Tagged: phonograph

Formats for sound recording or playback that use the vibration of a stylus or needle following a spiral groove on a revolving disc or cylinder

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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Filmophone Flexible Record (1930 – 1932)

Filmophone was an early type of flexible record, introduced by Filmophone Flexible Records Ltd for the UK market in 1930.

They were 10-inches in diameter, double-sided and played at 78rpm. Unlike contemporary 10-inch 78s which were made of heavy and brittle shellac, Filmophone records were made of cellulose, and were initially available in a range of colours. Priced at 2 shillings and sixpence, they were popular in the UK for a time, and many of the releases were by British musicians.

Due to their flexibility, they don’t always lay flat on a turntable, and they were designed to last perhaps a dozen plays.

Nearly 400 titles were released on Filmophone records, but they stopped being produced in 1932.

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Little LP (1961 – 1975)

The Little LP (also known as a Jukebox EP) was a 7-inch vinyl record with up to three songs on each side, that played at 33 ⅓ rpm in stereo, and had a small centre hole. They were first introduced by Cadence Records in late 1961, though the Cadence version was in mono and was not designed for jukeboxes.

The Little LP was not successful in the retail market, but it was picked up by Seeburg for use in their new jukebox, introduced in September 1962. The Seeburg version of the Little LP was in stereo, came with title strips, and had a colour cover for display in the jukebox. A number of record companies signed up, mostly easy listening and classical labels, and by 1963 there were 233 titles available with over 1,000 by 1966. Little LPs were also made for other jukebox manufacturers such as Wurlitzer and ATI.

Little LPs were essentially cut-down versions of the full 12-inch LP, and shared the same artwork. Record companies saw the potential of promoting the full LP version by having a selection of tracks available to hear, and the cover on display, in places where adult listeners gathered.

However by 1969, output of Little LPs had dropped sharply. A couple of small manufacturers revived the format in the early 1970s, but only a few titles per year were released in the period 1970-1975. Seeburg introduced new jukeboxes that didn’t play Little LPs in 1971, and the introduction of quadraphonic Little LPs didn’t make any difference as there were very few quadraphonic jukeboxes to play them on.

There were no new titles on the Little LP format for jukeboxes in 1976, but a few Little LPs have been released for the retail market as specialty items since then.

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White label vinyl record (1948 – )

White label vinyl records are generally 12-inch LPs, or 7-inch singles and come with a plain centre label (usually white) and are in plain packaging. The centre label might have handwritten details of the artist and title, or may be rubber stamped, or have a sticker applied.

Some white label records are test pressings made by the pressing plant, usually in quantities of 5 or less,  and then listened to to check the sound quality before pressing larger runs.

Some white label records are produced for promotional purposes, including advance copies sent to retailers or to DJs. Sometimes white labels are used to conceal artist identities, so the record is listened to without prejudice. Dance music producers might produce white label copies to play in dance clubs to gauge crowd response.

Other white label records are unofficial or partially unofficial releases, for example if a remix was made without the consent of the artist or label.

Generally, white label records are not distributed to the general public.

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Record album (late 1900s – 1950s)

Sometime during the late 1900s, record companies began to sell sets of 78rpm disc records in hardback ‘albums’. These were much like photograph albums, but with paper sleeves for multiple 10-inch or 12-inch phonograph discs, and they allowed record companies to sell complete musical works such as operas or classical works. The 78 rpm records of the time were only able to contain around 3 minutes of playing time on the 10-inch version, and 5 minutes on the 12-inch versions, so a longer complete work had to be spread across several discs.

Around the same time, empty record albums became available to allow listeners to store and protect their own discs, write information about the contents on an index page, and display the album on bookshelves.

Record albums eventually came to be used to contain compilations by artist, or by genre, in addition to longer works, and a set of 4-5 discs could contain 8-10 songs. Later releases had cover artwork and liner notes.

With the advent of the Long Play microgroove record in 1948 that could hold the same number of songs on a single disc there was no longer a need for record albums containing several discs, and indeed by the late 1950s the 78 rpm disc itself was being phased out. However, the term ‘album’ continues to be used to describe a collection of songs, whatever the format.

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LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1948 – )

The LP (Long Play) record is an audio format for phonograph records, introduced by Columbia Records in 1948 and still in use today.

LP records are made of vinyl (either virgin or recycled) and together with a playing speed of 33⅓ rpm (though some were 16⅔ rpm) and the use of microgrooves, allow for a playing time of around 45 minutes. Previously, 78 rpm records had a playing time of just around 3-4 minutes per side, so an ‘album’ of records was sold as a set, and this name continued to describe a collection of songs on a single disc.

Each side of an LP contains a single continuous groove, with an average length of 460 m.

LP records are generally 12 inches in diameter, but 10 inch LPs have also been produced at different times. The amount of vinyl in an LP is generally 130 g, but some records were produced with less (sometimes as little as 90 g). Modern high-fidelity LPs tend to use more, such as 180 g. Generally LPs are pressed on black vinyl, but coloured vinyl and picture discs (with a card sandwiched between two clear sides of vinyl) have been produced.

By as early as 1952, LPs represented 16.7% of unit sales, rising to 24.4% in 1958 (by then, most of the remainder was 45 rpm singles, 78 rpm only representing 2.1%).

Stereophonic sound was introduced in 1957, and quadraphonic records were sold in the 1970s for a time.

The LP had no serious competitors for long-playing recordings until the 1970s when the Compact Cassette improved in quality, and then in the 1980s with the introduction of the Compact Disc. LPs ceased to be a mainstream format in the early 1990s, but continue to be produced in small but increasing numbers.

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Preservation / Migration

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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Durium record (1932 – 1933)

Durium was the name of a UK record label, and also the name of the material used to make the records it issued, which was a synthetic brown resin invented in the US in 1929. Durium was also used by a US record label called ‘Hit Of The Week’ between 1930 and 1932 to make cardboard-backed flexi-discs, initially with one song, and later with two songs on one side of the disc.

The UK Durium label also used the durium material make inexpensive cardboard-backed flexi-discs containing two songs, and sold at newsstands. Sound quality was as good or even better than the usual shellac used for most phonograph records of the time. They could be played with standard steel needles and were as durable as shellac discs (and less fragile). Like shellac records, Durium records span at 78rpm, but had closer spaced grooves to enable five minutes of playing time (at the expense of bass response).

Most discs were 10-inches in diameter, and were contained in flimsy sleeves. They usually had plain cardboard backings, but some had pictures of the artist.

In the UK, the Durium label released around 40 title from April 1932 to January 1933 at the rate of one per week, on Fridays which was traditionally payday in the UK.

Durium records are still playable today, unless they are badly creased. If the records will not sit flat on the turntable, they can be weighted with a upturned mug or similar object.

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