 1950. The 45 rpm size
was gaining in popularity, too, and Columbia issued its first 45s in
February 1951. By 1954, 200 million 45s had been sold.
Eventually the 12-inch (300 mm) 33 1⁄3 rpm LP
prevailed as the dominant format for musical albums, and 10-inch LPs
were no longer issued. The last
Columbia Records reissue of any Frank
Sinatra songs on a 10-inch
LP record was an album called Hall of Fame,
CL 2600, issued on October 26, 1956, containing six songs, one each by
Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day,
and Frankie Laine. The 10-inch LP had a longer life in the United
Kingdom, where important early
British rock and roll
British rock and roll albums such as
Lonnie Donegan Showcase and Billy Fury's The
Fury were released in that form. The 7-inch (175 mm) 45 rpm
disc or "single" established a significant niche for shorter duration
discs, typically containing one item on each side. The 45 rpm
discs typically emulated the playing time of the former 78 rpm
discs, while the 12-inch LP discs eventually provided up to one
half-hour of recorded material per side.
The 45 rpm discs also came in a variety known as extended play
(EP), which achieved up to 10–15 minutes play at the expense of
attenuating (and possibly compressing) the sound to reduce the width
required by the groove. EP discs were cheaper to produce, and were
used in cases where unit sales were likely to be more limited or to
reissue LP albums on the smaller format for those people who had only
45 rpm players. LP albums could be purchased one EP at a time,
with four items per EP, or in a boxed set with three EPs or twelve
items. The large center hole on 45s allows for easier handling by
jukebox mechanisms. EPs were generally discontinued by the late 1950s
in the U.S. as three- and four-speed record players replaced the
individual 45 players. One indication of the decline of the
45 rpm EP is that the last
Columbia Records reissue of Frank
Sinatra songs on 45 rpm EP records, called Frank Sinatra
(Columbia B-2641) was issued on December 7, 1959. The EP lasted
considerably longer in Europe, and was a popular format during the
1960s for recordings by artists such as
Serge Gainsbourg and the
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, 45 rpm-only players that
lacked speakers and plugged into a jack on the back of a radio were
widely available. Eventually, they were replaced by the three–speed
From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, in the U.S. the common home
record player or "stereo" (after the introduction of stereo recording)
would typically have had these features: a three- or four-speed player
(78, 45, 33 1⁄3, and sometimes 16 2⁄3 rpm);
with changer, a tall spindle that would hold several records and
automatically drop a new record on top of the previous one when it had
finished playing, a combination cartridge with both 78 and microgroove
styli and a way to flip between the two; and some kind of adapter for
playing the 45s with their larger center hole. The adapter could be a
small solid circle that fit onto the bottom of the spindle (meaning
only one 45 could be played at a time) or a larger adaptor that fit
over the entire spindle, permitting a stack of 45s to be played.
RCA Victor 45s were also adapted to the smaller spindle of an LP
player with a plastic snap-in insert known as a "spider". These
inserts, commissioned by
David Sarnoff and invented by
Thomas Hutchison, were prevalent starting in the 1960s, selling in
the tens of millions per year during the 45 rpm heyday. In
countries outside the U.S., 45s often had the smaller album-sized
holes, e.g., Australia and New Zealand, or as in the United Kingdom,
especially before the 1970s, the disc had a small hole within a
circular central section held only by three or four lands so that it
could be easily punched out if desired (typically for use in
During the vinyl era, various developments were made or introduced.
Stereo finally lost its previous experimental status, and eventually
became standard internationally.
Quadraphonic sound effectively had to
wait for digital formats before finding a permanent position in the
Further information: High fidelity
The term "high fidelity" was coined in the 1920s by some manufacturers
of radio receivers and phonographs to differentiate their
better-sounding products claimed as providing "perfect" sound
reproduction. The term began to be used by some audio engineers
and consumers through the 1930s and 1940s. After 1949 a variety of
improvements in recording and playback technologies, especially stereo
recordings, which became widely available in 1958, gave a boost to the
"hi-fi" classification of products, leading to sales of individual
components for the home such as amplifiers, loudspeakers, phonographs,
and tape players. High
Fidelity and Audio were two magazines that
hi-fi consumers and engineers could read for reviews of playback
equipment and recordings.
Stereophonic sound recording, which attempts to provide a more natural
listening experience by reproducing the spatial locations of sound
sources in the horizontal plane, was the natural extension to
monophonic recording, and attracted various alternative engineering
attempts. The ultimately dominant "45/45" stereophonic record system
was invented by
Alan Blumlein of
EMI in 1931 and patented the same
EMI cut the first stereo test discs using the system in 1933
(see Bell Labs Stereo Experiments of 1933) although the system was not
exploited commercially until much later.
In this system, each of two stereo channels is carried independently
by a separate groove wall, each wall face moving at 45 degrees to the
plane of the record surface (hence the system's name) in
correspondence with the signal level of that channel. By convention,
the inner wall carries the left-hand channel and the outer wall
carries the right-hand channel.
Rill with sound only on left channel
While the stylus only moves horizontally when reproducing a monophonic
disk recording, on stereo records the stylus moves vertically as well
as horizontally. During playback, the movement of a single stylus
tracking the groove is sensed independently, e.g., by two coils, each
mounted diagonally opposite the relevant groove wall.
The combined stylus motion can be represented in terms of the vector
sum and difference of the two stereo channels. Vertical stylus motion
then carries the L − R difference signal and horizontal
stylus motion carries the L + R summed signal, the latter
representing the monophonic component of the signal in exactly the
same manner as a purely monophonic record.
The advantages of the 45/45 system as compared to alternative systems
complete compatibility with monophonic playback systems. A monophonic
cartridge reproduces the monophonic component of a stereo record
instead of only one of its channels. (However, many monophonic styli
had such low vertical compliance that they plowed through the vertical
modulation, destroying the stereo information. This led to the common
recommendation never to use a mono cartridge on a stereo record.)
Conversely, a stereo cartridge reproduces the lateral grooves of
monophonic recording equally through both channels, rather than one
equally balanced reproduction, because each channel has equal fidelity
(not the case, e.g., with a higher-fidelity laterally recorded channel
and a lower-fidelity vertically recorded channel); and,
higher fidelity in general, because the "difference" signal is usually
of low amplitude and is thus less affected by the greater intrinsic
distortion of vertical recording.
In 1957 the first commercial stereo two-channel records were issued
first by Audio
Fidelity followed by a translucent blue vinyl on Bel
Canto Records, the first of which was a multi-colored-vinyl sampler
featuring A Stereo Tour of Los Angeles narrated by Jack Wagner on one
side, and a collection of tracks from various Bel Canto albums on the
Following in 1958, more stereo LP releases were offered by Audio
Fidelity Records in the US and
Pye Records in Britain. However, it was
not until the mid-to-late 1960s that the sales of stereophonic LPs
overtook those of their monophonic equivalents, and became the
dominant record type.
The development of quadraphonic records was announced in 1971. These
recorded four separate sound signals. This was achieved on the two
stereo channels by electronic matrixing, where the additional channels
were combined into the main signal. When the records were played,
phase-detection circuits in the amplifiers were able to decode the
signals into four separate channels. There were two main systems of
matrixed quadraphonic records produced, confusingly named SQ (by CBS)
and QS (by Sansui). They proved commercially unsuccessful, but were an
important precursor to later surround sound systems, as seen in SACD
and home cinema today.
A different format, CD-4 (not to be confused with compact disc), by
RCA, encoded the front-rear difference information on an ultrasonic
carrier, which required a special wideband cartridge to capture it on
carefully calibrated pickup arm/turntable combinations. CD-4 was even
less successful than the two matrixed formats. (A further problem was
that no cutting heads were available that could handle the HF
information. That was remedied by cutting at half the speed. Later,
the special half-speed cutting heads and equalization techniques were
employed to get a wider frequency response in stereo with reduced
distortion and greater headroom.)
