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 Audio Recording History, Battle Of Patents & Formats

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phaedra2008
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 09, 2014 9:11 am    Audio Recording History, Battle Of Patents & Formats Reply with quoteBack to top

Besides the Em and HiFi interest I also collect early audio formats/machines, radio's, tubes/valves and media formats.
I usually go for good representatives the small and good visual impact items and here are a couple of "portable" Cylinder players from around 1904 in perfect working condition.
The key to these machines were the constant spinning speed and reproducer consisting of a needle following the groves and vibrating "patented" materials diaphragms, the acoustics further boosted by the horn type/size.


Edison Gem, (240mm L x 200 D x 950mm H) patented in 1888 the Edison machines were the Rolls Royce with solid build and louder sound reproducers, superior quality cogs and belts, etc.
The Gemm could be used with the standard 2 minutes or then new 4 minutes reproducers/cylinders.

Image

Columbia Eagle B (300mm L x 180 D x 150mm H) patented in 1866 it was the VW of the cylinder players aimed at the masses, cheap, open frame & poor build with some 500 estimated to exist. It featured a double spring motor 3 ball speed governor and the optional cover/lid.

Image

None of these cases house the Horns as they were optional with a wide variety available based on size, quality and acoustic performances, just like speakers or headphones...

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 09, 2014 9:38 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Although the disc was patented in the late 1800's too the cylinders were what the manufacturers were focusing on and the format kept going till around 1920 when the disc finally started a new era.

The problem with cylinders was the lack of mass manufacturing process and materials which improved from wax to, bakelite or ceramic tubes with various coatings for the audio carrier grooves.
They were fragile, easily going out of shape and the early ones containing bee's wax or other organic substance were attacked by mould in humid conditions.

Our current technology owes a lot to these early pioneering efforts.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:51 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

This is pretty cool. Is this going to be an ongoing series of posts of old audio equipment?

I wonder how many people here remember Elcaset?

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 09, 2014 10:22 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Or wire-recorders, for that matter.

A friend of mine used to have one American-made model which could be have been lifted straight from a 1940s retro-futurist film (or a Terry Gilliam steampunk film).

Stephen

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:44 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

« ech3 » wrote:
This is pretty cool. Is this going to be an ongoing series of posts of old audio equipment?
I wonder how many people here remember Elcaset?


I intend to post things I mainly have in my collection and know a fair bit about.
The next set would be a series of various type of Cylinders to close the format topic.

Then a focus on the various disc formats (and sizes...) which led to the Vinyl as we know it, then some unusual CD's closing the audio "carrier media" with the memory stick.

Then I was fascinated by early radios from crystal till around 1925 tube/valves running on DC batteries as not every house had AC power...

I limited my interest to home listening audio formats & devices but not bothered with the phenomenal amount of commercial/industrial or military offshoot versions.

Tapes never interested me because they were all based on the same technology, be it 2" analog video from the 70"s, open reels or stuck in a case it was all fragile tapes.

The Elcaset you mention I saw in shops in the early 80's but the format vanished quickly, it was a larger version of the Philips Compact cassette intended to provide open reel quality in a portable form but there were very few prerecorded tapes available.
A format war similar to the Beta vs. VHS. vs. Philips/Grundig Video2000 video tape formats.

The Compact cassette quality made a rapid and massive audio quality jump thanks to better tape formulations (like Metal, Chrome) and decks like Nakamichi so the cumbersome Elcaset stood no chance as didn't 8 track which vanished in the early 80's.

But a friend still has a working Sony Elcaset deck, and for those who never heard of it here is an image of what it looked like:

Image

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 8:10 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Image

- Edison Concert 5" diameter from late 1898 also sold by Columbia as the Graphophone Grand (my specimen) cylinder.
They had longer playing time and better sound but were very fragile to handle made from some wax compound easily deforming from ambient heat while humidity causing irreversible fungi mould growth.
The volume sold was 10 times less than the established 2 1/4" cylinders, so they are rare and expensive if in good condition.

- Pathe in France was also very active producing "standard" 2 1/4" cylinders while experimenting with new formats like this 1903 "Salon" 3 1/2" cylinder, there is a 4" version too but couldn't find it for this photo right now, it must be in a box around the house and will end up on the display I am planning to make.

- Edison Gold Moulded cylinder, in 1902 Edison came up with the concept of a "master" cylinder and a heat moulded process, finally the elusive mass production delivering consistent copies (just like Vinyl later on) arrived.

- Edison Amberol was introduced in 1912 as a more robust product competing with he "indestructible celluloid" cylinders introduced by other new record labels. They used a ceramic type base coated with mouldable hard plastic.

But Gramophone discs started emerging and by 1915 Edison used a dubbing process to manufacture cylinders and discs from the same Edison patented "Diamond Disc" master.
Pictured are 4 shades of blue Amberols, and a purple Columbia version.

