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1.1 - A Brief History Of Vinyl

The technology that laid the groundwork for what eventually became the modern record player can be traced back to none other than Thomas Edison. In the late 19th century, Edison invented the phonograph. This device served as a precursor to the record player and was used to record and play back audio using a hand crank-powered needle for etching sound waves into a foil-covered cylinder. The recorded sounds could then be played back as the needle ran through the grooves left in the cylinder.

Edison’s original intention for the phonograph was a far cry from what it eventually evolved into. In Edison’s mind, the phonograph was primarily a recording and playback device, whereas the future reinventions of his initial concept ended up being used solely for playing back recorded music. Eliminating the recording element that was included in the original phonograph made the technology much more accessible to consumers. 

Edison’s phonograph was later refined in the form of the gramophone. Invented in 1877 by Emile Berliner, the gramophone used similar technology to the phonograph. However, instead of recording and playing back audio from a cylinder, the gramophone’s needle instead read the grooves in hard rubber discs, which served as the precursors to vinyl records. 

Without the two cylinders that were present in the original phonograph design (one for recording, one for playback), the gramophone had a much more user-friendly design with looks that distinctly foreshadowed modern turntables.

In the early 20th century, the transition was made from rubber discs to vinyl records, but the gramophone’s technology is otherwise relatively similar to that of the modern record player. 

Since the introduction of the vinyl record, one of the most notable innovations that has changed the format was the introduction of stereo sound in the latter half of the 20th century. Originally, records were recorded and mixed in mono, meaning the same signal would come out of two speakers attached to a turntable that would come out of one. With the introduction of records in stereo, albums began taking on distinct sound qualities that were previously impossible to achieve with a mono mix. 

After stereo became the norm for vinyl records, the format continued to offer unparalleled sound quality to listeners, even as other formats came and went. Other older formats of physical music like CDs and cassettes have become relatively obsolete over the last several decades, largely overtaken by the advent of digital music stores and streaming services. 

However, vinyl has stood the test of time, even making a major comeback in the last decade and cementing itself as a major part of the music industry over a century after the format’s invention. Vinyl is a music format loved and listened to by millions, and it is not going anywhere any time soon.
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