So there was definitely other media that music was recorded on over the years. I thought I would take a second just to go over a few of them and maybe just make this a bit of a walk down memory lane. I’ll do my best to present these in the order in which they were released. Many of these I’m sure you’re more than familiar with, while others you may not. Here we go….
1877 – PHONOGRAPH CYLINDER – Analog, Mechanical/Vertical and Horizontal stylus motions
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. At that time he had recorded on tin foil wrapped around a cardboard tube. By the second half of the 1880’s, improved sounding prerecorded wax cylinders were manufactured and marketed. These hollow cylindrical tubes had an audio recording engraved on the outside surface, which could then be reproduced when they played on a mechanical cylinder phonograph. There were numerous variations of the cylinder recordings which I’ll try to describe briefly here.
Graphophone/Dictaphone Cylinders – 1887
The Graphophone used lateral (side-to-side) recording which is similar to standard LP records. In 1907, these cylinders were renamed Dictaphone cylinders. The nice thing about these discs is that they could be shaved and re-recorded over.
Ediphone Cylinders – 1888
Thomas Edison’s Ediphone was in direct competition with the Graphophone/Dictaphone Cylinders. As previously stated, Edison originally used tin foil for his recordings. He ultimately switched to wax in 1888. Unlike the lateral recordings of the Graphophone/Dictaphone cylinders, the Ediphone cylinders utilized a ‘hill and dale’ recording. So instead of side to side movement, these used an up and down movement to reproduce the sound.
Brown Wax Cylinders – 1889
Brown wax cylinders were released in the late 1880’s. They were the first mass market cylinder. It’s interesting to note that the predominant amount of the commercial recordings made up the mid-1890’s was recorded directly from a live performance. Therefore, the customer normally received an original recording when purchasing a cylinder. As brown wax improved, many cylinders had the ability to be played up to 100 times before wearing out. This was a vast improvement over previous cylinders.
Pathé Cylinders – 1894
in 1894, Pathé cylinders were introduced by the French Pathé Freres Company to replace the current Brown Wax cylinders. Although they initially used brown wax, they moved to a black wax in 1903. The cylinders came in various diameter sizes (2¼”, 3½” and 5″). The recordings on these cylinders were recorded from master recordings. These cylinders were sold until 1914, when they were discontinued.
Grand Graphophone Cylinders – 1898
In 1898, Columbia introduced a new luxury format of cylinders with a diameter of 5″. Although it did not provide a longer playing time, there was much more recording surface which allowed for improved sound. This format ultimately failed due to it’s higher cost.
Gold Moulded Records – 1902
In 1902 by Edison released the Gold Moulded Records. They were similar to the French Pathé Cylinders in that they were made from a hard black wax. Edison was able to create a mould from a master cylinder that allowed him to produce several hundred cylinders from a single mould. This was due to the fact that the master cylinder was coated with a thin layer of gold (thus the name). The Gold Moulded records were discontinued in 1912.
Indestructible Record – 1907
The Phonographic Co of Albany, NY starting started the production of the “Indestructible Record” in 1907. These discs were were made of celluloid, and were much more durable than other formats in existence at the time. They were discontinued in 1922.
Amberol Records – 1908
Edison’s Amberol records were the successor to the Gold Moulded records. They were an improvement since they had twice as many grooves which allowed for longer playing times (4 minutes). The Amberol wax was harder than the Gold Moulded wax. They did have a tendency to crack or shatter rather easily and also wore out rather quickly. In 1912 they were replaced with the Blue Amberol Records. These were made of blue celluoid around a plaster of paris core and could be played hundreds of time with limited noise. From 1917 to 1921 Thomas Edison also used the Edison Royal Purple Amberol Records as a sub-label for a number of cylinder recordings. These cylinders replaced the usual blue color of Edison cylinders with a distinctive royal purple hue. Edison Records closed in 1929.
Cylinder records continued to compete with the growing disc record market into the 1910s. Discs ultimately won the commercial battle. Below is a photograph of Edison’s Gold Moulded Record.
1870 – MUSIC BOX DISC – Mechanical Digital (automated musical instrument)
The invention of disk music boxes made it affordable for many people to enjoy a variety of songs played on a music box at home. These discs were large and measured approximately 15 1/2″ in diameter. The disc pictured here was manufactured in 1889. The musical notes on the disc are represented by raised projections on a metal disk. Although still in limited production today (mostly for antique collectors and specialty applications), in general the production of these discs ceased around 1920.
1870’s – ORGANETTE DISC
The Organette discs came in various forms like perforated metal or cardboard discs, or paper rolls. In general, the larger the disc, the more notes it could play. The difference between the Organette discs and the Music Box discs where that the perforations are fully removed from the Organette Disc where they are bent back on the Music Box discs. The perforations (holes) would activate the valve for a set length of time depending on the size of the opening. As far as I can determine, they were in production into the 1920’s.
1883 – MUSIC ROLL – Mechanical Digital (automated musical instrument)
This is a mechanical digital format called a piano roll or music roll. They originated in 1883 and were a music storage medium used to operate a player pianos. A piano roll is a continuous roll of paper with holes punched into it. When playing, the roll moves over a reading system known as a “tracker bar” and the playing cycle for each musical note is triggered when a hole crosses the bar and is read. Piano rolls are still available today.
Late 1880’s – ORGAN COB
I’m not sure that they could have come up with a better name for this. The Organ Cobs (clearly reminding me of corn on the cob) were made of wood and pins and were used in Roller Organs. They were hand cranked machines where bellows were activated as the handle was turned. They played about one minutes worth of music and were produced through the late 1920’s.
