Tagged: 1950s

Formats current at any point during the years 1950-1959

Minifon wire reel (1959 – 1967)

The Minifon name was applied to a range of miniature wire recorders introduced initially by the German company Monske & Co GmbH in 1951, and then produced by Protona GmbH from 1952 until 1967, although they were also sold under the Telefunken, ITT and EMI brands.

The recorders ran on batteries, and could record over 2 hours on a single reel of wire (later models allowed for 5 hours of recording). As the reels turn, the recording/playback head moved up and down so the wire was spooled evenly on each reel.

They were popular for covert recordings, and an accessory microphone that was made to look like a wristwatch was available. Minifon recorders were sold in overseas markets such as the US and UK.

In 1959 the Minifon Ataché was introduced, using a tape cartridge for the first time, but the wire-based recorders continue to be produced until Protona ceased production of all Minifon models in 1967.

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Pye magnetic disc (1953 – late 1950s)

From around 1953 to the late 1950s the UK company Pye produced the Record Maker. This device allowed the user to record onto pre-grooved 12-inch discs that had a magnetic coating. Users could record to the disc at one of four different speeds (16⅔, 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm) but the slower the speed, the poorer the quality of recording.

The Pye Record Maker could also be used to play ordinary phonograph records, with an optional pick-up head attachment.

Telefunken also made a similar machine, but this could not play phonograph discs, used a larger centre hole, and had a single speed of 10rpm.

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Acetate / lacquer disc (late 1920s – )

Acetate discs (also known as lacquers or instantaneous discs) are a type of phonograph record created using a recording lathe to cut a groove in real-time, rather than mass-produced from moulds.

Unlike standard vinyl phonograph discs, acetates consist of a core material (usually aluminium, but glass and cardboard have also been used) coated with black nitrocellulose lacquer (prior to 1934, cellulose acetate was used as the coating, hence the common but incorrect name of acetate). They have ranged in size from 7-inches to 16-inches. Due to the metal core, acetates are heavier than standard records. Cheaper acetates may have a second hole near the centre, to prevent the disc slipping on lathes that don’t have a vacuum turntable. They are often one-sided, with no grooves on the reverse, and labels may be typed or handwritten rather than printed.

Acetates are used in record manufacturing; a master disc is created by dubbing from another medium (such as a master tape) and electroforming is then used to make negative metal moulds from. They were also used to evaluate the quality of the tape-to-disc transfer, to compare different takes or mixes of a recording, to get approval from band members, or to get preview copies to radio stations before the mass-produced copies were available.

Prior to the availability of magnetic tape, acetate discs were used for direct-to-disc recording. Home recording machines of the 1940s and 1950s used acetates.

Acetates wear much quicker than standard vinyl records due to the softer material used, and a chipped stylus can damage an acetate in one play.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 3Playback ideally requires a suitable stylus designed for use with lacquer discs, and for discs larger than 12-inches, a special turntable platter is also needed.

Graphophone / Dictaphone cylinder (1887 – early 1950s)

The Dictaphone was one of two competing wax cylinder phonograph systems for voice dictation, the other being Edison’s Ediphone system. The use of cylinders for voice recording pre-dated their use for music when, in 1887, Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester A. Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter put into production a wax cylinder system for recording and reproducing speech (Edison then switched from tinfoil to wax cylinders in response in 1888).

Until 1907 the Dictaphone system was known as the Graphophone.

The main difference between the two rival systems was the recording method, with Edison using ‘hill and dale’ recording, while the Graphophone used lateral (side to side) recording. The cylinders could have a layer of wax shaved off, to enable re-use.

By the mid-1940s, new dictation technologies were rapidly being introduced such as Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt, Edison’s Voicewriter, the Gray Audograph and the SoundScriber, and both Edison and Dictaphone stopped supplying wax cylinders in the early 1950s.

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Seeburg Background Music Library (1954 – 1960s)

In 1954, Seeburg introduced their Background Music Library, using 45rpm 7-inch mono phonograph discs.

Seeburg had previously introduced in 1952 a Library Unit for home or commercial use that could house 100 standard 7-inch singles. The Library Units were different to jukeboxes as they were not coin-operated, the mechanism was not on show, and individual songs could not be randomly selected. Instead, the unit could be programmed to skip certain sides, or skip a record altogether as the mechanism played from beginning to end all the A sides, and then all the B sides as the mechanism travels back. The order of songs was determined by the order the records are placed in the machine.

The Background Music Library used the same machines with the main difference being that the records were EPs (Extended Play) and had two or more songs on each side. Sets of records were rented from Seeburg, and every 30 days a number of the discs were changed.

When the Library Unit was loaded with Background Music Library discs from Seeburg, it could provide up to 8 hours of continuous play, before starting over again.

In 1959, Seeburg introduced the Background Music System, an incompatible system using 9-inch mono phonograph discs with a 2-inch centre hole, playing at 16⅔ rpm.

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Picture discs (1920s – )

Picture discs are phonograph discs with images visible under the playable area.

