Friday, May 4, 2012

A brief history of recorded sound

The earliest known recording of a human voice is a 10 second bit of a French man singing "Au Clair De La Lune" recorded in 1860. The clip was recorded using a then revolutionary recording device called a phonautograph, which was invented by a Parisian printer and inventor named Edouard-Leon Scot de Martinville. This predates Thomas Edison's phonograph recording, once thought to be the oldest, by 28 years. The phonautograph was designed as a mechanical device that would mimic human auditory anatomy. A horn shaped chamber would collect sound which would vibrate within an attached diaphragm. This same vibration would force a bristle to etch the transferred sound as an image on a soot covered sheet that was attached to a hand-cranked cylinder. While this astounding device did in fact record sound it was unable to play any recordings, called phonautograms.

Thomas Edison changed that in 1877 with the invention of the phonograph cylinder, which was a wax cylinder with an audio recording etched on the outside. This cylinder would then be placed on the mandrel of the mechanical phonograph with the audio being amplified through the horn or diaphragm. The phonograph enjoyed a long history taking on different shapes as cylinders turned into discs and phonographs became gramophones. Shortly after World War II vinyl became the recording material of choice--an option still available today. Twenty years later portable record players changed the way people listened to music by allowing them to take their players and records just about anywhere. As practical as these players had become they were far too cumbersome for automobiles, which were soon outfitted with 8-tracks and subsequently cassette tapes.

Speaking of cassettes, remember waiting for your favorite song to play on the radio then hitting the record button on the stereo as soon as you heard the first note? Portable stereos shrank into walkmen which then spun into discmen with CD's. This turned into digital MP3's, which became the intangible notes being played through MP3 players, iPods, and now smartphones. The common threads between all of these incarnations of sound are that you either listened to music out loud or were wired into your device with headphones or earbuds. Remember when it seemed like just about everyone was self-exiled behind those white wired earbuds? Now you don't even need to be connected to your device or alone in a room to enjoy your recordings, or shall I say playlist. Bluetooth connectivity makes it possible to listen to anything on your Bluetooth enabled device wirelessly through Bluetooth capable headphones. Some like the GOgroove SolaceAIR or GOgroove AirBAND allow you to be up to 30ft. from your device so you can take your own private world of sound with you. Music has been a part mankind for thousands of years and we've made leaps and bounds in recordings in just 150 years. Imagine what's next!

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