1894 – GRAMOPHONE RECORD – Analog, Mechanical/Horizontal stylus motion
Lateral-cut disc records were developed by Emile Berliner in 1894, who named his system the “Gramophone”. During the time of development, records varied in size and speeds. By 1925, the speed of the record was becoming standardized at 78 rpm. Various materials had been used to make the records, including rubber, but the standard ultimately became shellac. There’s a long history of records that I go into more detail in the History of Records section, so I won’t get as detailed here.
1898 – WIRE RECORDING – Analog, Magnetization
In 1898, Valdemar Poulsen invented a magnetic audio format where recordings were made on thin steel or stainless steel wire. To me, the wire looks like an extremely fine fishing line. The wire was pulled rapidly across a recording head which magnetized each point along the wire in accordance with the intensity and polarity of the electrical audio signal being supplied to the recording head at that instant. The wire recorders used a fairly fast speed of roughly 24 inches per second, making a 7200 foot spool on a reel of less than 3 inches diameter last for one hour. The wire recordings could even be edited by cutting and tying wire together. Wire recordings were used through the mid 60’s when magnetic wire recordings were then replaced by magnetic tape recording. The image below shows a recording wire which was manufactured by Webster Chicago. Many of you will recognize that name as the first manufacturer to produce the metal 45 adapter.
1926 – SPEAK-O-PHONE – Analog, Mechanical
During the mid-20’s, Speak-O-Phone studios were beginning to pop up. They would allow customers to come in and make their own personal recordings. They were marketed as a great new alternative to Christmas cards. You could record your own record and send that to your family and friends. The Speak-O-Phone discs were made of aluminum which were extremely durable, although they did have a tendency to corrode. They lasted into the 40’s when the war effort then required the use of the metal. I believe they briefly switched to acetate records, but that didn’t last for any significant amount of time.
1928 – VICTORY RECORDS – Analog, Mechanical
Remember Woolworths? They did quite well with their records that contained the popular hits of the times. The two suppliers of the records, Crystallate and Vocalion feared that they might be dropped by Woolworths and replaced with a single supplier. To avoid that possibility, they worked together and developed an electrical recording process which replaced the existing mechanical process of recording. This was made possible by use of an electronic microphone which resulted in producing a significantly improved sound due to a wider frequency range. Woolworths was happy with the collaboration and the Victory records were released. The 7” records were extremely affordable and less than other alternatives available at the time. They were eventually replaced in 1931 by the Eclipse 8-inch 78rpm record.
Late 1920’s – REEL TO REEL / TAPE – Analog, Magnetic tape
The history of recording on tape actually goes back further than one would think. This format dates back as early as the 20’s, although back then they used steel tape and not the common magnetic tape that you’re used to seeing in reel to reels, cassettes and 8-tracks. The first pre-recorded reels came to the market in the late 40’s. These open reel players had two reels. One being the supply reel that holds the tape, and the other being the feed reel that the tape transfers to. Although there are many different sizes of tapes and reels, the most common reels size is 7” with ¼” tape. Most players came with the option to select two speeds, 3¾ or 7½ in/s. The faster you would play the tape, the better the quality would be. The price of that improved sound though was a shorter recording time. The pre-recorded reels remained popular through the mid-60’s when 8-track and cassette tapes took over the market. Below are a couple examples of pre-recorded reel to reel tapes.
Besides the standard 7″ reels, the other common sizes were 3″ and 5″. Below are examples of each.
Late 1920’s – ACETATE DISCS – Analog, Mechanical
This is a metal core acetate disc/recording. An acetate is a metal disk covered in a cellulose acetate material or black nitrocellulose lacquer and were used in studios for approval before pressing to vinyl. In addition to the usual central spindle hole, there is traditionally at least one drive hole in the label area, meant to be engaged by a special pin that prevents the disc from slipping on the turntable during the recording process on lathes that don’t have a vacuum turntable. Originally acetates were used for home recording in the days before tape recorders. A machine actually cuts the grooves into the acetate like a lathe. Many acetates could be off-air radio recordings of rare or unavailable radio shows or sample/test pressings of alternate takes of original masters of the songs.
Early 1930’s – ALUMINUM RECORDS / VOICE RECORDS
These aluminum recordable records were roughly the size of a modern day CD. There were recordings on both sides, but one side was non-recordable and came with a pre-recorded advertisement (normally for cigarettes). You would find these machines in department stores or other public places and allowed for approximately 1 minute of (usually rather poor quality) recording.
1930’s – PROFESSIONAL OPEN REEL TAPE – (NAB) National Association of Broadcasters
Although magnetic tape was developed in the 30’s in Germany, the open reel recorders were not available to the general public until around 1948. Professional open reel tapes were generally on 10 1/2″ metal reels (with unusually large center holes) and a standard width of 2″ tape. This became the standard for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). This tape was used for most professional recordings until the 1980’s, when digital audio recording eventually took over most recordings.
1936 – TEFIFON – Electromechanical, Vinyl belt housed in a cassette
The Tefifon (Tefi) was manufactured, and almost exclusively sold in Germany and was the first audio cassette. Think of this being somewhat of a cross between an 8-Track tape and a vinyl record. It’s similar to an 8-Track tape in that the cassette had an endless looped reel of plastic tape. It was similar to a record in that it had grooves embossed on the tape. Depending on the size of the tape, the play time could range from 15 minutes to 4 hours. Below are examples of the 15 minute, 1 hour and 4 hour tapes. Tefifon production at its main plant in Germany ended in 1965.
