Tagged: dictation

Audio formats used for voice recordings where the purpose is to listen back and transcribe the contents

Grundig Stenorette (1954 – 1970s)

The Stenorette was an office dictation machine introduced by Grundig in 1954, and successfully sold internationally. 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 Dictabelt systems. The first model, the Stenorette A, was nicknamed the ‘tree frog’ due to its green colour. Like some other dictation systems, the microphone doubled as the speaker, and contained stop/start controls.

The Stenorette cassette contained a single reel of ¼-inch tape, and a loop on the end was pulled out and clipped into the take-up reel. Recording time was 30 minutes per cassette, but some offered 45 minutes. Some tapes, particularly those from the US, seem to have no cover and are simply a small reel.

The Stenorette cassette system lasted into the 1970s with the introduction of the Stenorette SL model in 1972, but Grundig launched its first machine using its new cassette format, the Steno-Cassette in the same year. The Steno-Cassette was a true cassette containing dual reels and as well as being more compact, didn’t need to be rewound before being removed from the machine. The Stenorette name was continued on machines using the newer Steno-Cassette format.

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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 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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Philips EL 3581 (1958 – early 1960s)

The Philips EL 3851 was an office dictation machine introduced by Philips (known as Norelco in the US) in 1958 and was one of the earliest magnetic tape dictation systems (the Dictaphone Dictet was launched shortly before it). At the time of its introduction, most dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the Dictabelt, SoundScriber and Audograph systems.

Although the EL 3851 uses a cartridge so no threading is required, the tape is housed on two separate 3-inch reels with ¼-inch tape and cine spindle holes suitable for domestic open reel tape recorders. Removing a clip from the cartridge shell allows the reels to be removed.

Like some other dictation machines, the microphone also doubles as a speaker, and contains some tape controls. A foot pedal and external speaker were also available.

Philips later introduced the much smaller Compact Cassette format in 1963, followed by the mini-cassette in 1967 and it doesn’t appear the EL 3851 was produced for long.

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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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Memocord (1965 – mid 1970s)

Memocord was a line of portable tape recorders for voice recording and dictation, introduced by the German Assmann company around 1965. The recorders and cassettes were produced in Austria by the Stuzzi company that had previously used the Memocord name for their own portable recorders using small open reels of tape.

The cassettes for the Assmann Memocord look a little like Compact Cassettes and consist of two reels in a clear housing so the amount of tape remaining can be seen. The cassettes protrude from the recorder, and this is so that on most (but not all models) they can be used to control the recorder; by pressing one end of the cassette, it plays, and by pressing the other end, the tape is rewound. This means most models of recorder only had one tape control button, and this is for recording. It also meant that there are some differences in shape between cassettes as the protruding end does not need to be the same.

Up to 90 minutes could be recorded onto a Memocord cassette.

There were several models of Assmann Memocord, and they appear to have been made until around the mid-1970s.

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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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Mail Call Letterpack (late 1960s)

The Mail Call Letterpack was a magnetic tape recording format for voice recordings, introduced by Smith Corona in the late 1960s.

It was an endless-loop cartridge system, based on the PlayTape cartridge but using a single track and mylar tape. The inventor of PlayTape, Frank Stanton, envisioned it as a replacement for written memos and letters, and marketed it to Smith Corona.

The recording/playback units were advertised at ‘less than $70.00 a pair’. The cartridges themselves (called ‘Letterpacks’) were offered in 3, 6, or 10 minute lengths, were reusable, and sturdy enough to be sent in the post.

It was not a success.

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Steno-Cassette (1971 – )

The Steno-Cassette is an analogue tape cassette format introduced by Grundig in 1971.

It was widely used in Germany for dictation, and is still currently available.

The Steno-Cassette incorporates a tape counter showing the amount of tape available. The tapes are single-sided, and have a capacity of 30 minutes.

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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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Microcassette (1969 – )

Introduced by Olympus in 1969 for voice recording, the microcassette uses the same width of magnetic tape as the Compact Cassette (3.81mm) but in a much smaller shell. By using thinner tape and half or a quarter of the tape speed, microcassettes can offer comparable recording time to the Compact Cassette. The original standard microcassette, the MC60, gives 30 minutes recording per side at its standard speed of 2.4 cm/s, and twice the time at 1.2 cm/s.

Because of the format’s relatively low fidelity, microcassettes have mostly been used for recording voice, for example in dictation machines and telephone answering machines. However, it has also been used as a medium for computer data storage and music. In the early  1980s, some Walkman-type devices, and even some home audio players for stereo recording and playback were produced, and metal tape (equivalent to Type IV metal tape in Compact Cassettes) was available for higher fidelity.

Microcassette was more suited to data and music recording than the Mini-Cassette as the tape is pulled through by the capstan and has a more constant speed, whereas in the Mini-Cassette, the tape is pulled by the reels.

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Preservation / Migration