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Audio recording

"Sound recorder" redirects here. For the audio recording program computer software, see Sound Recorder (Windows).

Sound recording and reproduction is an electrical or mechanical inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. The two main classes of sound recording technology are analog recording and digital recording. Acoustic analog recording is achieved by a small microphone diaphragm that can detect changes in atmospheric pressure (acoustic sound waves) and record them as a graphic representation of the sound waves on a medium such as a phonograph (in which a stylus senses grooves on a record). In magnetic tape recording, the sound waves vibrate the microphone diaphragm and are converted into a varying electric current, which is then converted to a varying magnetic field by an electromagnet, which makes a representation of the sound as magnetized areas on a plastic tape with a magnetic coating on it. Analog sound reproduction is the reverse process, with a bigger loudspeaker diaphragm causing changes to atmospheric pressure to form acoustic sound waves. Electronically generated sound waves may also be recorded directly from devices such as an electric guitar pickup or a synthesizer, without the use of acoustics in the recording process other than the need for musicians to hear how well they are playing during recording sessions.

Digital recording and reproduction converts the analog sound signal picked up by the microphone to a digital form by a process of digitization, allowing it to be stored and transmitted by a wider variety of media. Digital recording stores audio as a series of binary numbers representing samples of the amplitude of the audio signal at equal time intervals, at a sample rate high enough to convey all sounds capable of being heard. Digital recordings are considered higher quality than analog recordings not necessarily because they have higher fidelity (wider frequency response or dynamic range), but because the digital format can prevent much loss of quality found in analog recording due to noise and electromagnetic interference in playback, and mechanical deterioration or damage to the storage medium. A digital audio signal must be reconverted to analog form during playback before it is applied to a loudspeaker or earphones.


Long before sound was being recorded, music was being recorded, first by means of written notation, then also in forms that made it possible for the music to be played automatically by a mechanical device. The automatic reproduction of music can be traced back as far as the 9th century, when the Banū Mūsā brothers invented "the earliest known mechanical musical instrument", in this case a hydropowered organ which played interchangeable cylinders automatically. According to Charles B. Fowler, this "cylinder with raised pins on the surface remained the basic device to produce and reproduce music mechanically until the second half of the nineteenth century."[1][unreliable source?] The Banu Musa brothers also invented an automatic flute player which appears to have been the first programmable machine.[2] According to Fowler, the automata were a robot band which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection."[1] In the 14th century, Flanders introduced a mechanical bell-ringer controlled by a rotating cylinder. Similar designs appeared in barrel organs (15th century), musical clocks (1598), barrel pianos (1805), and musical boxes (ca.1800). The fairground organ, developed in 1892, used a system of accordion-folded punched cardboard books. The player piano, first demonstrated in 1876, used a punched paper scroll that could store an arbitrarily long piece of music. The most sophisticated of the piano rolls were "hand-played", meaning that the roll represented the actual performance of an individual, not just a transcription of the sheet music. This technology to record a live performance onto a piano roll was not developed until 1904. Piano rolls have been in continuous mass production since around 1898. A 1908 U.S. Supreme Court copyright case noted that, in 1902 alone, there were between 70,000 and 75,000 player pianos manufactured, and between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 piano rolls produced.[3] The use of piano rolls began to decline in the 1920s although one type is still being made today.


Main article: Phonoautograph
Au Clair de la Lune
File:Au Clair de la Lune (1860).ogg
This 1860 phonautogram by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville is the earliest known recording of a person singing.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The first device that could record actual sounds as they passed through the air (but could not play them back—the purpose was only visual study) was the phonautograph, patented in 1857 by Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. The earliest known recordings of the human voice are phonautograph recordings, called "phonautograms", made in 1857. They consist of sheets of paper with sound-wave-modulated white lines created by a vibrating stylus that cut through a coating of soot as the paper was passed under it. An 1860 phonautogram of Au Clair de la Lune, a French folk song, was played back as sound for the first time in 2008 by scanning it and using software to convert the undulating line, which graphically encoded the sound, into a corresponding digital audio file.[4][5]


Main article: Phonograph

Phonograph cylinder

"Kham Hom" ("Sweet Words")
File:Kham Hom - Sweet Words.ogg
Phonograph cylinder recording of Siamese (Thai) musicians visiting Berlin, Germany in 1900.