Late 1930’s – HOME RECORDING DISCS – Analog, Mechanical
It’s really difficult to determine exactly when home recording discs were released, but based on my research my best guess date is right around the late 30’s. Unfortunately, due to WW2 and their initial high cost, they did not really gain steam until after the war. At that time, home recorded discs were the best option for recording family and other events. Due to the eventual release of magnetic tape and the fact that acetate discs were inherently less durable not being physically editable, the records gave way to the tape. Over the years, there were many different formats of recordable discs, far too many to discuss here. The example below is an unrecorded Silvertone Metal Core record.
1940’S – CARDBOARD RECORDS – Analog, Mechanical
Cardboard records were phonograph records which were basically a plastic-coated card. The first examples appeared in the 1940s and were played at 78 rpm. The audio quality of the cardboard records were quite poor and were often only good for a few plays. They also had a tendency to warp easily. Over the years the cardboard records were used in advertising campaigns, music promotions, personal recordings, greeting cards and postcards, and pretty much anything else you could use recorded sound for. There were many variations of cardboard records, and I’ll do the best I can to show as many of them that I’ve been able to get my hands on.
This is a recordable Packard-Bell PhonOcord record. This was one of many manufacturers of paper records for consumer machines. They also made machines as attractions at amusements areas for the general public to use.
These were cardboard records that were promoted on the back of cereal boxes. I believe that they were originally manufactured on Wheaties boxes in the 1950’s. You would simply cut them out along the dotted line and throw ’em on your record player. Here’s some examples of what I collected over the years.
This 3-1/4″ x 5-1/4″ card is actually an “audio record”. It has a circular area with a “bubbled” center. This is playable on the “Sports Talk Player”, a unique audio player. There are interviews/highlights etc. The narrators were Don Drysdale, Joe Torre, and Mel Allen. This Carl Yastrzemski card is from a set of 164, which were originally issued with 4 cards per pack.
This is another sports related cardboard record known as a Talking Baseball Card. This one was released by CMC in 1989. It’s a record of Babe Ruth’s final speech from 1947 at Yankee Stadium. I included the back of the card since it does a good job of summarizing the event.
Although the general use of cardboard records generally ceased in the late 80’s, with the recent spike in the interest of vinyl, some artists have taken to releasing novelty records on cardboard. Here’s an example of one.
1947 – DICTABELT – Analog, Plastic belt
I found this one extremely interesting. The Dictabelt, also known as a Memobelt, was an analog audio recording medium manufactured by the American Dictaphone company in 1947. The belts were a 5-mil thick transparent vinyl plastic belt and measured 3.5 inches wide and 12 inches around. The belts would hold 15 minutes at the standard speed, although a few machines allowed recording at half speed which would double the record time. This was basically manufactured for dictation and other voice recordings and was used by Police departments and other governmental agencies. The recording process didn’t actually cut into the belt, but instead would impresses a groove into the plastic. The benefit of this was that there was no waste or debris during recording. The belts were great for shipping in envelopes since they were flexible, but did have a tendency to get brittle and cracked as they aged. The belts changed color several times during their lifespan which lasted until the early 80’s.
1948 – RCA WIRE CARTRIDGE – Analog, Magnetic wire
Although this was just another wire recording, what made this unique was that there were two wires (or if you prefer, two tracks) that were housed in a solid metal cartridge. These were pretty heavy duty. Each track had a running time of approximately 15 minutes. The reason for the two wires was that once the playback concluded in one direction (one wire), it would quickly reverse and play the second wire, but in the opposite direction. This basically created a loop. These cartridges are quite rare.
1951 – MINIFON – Analog, Magnetic wire
The fun fact on the Minifon is that due to it’s small size, it was well known and also adopted by many governments as being the ultimate “spy” recorder of its day. The Minifon was a battery operated miniature tape recorder developed by German electrical engineer, Willi Draheim. The wire would run at a speed of 30 cm/s or about 11.8 ips.
1953 – PYE AND TELEFUNKEN MAGNETIC DISCS
These discs allowed users to record on a magnetic disc instead of tape. The recording was made on a flexible plastic, pre-grooved disc which was coated with magnetic compound. The disc had a running time of 10 minutes. The recording could be played back through a loudspeaker similar to the standard Gramophone records of the time. These were manufactured well into the 1960’s.
1954 – GRUNDIG STENORETTE
This was used in the Stenorette office dictation machine and was one of the first to use magnetic tape. Similar to an 8-Track tape, this had a single reel. The tape was 1/4″ wide and normally had a running time of approximately 25-30 minutes. These were manufactured into the 1970’s.
1955 – MOHAWK MIDGETAPE
The Midgetape was an early version of a portable tape recorder. It was well manufactured due to its sturdy metal casing. Like many cartridges, this had two spools. What made this different was that the spools were stacked on top of each other, and not the normal side by side. The 1/4″ tape allowed for roughly 45 minutes of recording per side. These were manufactured into the mid 1960’s.
1956 – HIGHWAY HI-FI – Analog, Mechanical
This was an interesting record because it was developed to play in Automobiles. Chrysler introduced this into their automobiles in 1956. They were manufactured by Columbia Special Products, and could hold approximately 45 minutes of music or one hour of speech per side. The 7″ record spun at a slower rotation speed of 16⅔ rpm. Like me, I’m sure you’re wondering how a record could be successfully played in an automobile without skipping. This was accomplished in part by a unusually high stylus pressure.
1957 – DICTET – Analog, Magnetic tape
This is a tape that was developed by the Dictaphone Corporation in 1957. It was used in the very first dictation machine that used magnetic tape cassettes. This cassette used 1/4″ tape and ran at 2.48 inches per second. I’ve placed a standard cassette tape next to it for size comparison purposes.