Under the direction of recording engineer C. Robert Fine, Mercury
Records initiated a minimalist single microphone monaural recording
technique in 1951. The first record, a Chicago Symphony Orchestra
performance of Pictures at an Exhibition, conducted by Rafael Kubelik,
was described as "being in the living presence of the orchestra" by
The New York Times
The New York Times music critic. The series of records was then named
Mercury Living Presence. In 1955, Mercury began three-channel stereo
recordings, still based on the principle of the single microphone. The
center (single) microphone was of paramount importance, with the two
side mics adding depth and space. Record masters were cut directly
from a three-track to two-track mixdown console, with all editing of
the master tapes done on the original three-tracks. In 1961, Mercury
enhanced this technique with three-microphone stereo recordings using
35 mm magnetic film instead of 1⁄2-inch tape for recording.
The greater thickness and width of 35 mm magnetic film prevented
tape layer print-through and pre-echo and gained extended frequency
range and transient response. The Mercury Living Presence recordings
were remastered to CD in the 1990s by the original producer, Wilma
Cozart Fine, using the same method of three-to-two mix directly to the
Through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, various methods to improve the
dynamic range of mass-produced records involved highly advanced disc
cutting equipment. These techniques, marketed, to name two, as the CBS
DisComputer and Teldec Direct Metal Mastering, were used to reduce
RCA Victor introduced another system to
reduce dynamic range and achieve a groove with less surface noise
under the commercial name of Dynagroove. Two main elements were
combined: another disk material with less surface noise in the groove
and dynamic compression for masking background noise. Sometimes this
was called "diaphragming" the source material and not favoured by some
music lovers for its unnatural side effects. Both elements were
reflected in the brandname of Dynagroove, described elsewhere in more
detail. It also used the earlier advanced method of forward-looking
control on groove spacing with respect to volume of sound and position
on the disk. Lower recorded volume used closer spacing; higher
recorded volume used wider spacing, especially with lower frequencies.
Also, the higher track density at lower volumes enabled disk
recordings to end farther away from the disk center than usual,
helping to reduce endtrack distortion even further.
Also in the late 1970s, "direct-to-disc" records were produced, aimed
at an audiophile niche market. These completely bypassed the use of
magnetic tape in favor of a "purist" transcription directly to the
master lacquer disc. Also during this period, half-speed mastered and
"original master" records were released, using expensive
state-of-the-art technology. A further late 1970s development was the
Disco Eye-Cued system used mainly on
Motown 12-inch singles released
between 1978 and 1980. The introduction, drum-breaks, or choruses of a
track were indicated by widely separated grooves, giving a visual cue
to DJs mixing the records. The appearance of these records is similar
to an LP, but they only contain one track each side.
The mid-1970s saw the introduction of dbx-encoded records, again for
the audiophile niche market. These were completely incompatible with
standard record playback preamplifiers, relying on the dbx compandor
encoding/decoding scheme to greatly increase dynamic range (dbx
encoded disks were recorded with the dynamic range compressed by a
factor of two: quiet sounds were meant to be played back at low gain
and loud sounds were meant to be played back at high gain, via
automatic gain control in the playback equipment; this reduced the
effect of surface noise on quiet passages). A similar and very
short-lived scheme involved using the CBS-developed "CX" noise
reduction encoding/decoding scheme.
ELPJ, a Japanese-based company, sells a laser turntable that uses a
laser to read vinyl discs optically, without physical contact. The
laser turntable eliminates record wear and the possibility of
accidental scratches, which degrade the sound, but its expense limits
use primarily to digital archiving of analog records, and the laser
does not play back colored vinyl or picture discs. Various other
laser-based turntables were tried during the 1990s, but while a laser
reads the groove very accurately, since it does not touch the record,
the dust that vinyl attracts due to static electric charge is not
mechanically pushed out of the groove, worsening sound quality in
casual use compared to conventional stylus playback.
In some ways similar to the laser turntable is the IRENE scanning
machine for disc records, which images with microphotography in two
dimensions, invented by a team of physicists at Lawrence Berkeley
Laboratories. IRENE will retrieve the information from a laterally
modulated monaural grooved sound source without touching the medium
itself, but cannot read vertically modulated information. This
excludes grooved recordings such as cylinders and some radio
transcriptions that feature a hill-and-dale format of recording, and
stereophonic or quadraphonic grooved recordings, which utilize a
combination of the two as well as supersonic encoding for
An offshoot of IRENE, the Confocal Microscope Cylinder Project, can
capture a high-resolution three-dimensional image of the surface, down
to 200 µm. In order to convert to a digital sound file, this is
then played by a version of the same 'virtual stylus' program
developed by the research team in real-time, converted to digital and,
if desired, processed through sound-restoration programs.
The protective cover of the one-off Voyager Golden Record, containing
symbolic information on how it is to be played on the top-left of the
Types of records
Recording medium comparison
As recording technology evolved, more specific terms for various types
of phonograph records were used in order to describe some aspect of
the record: either its correct rotational speed
("16 2⁄3 rpm" (revolutions per minute),
"33 1⁄3 rpm", "45 rpm", "78 rpm") or the
material used (particularly "vinyl" to refer to records made of
polyvinyl chloride, or the earlier "shellac records" generally the
main ingredient in 78s).
Terms such as "long-play" (LP) and "extended-play" (EP) describe
multi-track records that play much longer than the
single-item-per-side records, which typically do not go much past four
minutes per side. An LP can play for up to 30 minutes per side, though
most played for about 22 minutes per side, bringing the total playing
time of a typical LP recording to about forty-five minutes. Many
pre-1952 LPs, however, played for about 15 minutes per side. The
7-inch 45 rpm format normally contains one item per side but a
7-inch EP could achieve recording times of 10 to 15 minutes at the
expense of attenuating and compressing the sound to reduce the width
required by the groove. EP discs were generally used to make available
tracks not on singles including tracks on LPs albums in a smaller,
less expensive format for those who had only 45 rpm players. The
large center hole on 7-inch 45 rpm records allows for easier
handling by jukebox mechanisms. The term "album", originally used to
mean a "book" with liner notes, holding several 78 rpm records
each in its own "page" or sleeve, no longer has any relation to the
physical format: a single LP record, or nowadays more typically a
The usual diameters of the holes are 0.286 inches (7.26 mm)
with larger holes on singles in the USA being 1.5 inches
Sizes of records in the United States and the UK are generally
measured in inches, e.g. 7-inch records, which are generally
45 rpm records. LPs were 10-inch records at first, but soon the
12-inch size became by far the most common. Generally, 78s were
10-inch, but 12-inch and 7-inch and even smaller were made ——
the so-called "little wonders".
A standard wide-hole 7-inch vinyl record from 1978 on its sleeve.
Revolutions per minute
12 in (30 cm)
33 1⁄3 rpm
45 min Long Play (LP)
12-inch single, Maxi Single
10 in (25 cm)
33 1⁄3 rpm
Long Play (LP)
7 in (17.5 cm)
Single with Extended Play (EP)
Before the mid-1950s the 33 1⁄3 rpm LP was most
commonly found in a 10-inch (25 cm) format. The 10-inch format
disappeared from United States stores around 1957, but remained common
in some markets until the mid-1960s. The 10-inch vinyl format was
resurrected in the 1970s for marketing some popular recordings as
collectible, and these are occasionally seen today.
The first disk recordings were invented by
Emile Berliner and were
pressed as 7 inch approx. 78 rpm recordings between 1887 and
1899. They are rarely found today.
Columbia pressed many 7 inch 33 1⁄3 rpm vinyl singles
in 1949 but were dropped in early 1950 due to the popularity of the
Less common formats
Main article: Unusual types of gramophone records
In March 1949, as
RCA released the 45, Columbia released several
hundred 7 inch 33 1⁄3 rpm small spindle hole singles.