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The first practical sound recording and reproduction device was the mechanical phonograph cylinder, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and patented in 1878.[6] The invention soon spread across the globe and over the next two decades the commercial recording, distribution and sale of sound recordings became a growing new international industry, with the most popular titles selling millions of units by the early 1900s. The development of mass-production techniques enabled cylinder recordings to become a major new consumer item in industrial countries and the cylinder was the main consumer format from the late 1880s until around 1910.

Disc phonograph

File:Alexander Graham Bell's Voice.ogg

The next major technical development was the invention of the gramophone disc, generally credited to Emile Berliner and commercially introduced in the United States in 1889, though others had demonstrated similar disk apparatus earlier, most notable Alexander Graham Bell in 1881.[7] Discs were easier to manufacture, transport and store, and they had the additional benefit of being louder (marginally) than cylinders, which by necessity, were single-sided. Sales of the Gramophone record overtook the cylinder ca. 1910, and by the end of World War I the disc had become the dominant commercial recording format. Edison, who was the main producer of cylinders, created the Edison Disc Record in an attempt to regain his market. In various permutations, the audio disc format became the primary medium for consumer sound recordings until the end of the 20th century, and the double-sided 78 rpm shellac disc was the standard consumer music format from the early 1910s to the late 1950s.

Although there was no universally accepted speed, and various companies offered discs that played at several different speeds, the major recording companies eventually settled on a de facto industry standard of nominally 78 revolutions per minute, though the actual speed differed between America and the rest of the world. The specified speed was 78.26 rpm in America and 77.92 rpm throughout the rest of the world, the difference in speeds a result of the difference in cycle frequencies of the AC power driving the synchronous motor and available gearing ratios.[8] The nominal speed of the disc format gave rise to its common nickname, the "seventy-eight" (though not until other speeds had become available). Discs were made of shellac or similar brittle plastic-like materials, played with needles made from a variety of materials including mild steel, thorn and even sapphire. Discs had a distinctly limited playing life which was heavily dependent on how they were reproduced.

The earlier, purely acoustic methods of recording had limited sensitivity and frequency range. Mid-frequency range notes could be recorded but very low and very high frequencies could not. Instruments such as the violin transferred poorly to disc; however this was partially solved by retrofitting a conical horn to the sound box of the violin. The horn was no longer required once electrical recording was developed.

The long-playing 3313 rpm microgroove vinyl record, or "LP", was developed at Columbia Records and introduced in 1948. The short-playing but convenient 7-inch 45 rpm microgroove vinyl single was introduced by RCA Victor in 1949. In the US and most developed countries, the two new vinyl formats completely replaced 78 rpm shellac discs by the end of the 1950s, but in some corners of the world the "78" lingered on far into the 1960s. Vinyl was much more expensive than shellac, one of several factors that made its use for 78 rpm records very unusual, but with a long-playing disc the added cost was acceptable and the compact "45" format required very little material. Vinyl offered improved performance, both in stamping and in playback. If played with a good diamond stylus mounted in a lightweight pickup on a well-adjusted tonearm, it was long-lasting. If protected from dust, scuffs and scratches there was very little noise. Vinyl records were, over-optimistically, advertised as "unbreakable". They were not, but they were much less fragile than shellac, which had itself once been touted as "unbreakable" compared to wax cylinders.

Electrical recording

Between the invention of the phonograph in 1877 and the advent of digital media, arguably the most important milestone in the history of sound recording was the introduction of what was then called "electrical recording", in which a microphone was used to convert the sound into an electrical signal that was amplified and used to actuate the recording stylus. This innovation eliminated the "horn sound" resonances characteristic of the acoustical process, produced clearer and more full-bodied recordings by greatly extending the useful range of audio frequencies, and allowed previously unrecordable distant and feeble sounds to be captured.