1958 – RCA SOUND TAPE CARTRIDGE – Analog, Magnetic tape
This is an RCA tape cartridge that was developed in 1958. It is also known as a Magazine Loading Cartridge or Sound Tape. Like a reel to reel, it is a 1/4″ magnetic tape that ran at standard speed of 3.75 inches per second and was designed to offer reel to reel tape recording quality in a convenient format. It was extremely convenient since you were not required to handle unruly tape ends and thread the tape through the machine before use. As you can see, this same designs was introduced by Phillips in 1963 on the standard compact cassette. This format ultimately failed for two reasons. Firstly, RCA was slow to produce machines for the home market. Additionally, they were also slow to license prerecorded music tapes. This format ceased production by 1964. I’ve included a standard cassette tape (right) in the photo for size comparisons.
1959 – PROTONA MINIFON – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Minifon Attaché shown below was a miniature tape recorder. Unlike it’s “wire” predecessors, this version of the Minifon used a magnetic tape cartridge. It was developed by Protona GmbH in Hamburg, Germany around 1959. The Attaché was the first all-transistor recorder developed Minifon and contained a 4-stage amplifier on a printed circuit board. The Minifon Attaché was in production until the end of the Minifon product line in 1967.
1959 – NAB CART TAPE – Analog, Magnetic tape
This next tape looks very much like an 8-track tape but it does have some differences. This is a 4-track radio station cart, also known as Fidelipac. NAB cart tapes were introduced in 1959 by Collins Radio. This particular cart was used by WBNS radio station in Columbus, OH in the 1980’s. This was a working cart at the radio station prior to digital file formats being implemented. As you can see, each cart had one song and had a number shown at the end of each one. To play a particular song, all you had to know is the correct cart number so that it could be pulled for air play. Although this looks like an 8-track tape, it will not play in an 8-track player without some modifications. The magnetic tape itself could be transferred into an old 8-track case and be made to play on an 8-track machine. The main difference in 4-track cartridge design from 8-tracks is that 4-tracks lack a built-in pinch roller (usually made out of rubber or plastic) which would grip and help move the tape; a hole is left in the cartridge for a pinch roller to be inserted from inside the 4-track player itself.
1960 – FI-CORD – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Fi-Cord was a high quality portable reel tape recorder produced in the early 60s by Fidelity Recording in Switzerland. The tape had a diameter of 2″ and could could record for 25 minutes. The tape ran at 7.5 or 1 7/8 ips. It was also known as the “spy recorder” of the early 1960s, since it had a detachable speaker that could be taken off the recorder for covert recording. Due to it’s small size, it also worked well for mailing.
1961 – MAGNABELT – Analog, Mylar Belt
In 1961 IBM released the Magnabelt. This 3″ mylar belt was coated with a ferromagnetic material and was used exclusively for the IBM Executary 214 dictation machine. Earlier versions of this belt were 4″ wide. The Executary machines were discontinued in 1972.
1961 – JUKEBOX EP (Little LP) – Analog, Mechanical
These were small holed 7″ records that played at 33⅓ rpm and were basically cut down versions of full albums. They even carried the same album artwork. It was thought that these would be a good alternative for jukebox records. Unfortunately, they did not ever gain significant popularity.
1961 – ORRTRONIC TAPETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
Orrtronics was a company that made a background music system based on the original Echo-matic cartridge. It was very similar to (and the predecessor of) the 8-Track tape. It was actually better-sounding but commercially unsuccessful since no record companies were interested in the format. As a result, it went nowhere and was discontinued.
1962 – FLEXI DISC
I remember when I was young that I found Flexi Discs incredibly interesting. It must have been the early geek in me. For some reason I can’t explain to this day, I found the concept of placing a plastic record in a magazine nothing short of amazing scientific wonder. This one pictured came from the January, 1979 edition of National Geographic. The Flexi Disc was made from thin flexible vinyl and normally came in 4″ or 8″ sizes. They played on standard record players.
1962 – ECHO-MATIC II – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Echo-Matic II was an early 2-track cartridge invented by Bernard Cousino (who also invented the above Orrtronic Tapette). It was an endless-loop magnetic tape cartridge, with the mechanics somewhat similar to an 8-track tape where the tape was pulled from the center of the reel and then wrapped around the outside after it was played. Anybody who loved watching the movie Big and has an interest in fortune teller machines, would appreciate this tape. Its most famous use was in the Zolton fortune teller arcade machine.
1962 – STEREO-PAK 4-TRACK CARTRIDGE – Analog, Mechanical
These were based off of the earlier Fidelpac (NAB Cart Tape) format which utilized the endless loop tape, which is what the not-yet-released 8-Track tapes used. They were also called Autostereo due to their use and application in cars, although there were home units as well. The tapes on these move at 7.5 inches per second, which is twice the speed of an 8-Track tape. Also, unlike the 8-Track tape, these did not automatically switch tracks once it would hit the splice. The user had to manually switch between tracks 1 and 2. Yes, there were only 2 tracks instead of the 4, like you would see on 8-Track tapes. This was because they used the 4 tracks for 2 stereo programs.
1963 – COMPACT CASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Compact Cassette was introduced in 1963 and is also a magnetic tape recording format for audio recording and playback. Like the reel to reel, cassettes had two miniature reels or spools, between which a magnetically coated plastic tape is passed and wound. The tape could be played or recorded on both sides by simply flipping the tape over. In the US, mass production of the cassette music started in 1964. Most of us will remember that during the 1980s, the cassette’s popularity grew even further as a result of portable pocket recorders such as Sony’s Walkman (1979). cassettes went on to become a popular alternative to the 12-inch vinyl LP during the late 1970’s. Ultimately, the sales of per-recorded cassette tapes were overtaken by those of CDs during the early 1990s. Most all music companies discontinued production of cassette tapes by late 2002 although blank cassette sales continued slightly longer.