This format was soon dropped as it became clear that the
RCA 45 was
the single of choice and the Columbia 12-inch LP would be the "album"
of choice. The first release of the 45 came in seven colors: black
47-xxxx popular series, yellow 47-xxxx juvenile series, green (teal)
48-xxxx country series, deep red 49-xxxx classical series, bright red
(cerise) 50-xxxx blues/spiritual series, light blue 51-xxxx
international series, dark blue 52-xxxx light classics. All colors
were soon dropped in favor of black because of production problems.
However, yellow and deep red were continued until about 1952. The
first 45 rpm record created for sale was "PeeWee the Piccolo" RCA
47-0147 pressed in yellow translucent vinyl at the Sherman Avenue
plant, Indianapolis on December 7, 1948, by R. O. Price, plant
In the 1970s, the government of
Bhutan produced now-collectible
postage stamps on playable vinyl mini-discs.
Comparison of several forms of disk storage showing tracks (tracks not
to scale); green denotes start and red denotes end.
* Some CD-R(W) and DVD-R(W)/DVD+R(W) recorders operate in ZCLV, CAA or
The normal commercial disc is engraved with two sound-bearing
concentric spiral grooves, one on each side, running from the outside
edge towards the center. The last part of the spiral meets an earlier
part to form a circle. The sound is encoded by fine variations in the
edges of the groove that cause a stylus (needle) placed in it to
vibrate at acoustic frequencies when the disc is rotated at the
correct speed. Generally, the outer and inner parts of the groove bear
no intended sound (exceptions include the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band and Split Enz's Mental Notes).
Increasingly from the early 20th century, and almost exclusively
since the 1920s, both sides of the record have been used to carry the
grooves. Occasional records have been issued since then with a
recording on only one side. In the 1980s Columbia records briefly
issued a series of less expensive one-sided 45 rpm singles.
The majority of non-78 rpm records are pressed on black vinyl.
The coloring material used to blacken the transparent PVC plastic mix
is carbon black, which increases the strength of the disc and makes it
Polystyrene is often used for 7-inch records.
Some records are pressed on colored vinyl or with paper pictures
embedded in them ("picture discs"). Certain 45 rpm
RCA or RCA
Victor Red Seal records used red translucent vinyl for extra "Red
Seal" effect. During the 1980s there was a trend for releasing singles
on colored vinyl—sometimes with large inserts that could be used as
posters. This trend has been revived recently with 7-inch singles.
Since its inception in 1948, vinyl record standards for the United
States follow the guidelines of the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA). The inch dimensions are nominal, not precise
diameters. The actual dimension of a 12-inch record is 302 mm
(11.89 in), for a 10-inch it is 250 mm (9.84 in), and
for a 7-inch it is 175 mm (6.89 in).
Records made in other countries are standardized by different
organizations, but are very similar in size. The record diameters are
typically nominally 300 mm, 250 mm and 175 mm.
There is an area about 3 mm (0.12 in) wide at the outer edge
of the disk, called the lead-in or run-in, where the groove is widely
spaced and silent. The stylus is lowered onto the lead-in, without
damaging the recorded section of the groove.
Between tracks on the recorded section of an
LP record there is
usually a short gap of around 1 mm (0.04 in) where the
groove is widely spaced. This space is clearly visible, making it easy
to find a particular track.
A macro photo of the innermost part of the groove of a vinyl record.
Stored sound in the form of variations in the track is visible, as is
dust on the record.
Dust can be seen. Red lines mark one millimeter
SEM vinyl record
Towards the center, at the end of the groove, there is another
wide-pitched section known as the lead-out. At the very end of this
section the groove joins itself to form a complete circle, called the
lock groove; when the stylus reaches this point, it circles repeatedly
until lifted from the record. On some recordings (for example Sgt.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, Super Trouper by ABBA
Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd), the sound continues on the lock
groove, which gives a strange repeating effect. Automatic turntables
rely on the position or angular velocity of the arm, as it reaches the
wider spacing in the groove, to trigger a mechanism that lifts the arm
off the record. Precisely because of this mechanism, most automatic
turntables are incapable of playing any audio in the lock groove,
since they will lift the arm before it reaches that groove.
The catalog number and stamper ID is written or stamped in the space
between the groove in the lead-out on the master disc, resulting in
visible recessed writing on the final version of a record. Sometimes
the cutting engineer might add handwritten comments or their
signature, if they are particularly pleased with the quality of the
cut. These are generally referred to as "run-out etchings".
When auto-changing turntables were commonplace, records were typically
pressed with a raised (or ridged) outer edge and a raised label area,
allowing records to be stacked onto each other without the delicate
grooves coming into contact, reducing the risk of damage.
Auto-changers included a mechanism to support a stack of several
records above the turntable itself, dropping them one at a time onto
the active turntable to be played in order. Many longer sound
recordings, such as complete operas, were interleaved across several
10-inch or 12-inch discs for use with auto-changing mechanisms, so
that the first disk of a three-disk recording would carry sides 1 and
6 of the program, while the second disk would carry sides 2 and 5, and
the third, sides 3 and 4, allowing sides 1, 2, and 3 to be played
automatically; then the whole stack reversed to play sides 4, 5, and
The sound quality and durability of vinyl records is highly dependent
on the quality of the vinyl. During the early 1970s, as a cost-cutting
move, much of the industry began reducing the thickness and quality of
vinyl used in mass-market manufacturing. The technique was marketed by
RCA Victor as the Dynaflex (125 g) process, but was considered
inferior by most record collectors. Most vinyl records are pressed
from a mix of 70% virgin and 30% recycled vinyl.
New or "virgin" heavy/heavyweight (180–220 g) vinyl is commonly
used for modern audiophile vinyl releases in all genres. Many
collectors prefer to have heavyweight vinyl albums, which have been
reported to have better sound than normal vinyl because of their
higher tolerance against deformation caused by normal play.
180 g vinyl is more expensive to produce only because it uses
more vinyl. Manufacturing processes are identical regardless of
weight. In fact, pressing lightweight records requires more care. An
exception is the propensity of 200 g pressings to be slightly
more prone to non-fill, when the vinyl biscuit does not sufficiently
fill a deep groove during pressing (percussion or vocal amplitude
changes are the usual locations of these artifacts). This flaw causes
a grinding or scratching sound at the non-fill point.
Since most vinyl records contain up to 30% recycled vinyl, impurities
can accumulate in the record and cause even a brand-new record to have
audio artifacts such as clicks and pops. Virgin vinyl means that the
album is not from recycled plastic, and will theoretically be devoid
of these impurities. In practice, this depends on the manufacturer's
The "orange peel" effect on vinyl records is caused by worn molds.
Rather than having the proper mirror-like finish, the surface of the
record will have a texture that looks like orange peel. This
introduces noise into the record, particularly in the lower frequency
range. With direct metal mastering (DMM), the master disc is cut on a
copper-coated disc, which can also have a minor "orange peel" effect
on the disc itself. As this "orange peel" originates in the master
rather than being introduced in the pressing stage, there is no ill
effect as there is no physical distortion of the groove.
Original master discs are created by lathe-cutting: a lathe is used to
cut a modulated groove into a blank record. The blank records for
cutting used to be cooked up, as needed, by the cutting engineer,
using what Robert K. Morrison describes as a "metallic soap",
containing lead litharge, ozokerite, barium sulfate, montan wax,
stearin and paraffin, among other ingredients. Cut "wax" sound discs
would be placed in a vacuum chamber and gold-sputtered to make them
electrically conductive for use as mandrels in an electroforming bath,
where pressing stamper parts were made. Later, the French company
Pyral invented a ready-made blank disc having a thin nitro-cellulose
lacquer coating (approximately 7 mils thickness on both sides) that
was applied to an aluminum substrate.