Sound recording began as a purely mechanical process. Except for a few crude telephone-based recording devices with no means of amplification, such as the Telegraphone,[9] it remained so until the 1920s, when recent radio-related developments in electronics converged to revolutionize the recording process. These included improved microphones and auxiliary devices such as electronic filters, all dependent on electronic amplification to be of practical use in recording. In 1906 Lee De Forest began selling the "Audion" triode vacuum tube, an electronic valve which could greatly amplify weak electrical signals. By 1915 it was being used in long-distance telephone circuits that made it possible to talk between New York and San Francisco with both parties being clearly heard. Refined versions of this tube were the basis of all electronic sound systems until the commercial introduction of the first transistor-based audio devices in the 1950s.

During World War I, experiments were undertaken in the United States and Great Britain to record and reproduce, among other things, the sound of a German U-boat (submarine) for training purposes. The acoustical recordings of that time proved entirely unable to reproduce the sounds, so other methods were actively sought. The earliest results were not very promising. The first electrical recording issued to the public, with little fanfare, was of November 11, 1920 funeral services for the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey, London. The microphones used were like those in contemporary telephones. They were discreetly set up in the abbey and connected by wires to recording equipment in a vehicle outside. Although electronic amplification was used, the resulting audio was weak and very unclear. The novel procedure did, however, allow a recording to be made which would otherwise not have been practical in those circumstances. For several years, this little-noted disc remained the only issued electrical recording.

Several record companies and independent inventors, notably Orlando Marsh, were experimenting with equipment and techniques for electrical recording in the early 1920s. Marsh's electrically recorded Autograph Records were already being sold to the public in 1924, a year before the first such offerings from the major record companies, but their overall sound quality was too low to demonstrate any obvious advantage over traditional acoustical methods. Marsh's microphone technique was idiosyncratic and his work had little if any impact on the systems being developed by others.[10]

Telephone industry giant Western Electric had research laboratories (merged with the AT&T engineering department in 1925 to form Bell Telephone Laboratories) with material and human resources that no record company or independent inventor could match. They had the best microphone, a condenser type developed there in 1916 and greatly improved in 1922,[11] and the best amplifiers and test equipment. They had already patented an electromagnetic recorder in 1917, and in the early 1920s they decided to intensively apply their hardware and expertise to developing two state-of-the-art systems for electronically recording and reproducing sound: one that employed conventional discs and another that recorded optically on motion picture film. Their engineers pioneered the use of mechanical analogs of electrical circuits and developed a superior "rubber line" recorder for cutting the groove into the wax master in the disc recording system.[12]

By 1924 such dramatic progress had been made that Western Electric arranged a demonstration for the two leading record companies, the Victor Talking Machine Company and the Columbia Phonograph Company. Both soon licensed the system and both made their earliest published electrical recordings in February 1925, but neither actually released them until mid-year. To avoid making their existing catalogs instantly obsolete, the two long-time arch rivals agreed privately not to publicize the new process until November 1925, by which time enough electrically recorded repertory would be available to meet the anticipated demand. During the next few years the lesser record companies licensed or developed other electrical recording systems. By the end of the 1920s only the budget label Harmony was still issuing acoustically recorded discs.

Comparison of some surviving Western Electric test recordings with early commercial releases indicates that their system had been "dumbed down" by the record companies so as not to overwhelm non-electronic playback equipment, which reproduced very low frequencies as an unpleasant rattle and rapidly wore out discs with strongly recorded high frequencies.

Other recording formats

In the 1920s, Phonofilm and other early motion picture sound systems employed optical recording technology, in which the audio signal was graphically recorded on photographic film. The amplitude variations comprising the signal were used to modulate a light source which was imaged onto the moving film through a narrow slit, allowing the signal to be photographed as variations in the density or width of a "sound track". The projector used a steady light and a photoelectric cell to convert these variations back into an electrical signal which was amplified and sent to loudspeakers behind the screen. Ironically, the introduction of "talkies" was spearheaded by The Jazz Singer (1927), which used the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system rather than an optical soundtrack. Optical sound became the standard motion picture audio system throughout the world and remains so for theatrical release prints despite attempts in the 1950s to substitute magnetic soundtracks. Currently, all release prints on 35 mm film include an analog optical soundtrack, usually stereo with Dolby SR noise reduction. In addition, an optically recorded digital soundtrack in Dolby Digital and/or Sony SDDS form is likely to be present. An optically recorded timecode is also commonly included in order to synchronise CDROMs containing a DTS soundtrack.

