Category: Obsolete

Refers to formats not in widespread use either because the media or the systems using the media are not produced. The date when a format becomes obsolete is often difficult to determine because it may continue to be used for many years after being discontinued, or may become a niche format used by a few.

Scotch One Five Special (1960s)

The Scotch One Five Special was a 3-inch reel of ¼-inch magnetic recording tape produced by 3M that could be recorded and played back on a standard open reel tape recorder. Once recorded, the reel would be placed back in its packaging which had space on it to write an address and to attach postage stamps to send it to someone. The tape could record for 15 minutes (hence the name) when run at 3¾-inches per second.

Similar reels marketed for keeping in touch by posting voice recordings were available around the same time, such as the Mastertape Voice Letter and the EMI Voice Letter. The Smith Corona Mail Call Letterpack of the late 1960s was a similar concept. Postage overseas was much cheaper than making an international telephone call at the time.

The One Five Special does not seem to have become very popular, and would probably have been superseded by smaller and more convenient products like the Compact Cassette.

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V-Disc (1943 – 1949)

V-Disc was a record label that produced music for US military forces between 1943 and 1949, pressed on 12-inch 78 rpm phonograph discs. Most V-Disc records were pressed on a mixture of Vinylite and Formvar, making it much easier to dispatch records without breakage (many of the brittle shellac records sent by relatives arrived in pieces) although Columbia, one of the companies that pressed V-Discs, continued to use shellac despite it being in short supply during World War II.

The V-Disc label came about as a way to boost morale among the forces. A strike by the American Federation of Musicians over royalty payments from the major record labels meant an agreement that the V-Disc records were not to be sold commercially, and the masters were disposed of.  The V-Disc project meant the forces could hear newly recorded music they would not otherwise hear due to the strike, and these included big band, swing, jazz and marches, often by famous performers who also put spoken greeting into the recordings.

Because of the larger disc size, and closer groove spacing, each side of the disc could hold up to 6 minutes, so performances could be longer and jams could be extended. Discs were sent in sets of 30, and included phonograph needles, lyric sheets and feedback forms to gauge which material was most popular.

After the war ended, the cost of producing V-Disc records meant that the project was gradually run down, with smaller consignments of discs, or longer intervals between them, though they continued to provide entertainment to forces stationed overseas as part of the Marshall Plan. The last consignment of 10 discs was sent in May 1949, and after this many masters and discs were destroyed as part of the agreement with the American Federation of Musicians.

Over 900 V-Disc record titles were issues, and over 8 million discs were produced.

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Kid Kord (1930s)

Kid Kord was a record label in the UK, that produced records for children around the 1930s.

The records themselves were shellac, played at 78rpm and were 8-inches in diameter. Each disc contained about 2¼ minutes per side, and form part of an album of six discs. The colourful centre labels depicted the contents of the record.

Most of the records contained nursery rhymes and children’s songs, though there is a series of zoological records with descriptions of animals, and pictures of them on the centre label.

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DTS 5.1 Music Disc (1997 – early 2000s)

The DTS 5.1 Music Disc was a Compact Disc format offering surround sound audio, usually in the 5.1 configuration. The discs conformed to Red Book standard, so could be played in a standard CD player, but without the use of a DTS decoder all that would be heard is white noise. The potential confusion between DTS 5.1 Music Discs and standard Compact Discs meant some retailers were reluctant to stock them. There is some compression applied to the audio, so sound quality is arguably slightly lower than a standard CD.

Formats such as DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD, launched a few years later, could also offer surround sound and meant an end to the DTS 5.1 Music Disc, though several hundred titles were released on the format.

DTS surround sound technology is also used in movie theatres, on DVD-Video and on Blu-ray. It was also used on a small number of LaserDiscs.

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Milton Bradley Omni (1980 – early 1980s)

The Omni was, in effect, an audio game console using 8-Track tape cartridges to supply the pre-recorded questions and answers along with some data (not audible to the user) to control the scoring indicators. There was no video output.

It was introduced by MB Electronics in 1980, a division of the Milton Bradley company that had introduced the Microvision handheld video game console the previous year.

Up to four players could play the Omni system at any one time, and each player had a row of 11 buttons displaying numbers, colours and clusters of letters to type in the answers.