Lacquer cuts result in an
immediately playable, or processable, master record. If vinyl
pressings are wanted, the still-unplayed sound disc is used as a
mandrel for electroforming nickel records that are used for
manufacturing pressing stampers. The electroformed nickel records are
mechanically separated from their respective mandrels. This is done
with relative ease because no actual "plating" of the mandrel occurs
in the type of electrodeposition known as electroforming, unlike with
electroplating, in which the adhesion of the new phase of metal is
chemical and relatively permanent. The one-molecule-thick coating of
silver (that was sprayed onto the processed lacquer sound disc in
order to make its surface electrically conductive) reverse-plates onto
the nickel record's face. This negative impression disc (having ridges
in place of grooves) is known as a nickel master, "matrix" or
"father". The "father" is then used as a mandrel to electroform a
positive disc known as a "mother". Many mothers can be grown on a
single "father" before ridges deteriorate beyond effective use. The
"mothers" are then used as mandrels for electroforming more negative
discs known as "sons". Each "mother" can be used to make many "sons"
before deteriorating. The "sons" are then converted into "stampers" by
center-punching a spindle hole (which was lost from the lacquer sound
disc during initial electroforming of the "father"), and by
custom-forming the target pressing profile. This allows them to be
placed in the dies of the target (make and model) record press and, by
center-roughing, to facilitate the adhesion of the label, which gets
stuck onto the vinyl pressing without any glue. In this way, several
million vinyl discs can be produced from a single lacquer sound disc.
When only a few hundred discs are required, instead of electroforming
a "son" (for each side), the "father" is removed of its silver and
converted into a stamper. Production by this latter method, known as
the "two-step process" (as it does not entail creation of "sons" but
does involve creation of "mothers", which are used for test playing
and kept as "safeties" for electroforming future "sons") is limited to
a few hundred vinyl pressings. The pressing count can increase if the
stamper holds out and the quality of the vinyl is high. The "sons"
made during a "three-step" electroforming make better stampers since
they don't require silver removal (which reduces some high fidelity
because of etching erasing part of the smallest groove modulations)
and also because they have a stronger metal structure than "fathers".
Shellac 78s are fragile, and must be handled carefully. In the event
of a 78 breaking, the pieces might remain loosely connected by the
label and still be playable if the label holds them together, although
there is a loud pop with each pass over the crack, and breaking of the
stylus is likely.
Breakage was very common in the shellac era. In the 1934 John O'Hara
novel, Appointment in Samarra, the protagonist "broke one of his most
favorites, Whiteman's Lady of the Evening ... He wanted to cry but
could not." A poignant moment in J. D. Salinger's 1951 novel The
Catcher in the Rye occurs after the adolescent protagonist buys a
record for his younger sister but drops it and "it broke into pieces
... I damn-near cried, it made me feel so terrible." A sequence where
a school teacher's collection of 78 rpm jazz records is smashed
by a group of rebellious students is a key moment in the film
Another problem with shellac was that the size of the disks tended to
be larger because it was limited to 80–100 groove walls per inch
before the risk of groove collapse became too high, whereas vinyl
could have up to 260 groove walls per inch.
By the time
World War II
World War II began, major labels were experimenting with
laminated records. As stated above, and in several record
advertisements of the period, the materials that make for a quiet
surface (shellac) are notoriously weak and fragile. Conversely the
materials that make for a strong disc (cardboard and other fiber
products) are not those known for allowing a quiet noise-free surface.
"Broken record" redirects here. For other uses, see Broken Record
Vinyl records do not break easily, but the soft material is easily
scratched. Vinyl readily acquires a static charge, attracting dust
that is difficult to remove completely.
Dust and scratches cause audio
clicks and pops. In extreme cases, they can cause the needle to skip
over a series of grooves, or worse yet, cause the needle to skip
backwards, creating a "locked groove" that repeats over and over. This
is the origin of the phrase "like a broken record" or "like a
scratched record", which is often used to describe a person or thing
that continually repeats itself. Locked grooves are not uncommon
and were even heard occasionally in radio broadcasts.
A dusty/scratched vinyl record being played. The dust settles into the
Vinyl records can be warped by heat, improper storage, exposure to
sunlight, or manufacturing defects such as excessively tight plastic
shrinkwrap on the album cover. A small degree of warp was common, and
allowing for it was part of the art of turntable and tonearm design.
"Wow" (once-per-revolution pitch variation) could result from warp, or
from a spindle hole that was not precisely centered. Standard practice
for LPs was to place the LP in a paper or plastic inner cover. This,
if placed within the outer cardboard cover so that the opening was
entirely within the outer cover, was said to reduce ingress of dust
onto the record surface. Singles, with rare exceptions, had simple
paper covers with no inner cover.
A further limitation of the gramophone record is that fidelity
steadily declines as playback progresses; there is more vinyl per
second available for fine reproduction of high frequencies at the
large-diameter beginning of the groove than exist at the
smaller-diameters close to the end of the side. At the start of a
groove on an LP there are 510 mm of vinyl per second traveling
past the stylus while the ending of the groove gives 200–210 mm
of vinyl per second — less than half the linear resolution.
Distortion towards the end of the side is likely to become more
apparent as record wear increases.
Another problem arises because of the geometry of the tonearm. Master
recordings are cut on a recording lathe where a sapphire stylus moves
radially across the blank, suspended on a straight track and driven by
a lead screw. Most turntables use a pivoting tonearm, introducing side
forces and pitch and azimuth errors, and thus distortion in the
playback signal. Various mechanisms were devised in attempts to
compensate, with varying degrees of success. See more at phonograph.
There is controversy about the relative quality of CD sound and LP
sound when the latter is heard under the very best conditions (see
Analog vs. Digital sound argument). It is notable, however, that one
technical advantage with vinyl compared to the optical CD is that if
correctly handled and stored, the vinyl record will be playable for
centuries, which is longer than some versions of the
Frequency response and noise
In 1925, electric recording extended the recorded frequency range from
acoustic recording (168–2,000 Hz) by 2 1⁄2 octaves to
100–5,000 Hz. Even so, these early electronically recorded
records used the exponential-horn phonograph (see Orthophonic
Victrola) for reproduction.
CD-4 LPs contain two sub-carriers, one in the left groove wall and one
in the right groove wall. These sub-carriers use special FM-PM-SSBFM
(Frequency Modulation-Phase Modulation-Single Sideband Frequency
Modulation) and have signal frequencies that extend to 45 kHz.
CD-4 sub-carriers could be played with any type stylus as long as the
pickup cartridge had CD-4 frequency response. The recommended stylus
for CD-4 as well as regular stereo records was a line contact or
Gramophone sound includes rumble, which is low-frequency (below about
30 Hz) mechanical noise generated by the motor bearings and
picked up by the stylus. Equipment of modest quality is relatively
unaffected by these issues, as the amplifier and speaker will not
reproduce such low frequencies, but high-fidelity turntable assemblies
need careful design to minimize audible rumble.
Room vibrations will also be picked up if the connections from
pedestal to turntable and from turntable to pickup arm are not well
Tonearm skating forces and other perturbations are also picked up by
the stylus. This is a form of frequency multiplexing as the control
signal (restoring force) used to keep the stylus in the groove is
carried by the same mechanism as the sound itself. Subsonic
frequencies below about 20 Hz in the audio signal are dominated
by tracking effects, which is one form of unwanted rumble ("tracking
noise") and merges with audible frequencies in the deep bass range up
to about 100 Hz.
High fidelity sound equipment can reproduce
tracking noise and rumble. During a quiet passage, woofer speaker
cones can sometimes be seen to vibrate with the subsonic tracking of
the stylus, at frequencies as low as just above 0.5 Hz (the
frequency at which a 33 1⁄3 rpm record turns on the
turntable; 5⁄9 Hz exactly on an ideal turntable). Another
reason for very low frequency material can be a warped disk: its
undulations produce frequencies of only a few hertz and present day
amplifiers have large power bandwidths. For this reason, many stereo
receivers contained a switchable subsonic filter. Some subsonic
content is directly out of phase in each channel. If played back on a
mono subwoofer system, the noise will cancel, significantly reducing
the amount of rumble that is reproduced.
