Tagged: audio

7-inch EP (1952 – )

The 7-inch EP (for Extended Play) was a format introduced in 1952 by RCA Victor, just a few years after the introduction of the 7-inch single format in 1949.  It sat between the 7-inch single and the 12-inch Long Play (LP) record, and like the 7-inch single it span at 45 rpm so could be played on any photograph with a 45 rpm setting.

By using narrower grooves, it was possible to squeeze 7½ minutes of playing time on each side at the expense of volume, allowing more than one song on each side (generally EPs have between three and six tracks). Like LPs, EPs did not necessarily have ‘title’ tracks, and could have different names to the songs on them (for example the 1963 Beatles EP simply called ‘The Beatles’ Hits’).  They were also packaged more like an LP with a cardboard picture sleeve, whereas 7-inch singles until the 1970s generally had paper sleeves with just the record label on them.

Whilst less common in the US, the 7-inch EP was widely sold in the UK and some other European countries, and between 1960 and 1967 they were popular enough for Record Retailer magazine in the UK to compile a separate EP chart. They were a good way for artists to produce something more substantial than a single between LP releases.

They declined in popularity after the 1960s, and faced competition from formats such as 10-inch and 12-inch singles or EPs (which could allow for more sound volume with wider grooves), as well as Cassette and CD singles or EPs. However, small numbers of 7-inch EPs are still released.

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Dictaphone Dictet (1957 – early 1960s)

The Dictaphone Dictet was a portable dictation device introduced by the Dictaphone Corporation in 1957. It was perhaps the earliest magnetic tape dictation system – at the time of its introduction, most office dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the SoundScriber, Audograph, or Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt system. An earlier portable system, the Protona Minifon used wire recording.

The Dictet was fully transistorised and weighed 1.2kg. The cassette had a metal shell and could record up to 60 minutes (30 minutes per side) on ¼-inch tape that ran at 2½ inches per second. Using special mercury batteries, the Dictet could operate for 20 hours.

The Dictet lasted until at least 1962, but it is unclear how much longer it lasted against newer competitors such as the Compact Cassette of 1963.

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Enhanced CD (1994 – )

An enhanced CD (or ECD) is a Compact Disc that contains both audio content playable on a standard CD audio player, and multimedia content playable on a computer CD-ROM.

Introduced in 1994, the idea behind enhanced CDs was to offer the music buyer some extra bonus features using space on the disc that was unfilled by the music. This might take the form of music videos (similar to the earlier idea of CD Video), interviews, wallpapers, pictures, lyrics, or links to an artists website.

Rather confusingly, there were three different ways on combining the different content on the disc. Prior to 1996, enhanced CDs were created in one of two ways. One was to have the multimedia content in the first track, but this meant that track 1 needed to be skipped when played in a standard CD audio player or else the multimedia track could cause an unpleasant noise to be heard. A subsequent solution was to have the multimedia content in the pre-gap before track 1 (rather like the way a CD-i Ready disc worked). Both of these methods were known as ‘mixed-mode’, combining Red Book Digital Audio and Yellow Book CD-ROM information in a single ‘session’ on the same disc.

To get around the problems of mixed-mode discs, Philips and Sony released the Blue Book standards in 1995, and worked with Apple, Microsoft and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to develop them. This new standard specified multisession technology that used two sessions on the disc, the first one containing audio tracks, and the second one containing data that is invisible to CD audio players. In 1996, most enhanced CDs used mixed-mode with the multimedia in the pre-gap, but by 1997 most were using Blue Book standards. The only downside to the newer multisession technology was that CD-ROM drives made before 1996 might not recognise them if they were not multisession capable.

Enhanced CDs can usually be recognised the official ‘Enhanced CD’ logo recommended by the RIAA. They may also have the CD EXTRA logo (previously known as CD Plus), which was trademarked by Sony for use on Blue Book discs.

Later technologies like DVD-Audio or DualDisc tried to perform the same function of offering the music album with bonus material such as videos, but later albums often came instead with the videos on a separate DVD-Video.

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CD-i Ready (1991 – 1998)

CD-i Ready was a hybrid optical disc format, combining audio tracks readable by any Compact Disc audio player, and multimedia or interactive elements readable on a CD-i (Compact Disc Interactive) player. It was introduced by Philips in 1991.

The audio tracks conform to Red Book Compact Disc Digital Audio standards, while the CD-i part conforms to Green Book standards, and could contain interviews, photos, biographies, games and more. The CD-i component is located in the ‘pre-gap’ area before track 1, which is skipped over by Compact Disc audio players.

