Today, we can listen to as much music as we like (i.e. with the use of streaming platforms), hear important speeches and events on the news, and even mix and edit audio using advanced audio software. But just 200 years ago, none of this was possible. People could only listen to music live and were limited to written records of speech. The simple reason for this is that there was no way to record sound.
In fact, it was only in the late 19th century that the first developments in this field were made, with Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph in 1859, and Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877.
By modern day standards, these were very basic; the former could record soundwaves but not play them back. The phonograph could reproduce sound, but it was very low quality and took a lot of effort to produce multiple copies – to make 500 phonograph cylinders, musical performers would have to perform 25 times in front of 20 phonographs!
The next innovation – the gramophone – was more of a success, accelerating the emergence of the modern day music industry and introducing the disc format for the very first time.
So how did we go from these primitive instruments to today’s audio technology in just 160 years? There have been rapid developments across many fields in this time, and sound recording technology was swept up in these tides of change. Inventions and discoveries throughout the 20th century – in electricity, magnetism, and digital storage and encoding – directly influenced music and sound technology. The result of this was that the pace of innovation was unprecedented, and huge steps were made in very little time.
To help you learn more about the history of audio recording, McGowan Transcriptions have designed the following infographic. It’ll take you through all the major technologies that have each in their own right revolutionized audio recording and production. Take a look below!