High frequency hiss is generated as the stylus rubs against the vinyl,
and dirt and dust on the vinyl produces popping and ticking sounds.
The latter can be reduced somewhat by cleaning the record prior to
Due to recording mastering and manufacturing limitations, both high
and low frequencies were removed from the first recorded signals by
various formulae. With low frequencies, the stylus must swing a long
way from side to side, requiring the groove to be wide, taking up more
space and limiting the playing time of the record. At high
frequencies, hiss, pops, and ticks are significant. These problems can
be reduced by using equalization to an agreed standard. During
recording the amplitude of low frequencies is reduced, thus reducing
the groove width required, and the amplitude at high frequencies is
increased. The playback equipment boosts bass and cuts treble so as to
restore the tonal balance in the original signal; this also reduces
the high frequency noise. Thus more music will fit on the record, and
noise is reduced.
The current standard is called RIAA equalization. It was agreed upon
in 1952 and implemented in the United States in 1955; it was not
widely used in other countries until the 1970s. Prior to that,
especially from 1940, some 100 different formulae were used by the
History of equalization
In 1926 Joseph P. Maxwell and Henry C. Harrison from Bell Telephone
Laboratories disclosed that the recording pattern of the Western
Electric "rubber line" magnetic disc cutter had a constant velocity
characteristic. This meant that as frequency increased in the treble,
recording amplitude decreased. Conversely, in the bass as frequency
decreased, recording amplitude increased. Therefore, it was necessary
to attenuate the bass frequencies below about 250 Hz, the bass
turnover point, in the amplified microphone signal fed to the
recording head. Otherwise, bass modulation became excessive and
overcutting took place into the next record groove. When played back
electrically with a magnetic pickup having a smooth response in the
bass region, a complementary boost in amplitude at the bass turnover
point was necessary. G. H. Miller in 1934 reported that when
complementary boost at the turnover point was used in radio broadcasts
of records, the reproduction was more realistic and many of the
musical instruments stood out in their true form.
West in 1930 and later P. G. A. H. Voigt (1940) showed that the early
Wente-style condenser microphones contributed to a 4 to 6 dB
midrange brilliance or pre-emphasis in the recording chain. This meant
that the electrical recording characteristics of Western Electric
licensees such as
Columbia Records and Victor Talking Machine Company
in the 1925 era had a higher amplitude in the midrange region.
Brilliance such as this compensated for dullness in many early
magnetic pickups having drooping midrange and treble response. As a
result, this practice was the empirical beginning of using
pre-emphasis above 1,000 Hz in 78 rpm and
33 1⁄3 rpm records.
Over the years a variety of record equalization practices emerged and
there was no industry standard. For example, in Europe recordings for
years required playback with a bass turnover setting of
250–300 Hz and a treble roll-off at 10,000 Hz ranging from
0 to −5 dB or more. In the US there were more varied practices
and a tendency to use higher bass turnover frequencies such as
500 Hz as well as a greater treble rolloff like −8.5 dB
and even more to record generally higher modulation levels on the
Evidence from the early technical literature concerning electrical
recording suggests that it wasn't until the 1942–1949 period that
there were serious efforts to standardize recording characteristics
within an industry. Heretofore, electrical recording technology from
company to company was considered a proprietary art all the way back
to the 1925
Western Electric licensed method used by Columbia and
Victor. For example, what Brunswick-Balke-Collender (Brunswick
Corporation) did was different from the practices of Victor.
Broadcasters were faced with having to adapt daily to the varied
recording characteristics of many sources: various makers of "home
recordings" readily available to the public, European recordings,
lateral-cut transcriptions, and vertical-cut transcriptions. Efforts
were started in 1942 to standardize within the National Association of
Broadcasters (NAB), later known as the National Association of Radio
and Television Broadcasters (NARTB). The NAB, among other items,
issued recording standards in 1949 for laterally and vertically cut
records, principally transcriptions. A number of 78 rpm record
producers as well as early LP makers also cut their records to the
NAB/NARTB lateral standard.
The lateral cut NAB curve was remarkably similar to the NBC
Orthacoustic curve that evolved from practices within the National
Broadcasting Company since the mid-1930s. Empirically, and not by any
formula, it was learned that the bass end of the audio spectrum below
100 Hz could be boosted somewhat to override system hum and
turntable rumble noises. Likewise at the treble end beginning at
1,000 Hz, if audio frequencies were boosted by 16 dB at
10,000 Hz the delicate sibilant sounds of speech and high
overtones of musical instruments could survive the noise level of
cellulose acetate, lacquer–aluminum, and vinyl disc media. When the
record was played back using a complementary inverse curve,
signal-to-noise ratio was improved and the programming sounded more
When the Columbia LP was released in June 1948, the developers
subsequently published technical information about the
33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove long playing record. Columbia
disclosed a recording characteristic showing that it was like the NAB
curve in the treble, but had more bass boost or pre-emphasis below
200 Hz. The authors disclosed electrical network characteristics
for the Columbia LP curve. This was the first such curve based on
In 1951, at the beginning of the post-
World War II
World War II high fidelity
(hi-fi) popularity, the
Audio Engineering Society (AES) developed a
standard playback curve. This was intended for use by hi-fi amplifier
manufacturers. If records were engineered to sound good on hi-fi
amplifiers using the AES curve, this would be a worthy goal towards
standardization. This curve was defined by the time constants of audio
filters and had a bass turnover of 400 Hz and a 10,000 Hz
rolloff of −12 dB.
RCA Victor and Columbia were in a market war concerning which recorded
format was going to win: the Columbia LP versus the
45 rpm disc (released in February 1949). Besides also being a
battle of disc size and record speed, there was a technical difference
in the recording characteristics.
RCA Victor was using "new
orthophonic", whereas Columbia was using the LP curve.
Ultimately, the New Orthophonic curve was disclosed in a publication
by R.C. Moyer of
RCA Victor in 1953. He traced
characteristics back to the
Western Electric "rubber line" recorder in
1925 up to the early 1950s laying claim to long-held recording
practices and reasons for major changes in the intervening years. The
RCA Victor New Orthophonic curve was within the tolerances for the
NAB/NARTB, Columbia LP, and AES curves. It eventually became the
technical predecessor to the RIAA curve.
As the RIAA curve was essentially an American standard, it had little
impact outside the USA until the late 1970s when European recording
labels began to adopt the RIAA equalization. It was even later when
some Asian recording labels adopted the RIAA standard. In 1989, many
Eastern European recording labels and Russian recording labels such as
Melodiya were still using their own CCIR equalization. Hence the RIAA
curve did not truly become a global standard until the late 1980s.
Further, even after officially agreeing to implement the RIAA
equalization curve, many recording labels continued to use their own
proprietary equalization even well into the 1970s. Columbia is one
such prominent example in the USA, as are Decca, Teldec and Deutsche
Grammophon in Europe.
Enrico Caruso with a phonograph c.1910s
Overall sound fidelity of records produced acoustically using horns
instead of microphones had a distant, hollow tone quality. Some voices
and instruments recorded better than others; Enrico Caruso, a famous
tenor, was one popular recording artist of the acoustic era whose
voice was well matched to the recording horn. It has been asked, "Did
Caruso make the phonograph, or did the phonograph make Caruso?"
Delicate sounds and fine overtones were mostly lost, because it took a
lot of sound energy to vibrate the recording horn diaphragm and
cutting mechanism. There were acoustic limitations due to mechanical
resonances in both the recording and playback system. Some pictures of
acoustic recording sessions show horns wrapped with tape to help mute
these resonances. Even an acoustic recording played back electrically
on modern equipment sounds like it was recorded through a horn,
notwithstanding a reduction in distortion because of the modern
playback. Toward the end of the acoustic era, there were many fine
examples of recordings made with horns.
