Voice Record (1930s – early 1940s)

Voice Records were small aluminium phonograph discs, intended to be used to record a personal message.

They were introduced in the 1930s in the UK, to be recorded in automatic booths operated by the Amusement Equipment Co. Ltd. of Wembley. The booths were placed in places were people might want to record a message to family or friends, such as  tourist attractions.

The discs were 5-inches in diameter, span at 78rpm, and were double-sided with one side for recording up to one minute of a personal message and the other containing a pre-recorded advertisement (often for cigarettes, but sometimes promoting attractions local to the machine). The discs came with a mailing envelope for posting the recorded message and some wooden needles, since the steel needles used at the time on phonographs would damage the recording.

This most likely the system Graham Greene had in mind when writing Brighton Rock (1938) when Pinkie records his message to Rose.

The machines were withdrawn from service during World War II, when supplies of aluminium were needed for military use. It is probable that many Voice Records were donated as scrap for the war effort.

The Voice-O-Graph was a very similar later concept, but used laminated cardboard.

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Extended Definition Beta (1988 – early 1990s)

ED (Extended Definition) Beta was introduced in 1988 and was the last variation of the Betamax format that Sony created for the consumer market (the Betacam family of formats for professional use went on to have much greater success). It was announced shortly after JVC ‘s rival S-VHS format.

ED Beta offered 500 lines of resolution (compared to S-VHS and LaserDisc‘s 420 lines) by using special metal formulation tape and some tape transport improvements. Because of its special formulation, ED-Metal tape was expensive, as were the machines.

Two ED Beta decks and a camcorder were produced for the US market, but Betamax had already lost the format war to VHS and ED Beta was discontinued in the US market after just a couple of years. It’s not clear when it was discontinued in Japan, where Betamax machines were still produced until 2002.

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HP 82176A Mini Data Cassette (1982 – mid 1980s)

The 82176A Mini Data Cassette was introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 1982 for use in its 82161A mini-cassette tape drive that was designed for use with the HP 41 calculator.

The drive could be mains or battery powered for portable use. Tape speed was 30 inches per second, and each tape had a capacity of around 130 KB.

The 82161A mini-cassette tape drive was later used with the 71, 75 and some other models that used the HP-IL (Hewlett-Packard Interface Loop) interface.

The 82176A Mini Data Cassette looks almost identical to the Philips-designed Mini-cassette, but there are some differences in the shell, such as the tape openings and a notch on the top, that prevent a standard Mini-cassette being used in the HP tape drive.

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Crown records (1935 – 1937)

The Crown name was used by several record labels, but around 1935 was used by the Crystalate company to produce a range of 9-inch (22.5 cm) 78rpm records for Woolworths in the UK.

Woolworths had been selling its Eclipse range of 8-inch records since 1929, but rising raw material costs forced them to try something new and they began selling the Crown range in 1935. Unusually, these were pressed on Bakelite, an early form of plastic, and as this was cheaper than shellac the size could be increased. The grooves could also be packed more closely, allowing more playing time, but Woolworths were still able to sell them for sixpence.

The music on Crown records produced by Crystalate was almost all from UK masters, and included popular bands and singers of the time, including Vera Lynn (though she was uncredited).

By 1937, costs had risen and selling records for sixpence was no longer profitable so Crown records were dropped.

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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 would play in a standard Compact Disc 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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