Audio Format Timeline

A brief history of audio recording and playback, from the 1850s onward, including details of all the audio formats in the Museum.

Dates of individual formats are approximate and refer to availability in the UK or Europe where known, otherwise for US or elsewhere.

1850s

Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville uses the phonautogram to record the human voice by tracing sound waves on smoke-blackened paper or glass. The resulting tracings could not be played back at the time, but in 2008 several tracings from 1860 were processed as digital audio files and successfully played back (1853)

1870s

Thomas Alva Edison succeeds in recording and playing back ‘Mary had a little lamb’ on the first phonograph using tinfoil wrapped around a cylinder. He receives a patent in 1878 for recording on tinfoil (1877)

1880s

Piano roll (1883 – 2008)

Music box disc (1886 – )

Bell and Tainter are granted a patent for their graphophone, which uses wax-coated cardboard tubes instead of tinfoil, and engraves the sound waves instead of embossing them (1886)

Organ cobs (late 1880s – late 1920s)

Graphophone / Dictaphone cylinder (1887 – early 1950s)

Emile Berliner is granted a patent for gramophone discs (1887)

Edison introduces his ‘Perfected Phonograph’ using all-wax cylinders (1888)

Brown wax cylinder (late 1880s to 1906)

Ediphone (1888 – early 1950s)

Berliner’s first gramophone discs (of 5 inches diameter) are marketed in Europe (1889)

Pre-recorded wax cylinders are first marketed, initially for use in nickel-in-the-slot machines (early juke boxes) (1889)

1890s

Berliner Gramophone begins marketing 7-inch discs in the United States (1894)

Pathé cylinder (1894 – 1914)

Valdemar Poulsen is granted a patent for wire recording (1898 – 1960s)

Wire recording (1898 – 1960s)

Multiple groove phonograph record (1898 – )

1900s

10-inch 78 rpm record (1901 – 1960)

Edison Records introduces the improved Gold Moulded Record cylinder, made of a harder wax capable of being played hundreds of times, and making manufacture easier as cylinders could now be moulded from a master (1902)

Gold-Moulded Records (1902 – 1912)

The 12-inch 78 rpm phonograph disc is introduced, offering increased playing time of 4 or 5 minutes per side. Despite this, it is never as popular as the 10-inch version (1903)

12-inch 78 rpm record (1903 – mid 1950s)

The Bell and Tainter patent on wax cylinder records expire, opening up the market to competition (1903)

Gramophone postcard (1903 – 1970s)

Sterling Record (1904 – 1908)

Pathé vertical-cut disc record (1905 – 1932)

Indestructible Record (1907 – 1922)

Edison Records introduces the Amberol Record cylinder. By doubling the number of grooves to 200 threads per inch, playing time is increased to 4 minutes (1908)

Amberol Records (1908 – 1912)

Record album (late 1900s – 1950s)

1910s

Most disc records are now recorded at between 78 – 80 rpm. The speed of earlier discs varied greatly, and could be anywhere between 60 and 130 rpm (1910)

Around this time, record ‘albums’ become available for listeners to store multiple discs, and later become popular as a way for record companies to package multiple discs by a single performer or type of music (1910)

Edison Disc Record / Diamond Disc (1912 – 1929)

Blue Amberol Records (1912 – 1929)

Edison begins his ‘Tone Tests’, with the first one taking place at  Carnegie Hall, New York.  The audience is asked to guess between the live voice of Marie Rappold of the Metropolitan Opera, and an Edison Diamond Disc (1916)

The basic patents for the manufacture of laterally-cut disc records expired, opening the field for countless companies to produce 78 rpm records (1919)

1920s

Record sales hit a peak in the pre-radio age US of $105.6 million, before declining to just $5.5 million in 1933 (1921)

The Bell records (1921 – 1926)

Little Marvel (1921 – 1928)

Kiddyphone record (1920s)

Pygmy Gramophone (1923 – 1925)

Victor and Columbia begin issuing electrically recorded 78 rpm phonograph discs (1925)

Picture discs (1920s – )

8-inch 78rpm record (late 1920s – mid 1930s)

Acetate / lacquer disc (late 1920s – )

Electrical Transcription Disc (late 1920s – 1980s)

Victory records (1928 – 1931)

Broadcast Twelve (1928 – 1934)