The first types were the gramophone postcards, but the first real picture discs appeared in the 1920s. Some of these had images relevant to the music, while other promoted films the music appeared in, and others were used as propaganda. The images were often printed on thin cardboard, covered with a thin plastic coating and sound quality in most cases was poor. Some picture discs were better made, but in the 1930s the record industry suffered the effects of the depression and picture discs were a casualty.

In the 1940s, cardboard records appeared, consisting of plastic-coated card, similar to gramophone postcards. Often used in promotional campaigns, they were only intended to be played once or twice. Proper picture discs reappeared in 1946, issued on the Vogue Records label (which lasted until 1947). These had an alumuminium core, and the images were coated in a layer of vinyl providing better sound quality than the standard shellac records of the time.

From the late 1940s, children’s picture discs became popular, both in the US and Europe.

In the 1970s, LPs and singles began to appear using a new process consisting of five layers – a core of black vinyl with kiln-dried paper decals on either side and then outer skins of clear vinyl film. The first of these was Curved Air’s first album, Airconditioning, released in the UK in 1970. During the 1980s, picture disc singles were also released in unusual shapes.

Picture discs continue to be released, even though sound quality is often not as good as standard releases due in part to ultra thin outside layers of clear vinyl which supports the grooves.

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Multiple groove phonograph record (1898 – )

A multiple groove record has two or more parallel sets of grooves on one or both sides, allowing extra or hidden tracks to be added. On a disc that has multiple grooves, which track the listener hears depends on where the stylus is placed.

The first commercial record to use such a technique was a very early Berliner record released in the UK in 1898, ‘Puzzell [sic] Plate’ with two piano solos. Other early releases included ‘fortune telling’ records with different scenarios.

Later examples include the Monty Python album ‘Matching Tie and Handkerchief, issued in 1973. On early pressings, both sides were labled as ‘Side 2’, but one side had a pair of grooves.

The 12-inch single version of ‘Pop Muzik’ by M in 1979 was credited on it’s cover as the ‘first double-groove single’ as Side A and B were on one side.

Multiple groove 12-inch LPs and 12-inch singles continue to be occasionally released.

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

Open reel tape is a magnetic tape format for audio where the tape is not enclosed in a cartridge or cassette, but held on a reel or spindle and threaded manually through the tape head assembly and attached to a take-up reel.

Magnetic tape was first developed in the 1930s in Germany, and after the war the technology was taken to America by Jack Mullin and developed commercially by Ampex with investment from Bing Crosby. The first commercial tape recorder (the Ampex Model 200) was released in 1948.

Open reel tape recorders for domestic and educational use become available by the late 1940s.

Open reel tape recorders for professional use generally use large metal reels (mostly 10½-inches) with large centre holes, which eventually become standardised and known as NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) reels, as opposed to domestic open reel tape recorders which generally used smaller plastic reels and smaller ‘cine spindle’ hubs. Tape generally runs at 15 or 30-inches per second.

Initially, tape was ¼-inches wide and used a single track. Over the years, multitrack recording become common, and by 1968, up to 24 tracks could be recorded onto 2-inch wide tape. The 2-inch 24-track tape reel became the most common format in professional recording studios throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s, but other widths (¼-inch, ½-inch and 1-inch) were also available.

Open reel tape recording was main recording format used by professional recording studios until the late 1980s when digital audio recording techniques began to allow the use of other types of media (such as Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and hard disks). Tape is still used by some recording studios, often to record digital tracks to, to effect a ‘natural’ and ‘warmer’ sound.

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Ediphone (1888 – early 1950s)

The Ediphone was one of two competing wax cylinder phonograph systems for voice dictation, the other being the Dictaphone system. The use of cylinders for voice recording pre-dated their use for music, although it wasn’t until 1888 that Edison switched from tinfoil to wax cylinders in response to the rival Graphophone system introduced in 1887 (that later became the Dictaphone system).

The main difference between the two rival systems was the recording method, with Edison using ‘hill and dale’ recording, while the Graphophone used lateral (side to side) recording. The cylinders could have a layer of wax shaved off, to enable re-use.

By around 1910, the Edison system had adopted the name Ediphone, and technical refinements were introduced over time such as electric motors, foot control pedals, and eventually electrical recording in 1939.

By the mid-1940s, new dictation technologies were rapidly being introduced such as Dictaphone’s Dictabelt, Edison’s own Voicewriter, the Gray Audograph and the SoundScriber, and both Edison and Dictaphone stopped supplying wax cylinders in the early 1950s.

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Tefifon (1950 – 1960s)

Tefifon was a music playback format, mainly available in West Germany, using an endless loop plastic band onto which grooves were engraved and read with a stylus.

Three different size cartridges were offered; the smallest provided up to 18 minutes of music, the medium size one up to 60 minutes, and the largest size cartridge could hold up to 4 hours of music. Sound quality was better than that offered by 78 rpm records, but not as good as Long Playing vinyl records. Stereo sound was offered from 1961.

The first Tefifon players and cartridges were available from 1950, but record companies were not interested in the format so relatively unknown artists were offered, mostly compilations of cover versions of hits or dance music, operas and operettas.

Tefifon players were available as standalone devices, or combined with radios.

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