The history of the record player is, indeed, a very interesting one. In fact, there have been a lot of steps along the way that contributed to the creation of the record player as we know it today. While not everyone still uses a record player in the home the same way that record players used to be used in homes across the country and the world, the development of this technology has had a big impact on the way we listen to music even with digital options today. Indeed, this is the kind of impact that every inventor might hope to have on the industry that they are working with. This is the impact that the phonautograph had on the world, as well as the phonograph shortly thereafter. Following the historical trajectory of the record player is fascinating, especially when looking at the incredible sound available through modern day turntables like VPI turntables and Rega turntables. Here is the timeline through which these powerful machines we appreciate so much today have transitioned:
Step One: The Phonautograph: Before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, there were a few other devices that were created along the path. Indeed, perhaps the most important of these has been the phonautograph. This was the first device to capture sound waves and record them. While sound producing objects such as the tuning fork had been created earlier, this invention in 1857 by Edouard Leon Scott de Martinville of France was the biggest step forward in this line of inventions. The phonautograph captured sound waves and recorded them through a parchment diaphragm. This diaphragm was connected to a bristle that traced a line in a coating of soot on a piece of paper that was attached to a rotating cylinder. Thus, the first sound waves were recorded, though Scott’s phonautograph did not reproduce the sounds is jotted down. In 2008, these recordings were digitized and the sounds finally unleashed!
Step Two: The Paleophone: Never heard of this device? The paleophone was first invented in 1877 by Charles Cros, a French poet and scientist, and made the jump from simply writing down sound as a line to reproducing the sound itself. The idea Cros put forth was to use photoengraving to do the job, making metal printing plates to create a groove in a disc with the same motion of Scott’s phonautograph. His concept of a stylus attached to a diaphragm is much like our modern record player. The idea was that the ridge could transmit these vibrations to the diaphragm connected to the machine, and viola! Sound was reproduced!
Step Three: The Phonograph: The same year that Cros was experimenting with the Palephone, Thomas Edison began working on the idea of a device to “play back” messages recorded from a telegraph. The device was very much like the Paleophone, using a spiral disc with an electromagnet and an arm that travelled across the disc to jot down the sounds.
These three inventions came along before the gramophone or the modern record player with its many components and paved the way for turntables and record playing devices as we know them.