It’s interesting to note that the magnetic cassette tapes underwent several transformations over the years. Here’s a brief summary of the various coatings and how they changed.
– Type I: Ferric Oxide – had poor high frequency response and excessive tape hiss.
– Type II: Chromium Dioxide – better frequency but not as good on low end and output levels.
– Type III: A Ferric Oxide and Chromium Dioxide mix – slightly improved low frequency response.
– Type IV: Pure metal particles – increased dynamic range and frequency response but increased head wear.
1964 – GRUNDIG EN3 – Analog, Magnetic tape
This is a tape from the Grundig EN3 handheld voice dictation machine. The 1/4″ tape could record up to 30 minutes of dictation. It’s interesting to note that the microphone on this device also acted as the speaker. These were in production until the 1970’s.
1964 – SHOW ‘N TELL – Analog, Mechanical
In 1964, General Electric released Show’N Tell. Show’N Tell was a record player and film strip viewer combination for children. The viewer looked more or less like a small TV set with a record player on top. The record was 7 inches that played at 33⅓rpm, while the images were a strip of 16mm color films in a rigid plastic holder. The viewing lasted roughly 4 minutes and displayed 15 images. Show’N Tell was manufactured into the early 80’s.
1964 – SABAMOBIL – Analog, Magnetic tape
This is a tough one to describe. I guess you just need to think of it as a chunky cassette tape. The cartridge housed two 3” spools with ¼-inch wide magnetic tape. This was basically the competitor to the standard cassette tape but lost out probably due to its larger, bulkier size and therefore, not as convenient.
1964 – CHANNEL MASTER 6546 – Analog, Magnetic tape
This unit was also known as the Sanyo Micro-Pack 35 and was basically a dictation machine. It was a highly superior recorder that required it’s own reel to reel monaural tape made by the company. That basically means that instead of the reels being side by side like a normal compact cassette tape, these are basically on top of each other. The tape linked diagonally between the two reels as you can see in the picture on the right. The recorder had a speed control which give the user infinite variable speeds.
1965 – 3M CANTATA 700 – Analog, Magnetic tape
….and the winner is….The 3M Cantata 700 Background System! This tape holds the distinction of being the largest (9 3/8″ x 9 5/8″ x 1 5/8″) and heaviest audio tape cartridge (a little under 3 pounds) in history. The cartridge itself holds two 8″ reels with 1/4″ tape. It could hold up to 700 songs (hence the name) of different styles and was mostly used in offices, restaurants and other public buildings. These were in use well into the mid 90’s.
1965 – 8-TRACK – Analog, Magnetic tape
8-Track tapes (my favorite) were introduced in 1965 and were popular from the mid-1960s to the late-1970s when the Cassette format took over. 8-Tracks were interesting to me because they didn’t work on two reels like reel to reels or cassettes did. The tape was actually on one reel. The magnetic tape played in an endless loop would pull from the center of the reel, play, then wrap around the outside of the reel. Many people hated 8-track tapes, except for me of course. Ok, sure machines would occasionally eat up a tape like it hadn’t eaten for weeks. Sure you would sometimes hear two tracks at once, but wedging a book of matches at the perfect spot took take of that as well. Sure on some tapes the song would fade out in the middle, switch tracks, then fade in right where it left off. But c’mon, is there anything more cool than 8-track tapes? When talking about the 70’s, the subject of 8-track tapes ALWAYS come up. I still have memories of at least 7 to 10 tapes always laying on the passenger floor of my car. It’s just that there was something great about being able to stick in a tape and letting it run to your hearts content. Although I normally used 8-tracks only in my car (I still played LP’s at home), the small portable 8-track units that most people used at home came in every size, shape and color. Below is a picture of my 8-track player and two tapes. The first tape is a prerecorded tape (AD/DC of course!) and the other is a blank tape that was purchased from Radio Shack which is still in its original packaging.
1966 – PLAYTAPE – Analog, Magnetic tape
This magnetic tape looks somewhat like a miniature 8-track tape. This is called a PlayTape and was introduced in 1966. A PlayTape cartridge uses ⅛” tape and plays anywhere from 8 to 24 minutes. The introduction of home and portable players by the 4-track and 8-track manufacturers led to the ultimate demise of PlayTape. For size comparison, I’ve placed a standard cassette tape next to the PlayTape.
1967 – HIP POCKET RECORD – Analog, Flexidisc
Hip Pocket Records were small 45rpm, 4-inch flexidisc records that were manufactured by Philco. Philco had also produced portable players for these discs, but they could be played on manual phonographs as well. The disks were sold in vending machines for 50 cents or counter displays at stores for 49 cents. They were small enough to be carried in a persons pocket or shipped in an envelope since they were flexible and not as fragile as a standard record. The discs ran into a couple problems though. First, numerous major record labels such as Columbia Records, RCA Records, Motown Records, and MCA Records chose not to participate. Additionally, since the record was limited to about 3.5 minutes of music, longer playing songs (like the Beatles, Hey Jude) could not be played. Ultimately, they were discontinued in 1969.
1969 – MICROCASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Microcassette was introduced by Olympus in 1969. The tape width of this tape is actually the same .150 inches as a standard cassette but the case is much smaller. The tape moved at 2.4 cm/s and could play 30-45 minutes, depending on the length of the tape. The tapes were mostly used for recording voice as in dictation machines and answering machines. They were also used as a medium for computer data storage and music, although to a lesser extent. Microcassettes were more popular than the Mini-Cassette described next. I’ve included a picture of a standard cassette for size comparison purposes.