This period also saw several other historic developments including the introduction of the first practical magnetic sound recording system, the magnetic wire recorder, which was based on the work of Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen. Magnetic wire recorders were effective, but the sound quality was poor, so between the wars they were primarily used for voice recording and marketed as business dictating machines. In the 1930s, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi developed a system of magnetic sound recording using steel tape. This was the same material used to make razor blades, and not surprisingly the fearsome Marconi-Stille recorders were considered so dangerous that technicians had to operate them from another room for safety. Because of the high recording speeds required, they used enormous reels about one metre in diameter, and the thin tape frequently broke, sending jagged lengths of razor steel flying around the studio. The K1 Magnetophon was the first practical tape recorder, developed by AEG in Germany in 1935.

Magnetic tape

Other important inventions of this period were magnetic tape and the tape recorder (Telegraphone). Paper-based tape was first used but was soon superseded by polyester and acetate backing due to dust drop and hiss. Acetate was more brittle than polyester and snapped easily. This technology, the basis for almost all commercial recording from the 1950s to the 1980s, was invented by German audio engineers in the 1930s, who also discovered the technique of AC biasing, which dramatically improved the frequency response of tape recordings. Tape recording was perfected just after the war by American audio engineer John T. Mullin with the help of Crosby Enterprises (Bing Crosby), whose pioneering recorders were based on captured German recorders, and the Ampex company produced the first commercially available tape recorders in the late 1940s.

Magnetic tape brought about sweeping changes in both radio and the recording industry. Sound could be recorded, erased and re-recorded on the same tape many times, sounds could be duplicated from tape to tape with only minor loss of quality, and recordings could now be very precisely edited by physically cutting the tape and rejoining it. Within a few years of the introduction of the first commercial tape recorder—the Ampex 200 model, launched in 1948—American musician-inventor Les Paul had invented the first multitrack tape recorder, ushering in another technical revolution in the recording industry. Tape made possible the first sound recordings totally created by electronic means, opening the way for the bold sonic experiments of the Musique Concrète school and avant garde composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, which in turn led to the innovative pop music recordings of artists such as Frank Zappa, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Magnetic tape allowed the radio industry for the first time to pre-record many sections of program content such as advertising, which formerly had to be presented live, and it also enabled the creation and duplication of complex, high-fidelity, long-duration recordings of entire programs. Also, for the first time, broadcasters, regulators and other interested parties were able to undertake comprehensive logging of radio broadcasts. Innovations like multitracking and tape echo enabled radio programs and advertisements to be pre-produced to a level of complexity and sophistication that was previously unattainable and the combined impact of these new techniques led to significant changes to the pacing and production style of program content, thanks to the innovations like the endless-loop broadcast cartridge.

Stereo and hi-fi

In 1881, it was noted during experiments in transmitting sound from the Paris Opera that it was possible to follow the movement of singers on the stage if earpieces connected to different microphones were held to the two ears. This discovery was commercialized in 1890 with the Théâtrophone system, which operated for over forty years until 1932.

In 1931 Alan Blumlein, a British electronics engineer working for EMI, designed a way to make the sound of an actor in a film follow his movement across the screen. In December 1931 he submitted a patent including the idea, and in 1933 this became UK patent number 394,325.[13] Over the next two years, Blumlein developed stereo microphones and a stereo disc-cutting head, and recorded a number of short films with stereo soundtracks.

Magnetic tape enabled the development of the first practical commercial sound systems that could record and reproduce high-fidelity stereophonic sound. The experiments with stereo during the 1930s and 1940s were hampered by problems with synchronization. A major breakthrough in practical stereo sound was made by Bell Laboratories, who in 1937 demonstrated a practical system of two-channel stereo, using dual optical sound tracks on film. Major movie studios quickly developed three-track and four-track sound systems, and the first stereo sound recording for a commercial film was made by Judy Garland for the MGM movie Listen, Darling in 1938.