- Edison Brown Wax was the first commercially available recorded media material from 1895 - 1901 being replaced by the other examples of more advanced materials.

- Blank Wax, yes, it was possible to record 2 minutes of sound on Blanks, the specimen in the image I cut 2 minutes of Stairway to heaven on it.

The single sided Emile Berliner's disc appeared commercially around 1888 but the cylinder grabbed the market for a good 50 years.
A slow death for the cylinder media but imminent with more & More disc format technologies emerging, and Edison's retirement from the record business in 1929.

The cylinder was also used a lot for spoken word recordings such as language learning and very commonly used as dictaphones.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 8:51 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

And to close the Cylinder era, "...let me start at the beginning, because a story should be told in the right way, like they used to be told" W.C. Rothe-Alice

It all began in 1877 while Edison worked in telephony and found that a sound wave cut into the wax coating of a moving paper tape did reproduce the original leading to his invention of the Tin Foil Phonograph used in those early telephony days for pre recorded messages, a bit like today less the dial 1 for that service or 2 for that department...
Many were made and not just by Edison but very few survived, a good replica would cost $1500-$4000 while an original tens of thousands, I never saw an original for sale other than in specialised auctions and passed 3-4 replicas I came across over the years. So this post is just for topic completeness.

The essence of the cylinder journey from 1877 is that a sound could be recorded and reproduced from a groove cut into a physical carrier, it gave us the the "groove" some still enjoy today when listening to an LP...

A selection of Edison models:

Image

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:04 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

« dronescape » wrote:
Or wire-recorders, for that matter.
A friend of mine used to have one American-made model which could be have been lifted straight from a 1940s retro-futurist film (or a Terry Gilliam steampunk film).Stephen


Of course, very important evolution too and I had one long ago.
My father hated electricity after some shocks in his teens and preferred mechanical things becoming an avid antique clock collector, from floor standing Grandfather types to CooCoos…
He constantly restored and traded clocks with other collectors and one day in 1974 he brought me a gift from some trade he did, a German wire recorder from the 40's, mechanically working but no sound...after changing some tubes and blown capacitors the thing worked.
I decided to record on it Pink Floyd's Dark side of the moon which worked but the mono audio was awful.

Wire recording (telegraphing) was demonstrated in 1890 but never caught on, it's frequency range was telephonic (400-3000Hz) even for the modern units which suffered from the same fundamental issues of dropouts as the wire did not set always the same way on the spools/reels, the high linear speed caused the wire to break, complex electro mechanically, etc.
But it was used in telephony as repeater, telephone tapping, and lot by the military and various spying agencies.

"Portable" 30's-40's units:
Image

But wire was not suitable even for those days' AM radio broadcasting which used transcription discs.

The antique types are hard to come by while the modern ones are very cheap on eBay starting from $100+ depending on condition/completeness.

Image

However, the wire evolved into "wire tape" providing broadcast acceptable quality like this massive Marconi-Stille set up in 1935 for the BBC Radio, apparently the first broadcast using magnetic wire/tape.
Here are some specs:
freq. response 50-6000Hz, tape width 3mm x 0.08mm thick, running at 90mtrs/minute, half an hour required 2900mtrs weighing some 30 kilos & the machine 1000kgs.
Amazing, all that plus more in an iPhone in 80 years

Image

and a Kraftwerk Ancestor operating it:

Image

And a "block diagram" of what made it tick Very Happy

Image

Crude n' rude but wire led to metal tape then to the magnetic plastic tape still in use today Laughing

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:59 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Elcaset was one of Sony's many attempts to "take over the world"
by having evryone move to a format that was proprietary to Sony.
The reason it failed was that the big record companies (EMI, Philips, Polydor)
would not sign in to a format that belonged to someone else (who was not
prepared to share it).
If you remember the reason that VHS won was because JVC gave it to public.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 12:38 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

« ambientlive » wrote:
Elcaset was one of Sony's many attempts to "take over the world"
by having evryone move to a format that was proprietary to Sony.
The reason it failed was that the big record companies (EMI, Philips, Polydor)
would not sign in to a format that belonged to someone else (who was not
prepared to share it).
If you remember the reason that VHS won was because JVC gave it to public.


I remember them all Laughing but the Philips compact cassette was established and killed of the other established 8 track tape too.
I have not seen any prerecorded Elcasets other than the demo and the only other deck I ever saw was from Technics.

Sony was stubborn in their format war dominance learning slowly from the past but they did eventually in a pretty devious way, read lower down.

Sony & Philips cooperated successfully to bring us the CD in 1982/83 yet in 1987 they were fighting over new digital tape formats:
Philips' DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) vs. Sony's DAT, both failed the consumer market. DAT found it's way as the new must have Studio/field digital recorder (favorite amongst Rap producers as in the US you could buy car DAT's) and the DCC just vanished. Ultimately any tape was still a fragile tape.

