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 portable magnetic tape dictation system – the Grundig Stenorette was an office dictation system using tape, introduced in 1954. 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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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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Picocassette (1985 – late 1980s)

Picocassette (also know as the Dictasette) was an analogue audio tape format for dictation, introduced by Dictaphone in collaboration with JVC in 1985. It was used in the Dictaphone 4250 Voice Processor.

The tapes were approximately half the size of the older Microcassette, but with a tape speed of just 9 millimetres per second, each cassette could still hold up to 60 minutes of dictation. Only the later digital Sony NT had smaller cassettes.

The Dictaphone 4250 was a high-quality all metal-bodied device that was very expensive and was only produced for a few years.

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Dictabelt (1947 – 1980)

Introduced by Dictaphone in 1947, the Dictabelt (or Memobelt) was a voice recording  system using a thin plastic belt 3.5-inches wide and 12-inches in circumference. Dictabelts could contain up to 15 minutes of dictation (30 minutes on the rare long play versions).

Recordings on Dictabelt are pressed into the plastic by a stylus, and had better fidelity than wax cylinders but unlike wax could not be re-recorded. The belts could also be folded and placed in envelopes to be sent by post, and recordings could withstand 20 plays before becoming degraded.

Dictabelt machines (branded as Time-Master)  ceased to be manufactured in the 1970s, but the the belts continued to be produced until around 1980. Belts were made of red plastic from 1950 to 1964, blue from 1964 to 1975, and purple belts from 1975 onwards.

Along with a Gray Audograph sound recorder, a Dictabelt recorded the police department radio channels during the John F. Kennedy assassination. These recordings were reviewed by the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations.

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Preservation / Migration

Over time the plastic can become brittle, and creases from storage can become permanent.