In the early 13th century in Flanders, a bell ringer invented the mechanical bell, the design found application in watches. In 1780, the Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz invents a mechanical songbird (and later builds androids on gears). This is how the era of mechanical acoustics begins. How did the story develop further and what to expect in the future?
The era of mechanical acoustics (9th century – 1925)
1805 – Johan Malzel invents the panharmonicon
The Pangharmonicon is one of the first automatic orchestrions, the final embodiment of music boxes. He imitated the playing of an orchestra with spinning wheels and inflating bellows. The device, the size of a huge cabinet, was wound by hand like a mechanical clock, skillfully played up to two hours of music in one factory, and read the score from perforated paper on rollers. Basic models could have only one section of winds, but they knew how to increase the number of instruments to a full-fledged orchestra. Orchestrions were in demand among the owners of expensive restaurants and entertainment establishments. At the beginning of the 20th century, the orchestrion’s younger brother, the mechanical piano, appears and is gaining popularity.
1859 – Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville invents the phonautograph
The device captured sound waves in a huge cone, vibrations were transmitted to a needle, which painted vibrations on a glass cylinder covered with soot. True, the device was not able to reproduce the recorded sound. But Alexander Bell became interested in him, who tried to transmit sound using electricity, and experiments with a phonautograph helped in this. In 2008, scientists read the phonogram using a computer and got the oldest recording of a human voice straight from 1860. Sounds as good as a horror movie soundtrack!
1877 – Thomas Edison invents the phonograph
This is the first device that is skillful not only to record, but also to reproduce sound. The recording was performed on a foil wound on a cylinder; subsequently, wax cylinders began to be used. Sound quality was poor and only 25 copies could be made from one roller. To get 500 copies of the single, the performers played the same track 25 times in front of 20 phonographs. It is interesting that the author conceived the device rather for business communications. However, the entertainment industry ended up bringing in more profit. From the moment of invention until 1928, 845,000 phonograms were created and about 48 million wax rollers were sold.
1887 – Emil Berliner patents the gramophone
The gramophone was the first to use the record format, which doomed Edison cylinders to extinction. LPs were more compact, easier to store and produce in large quantities, and sound quality improved as well. True, on each side of the 7-inch disc, only two minutes of music fit, but over time, the capacity has grown. By 1912, the gramophone had surpassed the phonograph in sales and dominated the audio market for a long time.
The era of electricity (1925-1945)
1876 - Alexander Bell patents the telephone
And in the same year, he demonstrates the device at the first Industrial Show in Philadelphia. Bell then opens the Bell Telephone Company, which later grew into AT&T Inc. and played a huge role in audio technology. In those same years, Thomas Edison invents the carbon microphone, which improves audio quality and allows music to be broadcast. This is used by entrepreneurs: the Electrophone System appears – a system of installed microphones in popular concert halls. For 6 pounds a year, a subscriber could listen to any concert at home over the phone with stereo headphones. The first streaming service was a success and continued until the mid-twenties, giving way to radio.
1880 – Everybody Invents Radio
Radio appeared at the end of the 19th century, a dozen inventors ascribe to themselves at once, and disputes about rights are still underway. At first, radio communications were used by sailors and the military, but radio broadcasting began in the 1920s. The first radios are complex devices with a bunch of buttons and rheostats, but after a couple of years they are simplified and become an interior item. The radio tubes that appeared the day before open up new types of modulation (AM and FM). Compressors and EQs are introduced for voice processing and more stable broadcasting.
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1925 Bell Laboratories patents an electric phonograph
The improved phonograph records phonograms using a condenser microphone invented the day before by Edward Wente. That same year, Edward Kellogg and Chester Rice invented the dynamic loudspeaker, the design of which remains largely unchanged to this day. These devices made a breakthrough in the quality of audio recording: the mechanical phonograph produced tracks with a frequency range of only 250-900 Hz, new items expanded the values to 50-6000 Hz – by a whole octave. The sound became less distorted and wheezing, it became possible to record complex compositions: additional hertz on the extended frequency response opened the voice to quiet instruments. In April 1925, the Victor Talking Machine Company performed the first electric recording of a symphony orchestra .
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1926 – Warner Brothers release a film with sound
The first sound picture is “Don Juan”. The Vitaphone, ordered by Warner Brosers from Bell Laboratories, was able to synchronize sound on a huge 16-inch plate with video at 24 frames per second (versus 16 in silent films). Film studios have played a large role in the history of audio engineering through their quest for better recording and playback methods, the increasing demands for power in audio systems, and the early steps in sound processing. Multichannel sound is also an invention of cinematography. The first motion picture with surround sound was “Fantasy” in 1940, and the musical “Moulin Rouge” in 1987 was released for the first time in 5.1.
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The era of magnetic recording (1935 – 1970)
1898 – Waldemar Poulsen creates the telegram phone
Danish engineer uses steel wire to record sound. Wire tape recorders are gaining popularity and are competing with phonographs. One coil of such wire could hold anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of audio. There were also disadvantages: the thin wire was often torn and confused, the recording quality was not very high, but the machine was successful as a dictaphone and was even used on TV and radio.
1935 – AEG launches the Magnetophon K1 reel-to-reel
In the 1920s, engineer Fritz Pfleimer tried to record audio on iron oxide-coated paper tape. In 1935, BASF and AEG demonstrate the Magnetophon K1, the first device to use magnetic tape, at the Berlin Radio Exhibition. The first recordings date back to that time, but with the outbreak of the war, the technology is classified, tape recorders are not exported from Germany and are used for military purposes. The recording is done on 12mm tape, one kilometer is enough for 12 minutes of audio. The quality of the recording is so high that the listener cannot distinguish a live broadcast from a pre-recorded radio broadcast.