Electric recording which developed during the time that early radio
was becoming popular (1925) benefited from the microphones and
amplifiers used in radio studios. The early electric recordings were
reminiscent tonally of acoustic recordings, except there was more
recorded bass and treble as well as delicate sounds and overtones cut
on the records. This was in spite of some carbon microphones used,
which had resonances that colored the recorded tone. The double button
carbon microphone with stretched diaphragm was a marked improvement.
Alternatively, the Wente style condenser microphone used with the
Western Electric licensed recording method had a brilliant midrange
and was prone to overloading from sibilants in speech, but generally
it gave more accurate reproduction than carbon microphones.
It was not unusual for electric recordings to be played back on
acoustic phonographs. The Victor Orthophonic phonograph was a prime
example where such playback was expected. In the Orthophonic, which
benefited from telephone research, the mechanical pickup head was
redesigned with lower resonance than the traditional mica type. Also,
a folded horn with an exponential taper was constructed inside the
cabinet to provide better impedance matching to the air. As a result,
playback of an Orthophonic record sounded like it was coming from a
Eventually, when it was more common for electric recordings to be
played back electrically in the 1930s and 1940s, the overall tone was
much like listening to a radio of the era. Magnetic pickups became
more common and were better designed as time went on, making it
possible to improve the damping of spurious resonances. Crystal
pickups were also introduced as lower cost alternatives. The dynamic
or moving coil microphone was introduced around 1930 and the velocity
or ribbon microphone in 1932. Both of these high quality microphones
became widespread in motion picture, radio, recording, and public
Over time, fidelity, dynamic and noise levels improved to the point
that it was harder to tell the difference between a live performance
in the studio and the recorded version. This was especially true after
the invention of the variable reluctance magnetic pickup cartridge by
General Electric in the 1940s when high quality cuts were played on
well-designed audio systems. The Capehart radio/phonographs of the era
with large diameter electrodynamic loudspeakers, though not ideal,
demonstrated this quite well with "home recordings" readily available
in the music stores for the public to buy.
There were important quality advances in recordings specifically made
for radio broadcast. In the early 1930s Bell
Western Electric announced the total reinvention of disc
Western Electric Wide Range System, "The New Voice of
Action". The intent of the new
Western Electric system was to improve
the overall quality of disc recording and playback. The recording
speed was 33 1⁄3 rpm, originally used in the Western
Electric/ERPI movie audio disc system implemented in the early Warner
Vitaphone "talkies" of 1927.
The newly invented
Western Electric moving coil or dynamic microphone
was part of the Wide Range System. It had a flatter audio response
than the old style Wente condenser type and didn't require electronics
installed in the microphone housing. Signals fed to the cutting head
were pre-emphasized in the treble region to help override noise in
playback. Groove cuts in the vertical plane were employed rather than
the usual lateral cuts. The chief advantage claimed was more grooves
per inch that could be crowded together, resulting in longer playback
time. Additionally, the problem of inner groove distortion, which
plagued lateral cuts, could be avoided with the vertical cut system.
Wax masters were made by flowing heated wax over a hot metal disc thus
avoiding the microscopic irregularities of cast blocks of wax and the
necessity of planing and polishing.
Vinyl pressings were made with stampers from master cuts that were
electroplated in vacuo by means of gold sputtering. Audio response was
claimed out to 8,000 Hz, later 13,000 Hz, using light weight
pickups employing jeweled styli. Amplifiers and cutters both using
negative feedback were employed thereby improving the range of
frequencies cut and lowering distortion levels.
producers such as World Broadcasting System and Associated Music
Publishers (AMP) were the dominant licensees of the Western Electric
wide range system and towards the end of the 1930s were responsible
for two-thirds of the total radio transcription business. These
recordings use a bass turnover of 300 Hz and a 10,000 Hz
rolloff of −8.5 dB.
Developmentally, much of the technology of the long playing record,
successfully released by Columbia in 1948, came from wide range radio
transcription practices. The use of vinyl pressings, increased length
of programming, and general improvement in audio quality over
78 rpm records were the major selling points.
The complete technical disclosure of the Columbia LP by Peter C.
Goldmark, Rene' Snepvangers and William S. Bachman in 1949 made it
possible for a great variety of record companies to get into the
business of making long playing records. The business grew quickly and
interest spread in high fidelity sound and the do-it-yourself market
for pickups, turntables, amplifier kits, loudspeaker enclosure plans,
and AM/FM radio tuners. The
LP record for longer works, 45 rpm
for pop music, and FM radio became high fidelity program sources in
Radio listeners heard recordings broadcast and this in turn
generated more record sales. The industry flourished.
Manufacturing vinyl records in 1959
Technology used in making recordings also developed and prospered.
There were ten major evolutionary steps that improved LP production
and quality during a period of approximately forty years.
Electrical transcriptions and 78s were first used as sources to master
LP lacquer–aluminium cuts in 1948. This was before magnetic tape was
commonly employed for mastering. Variable pitch groove spacing helped
enable greater recorded dynamic levels. The heated stylus improved the
cutting of high frequencies. Gold sputtering in vacuo became
increasingly used to make high quality matrices from the cuts to stamp
Decca in Britain utilised high-quality wide range condenser
microphones for the Full Frequency Range Recording (FFRR) system c.
Wax mastering was employed to produce Decca/London LPs. This
created considerable interest in the United States, and served to
raise the customer's overall expectations of quality in microgroove
Tape recording with condenser microphones became a long used standard
operating procedure in mastering lacquer–aluminium cuts. This
improved the overall pickup of high quality sound and enabled tape
editing. Over the years there were variations in the kinds of tape
recorders used, such as the width and number of tracks employed,
including 35 mm magnetic film technology.
Production of stereo tape masters and the stereo LP in 1958 brought
significant improvements in recording technology.
Limitations in the disc cutting part of the process later generated
the idea that half-speed mastering would improve quality (in which the
source tape is played at half-speed and the lacquer–aluminium disc
cut at 16 2⁄3 rpm rather than
33 1⁄3 rpm).
Some 12 inch LPs were cut at 45 rpm claiming better quality
sound, but this practice was short-lived.
Efforts were made in the 1970s to record as many as four audio
channels on an LP (quadraphonic) by means of matrix and modulated
carrier methods. This development was neither a widespread success nor
Efforts were also made to simplify the chain of equipment in the
recording process and return to live recording directly to the disc
Noise reduction systems were also used in tape mastering of some LPs,
as well as in the LP itself.
As video recorder technology improved it became possible to modify
them and use analogue to digital converters (codecs) for digital sound
recording. This brought greater dynamic range to tape mastering,
combined with low noise and distortion, and freedom from drop outs as
well as pre- and post-echo. The digital recording was played back
providing a high quality analogue signal to master the
At the time of the introduction of the compact disc (CD) in 1982, the
stereo LP pressed in vinyl was at the high point of its development.
Still, it continued to suffer from a variety of limitations:
The stereo image was not made up of fully discrete Left and Right
channels; each channel's signal coming out of the cartridge contained
a small amount of the signal from the other channel, with more
crosstalk at higher frequencies. High-quality disc cutting equipment
was capable of making a master disc with 30–40 dB of stereo
separation at 1,000 Hz, but the playback cartridges had lesser
performance of about 20 to 30 dB of separation at 1000 Hz,
with separation decreasing as frequency increased, such that at
12 kHz the separation was about 10–15 dB. A common
modern view is that stereo isolation must be higher than this to
achieve a proper stereo soundstage. However, in the 1950s the BBC
determined in a series of tests that only 20–25 dB is required
for the impression of full stereo separation.
LP pre echo
The empty space before the start of the music has been amplified +15dB
to reveal the pre-echo.