1969 – MINI-CASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
The mini-cassette (left) was an analog magnetic audio cassette tape format introduced by Philips in 1967. The tapes could record 30 minutes and were primarily used in dictation machines. They were also employed as a data storage for the little known Philips P2000 home computer. Unlike other cassette style cartridges, the mini-cassette did not use a capstan drive system. In this system, the tape was propelled past the tape head by the reels. Although prone to wow and flutter, the lack of a capstan and a pinch roller drive meant that the tape worked well for dictation machines which repeatedly shuttled forward and backward in short distances. A standard cassette tape (right) is next to the mini-cassette for size comparison purposes.
1970 – QUADRAPHONIC 8-TRACK – Analog, Magnetic tape
This is a Quadraphonic discrete 4-channel magnetic 8-Track tape. It was also known as Quad-8 or Q8 tape. It looks almost identical to the standard 8-Track cartridges except for sensing notch near the top left of the cartridge. This allowed a machine to sense that a Quadraphonic cartridge was present. These tapes were only available until around 1978.
1970 – TALKING VIEW-MASTER – Analog, Mechanical
In 1970, the standard View-Master was updated with sound. From the front, the reel looked quite similar to previous reels. If you flipped it over though, there was a small transparent phonograph disc attached to the back of the View-Master reel. When you advanced the reel, the user pressed the ‘sound bar’ which engaged a needle on the record and amplified the sound through a rather poor sounding speaker cone. Also, since the light had to pass through the clear transparent disc to get to the image (as you can see in the bottom image), the images were not as clear as on the standard View-Master. This unit was discontinued in 1981, although there was one additional effort to improve the quality of the sound in 1984 when the Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer was released where the viewing reel and the sound disc were separate.
1970’S – KALAVOX AUDIO SLIDE CASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
When I came across these, I was a little surprised that I had not heard of them at some point. This is an audio slide cassette by Kalart Victor. From what I’ve researched, these were in production sometime during the 70’s. The cartridge consisted of a 2″x2″ slide holder along with a tape cartridge that had a capacity of 60 seconds where each sound slide had its own narration. A person could mount up to 40 sound slides in a special carousel tray. The tray could be placed on a normal Kodak Carousel projector in place of the traditional slide carousel.
1971 – STENO-CASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic tape
The Steno-Cassette was introduced by the German company Grundig in 1971. It was widely used in Germany for dictation. It is easily distinguished from other dictation cassettes due to the integrated tape counter index, showing the amount of tape available. The single sided 30 minute tape helped prevent mix-up or accidental deletion.
1971 – QUADRAPHONIC RECORDS – Analog, Mechanical
I’m not even going to try to explain the science or technology behind quadraphonic recordings, but let me explain it this way in simple terms that even I can understand. It’s somewhat simple. In a stereo system, you have two channels, a left and right. With a quadraphonic system, you have four separate channels, normally left and right forward, and left and right back. The problem with that and what probably led to the end of these records (plus the higher cost to produce them), is that most people at the time did not have a four speaker system, at least not wired for separate channels. There were basically two different type of quadraphonic records, SQ (Stereo Quadraphonic) created by CBS, and QS (Quadraphonic Sound) created by Sansui. Not all, but some systems were capable of playing both formats. The SQ format had more success because of the records ability to play on standard record players. As a result, SQ had a larger library. Here’s an example of a SQ record.
QS was a freely licensed format developed by Sansui. Like I already mentioned, I’m not going into the details of the technological differences between these two formats, but I did want to mention both so you would be aware that they were out there. Neither format made it into the 80’s. Here is an example of a QS format record
1971 – HIPAC – Analog, Magnetic tape
The HiPac was a successor to the PlayTape cartridge previously described. It was a short lived format and never gained popularity. The four audio tracks of the tape were separated into two stereo programs. Also, different from a CD, the two programs were recorded in the same direction.
1971 – U-MATIC – Analog, Magnetic tape
The U-Matic was among the first video formats to contain the videotape inside a cassette. I’m including this here because the tapes were also used for the storage of digital audio data and audio mastering as well. U-matic was named after the shape of the tape path when it was threaded around the helical video head drum, which resembled the letter U. Betamax used this same type of “U-load” as well. Although this format never really had success in the household consumer market, it did have some limited success in business communication and educational television. I’ve placed a standard compact cassette in front for size comparison purposes.
1975 – BETAMAX DIGITAL AUDIO (BETA) – Analog, Magnetic tape
1976 – VIDEO HOME SYSTEM (VHS) – Analog, Magnetic tape
It’s hard to talk about VHS (Video Home System) tapes without also bringing Betamax (Beta) into the conversation. The competition between the two competing formats will clearly go down in history as one of the all time worlds greatest rivalries. Betamax was introduced in 1975 and VHS a year later in 1976. Betamax was developed by Sony while VHS was developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC). Both formats were an analog videocassette magnetic tape with 1/2 inch wide magnetic tape. The wide tape allowed it to be slowly passed over the various playback and recording heads of the video cassette recorder. The Betamax had a recording time up to 2 hours while the VHS tape could record up to 4 hours.
Following the release of the U-matic system in 1971 which was not affordable or user-friendly for home recording, both the Betamax and VHS formats were released. Music themed and concert setting tapes were very popular in both formats (which is why I bring them up here). To make a long story short, although Betamax was in theory a superior recording format over VHS (higher resolution, superior sound, a more stable image and higher quality construction), consumers could not tell any significant difference and the lower cost of the VHS recorders ultimately won out while Betamax faded into the sunset.