In 1945, American troops discovered German tape recorders and reels of magnetic tape, transported them to the United States, where the technology was reproduced by Ampex, releasing the first American tape recorder Ampex 200 a couple of years later. (for radio broadcasting) and RMS-16 (for recording studios).
1954 – Fender invents the Stratocaster
The secret of the legendary guitar is not so much in the sound as in the design – the neck is fastened with bolts for the first time (it used to be glued in), the defective neck is easy to change, the guitar is easier to manufacture, it becomes more affordable. Also Leo Fender, who has been repairing radios and phonographs for 20 years, designs more powerful and reliable guitar amplifiers. The emergence of new instruments and media of music led to the birth of rock and roll and a surge of interest in music in general. Now there is something to listen to and something to listen to.
1960 – Philips launches compact cassette
The cassette, familiar to everyone, is becoming the main carrier of music for tape recorders around the world. There were also competing formats – Stereo 8, Elcaset, microcassette from Olympus, but all of them did not become dominant and occupied their niches. The first cassette recorders appeared – at first recorders for journalists, then devices for music lovers.
1964 – Moog introduces the Modular modular synthesizer
American engineer Robert Moog designed and sold theremins, but decided to turn them into something more functional. I took an oscillator, added processing modules and attached a keyboard. A modular synthesizer is born, and then arpeggiators, sequencers, samplers and other machines that give impetus to the development of electronic music. The original Moogs can still be heard frequently on albums and soundtracks today .
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1972 – Sony releases Walkman
In 1979, Sony released the first commercial Walkman portable cassette player, the TPS-L2. It allows you to take your music with you and completely changes the way you perceive it. The brand itself becomes iconic, the original player is carried with Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. The last cassette Walkman was released in 2010, but digital models are still in production today. The popularity of headphones for personal listening to music is growing.
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Digital era (1970 – present)
1970 – Sony turns sound into binary code
The first DACs and ADCs appear. The code is stored on magnetic tape in the form of zeros and ones. This leads to the first digital audio recording machines – the size of a refrigerator and weighing about 250 kg. Ten years later, the first album, completely recorded using zeros and ones, was released – Ry Cooder “Bop Til You Drop”.
1977 – Yamaha creates the NS-10M
These speakers literally define the sound of all subsequent music. They are installed in almost every studio; it is on the NS-10 that any track is listened to before release. The advent of low-cost, high-fidelity studio acoustics fostered the birth of small and home recording studios and paved the way for advanced mixing and mastering techniques. The quality of audio recordings has become noticeably higher, and the formation of the market for household multi-band acoustics has made it possible for listeners to appreciate this quality. Subsequently, Yamaha re-released the speakers as active studio monitors.
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1982 – Philips and Sony release CD
Soon the CD will completely replace the old 12 “albums and 7” singles in favor of new standards – digital recording in 44.1 kHz \ 16 bit resolution, up to 80 minutes of music on one disc. An important feature: CD does not degrade over time and can be played thousands of times without loss of quality. For the first time, it allows you to reproduce the entire audible spectrum of sound – from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, without noise and crackling, with perfect quality. In 1984, Sony released the Discman D-50, the first portable CD player. By 1986, more than 140 million CDs were sold, by 1992 the figure would have exceeded one billion, by 1996 – over 2 billion. CD sales outnumber vinyl in 1988 and cassette in 1991.
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1993 – MPEG develops mp3
Now you can compress audio files, reducing their size by 10 times without audible loss of quality. This is very useful in the days of only a couple of gigabytes of hard drives. The first mp3 players began to appear – first for mp3 disks, then for flash memory. Since the beginning of the 2000s, literally in 10 years, mp3 began to dominate the market, displacing other formats. The ability to share music over the Internet in a matter of seconds has become crucial.
2001 – Apple releases iPod
ITunes is launched, now music can be purchased legally on the Internet. The iPod’s hard drive can hold a huge amount of audio recordings. The amount of memory has grown from 5 GB in the first generations to 160 GB in 2009. Millions of similar devices from competitors appear. By 2010, CD sales had fallen in half. More than 400 million iPods have been sold in total. In the next decade, the smartphone supersedes the audio player, and the latest iPod touch looks like an iPhone.
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2009 – Creative manufactures wireless speakers
Bluetooth technology appeared in 1994, but its speed has been lacking for streaming audio for a decade. In 2009, Bluetooth 3.0 comes out with a data transfer rate of up to 24 Mbps. Creative company produces wireless speakers with sound transmission via Bluetooth. The DLNA standard appears, which allows devices to stream sound and video, and AirPlay is similar to it. The rise in wireless internet speeds is opening the door for streaming services. Audio digitization is improving, the HiRes format appears, albums are released in a resolution of 96 kHz \ 32 bit and higher. Wireless headphones and smart speakers are emerging, noise canceling and voice control technologies are improving.
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Digitalization is over – a musician plays through a digital guitar processor, a sound engineer adjusts the sound on a digital console using a tablet, the listener records a concert on a recorder in binaural format , so that they can then listen to it from a smartphone on wireless headphones.
However, some find digital music devoid of its former charm, and the availability of music has killed the idea of collecting your own music library. Therefore, connoisseurs still love vinyl. The growth in sales of records has been going on for 15 years, and in 2020 they overtook CD in terms of sales for the first time since the eighties.
Today they pin their hopes on artificial intelligence. Scientists are trying to create better speakers, reconstruct old recordings, and teach acoustics to adapt to a room using AI. Directional audio evolves, ultra- directional speakers appear that seem to transmit sound directly to the brain, tracking the position of the head.