Sony then brought out the MD (mini disc) which killed off the old cassette, I loved the MD, had portables, in car, deck, as the MD was a small RW CD it only held 140MB so they came up with the ATRAC compression way before mp3 was even thought of. Then the computer industry introduced the CDr which killed them all.

Sony's Beta was superior but JVC cornered the market, even gave for free duplicating equipment to studios while Sony charged half a million bucks for a rack wall of duplicators....
All JVC had to do is wait for Sony to come up with some new feature and introduce it in their VHS Laughing

But Sony finally learnt something for the Bluray, and deviously as mentioned above because by then they bought Columbia studios controlling films and music, and the very popular Sony PS console was upgraded with a Bluray driver and they hit the market from all directions.

The rival HD-DVD format did not stand a chance as Toshiba & NEC did not have any of those advantages and could only rely on studios to adopt their system, some did adopt both formats for a while but abandoned the HD-DVD when Warner Bros. decided to drop the format in 2008.

VHS won as the consumer did not care about detailed technicalities and Sony started making VHS machines and the innocent bystander Philips/Grundig Video2000 vanished by default.

As far as recordable media goes for me Bluray is it, it carries anything, be it audio, video, both, hi rez/multichannel, even for the future 4k video as new 300GB Bluray format is in the worx, so no format wars anymore Laughing
one disc to rule them all.

Fascinating stuff Smile

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 6:41 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

Just some stuff ...
I had a CDR drive in a PC in 1990 it was a 2-speed drive connected via a proprietary interface on a soundcard.
Minidisc was introduced in 1992
I also remember seeing Phil Collins 'Hello I must be Going' on 8mm tape (audio not video) in a shop in Kendal in the early 80's
The thing that meant DCC would not succeed was the complexity of the record/playback head(s), the beauty of them was that they could also play existing analogue cassettes (via a seoarate head)

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 7:08 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

I've been through those early CDr days too, the first Yamaha drive for PC (they were the best in the beginning) cost me $1400 + $400 for a SCSI card.
It was a bumpy ride for the CDr with expensive blanks, lots of failed /ruined discs "coasters" usually from the classic "Buffer under run", a successful write would have required good media written at 1-2 x speed and not touching the PC till it was over...

After all these years it was concluded that the average lifespan of a CDr is more like 10 years and not the 100 years as initially advertised (CD life span) from accelerated testing.
PC's CPU speed, software task handling, CDr drive extra buffer memory and cheaper discs led to people putting up with less coasters and the format took over everything, by then it was already the '90's.

MD evolved from ATRAC lossy recording to non lossy wav PCM capability in a few short years. While the factory MD were pressed like a CD, the writeable MDr blanks used magneto-optical technology where the dye would be heated then the digital bits were being magnetically modified into 1's or 0's which kept that state when the disc cooled down.

MD was huge in Japan, in fact Sony stopped manufacturing MD gear early last year, yeah 2013...
but I'm getting ahead of the topic as the next wave of posts was to be the most durable and influential formats ever: The Disc.
The format/shape/recording technology journey from from the late 1800's to CD

PS Laughing did you have or still have an Elcaset deck?

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 7:40 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

No Elcaset here, though it was recognised at the time as yet another Sony world domination attempt.
The big plus for me was that it ran 1/4" tape at 3.75 ips, however I bought a Nakamichi LX-3 instead Smile

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:04 pm    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

funnily enough I've recently (in last couple of years) got into MD - it's much more versatile than CDR for how I make music.

How often can a CDRW be re written?

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 4:22 am    (No subject) Reply with quoteBack to top

« Seren » wrote:
funnily enough I've recently (in last couple of years) got into MD - it's much more versatile than CDR for how I make music.
How often can a CDRW be re written?


The CDRW dye & reflectivity is poorer than that of a write once CDr which in turn is less than a manufactured CD...but the error correction and modern drivers tend to take care of that in most cases.

The CDRW spec states in can be rewritten 1000 times, the Sony MDr was 1Million times.
But I wouldn't trust any of these as in 5-6 years of using MDr's I had duds, MDr's that played fine for a while becoming suddenly unplayable.
I tried these duds on several players I had like portables, HiFi deck, and two Car AM/FM/MD players.

I could never figure out what was wrong as the MD was very robustly protected inside and all I could do is look at it...wouldn't re record either so I assumed the TOC lead in was somehow totally damaged/corrupt, but these were 3-4 MD's out of maybe 100 I kept recycling having replaced the compact cassettes.
It was like many perfectly looking CDr's that degrade, the look new but nothing reads them or skip, or develop audio artifacts...

But even if you half the CDRW rewrite times it's not bad, maybe now and then do a complete erase just like reformatting a HDD clearing all data instead of the data headers only.

A note on MD, the original ATRAC compression was 5:1 (292kb/s) which by ATRAC3Plus went up to 352kb/s used a bit like the VBR in the mp3 world.
Comparing algorithms audio quality is a discussion that will never end, if you decide to go lossy use what your ears like on your system Very Happy

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