An Interesting History Of Vinyl Records You Want To Know

Do you have a vinyl record player at home? Have you ever wondered how it evolved throughout the years? Read this to discover the history of vinyl records.
by Helen Appling | Updated: September 25, 2020

In an audio enthusiast’s lense, it is far more satisfying to listen to music with a vinyl record rather than with any other devices.

Technical wise, a record spinning around a turntable produces better sound quality thanks to the gap in data of analog recording.

 There was a time when vinyl records were mainstream, became obsolete, and made a revival later. All these things happened in three centuries.  

The history of vinyl records seems interesting, isn’t it? But before we dive into detailed information about it, let’s take a look at a brief explanation of vinyl records. 

What A Vinyl Record Is 

A vinyl record is a flat disc with a modulated spiral groove designed to store and reproduce sound.

In the beginning, the disc was usually made from shellac and then polyvinyl chloride. It is not until this time that people started to call records of any materials as vinyl records. 

WHAT A VINYL RECORD IS

Vinyl records used to dominate the recording market for quite a long time until digital recording came into being. As trend comes and goes, they have now come back. More than 10 million vinyl records were sold in the US in 2017, according to Nielsen Music.  

The resurgence of vinyl records left people with questions. Why is it suddenly popular again?  

To answer this question, we have: 

The sound of the vinyl record is high-quality. Vinyl records provide real and vivid music, which will capture your attention the first time you use it. Being wrapped up in the music world, sounds too tempting to miss a chance, right? 

Other plausible reasons are the aesthetics and tangibility of vinyl records. Its design with retro packaging surely does impress people.

You even get a sense of ownership. Unlike digital streaming devices, the vinyl record is a physical item that you can hold in hands and see the grooves, which is hugely appealing.  

Now you have got to know what vinyl record is and its brief overview. It’s time to dive deeper into the history of vinyl records with us! 

The Phonautograph-Phonograph Era 

In 1857, Edouard-Leon Scott - a French inventor - created the phonautograph. The device used a vibrating pen to record the waves of sound onto paper discs.

This process was based on sound’s visual wavelengths, which is the reason why its initial purpose was to analyze for people to understand how sound works generally. 

Later on, in 1878, Thomas Edison invented the machine called phonograph in which sound could be recorded and then reproduced. People often think that Edison took Leon Scott’s concept for his invention, but there is no evidence of that.  

THE PHONAUTOGRAPH-PHONOGRAPH ERA

Edison’s machine contained a stylus that is capable of cutting grooves of sound onto tinfoil cylinders and discs. When rotating cylinders, the sound would be played back instantly.  

However, tinfoil was considered too crude to be of practical use. Thus, ten years later, Edison upgraded his invention with a hollowed wax cylinder.

This cylinder made a name for itself for better quality and durability compared to tinfoil. Hollowed wax cylinder even created the recorded sound market and dominated it from the late 1880s to the early 1900s.  

The Gramophone Era 

A US inventor, Emile Berliner patented the world’s first vinyl record player, also known as a gramophone, in 1867. It was a manually operated device with small lateral grooves on its exterior in the size of 5 inches (approximately 12.5 cm).  

THE GRAMOPHONE ERA

The discs were first marketed in Europe in 1889. At this time, they were only used as toys or to serve people’s curiosity due to its poor sound quality. 

Five years later, Emile Berliner intended to gain recognition in the US market, so he worked on enhancing the sound quality of his gramophone with the 7-inch-record. However, compared to wax cylinders of Edison, Berliner’s work was still of limited quality.  

The Red Seal Era 

In 1901, Berliner collaborated with Eldridge R. Johnson. These two founded Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey, from their separate companies.  

Also, in the same year, Victor Company introduced the Red Seal line, which could play 10 inches vinyl records in the form of 78 RPM format.

It was upgraded to play for more than three minutes, a little longer compared to contemporary cylinders. 78 RPM was the best format for the vinyl record back then, making Victor Company’s products dominate the market for many years.  

The LP Era

LP is short for the long-playing records. In 1948, Columbia Records released the 33 ⅓ RPM record made from polyvinyl chloride and was 12 inches in width. This is the world’s very first LP record. 

In the LP, the sound is stored in the grooves. When we spin the record, the needle will run along the grooves and then pass the information to the electromagnetic head. This whole process takes around 21 minutes per side. 

Shortly after, RCA Victor also introduced its competing product, the 7 inches, and 45 RPM record. This new format is called EP (extended play).

EP soon established its market for short duration discs with one song on each side while LP was considered the superior format for musical albums. 

Disc records continued to take over the market until 1982 when Sony introduced the compact discs. Vinyl records then became obsolete. Most of the labels stopped providing them, which made sales decline immediately.   

After those years of vanishing in the market, vinyl records are coming back. In 2018, more than 4 million LPs were sold in the UK only, a remarkable increase compared to 3.2 million in 2016. The number is even expected to reach 4.5 million when 2019 ends. 

In Brief

We have walked you through the interesting history of vinyl records. Complicated as it is, vinyl records will make you fall in love with it no matter what era you are in.  

One cannot resist the excellent sound quality and pleasant listening experience that the vinyl record offers. So, what is your view on the vinyl record and its history? Let us know more through your comment and see you in the next articles.

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