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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Pathé vertical-cut disc record (1905 – 1932)

Pathé Records were based in France and were producers of phonograph cylinders. In 1905 they began to produce phonograph disc records as well.

The very first Pathé discs were single-sided and used a layer of wax on top of a concrete base, but by 1906 the shellac was adopted. The grooves on the discs used vertical cut (hill and dale) recording similar to Edison Disc Records, rather than lateral cut recording, and required a special ball-shaped sapphire stylus to play them (which meant there was no need to change the needle after each playback).

Attachments were available to allow Pathé phonographs to play laterally-cut records, and to allow standard phonographs to play Pathé discs.

Until 1915, the discs rotated at 90 rpm, and playback started on the inside, spiraling out to the edge. From 1915 to the end of production, discs became 80 rpm, and changed to outside-start. About this time, the labels changed from engraved lines filled with white or ochre pigment, to paper labels.

Pathé discs were commonly produced in 10-inch (25 cm), 10½-inch (27 cm), and 11½-inch (29 cm) sizes. 6½-inch (17 cm), 8-inch (21 cm), and 14-inch (35 cm) discs were also made, as were very large 20-inch (50 cm) discs. Due to their fragility and unwieldiness, the larger sizes were a commercial failure and were not produced for long.

By 1920, Pathé began to introduce laterally-cut records compatible with standard phonographs (labelled as Pathé Actuelle), first for the US market and then for the UK, and by 1926 these were also being sold in France.

Pathé vertical-cut records continued to be sold in France until 1932.

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Edison Disc Record / Diamond Disc (1912-1929)

Edison Disc records (also known as Diamond Disc records because the stylus used was diamond) were introduced by Edison Records in 1912.

They were introduced to compete with disc sound recordings from companies such as Victor Talking Machine company. Unlike competitors’ discs, Edison Discs used up and down movement rather than side to side (or lateral) and so the grooves have smooth sides and variable depth. Because of this, Edison Discs are incompatible with other phonograph discs (although some adaptors were available).

Edison’s 10-inch discs played for nearly five minutes per side with 150 threads per inch (TPI), and revolved at 80 RPM. They were also ¼-inch thick and were filled with wood flour, or later, china clay.

Sales peaked in 1920, and in 1926 a microgroove version (450 TPI, allowing up to 40 minues per side on a 12 inch disc) was introduced but technical problems meant it was not a success.

Sales continued to drop, and the last Edison Discs were made in 1929.

A later Edison dictation system, the Voicewriter, re-used the name ‘Edison Diamond Disc’ from the 1940s for the unrelated recording medium.

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Preservation / Migration