Problems playing this file? See media help.
Thin, closely spaced spiral grooves that allow for increased playing
time on a 33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove LP lead to a tinny
pre-echo warning of upcoming loud sounds. The cutting stylus
unavoidably transfers some of the subsequent groove wall's impulse
signal into the previous groove wall. It is discernible by some
listeners throughout certain recordings, but a quiet passage followed
by a loud sound will allow anyone to hear a faint pre-echo of the loud
sound occurring 1.8 seconds ahead of time. This problem can also
appear as "post"-echo, with a tinny ghost of the sound arriving 1.8
seconds after its main impulse.
Factory problems involving incomplete flow of hot vinyl within the
stamper can fail to accurately recreate a small section of one side of
the groove, a problem called non-fill. It usually appears on the first
item on a side if present at all. Non-fill makes itself known as a
tearing, grating or ripping sound.
A static electric charge can build up on the surface of the spinning
record and discharge into the stylus, making a loud "pop". In very dry
climates, this can happen several times per minute. Subsequent plays
of the same record do not have pops in the same places in the music as
the static buildup isn't tied to variations in the groove.
An off-center stamping will apply a slow 0.56 Hz modulation to
the playback, affecting pitch due to the modulating speed that the
groove runs under the stylus. The effect becomes gradually more acute
during playback as the stylus moves closer to the center of the
record. It also affects tonality because the stylus is pressed
alternately against one groove wall and then the other, making the
frequency response change in each channel. This problem is often
called "wow", though turntable and motor problems can also cause
Tracking force of the stylus is not always the same from beginning to
end of the groove. Stereo balance can shift as the recording
Outside electrical interference may be amplified by the magnetic
cartridge. Common household wallplate SCR dimmers sharing AC lines may
put noise into the playback, as can poorly shielded electronics and
strong radio transmitters.
Loud sounds in the environment may be transmitted mechanically from
the turntable's sympathetic vibration into the stylus. Heavy footfalls
can bounce the needle out of the groove.
Because of a slight slope in the lead-in groove, it is possible for
the stylus to skip ahead several grooves when settling into position
at the start of the recording.
The LP is delicate. Any accidental fumbling with the stylus or
dropping of the record onto a sharp corner can scratch the record
permanently, creating a series of "ticks" and "pops" heard at each
subsequent playback. Heavier accidents can cause the stylus to break
through the groove wall as it plays, creating a permanent skip that
will cause the stylus to either skip ahead to the next groove or skip
back to the previous groove. A skip going to the previous groove is
called a broken record; the same section of 1.8 seconds of LP
(1.3 s of 45 rpm) music will repeat over and over until the
stylus is lifted off the record. It is also possible to put a slight
pressure on the headshell causing the stylus to stay in the desired
groove, without having a playback break. This requires some skill, but
is of great use when, for instance, digitizing a recording, as no
information is skipped.
LP versus CD
Analog recording vs. digital recording
Audiophiles have differed over the relative merits of the LP versus
the CD since the digital disc was introduced. Vinyl records are still
prized for their reproduction of analog recordings. The LP's
drawbacks, however, include surface noise, tracking error, pitch
variations and greater sensitivity to handling. Modern anti-aliasing
filters and oversampling systems used in digital recordings have
reduced problems observed with early CD players.
There is a theory that vinyl records can audibly represent higher
frequencies than compact discs. According to Red Book specifications,
the compact disc has a frequency response of 20 Hz up to
22,050 Hz, and most CD players measure flat within a fraction of
a decibel from at least 20 Hz to 20 kHz at full output.
Turntable rumble obscures the low-end limit of vinyl but the upper end
can be, with some cartridges, reasonably flat within a few decibels to
30 kHz, with gentle roll-off. Carrier signals of Quad LPs popular
in the 1970s were at 30 kHz to be out of the range of human
hearing. The average human auditory system is sensitive to frequencies
from 20 Hz to a maximum of around 20,000 Hz. The upper
and lower frequency limits of human hearing vary per person. High
frequency sensitivity decreases as a person ages, a process called
presbycusis. By contrast, hearing damage from loud noise exposure
typically makes it more difficult to hear lower frequencies, such as
three kHz through six kHz.
Further information: Production of phonograph records
For the first several decades of disc record manufacturing, sound was
recorded directly on to the "master disc" at the recording studio.
From about 1950 on (earlier for some large record companies, later for
some small ones) it became usual to have the performance first
recorded on audio tape, which could then be processed or edited, and
then dubbed on to the master disc. A record cutter would engrave the
grooves into the master disc. Early versions of these master discs
were soft wax, and later a harder lacquer was used. The mastering
process was originally something of an art as the operator had to
manually allow for the changes in sound which affected how wide the
space for the groove needed to be on each rotation.
45 rpm records, like this single from 1956, usually had a chosen
A-side, for radio promotion as a possible hit, with a flip side or
B-side by the same artist – though some had two A-sides.
As the playing of gramophone records causes gradual degradation of the
recording, they are best preserved by transferring them onto other
media and playing the records as rarely as possible. They need to be
stored on edge, and do best under environmental conditions that most
humans would find comfortable."Disc Recording and Playback". In Glen
Ballou (editor), Handbook for
Sound Engineers: The New Audio
Cyclopedia: Howard W. Sams & Company. p. 1037 §27.9.4.
ISBN 0-672-21983-2</ref> The equipment for playback of
certain formats (e.g. 16 2⁄3 and 78 rpm) is
manufactured only in small quantities, leading to increased difficulty
in finding equipment to play the recordings.
Where old disc recordings are considered to be of artistic or historic
interest, from before the era of tape or where no tape master exists,
archivists play back the disc on suitable equipment and record the
result, typically onto a digital format, which can be copied and
manipulated to remove analog flaws without any further damage to the
source recording. For example,
Nimbus Records uses a specially built
horn record player to transfer 78s. Anyone can do this using a
standard record player with a suitable pickup, a phono-preamp
(pre-amplifier) and a typical personal computer. However, for accurate
transfer, professional archivists carefully choose the correct stylus
shape and diameter, tracking weight, equalisation curve and other
playback parameters and use high-quality analogue-to-digital
As an alternative to playback with a stylus, a recording can be read
optically, processed with software that calculates the velocity that
the stylus would be moving in the mapped grooves and converted to a
digital recording format. This does no further damage to the disc and
generally produces a better sound than normal playback. This technique
also has the potential to allow for reconstruction of broken or
otherwise damaged discs.
See also: Vinyl revival
A DJ mixing vinyl records with a
DJ mixer at the Sundance Film
Festival in 2003
Groove recordings, first designed in the final quarter of the 19th
century, held a predominant position for nearly a
century—withstanding competition from reel-to-reel tape, the 8-track
cartridge, and the compact cassette. In 1988, the compact disc
surpassed the gramophone record in unit sales. Vinyl records
experienced a sudden decline in popularity between 1988 and 1991,
when the major label distributors restricted their return policies,
which retailers had been relying on to maintain and swap out stocks of
relatively unpopular titles. First the distributors began charging
retailers more for new product if they returned unsold vinyl, and then
they stopped providing any credit at all for returns. Retailers,
fearing they would be stuck with anything they ordered, only ordered
proven, popular titles that they knew would sell, and devoted more
shelf space to CDs and cassettes. Record companies also deleted many
vinyl titles from production and distribution, further undermining the
availability of the format and leading to the closure of pressing
plants. This rapid decline in the availability of records accelerated
the format's decline in popularity, and is seen by some as a
deliberate ploy to make consumers switch to CDs, which were more
profitable for the record companies.
In spite of their flaws, such as the lack of portability, records
still have enthusiastic supporters. Vinyl records continue to be
manufactured and sold today, especially by independent rock bands
and labels, although record sales are considered to be a niche market
composed of audiophiles, collectors, and DJs. Old records and
out-of-print recordings in particular are in much demand by collectors
the world over. (See Record collecting.) Many popular new albums are
given releases on vinyl records and older albums are also given
reissues, sometimes on audiophile-grade vinyl.