Edison Records, the last company to make phonograph cylinders, ceases production of Blue Amberol Records, the last type of cylinder. Edison Diamond Discs also cease production as Edison Records closes (1929)

8-inch 78 rpm records briefly become popular in the UK (1929)

1930s

Filmophone Flexible Record (1930 – 1932)

Professional open reel tape (NAB reel) (1930s – )

Pathé vertical-cut records cease being in France (1932)

Durium record (1932 – 1933)

AEG demonstrates the first tape recorder at the Berlin Radio Show (1935)

In the US, Billboard magazine publishes its first music hit parade (1936)

1940s

Voice-O-Graph (1940 – 1960s)

Cardboard record (1940s – 1980s)

SoundScriber (1942 – 1960s)

In Germany, AEG develops stereo tape recording (1943)

Jack Mullin sends two Magnetophon tape decks to the US and demonstrates them at the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) meeting in San Francisco (1946)

Audograph (1946 – 1976)

Sales of 78 rpm records hit their peak in the US (1947)

Dictabelt (1947 – 1980)

Voicewriter (late 1940s – 1960s)

Recordon (1948 – mid 1950s)

Columbia records introduces the 33⅓ rpm 12-inch and 10-inch microgroove long-play record (1948)

10-inch LP (1948 – 1980s)

12-inch LP (1948 – )

White label vinyl record (1948 – )

Pre-recorded open reel tapes become available in the US, reaching the UK in 1952 (1949)

¼-inch open reel tape (1949 – 1980s)

Coloured vinyl record (1949 – )

RCA introduces the 7-inch microgroove 45 rpm record and the ‘battle of the speeds’ ensues (1949)

7-inch single (1949 – )

1950s

Tefifon (1950 – 1960s)

SoundScriber tape (1950s – 1980s)

Flexi-disk (1950s – )

16⅔ rpm LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (early 1950 – early 1970s)

Minifon wire reel (1951 – 1967)

The 7-inch EP record is launched, sitting between the 7-inch single and the 12-inch LP (1952)

7-inch EP (1952 – )

In the UK, a record chart for sales of singles begins, initially with just the top 15 (1952)

Pye magnetic disc (1953 – late 1950s)

Seeburg Background Music Library (1954 – 1960s)

Grundig Stenorette (1954 – 1970s)

Mohawk Midgetape (1955 – early 1960s)

Chrysler starts putting Highway Hi-Fi players in its cars in an attempt to allow drivers their choice of music other than the radio, but the system is abandoned in 1959 (1956)

Highway Hi-Fi (1956 – 1959)

The first commercial stereophonic LPs are released (1957)

Unit sales of 78 rpm records reach a peak of 54.1 million, before quickly declining (1957)

Stereophonic LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1957 – )

Dictaphone Dictet (1957 – early 1960s)

Philips EL 3581 (1958 – early 1960s)

RCA introduces the Sound Tape Cartridge, offering the sound quality of stereo open-reel tape, but in a much more convenient pre-threaded form. It lasts until 1964 (1958)

RCA Sound Tape Cartridge (1958-1964)

Seeburg Background Music System (1959 – 1986)

Fidelipac (1959 – late 1990s)

1960s

The last 10-inch 78 rpm record is released in the UK (‘A Mess Of Blues’ by Elvis Presley) (1960)

Gala Goldentone (1960 – 1964)

Magnabelt (1961 – 1972)

Little LP (1961 – 1975)

Echo-matic II (1962 – early 1970s)

The 4-track (Stereo-Pak) endless-loop cartridge is introduced, and players for the car and home are available. It is successful until the later 8-Track cartridge becomes more popular despite its lower quality (1962)

4-track (Stereo-Pak) (1962 – 1970)

Philips introduces the Compact Cassette (1963)

Compact Cassette (1963 – 2000s)

Philips EL 3583 (1963 – early 1970s)

Grundig EN3 (1964 – 1970s)

The 8-Track (Stereo 8) cartridge is introduced, and wins out over 4-Track cartridges by 1970 (1964)

8-Track (Stereo 8) (1964 – 1988)

EMI Voice Letter (1960s)

Rediffusion Reditune (1960s – 1980s)

Memocord (1965 – mid 1970s)

3M Cantata 700 (1965 – 1990s)