The idea, like CD-i generally, was not a commercial success, and there appear to be fewer than 20 titles released as CD-i Ready discs.

The ideas behind the hybrid CD-i Ready discs were used in later types of hybrid audio/data discs such as the Enhanced CD that contained content which could be read on a standard computer CD-ROM drive rather than requiring a dedicated CD-i player.

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Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer (1984 – late 1980s)

The Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer was a device for viewing stereoscopic film images with accompanying audio, and was introduced by View-Master International in 1984. It was a development of an earlier Talking View-Master which has been introduced in 1970 by GAF that used a small transparent phonograph disc attached to the View-Master reel.

The new version of the Talking View-Master used a cartridge containing (and protecting) a separate film reel and flexible black phonograph disc. The viewer provided better sound quality by using a sapphire stylus, linear tracking tone arm and microprocessor controlled motor for better speed control. The new version also had volume control, and headphones.

When a cartridge was inserted, a beep sounded until the reel was aligned to picture one, and then the record was started. A beep then sounded for the viewer to advance the reel, and at the end a message plays to remind the viewer to remove the cartridge.

As well as Disney and other cartoons, there were reels for contemporary live action TV programmes such as the A-Team, Fraggle Rock, Knight Rider and Sesame Street, and a Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ reel.

Although View-Master International indicated before launch that retailer response was strong, the new Talking View-Master didn’t appear to have lasted very long and less than 45 titles were released.

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MQS (2013 – )

Mastering Quality Sound is a term used by the South Korean company Astell&Kern to describe 24-bit high-resolution audio files that use the FLAC format (a lossless compression format). Astell&Kern sell a range of high-end audio players that support a range of audio file types, including high-resolution FLAC files, and the players themselves incorporate microSD card slots.

Music files can be transferred from a computer to the player using microSD or microSDHC memory cards of up to 32 GB, or connecting via cable, but a small number of pre-recorded albums have been released on microSD cards marketed under the name MQS.

MQS microSD cards contains high-resolution audio files in FLAC format and these can be played back on many devices in addition to Astell&Kern’s players, although additional plugins or apps may sometimes be required on other devices. Astell&Kern products support 24-bit high-resolution audio with a sampling rate of up to 192 kHz (though the music on MQS microSD cards varies from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz depending on the source) and claim that this gives up to 6.5 times the level of detail of a conventional CD-quality audio file.

Pre-recorded music has already been released on microSD cards, both under SanDisk brands such as Gruvi and slotMusic, and also on generic microSD cards. These formats used MP3 files rather than the higher quality FLAC though.

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Luminous vinyl record (1978 – )

A small number of phonograph records have been pressed on luminous vinyl, two of the first being the 12-inch single version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’, and the Penetration album ‘Moving Targets’, both in 1978. Since then, a small number of releases have been made on luminous vinyl.

In normal light, the records look like standard coloured vinyl (usually white in colour, but some other colours have also been used such as yellow for Kraftwerk’s 1981 7-inch single of ‘Pocket Calculator’) but give off a phosphorescent glow in darkness. They glow brighter after being exposed to bright light for a while.

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XRCD (1995 – )

XRCD (eXtended Resolution Compact Disc) was introduced by JVC in 1995. XRCD discs conform to Red Book standards and will play on any Compact Disc player, but claim to use much higher quality mastering and manufacturing processes to produce a sound as close as possible to the original master tape.

Subsequent versions of XRCD are called XRCD2 and XRCD24.

All versions of XRCD disc are encoded at 16 bits; the 24 in XRCD24 refers to the use of 24 bit encoding when digitising the original analogue source (XRCD and XRCD2 used 20 bit encoding of the original source).

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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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dbx disc (1979 – 1982)

dbx was a noise-reduction system that was employed on a number of 12-inch LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s..

The dbx system was premiered in 1973 and a promotional disc produced, but no record companies were interested. It wasn’t until 1979 that BSR, a UK producer of turntables, acquired the dbx company and persuaded several record companies to begin producing discs using dbx Type II encoding.

dbx used linear decibel compounding to compress the signal when recording, and expand it on playback. It meant that surface noise was almost completely eliminated, and the dynamic range of vinyl records could be greatly increased. In addition, dbx releases were made on heavy virgin vinyl and produced from the original master tapes. However, playing back dbx discs required a decoder, and without one playback sounded poor. This was one of the reasons it failed in the marketplace.

With a dbx encoder, users could also record onto tape with dbx noise reduction, and playback from dbx encoded tape recordings, but by this time, Dolby B was already widespread as a noise reduction system for tape.

It appears that less than 200 titles were made available, and no new releases appear to have been made after 1982.

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