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 conformed to Red Book standard, so could be played in a standard CD 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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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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Recordon (1948 – mid 1950s)

The Recordon was an office dictation system using 9-inch paper disc with a magnetic coating. It was introduced by the UK company Thermionic Products in 1948 with the Recordon TP503 machine, made under license by the Brush Development Company of the USA that produced the Mail-A-Voice system.

The Recordon Recording Disc had fold lines printed on it, and could be folded for mailing. The system was fairly low fidelity, but was adequate for dictation purposes and as the recording runs from the centre to the outside of the disc, quality improves. Discs could be erased for re-use.

A couple of further models of the Recordon were produced, but in the mid-1950s Thermionic switched to the Agavox system.

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8⅓ rpm flexi-discs (early 1970s – 2001)

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS/BPH) began distributing magazines and books on flexible discs running at 8⅓ rpm in the early 1970s in the US. Machines capable of playing this very slow speed had already been made available a number of years previously when model AE-1 was introduced in 1965, and existing machines were also converted by volunteers. Standard ‘rigid’ records running at 8⅓ rpm had been available via the NLS/BPH since 1969.

Magazine titles available included Readers Digest, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and U.S. News & World Report.

The flexi-discs were 9-inches in diameter and had Braille centre labels. They also had narrower grooves than a standard record, so a finer stylus is required to avoid damage. The use of a slow speed and fine grooves allowed very long playing times, but lower fidelity. The discs could be produced quickly and cheaply, meaning audio magazines could be distributed as soon as possible after the print copy. Their success meant the NLS/BPH stopped using rigid records by the late 1980s.

After 1994, audio magazines on flexible disc began to be phased out in favour of Compact Cassettes, and the final discs were sent out in 2001.

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16⅔ rpm LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (early 1950 – early 1970s)

Whilst the vast majority of Long Play records were played at 33⅓ rpm, a few records were made to be played at half that speed, 16⅔ rpm (usually listed as 16 rpm). Many of these were spoken word, since the slow speed meant lower fidelity reproduction, but despite this there were a few music releases, mainly from South Africa.

Even though 16 rpm records were rare even at the time, many record decks of the 1950s, 1960s and even into the 1970s came with a 16 rpm speed setting.

The 16⅔ rpm speed was also used for the short-lived in-car Highway Hi-Fi system of 1956 using 7-inch discs, and for the Seeburg Background Music System of 1959 using 9-inch disks.

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Stereophonic LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1957 – )

The current system for creating stereophonic (2 channel) phonograph discs date back to 1933 when Alan Blumlein, a senior sound engineer at EMI in London, demonstrated a single-groove system in which the stylus moves both horizontally and vertically.

When the 12-inch Long Play record was launched in 1948, it was initially monophonic, and it wasn’t until 1957 that stereophonic LPs were released, by now using a refined version of the EMI system developed by Westrex (a division of Western Electric) called Westrex 45/45 in which each channel drives the cutting head at a 45 degree angle to the vertical.

In late 1957, Audio Fidelity Records and Bel Canto in the US released demonstration stereo LPs, with the the Bel Canto release on multicoloured vinyl. The first mass-produced stereophonic LPs were released in early 1958.

Mono LPs continued to be released alongside stereo LPs for the next ten years or so with major labels ceasing production in 1968, but 7-inch singles continued to be mono for longer, into the 1970s in some cases.

Stereo records produced using the Westrex system played well on a mono record player, and mono records could be played on a stereo system.

In the 1970s, quadraphonic (4 channel) LPs were produced, but were not a great success partly because there were several competing and incompatible systems.

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Fujifilm PhotoDisc CD-R (2004 – )

Launched in 2004, The Fujifilm PhotoDisc CD-R is essentially a standard CD-R disc with a black substrate layer that claims to protect the data from ultra-violet and solar radiation. It also uses a different dye (phthalocyanine rather than the usual cyanine) in the recording layer, which should offer more resistance to heat and sunlight.

Although they are reported to be very reliable, for archival purposes gold archival CD-R discs are probably better.

Despite the name, the discs can be used for any purpose that a standard CD-R can be used for, and don’t just store photos.

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MovieCD (1997 – late 1990s)

MovieCD was a CD-ROM format for video, introduced by Sirius Publishing Inc. in early 1997, that allowed people to view full-length movies on their Windows PC or laptop using a standard CD-ROM drive.

MovieCDs could be played on PCs running Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 without the need for any additional hardware or software, and the PC hardware requirements were fairly modest. The necessary software and the MotionPixels codec were on the discs themselves and installed automatically.

Each disc could hold up to 45 minutes of video, so two or sometimes three discs were necessary for longer films. The resolution was 320×236 pixels, and the format promised ‘near-TV quality’ images (though of course, the format could only be played on a PC – there were no set-top MovieCD players available).

Over 100 titles were available on the MovieCD format including anime, music concerts and feature films. It competed with Video CD and the newly launched DVD-Video, and no version of MovieCD was developed for versions of Windows beyond Windows 95. It was not a commercial success and disappeared after a few years.

Using the discs on a post-Windows 98 system can cause problems with other video and audio software.

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