In the United Kingdom, the popularity of indie rock caused sales of
new vinyl records (particularly 7 inch singles) to increase
significantly in 2006, briefly reversing the downward trend
seen during the 1990s.
In the United States, annual vinyl sales increased by 85.8% between
2006 and 2007, and by 89% between 2007 and 2008.
Many electronic dance music and hip hop releases today are still
preferred on vinyl; however, digital copies are still widely
available. This is because for disc jockeys ("DJs"), vinyl has an
advantage over the CD: direct manipulation of the medium. DJ
techniques such as slip-cueing, beatmatching, and scratching
originated on turntables. With CDs or compact audio cassettes one
normally has only indirect manipulation options, e.g., the play, stop,
and pause buttons. With a record one can place the stylus a few
grooves farther in or out, accelerate or decelerate the turntable, or
even reverse its direction, provided the stylus, record player, and
record itself are built to withstand it. However, many
CDJ and DJ
advances, such as DJ software and time-encoded vinyl, now have these
capabilities and more.
Figures released in the United States in early 2009 showed that sales
of vinyl albums nearly doubled in 2008, with 1.88 million
sold — up from just under 1 million in 2007. In 2009, 3.5
million units sold in the United States, including 3.2 million albums,
the highest number since 1998.
Sales have continued to rise into the 2010s, with around 2.8 million
sold in 2010, which is the most sales since record keeping began in
1991, when vinyl had been overshadowed by Compact Cassettes and
In 2014 artist
Jack White sold 40,000 copies of his second solo
release, Lazaretto, on vinyl. The sales of the record beat the largest
sales in one week on vinyl since 1991. The sales record was previously
held by Pearl Jam's, Vitalogy, which sold 34,000 copies in one week in
1994. In 2014, the sale of vinyl records was the only physical music
medium with increasing sales with relation to the previous year. Sales
of other mediums including individual digital tracks, digital albums
and compact discs have fallen, the latter having the greatest
In 2011, the Entertainment Retailers Association in the United Kingdom
found that consumers were willing to pay on average £16.30 (€19.37,
US$25.81) for a single vinyl record, as opposed to £7.82 (€9.30,
US$12.38) for a CD and £6.80 (€8.09, US$10.76) for a digital
download. In the United States, new vinyl releases often have a
larger profit margin (individual item) than do releases on CD or
digital downloads (in many cases), as the latter formats quickly go
down in price.
In 2015 the sales of vinyl records went up 32%, to $416 million, their
highest level since 1988. There were 31.5 million vinyl records
sold in 2015, and the number has increased annually ever since
Global Trade Value US$
(SP & LP)
(SP & LP)
(SP & LP)
(SP & LP)
(SP & LP)
(SP & LP)
Australian single figures for 2007, 2008 and 2009 are estimated.
In reality German figures are considered to be "a lot higher" due to
smaller shops and online communities in Germany not using scanner cash
registers. One German record pressing company stated that they
alone produce 2 million LPs each year.
In reality American figures are considered to be much higher, with one
record store owner, in a
New York Times
New York Times article, estimating that
Nielson SoundScan only tracks "about 15 percent" of total sales due to
bar codes, concluding that sales could now be as high as 20
In Sweden, vinyl sales in 2010 were up 92% from 2009 figures, and
in 2011 up a further 52% from 2010 figures. In 2012 vinyl sales
increased with 59% from 2011 figures.
In New Zealand, independent record stores in Auckland were reporting a
five-fold increase in vinyl sales from 2007 to 2011.
In France, the SNEP said that LP sales were 200,000 in 2008, however
independent record labels said that overall sales were probably 1
In United States, 67% of all vinyl album sales in 2012 were sold at
independent music stores.
Vinyl revenues were at the lowest point in its history in 2006, with a
total trade value of $36 million. The 2011 figure of $116 million is
higher than the 2000 figure of $109 million, but is still less than
the 1997, 1998 and 1999 figures, which were all between $150 and $170
2012 vinyl LP charts
US Top 10
UK Top 10
Mumford & Sons
The Black Keys
Sigh No More
Mumford & Sons
For Emma Forever Ago
Boys & Girls
An Awesome Wave
The New Face of Vinyl: Youth's Digital Devolution (photo documentary)
Record Store Day
Sound recording and reproduction
Unusual types of gramophone records
Capacitance Electronic Disc
Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED)
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Retrieved 2016-12-12. in Swedish (original text) – "Allt fler
köper vinylskivor. Trenden med att köpa vinylskivor fortsätter.
Sedan 2006 har försäljningen globalt ökat från drygt 3,1 miljoner
sålda exemplar jämfört med 31,5 miljoner sålda exemplar 2015.
Trots att allt fler vinylskivor säljs är det dock bara en väldigt
liten del av skivförsäljningen. I Sverige såldes det förra året
384.000 vinylskivor jämfört med 3.342.000 cd-skivor. De artister som
säljer mest är oftast äldre artister och skivor. Mest såld i år
är David Bowies sista skiva Black-star. Andra populära artister är
Beatles, Led Zeppelin och Adele." – or in English – "More and more
buy vinyl records. The trend to buy vinyl records continues. Since
2006 has the global sales increased from approximately 3.1 million
sold records to 31.5 million in 2015. Despite this, is it still a
small part of the total record sale. In Sweden was 384.000 vinyl
records sold last year (=2015) compared to 3.342.000 CD records. The
artists who sell most ar usually older artists and records.(comment -
bad Swedish in original text is reflected and translated) Most sold in
this year (=2016) was David Bowie's last record Black-star. Other
popular artists are Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Adele" (a screenshot of
the teletext page exist and can be uploaded, if allowed at Commons and
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Playback equalization for 78rpm shellacs and early LPs (EQ curves,
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The manufacturing and production of shellac records. Educational
Reproduction of 78 rpm records including equalization data for
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Physical audio recording formats
Phonograph cylinder (1877)
Phonograph record (1894)
Wire recording (1898)
Reel-to-reel tape (1940s)
Gray Audograph (1945)
LP record (1948)
On-the-ribs recordings (late 1940s)
RCA tape cartridge (1958)
Compact Cassette (1963)
Compact disc (1982)
Digital Audio Tape
Digital Audio Tape (1987)
Compact Cassette (1992)
High Definition Compatible Digital
High Definition Compatible Digital (1995)
Music Disc (1997)
Super Audio CD
Super Audio CD (1999)
USB flash drive (as audio format) (2004)
Electronic and digital
Audio console (mixing board)
Digital audio workstation (DAW)
Comparison of analog and digital recording
Experimental musical instrument
Reel-to-reel audio tape recording
Sound reinforcement system
Digital signal processing
Sound reinforcement system
Electronic musical instrument
Digital audio editor
Digital audio workstation
Software effect processor
Sound recording engineer
People and organizations
Audio Engineering Society
Institute of Broadcast Sound
Musical Electronics Library
Professional Lighting and
Professional audio store
New Interfaces for Musical Expression
New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME)
Grooved track audio
BMG Rights Management
Music Publishing Group
Major: Sony Music
Independent: Independent UK record labels
Drum and bass
Album cover design
Artists and repertoire (A&R)
Professional audio store
Hip hop producer
Extended play (EP)/Mini album
Billboard Hot 100
Brasil Hot 100 Airplay
Canadian Hot 100
Irish Singles Chart
Italian Singles Chart
GfK Entertainment Charts
Entertainment Monitoring Africa
New Zealand Singles Chart
SNEP Singles Chart
UK Singles Chart
Musica e dischi
Top of the Pops
The Country Network
The X Factor
Best-selling music artists
Best-selling albums by country
Highest-grossing concert tours
Global Recording Artist of the Year
A-side and B-side
Christian music industry