Most of the released cartridges contained quiz-type games, and there were four programmes to choose on each tape (in the same way as audio 8-Track cartridge). Cartridges came with a dust cover to protect the tape when not in use, and users were advised not to touch the exposed tape, as the data contained on the tape would be more sensitive to dust and fingerprints than a standard 8-Track.

Fewer than 15 cartridge titles were created for the console, and perhaps partly due to its high price, it doesn’t appear to have been very successful.

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QSound Compact Disc (1991 – 2001)

QSound is an audio processing system introduced by QSound Labs. It was applied at the sound mixing stage and attempts to produce a surround sound effect from a stereophonic source. It was used on around 65 Compact Disc albums from 1991 to around 2001, which display the QSound logo. The first album to use QSound was Madonna’s ‘The Immaculate Collection’ and all the tracks were either re-mixed or mixed using the system.

No additional equipment was necessary to play a QSound Compact Disc, and the discs comply fully with Red Book standards.

As well as Compact Disc albums, the QSound technology was also applied to computer game audio, television programmes and film soundtracks.

On mono devices, music mixed using the QSound system can have elements missing.

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Recordon (1948 – mid 1950s)

The Recordon was an office dictation system using 9-inch paper disc with a magnetic coating. It was introduced by the UK company Thermionic Products in 1948 with the Recordon TP503 machine, made under license by the Brush Development Company of the USA that produced the Mail-A-Voice system.

The Recordon Recording Disc had fold lines printed on it, and could be folded for mailing. The system was fairly low fidelity, but was adequate for dictation purposes and as the recording runs from the centre to the outside of the disc, quality improves. Discs could be erased for re-use.

A couple of further models of the Recordon were produced, but in the mid-1950s Thermionic switched to the Agavox system.

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Mohawk Midgetape (1955 – early 1960s)

The Mohawk Midgetape was an early portable tape recorder introduced by Mohawk Business Machines in 1955 with the Midgetape 44 model.

It used a tape cassette in a metal casing with ¼-inch tape allowing 30 or 45 minutes of recording on each side of the tape. The cassette design is unusual in having the spools on top of each other (coaxial).

The is no fast forward, and rewinding is done with a fold-out handle. It came with a microphone, and had a headphone jack. Accessories included a separate amplifier, an adaptor for recording telephone conversations, a wristwatch microphone, and a leather bag with hidden microphone.

Later models were fully transistorised (the 44 had used subminiature valve tubes) and the final Midgetape model was the 500 Professional introduced in 1959. There was a also a machine based on the Midgetape called the Lafayette Transcoder that in 1961 claimed to be able to record conversation up to 30 feet away.

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

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS/BPH) began distributing magazines and books on flexible discs running at 8⅓ rpm in the early 1970s in the US. Machines capable of playing this very slow speed had already been made available a number of years previously when model AE-1 was introduced in 1965, and existing machines were also converted by volunteers. Standard ‘rigid’ records running at 8⅓ rpm had been available via the NLS/BPH since 1969.

Magazine titles available included Readers Digest, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and U.S. News & World Report.

The flexi-discs were 9-inches in diameter and had Braille centre labels. They also had narrower grooves than a standard record, so a finer stylus is required to avoid damage. The use of a slow speed and fine grooves allowed very long playing times, but lower fidelity. The discs could be produced quickly and cheaply, meaning audio magazines could be distributed as soon as possible after the print copy. Their success meant the NLS/BPH stopped using rigid records by the late 1980s.

After 1994, audio magazines on flexible disc began to be phased out in favour of Compact Cassettes, and the final discs were sent out in 2001.

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Philips EL 3583 (1963 – early 1970s)

The Philips EL 3583 was an office dictation machine that used small cartridges of ⅛-inch tape. It appears to have been introduced around 1963, around the same time that Philips also introduced their Compact Cassette system, and it may have replaced the EL 3581 system.

The threading mechanism was unusual; a supply cartridge and a separate take-up cartridge would be placed in the machine and lever would be depressed causing a latch at the end of the supply cartridge’s tape to be pulled across and to lock into the take-up spool.

Like other dictation machines, the microphone also acted as a small speaker and contained a control to begin recording.

It’s unclear when the system was produced until, but it seems unlikely to be much beyond the early 1970s as Philips own Compact Cassette and mini-cassette designs, as well as other competing cassettes such as the Microcassette were available.

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