The first movie commercially released with a stereo soundtrack was Walt Disney's Fantasia, released in 1940. The original 1941 release of this production used the "Fantasound" sound system. This system employed a separate film for the sound, which ran in synchronism with the film carrying the picture. On this sound film were four double-width optical soundtracks, three of which carried left, center and right audio while the fourth was a "control" track on which were recorded three tones which controlled the playback volume of the three audio channels. Because of the complex equipment required to present it, it was shown as a roadshow, but only in the United States. Regular releases of the film were on standard mono optical 35 mm stock until 1956 when the film was released with a stereo soundtrack using the "Cinemascope" four-track magnetic sound system.

German audio engineers working on magnetic tape developed stereo recording by 1941, even though a 2-track push-pull monoral technique was experienced in 1939. Of the 250 stereophonic recordings made during WW2, only three survived: Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto with Walter Gieseking and Arthur Rother, a Brahm's Serenade and the last movement of Bruckner's 8th Symphony with Von Karajan (all of these recordings were issued by the AES on CD; the Beethoven Concerto was first issued on LP by Varese Sarabande and has been reissued on CD several times since). The other early German stereophonic tapes are said to have been destroyed in bombings. It was not until the introduction of the first commercial two-track tape recorders by Ampex in the late 1940s that stereo tape recording became commercially feasible. However, despite the availability of multitrack tape, stereo did not become the standard system for commercial music recording for some years and it remained a specialist market during the 1950s.

The first company to release commercial stereophonic tapes is EMI (UK). Their first "Stereosonic" tape was issued in 1954. The rest followed quickly both under the His Master's Voice and Columbia labels. 161 Stereosonic tapes were released, most of which being classical music or lyric recordings. These tapes were also imported in the USA by RCA.

2-track stereophonic tapes were more successful in America during the second half of the 1950s. They were duplicated at real time (1:1) or at twice the normal speed (2:1) when later 4-track tapes were often duplicated at up to 16 times the normal speed, hence a lower sound quality in many cases. Early American 2-track stereophonic tapes were very expensive. A typical example is the price list of the Sonotape/Westmister reels: $6.95, $11.95 and $17.95 for the 7000, 9000 and 8000 series respectively. Some HMV tapes released in the USA also cost up to $15.

The history of Stereo recording changed after the late 1957 introduction of the "Westrex stereo phonograph disc", which used the groove format developed earlier by Blumlein. Decca Records in England came out with FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording) in the 1940s which became internationally accepted and a worldwide standard for higher quality recordings on vinyl records. The Ernest Ansermet recording of Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka was key in the development of full frequency range records and alerting the listening public to high fidelity in 1946.[14]

Most pop singles were mixed into monophonic sound until the mid-1960s, and it was common for major pop releases to be issued in both mono and stereo until the early 1970s. Many Sixties pop albums now available only in stereo were originally intended to be released only in mono, and the so-called "stereo" version of these albums were created by simply separating the two tracks of the master tape. In the mid Sixties, as stereo became more popular, many mono recordings (such as The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds) were remastered using the so-called "fake stereo" method, which spread the sound across the stereo field by directing higher-frequency sound into one channel and lower-frequency sounds into the other.

1950s to 1980s

Magnetic tape transformed the recording industry, and by the late-1950s the vast majority of commercial recordings were being mastered on tape. The electronics revolution that followed the invention of the transistor brought other radical changes, the most important of which was the introduction of the world's first "personal music device", the miniaturized transistor radio, which became a major consumer luxury item in the 1960s, transforming radio broadcasting from a static group experience into a mobile, personal listening activity. An early multitrack recording made using magnetic tape was "How High the Moon" by Les Paul, on which Paul played eight overdubbed guitar tracks. In the 1960s Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and The Beatles (with producer George Martin) were among the first popular artists to explore the possibilities of multitrack recording techniques and effects on their landmark albums Pet Sounds, Freak Out! and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The next important innovation was small cartridge based tape systems of which the compact cassette, introduced by the Philips electronics company in 1964 is the best known. It eventually entirely replaced the competing formats, the larger 8-track tape (used primarily in cars) and the fairly similar 'Deutsche Cassette' developed by the German company Grundig. This latter system was not particularly common in Europe and practically unheard of in America. The compact cassette became a major consumer audio format and advances in microelectronics eventually allowed the development of the Sony Walkman, introduced in the 1970s, which was the first personal music player and gave a major boost to the mass distribution of music recordings. Cassettes became the first successful consumer recording/re-recording medium. The gramophone record was a pre-recorded playback only medium, and reel-to-reel audio tape recording magnetic tape was too difficult for most consumers and far less portable.