1976 – ELCASET – Analog, Magnetic tape
Elcaset is a short-lived audio format that was jointly developed by Panasonic, Sony, and Teac in 1976. The name “Elcaset” may simply mean L-cassette, or large cassette, since the 1/4″ tape inside is double the 1/8″ width found in compact cassettes. At that time it was felt that cassette tapes would never be capable of the same levels of performance that was available from reel-to-reel systems as shown above, but it was quite clear that cassettes were much more convenient. The Elcaset system was intended to marry the performance of reel-to-reel with cassette convenience. The cassette itself looks similar to a compact cassette, only larger—about twice the size. Below is the size comparison of Elcaset (left) with standard cassette (right).
1978 – LASERDISC – Analog video, Digital or Analog audio
LaserDiscs were released in 1978. They were a home video format and the first commercial optical disc storage medium. The standard home video LaserDisc was 12″ (the size of a standard LP record) in diameter and made up of two single-sided aluminum discs layered in plastic. Although LaserDiscs capable of offering higher quality video and audio than VHS and Betamax videocassettes, the LaserDisc never managed to gain widespread use in North America, although were quite popular in Japan, and regions of Southeast Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. The technologies and concepts behind LaserDiscs were the foundation for later optical disc formats, including Compact Disc, DVD, and Blu-ray Discs. Many LaserDiscs contained music related material such as concerts, etc. Below is an example of such a music themed LaserDisc.
Early 1980’s – 1+1 MUSIC CASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic Tape
The chrome 1+1 music cassettes were released in the early 80’s. It was kind of a hybrid between a pre-recorded cassette and a blank cassette. When you originally purchased the tape, the full album was recorded on both sides. You essentially had two copies of the same album. The second side though, still had the recording tab in place, so you could record your own music on side b. Here’s an example of a 1+1 tape.
1982 – COMPACT DISC (CD) – Digital, Optical
The Compact disc (CD) is a digital optical disc data storage format that was introduced in 1982 by Philips. The Standard CDs have a diameter of 4.7 inches, is made of polycarbonate plastic and can hold up to about 80 minutes of uncompressed audio or about 700 MB of data. Although CD sales had continued to decline with the introduction of new formats, it remained the primary source of recorded music until 2020 when the unthinkable happened. The vinyl sales outpaced CD sales in the United States for the first time since the 1980s. I have to admit, as much as I love vinyl, I never saw that coming. I’m more than happy to see it though! Long live vinyl!
1982 – PICOCASSETTE – Analog, Magnetic Tape
Picocassette is an audio storage medium introduced by Dictaphone in collaboration with JVC in 1985. It was an extremely small cassette style tape and was approximately half the size of the Microcassette. It had a tape speed of 9 millimeters per second and each cassette could hold up to 60 minutes of dictation. The unit was only produced for a few years.
Mid 1980’s – BANDAI MICRO CARTRIDGE – Analog, Magnetic Tape
This is the Bandai micro cartridge that was made by Bandai Japan in the mid-1980s. The very small endless-loop magnetic tape cartridge contained only one song and measured only 1 5/16″ x 1 1/8″. As far as I know, these were only used in a miniature replica Wurlitzer jukebox made by Leadworks, and an “Elvis in Concert” doll with built in tape player.
1987 – DIGITAL AUDIO TAPE (DAT) – Digital, Magnetic tape
This (left) is a Digital Audio Tape, also known as a DAT (R-DAT) tape. Digital Audio Tape is a recording and playback medium developed by Sony in 1987. The DAT used a 3.81mm/0.15″ (commonly referred to as 4mm) magnetic tape enclosed in a protective shell. The shell was approximately half the size of a standard cassette tape. DAT did not use any data reduction system so an original digital source could be copied and the DAT would produce an exact clone, unlike other digital media such as DCC’s who utilized data reduction. Because of this fact, the music industry strongly resisted this technology over concerns that perfect copies of music could be easily created. Due to this resistance, the format was never widely adopted by consumers. In 2005 Sony discontinued its remaining DAT machine models although it is still used in film and television recording.
1988 – Pocket Rockers – Analog, Magnetic Tape
Fisher-Price released Pocket Rockers in 1988. The Pocket Rockers used a small endless loop miniature 8-Track style tape. Each tape contained two songs (two tracks) which could be switched once a song ended. Sales were poor and Pocket Rockers were discontinued in 1991.
1992 – DIGITAL COMPACT CASSETTE (DCC) – Digital, Magnetic tape
This (left) is a Digital Compact Cassette, also known as a DCC. It is a magnetic tape sound recording format introduced by Philips and Matsushita in 1992 and was marketed as the successor to the standard analog Compact Cassette. One of the interesting things about these were that the DCC recorders could play back either type of cassette (the standard analog cassettes or this DCC tape). Although technically superior to the analog cassette, the DCC’s were never able to topple the cheaper cassette. DCC was discontinued in October 1996 after Philips admitted it had failed at achieving any significant market penetration. The image below shows the DCC on the left and for size comparison, a standard analog cassette tape on the right.
1992 – NT (Cassette) – Digital, Magnetic tape
NT was a digital memo recording system manufactured by Sony in 1992. It was sometimes marketed under the name Scoopman. They were extremely tiny cassettes but could hold up to 120 minutes. I believe that this was the smallest of the cassette style tapes. These were manufactured until the late 1900’s. NT stands for Non-Tracking, meaning the head moves at a shallower slope to that of the tracks on the tape, crossing several during each pass, albeit only reading partial data from each one. By making several passes it is possible to reassemble the complete data for each track, in memory. This considerably reduced the complexity and size of the head, and, therefore, the recorder. The cassette on the right is for comparison purposes only.