The Philips Record Company makes pre-recorded music cassettes available in Europe (1965)

Music cassette (Musicassette) (1965 – 2003)

The 2-track endless-loop PlayTape cartridge is introduced. It was very successful as a portable music format, but is discontinued in 1970 (1966)

PlayTape (1966 – 1970)

Mail Call Letterpack (late 1960s)

Hip Pocket Record (1967 – 1969)

Mini-Cassette (1967 -)

Major record labels stop producing monophonic LPs (1968)

Quadraphonic open reel tape (Q4) is introduced, followed later by various quadraphonic LP formats, and Q8 cartridges. Quadraphonic formats die out by the end of the 1970s (1969)

Quadraphonic open reel tape (Q4) (1969 – mid 1970s)

Endless loop Compact Cassette (1969 – 1990s)

Microcassette (1969 -)

1970s

8⅓ rpm flexi-discs (early 1970s – 2001)

Philips Background Music Services cartridge (1970s – 1980s)

Quadraphonic 8-Track (Q8) (1970 – 1978)

DuPont introduces chromium dioxide (Type II) compact cassette tape (1970)

Compact Cassette Type II (Chrome / High Bias) (1970 – 2000s)

Steno-Cassette (1971 – )

SQ Quadraphonic (1971 – 1979)

Denon releases the first digitally recorded commercial LP (Nippon Columbia NCC-8501, Mozart: String Quartets K. 458 and K. 421 by the Smetana Quartet.) using PCM encoding on open reel video tape (1972)

Quadraphonic Sound (QS) (1972 – 1978)

CD-4 (Compatible Discrete 4) / Quadradisc (1972 – 1979)

Audiopak (1972 – 1990s)

10-inch single (1970s – )

12-inch singles begin to appear, allowing a wider dynamic range than 7-inch singles (1973)

12-inch single (1973 – )

Compact Cassette Type III (Ferro-chrome) (mid 1970s – early 1980s)

Gray Manufacturing Company ceases production of Audograph dictation discs (1976)

Elcaset (1976 – 1980)

Sales of 8-Track cartridges reach a peak of 133.6 million units in the US, and decline quickly after that, effectively disappearing by 1983 (1978)

IEC (International Electro-Technical Commission) approves the type I,II,III and IV classification for Compact Cassettes (1978)

Luminous vinyl record (1978 – )

Sony introduces the portable Walkman cassette player in Japan (reaching the US and UK in 1980) (1979)

dbx disc (1979 – 1982)

Compact Cassette Type IV (Metal) (1979 – late 1990s)

1980s

Sony abandons the Elcaset system, and sells off remaining stock in Finland (1980)

Dictaphone ceases production of Dictabelt (1980)

The so-called ‘Red Book’ standard for Compact Disc Digital Audio published jointly by Philips and Sony (1980)

Laser-etched vinyl (1980 – )

5-inch picture disc single (1980s)

Shaped 7-inch single (1980s -)

Cassette single (Cassingle) (1980 – early 2000s)

1+1 music cassette (early 1980s)

Metal tape Microcassette (1981 – mid-1980s)

The Compact Disc is launched in Japan, reaching the US and Europe in 1983 (1982)

DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) (1982 – mid-1990s)

Compact Disc (1983 -)

Bandai micro cartridge (mid 1980s)

The Dire Straits’ album ‘Brothers in Arms’ sells more copies on Compact Disc than on LP, and became the first Compact Disc to surpass the one million sales mark (1985)

Billboard in the US begins a separate chart for 12-inch single sales (1985)

CD single (1985 – )

Picocassette (1985 – late 1980s)

Scotchcart / Scotchcart II (mid 1980s – late 1990s)

The last discs for the Seeburg Background Music System are sent out (1986)

Compact LaserDisc (1986)

CD+G (CD+Graphics) (1986 – )

Digital Audio Tape (DAT) is launched by Sony, but fails to make an impact in the consumer market (1987)

Digital Audio Tape (DAT)  (1987 – 2005)

Cassette singles (cassingles) begin to be more widely distributed, reaching a sales peak in the US in 1990 of 87 million units, before disappearing in the early 2000s (1987)

Sales of Compact Discs overtake those of the 12-inch LP (1988)

Sales of Compact Cassettes reach a peak in the US of 450 million units (1988)

Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits becomes the last commercial 8-Track released by a major record label (1988)

Pocket Rockers (1988 – 1991)

Mini CD single (1988 – early 1990s)

CD-BGM (1989 – late 2000s)

1990s

Radio Shack stops selling blank 8-Track tapes (1990)

Minimax Compact Disc (1990s – )

9-inch single (1990 – 2007)

Holographic Compact Disc (1991 – 1996)

CD-i Ready (1991 – 1998)

Compact Cassette sales begin to fall from their worldwide peak of 1,552 million units, and Compact Disc sales finally overtake them (1992)

The Audio Home Recording Act in the US imposes taxes on recordable audio media (such as DAT tape) and introduces a Serial Copy Management System. Other countries also introduce levies on recordable media (1992)

NT (1992 – late 1990s)

Philips launch the Digital Compact Cassette as a possible replacement for the analogue Compact Cassette, but it only lasts until 1996 (1992)

Digital Compact Cassette (1992 – 1996)

ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) (1992 – 2003)

MiniDisc (1992 – 2013)

Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R) (1992 – )

DTRS (Digital Tape Recording System) (1993 – 2012)

The first MP3 encoder is made available (1994)

Record companies begin adding multimedia content to Compact Discs to create what became known as Enhanced CDs (1994)

Enhanced CD (1994 – )

High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) (1995 – )

XRCD (1995 – )

Pioneer introduces a consumer CD-R burner. As a computer device, blank media is exempt from the levies imposed under the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act in the US, and there is no digital rights management (1996)

The first pirated MP3 track (Metallica’s ‘Until it Sleeps’) appears on the internet (1996)

Shaped Compact Disc (1996 – )

Compact Disc audio recorders become available (1997)

Compact Disc Digital Audio Recordable (CD-R Audio) (1997 – 2010s)

Sales of Compact Disc singles begin to decline in the US (1997)

Sony declares 1998 to be ‘The Year of the MiniDisc‘ and launches a big marketing campaign (1998)

Napster is launched, enabling easy sharing of MP3 files (1999)

Yaboom Box (1999 – 2001)

Yaboom MCD Musical Key Chain (1999 – 2001)

HitClips (1999 – 2002)

Sony and Philips launch the Super Audio CD (SACD) as a possible successor to the Compact Disc but it makes little impact (1999)

Super Audio CD (SACD) (1999 – )

2000s

Compact Disc sales peak in US at 942.5 million units, and decline each year after (2000)

Copy-protected Compact Disc (2000 – 2006)

DVD-Audio (2000 -)

Apple launches the iPod (2001)

Timecode vinyl (2001 – )

e-kara Karaoke Cartridge (2001 – 2009)

VJ Starz Video Karaoke Machine (2002 – mid 2000s)

DataPlay (2002 – mid 2000s)

Record labels agreed to licence music to Apple to sell, and the iTunes Store is launched (2003)

Most major US music companies discontinue sales of pre-recorded Compact Cassettes, and only 17.2 million are sold in the US (down from a peak of 450.1 million in the US in 1988) (2003)

HitClips Disc (2003 – 2004)

Compact Disc sales peak in the UK at 162.4 million units, and decline each year afterwards (2004)

Hi-MD (2004 – 2011)

Sony stops production of Digital Audio Tape (DAT) recorders (2005)

DualDisc (2005 – 2009)

The first music on USB memory sticks is launched in the UK (2006)

USB flash drive (2006 – )

Some albums are sold on microSD memory cards. Some are on generic cards, and later others under brands such as Gruvi, slotMusic and MQS (2007)

microSD card (2007 – late 2000s)

Super High Material CD (2007 – )

Tooth Tunes (2007 – )

VinylDisc (2007 – )

Mass production of piano rolls ends as MIDI files replace them in player pianos (2008)

Spotify is launched (2008)

slotMusic (2008 – 2012)

Blu-spec CD (2008 – )

2010s

Sony ceases selling the cassette Walkman in Japan (2010)

The term ‘cassette tape‘ is removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (2011)

Playbutton (2011 – 2014)

Sony ends shipments of MiniDisc systems (2013)

High Fidelity Pure Audio (2013 – )

MQS (2013 – )

UHQCD (Ultimate High Quality Compact Disc) (2015 – )

Sources / Resources