1992 – MINIDISC – Digital, Optical
The MiniDisc was introduced by Sony in 1992 and offered a capacity of 74 minutes and, later, 80 minutes, of digitized audio. It was rewritable and roughly the size of a 3.5″ floppy disk. MiniDiscs were very popular in Japan but were less successful elsewhere. There were less pre-recorded options available in the MiniDisc than other formats and they also faced competition with formats like the CD-R. The biggest competition for MiniDisc though came with the release of the MP3 players in 1998. Sony discontinued manufacturing the MiniDiscs in 2011.
1993 – DTRS (DIGITAL TAPE RECORDING SYSTEM) – Digital, Magnetic tape
The recording system known as the DA-88, was a digital multitrack recording device introduced by the TASCAM division of the TEAC Corporation in 1993. The DA-88 was among the first affordable digital recorders available to home studios. The 8-track, 16-bit recorder captured audio to Hi-8 cassettes and was known for its reliability. It was also known as “modular digital multitrack” (MDM) machine. You could also combine multiple DA-88 devices to record 16 or more tracks. The audio was stored in the DTRS format on Hi-8mm video compact cassettes which was basically the same size as a standard compact cassette tape. It allowed up to 113 minutes of continuous recording on a single tape. As of 2012, the DTRS format is officially retired.
1999 – HITCLIPS – Digital, Memory Card
HitClips was a digital audio player which was created by Tiger Electronics in 1999. The unit had a very small memory card that came attached with a key ring. It contained a 1-minute edited version of a single song and was recorded in mono. HitClips had a very limited release and only around 50 tracks were released between 1999 and 2003.
2001 – E-KARA – Digital, Memory Card
The e-kara was a karaoke system designed by the Japanese toy company Takara and was introduced in 2001. It was a handheld unit which plugged into a television set. The cartridges were interchangeable and contained digitally recreated music that plugged into the handheld unit. When operating, the lyrics appeared on the TV screen. The unit had various types of echo and pitch controls as well as special effects for the users voice. The unit was discontinued in 2009.
2002 – DataPlay – Digital, Optical
DataPlay was introduced in 2002 and used a very small 32mm diameter disc which had a capacity of 500 MB and was enclosed in a protective cartridge. It was intended primarily for portable music playback, including both pre-recorded disks and user-recorded disks, but only write-once like a CD-R. DataPlay also included a unique digital rights management system designed to allow consumers to “unlock” extra pre-recorded content on the disk at any time following the initial purchase. Unfortunately, only an extremely small number of pre-recorded albums were ever released. As a result along with a very limited number of units able to play the discs, this system failed only a few years later. The DataPlay discs are extremely hard to find and are quite rare.
2002 – USB FLASH DRIVE – Digital, Memory Card
Although USB flash drives were originally intended for data storage, since 2006 have also been used by a number of artists for distributing both albums and singles. Some of the USB flash drives contain bonus content such as music videos, and the drive itself can come in customized shapes and colors. The example below is from country music recording artist Trisha Yearwood from her compilation album, PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit from 2014.
2003 – HITCLIPS – Digital, Optical
A second revision of HitClips was released in 2003. The memory card version was replaced with a tiny digital disc. Like it’s predecessor, this also had a small clip that allowed the users to clip their music easily to belts, etc. This was short lived though and production of the HitClips Discs were discontinued in 2004.
2007 – VINYLDISC – Hybrid: Digital, Optical and Analog, Mechanical
The VinylDisc (vinyl CD) is a hybrid CD and vinyl phonograph record. It was developed in Germany by Optical Media Production in 2007. The CD side is a standard CD while the vinyl side is a 33⅓ rpm record that can play up to 3.5 minutes of audio on a regular phonograph with use of a special adapter.
2008 – SLOTMUSIC – Digital, Memory Card
slotMusic is a solid-state memory card format for audio that was based on microSD and introduced by SanDisk in 2008. The cards are preloaded with music in MP3 format. The files contain no digital rights management and are encoded at minimum bitrates of 256 to 320 kbit/s. Only a small number of albums were ever released on slotMusic, and as of 2012 were no longer being promoted on the SanDisk website. It is my understanding that only around 15 albums were made available in the SlotMusic format.
2011 – PLAYBUTTON – Digital, Memory Card
The Playbutton was basically an MP3 player built into a badge and was released in 2011 by the Playbutton company. The Playbutton attempted to mix music memorabilia with an mp3 player. The user was able to display a button of the artist of their choice while listening to it at the same time. The Playbutton was capable of storing 256 MB of memory which was more than enough to store a normal album. The player was controlled on the back of the button which only had controls for volume, play, next-track or previous-track. The headphone socket was on the side of the button and also doubled as the slot for charging. Unfortunately, only a small number of albums were ever released and it was discontinued in 2014.
2018 – HI-RES CD – Digital, Optical
These discs are based around the Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) audio technology. These are an attempt to take high-resolution master recordings and convert them into a standard resolution file size that can be easily downloaded or streamed. There are other recent Hi Quality formats that have been introduced, but I’ll limit the conversation to this one. There has been a significant controversy surrounding this format. Although this format is clearly capable of increasing the frequency or range of the music, it’s unlikely that anyone would be able to notice the difference due to limitation on what the human ear can hear. Many feel that this is just an attempt to get consumers to re-purchase their music libraries. The discs have a green color label coating and I’ve only seen these on Japanese labels.