A key advance in audio fidelity came with the Dolby A noise reduction system, invented by Ray Dolby and introduced in 1966. A competing system dbx, invented by David Blackmer, found most success in professional audio. A simpler variant of Dolby's noise reduction system, known as Dolby B greatly improved the sound of cassette tape recordings by reducing the practical effect of the recorded hiss inherent in the narrow tape used. It, and variants, also eventually found wide application in the recording and film industries. Dolby B was crucial to the popularisation and commercial success of the compact cassette as a domestic recording and playback medium, and became a part of the booming "hi-fi" market of the 1970s and beyond. The compact cassette also benefited enormously from developments in the tape material itself as materials with wider frequency responses and lower inherent noise were developed, often based on cobalt and/or chrome oxides as the magnetic material instead of the more usual iron oxide.

The multitrack audio cartridge had been in wide use in the radio industry, from the late 1950s to the 1980s, but in the 1960s the pre-recorded 8-track cartridge was launched as a consumer audio format by Bill Lear of the Lear Jet aircraft company (and although its correct name was the 'Lear Jet Cartridge', it was seldom referred to as such). Aimed particularly at the automotive market, they were the first practical, affordable car hi-fi systems, and could produce superior sound quality to the compact cassette. However the smaller size and greater durability — augmented by the ability to create home-recorded music "compilations" since 8-track recorders were rare — saw the cassette become the dominant consumer format for portable audio devices in the 1970s and 1980s.

There had been experiments with multi-channel sound for many years — usually for special musical or cultural events — but the first commercial application of the concept came in the early 1970s with the introduction of Quadraphonic sound. This spin-off development from multitrack recording used four tracks (instead of the two used in stereo) and four speakers to create a 360-degree audio field around the listener. Following the release of the first consumer 4-channel hi-fi systems, a number of popular albums were released in one of the competing four-channel formats; among the best known are Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. Quadraphonic sound was not a commercial success, partly because of competing and somewhat incompatible four-channel sound systems (e.g., CBS, JVC, Dynaco and others all had systems) and generally poor quality, even when played as intended on the correct equipment, of the released music. It eventually faded out in the late 1970s, although this early venture paved the way for the eventual introduction of domestic Surround Sound systems in home theatre use, which have gained enormous popularity since the introduction of the DVD. This widespread adoption has occurred despite the confusion introduced by the multitude of available surround sound standards.

Audio components

The replacement of the thermionic valve (vacuum tube) by the smaller, cooler and less power-hungry transistor also accelerated the sale of consumer high-fidelity "hi-fi" sound systems from the 1960s onward. In the 1950s most record players were monophonic and had relatively low sound quality; few consumers could afford high-quality stereophonic sound systems. In the 1960s, American manufacturers introduced a new generation of "modular" hi-fi components — separate turntables, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, both combined as integrated amplifiers, tape recorders, and other ancillary equipment like the graphic equaliser, which could be connected together to create a complete home sound system. These developments were rapidly taken up by Japanese electronics companies, which soon flooded the world market with relatively cheap, high-quality components. By the 1980s, corporations like Sony had become world leaders in the music recording and playback industry.

Digital recording

Main article: Digital recording

The advent of digital sound recording and later the compact disc in 1982 brought significant improvements in the durability of consumer recordings. The CD initiated another massive wave of change in the consumer music industry, with vinyl records effectively relegated to a small niche market by the mid-1990s. However, the introduction of digital systems was initially fiercely resisted by the record industry which feared wholesale piracy on a medium which was able to produce perfect copies of original released recordings. However, the industry had to bow to the inevitable, but not without using various protection system (principally Serial Copy Management System, or SCMS).

The most recent and revolutionary developments have been in digital recording, with the development of various uncompressed and compressed digital audio file formats, processors capable and fast enough to convert the digital data to sound in real time, and inexpensive mass storage. This generated a new type of portable digital audio player. The minidisc player, using ATRAC compression on small, cheap, re-writeable discs was introduced in the 1990s but became obsolescent as solid-state non-volatile flash memory dropped in price. As technologies which increase the amount of data that can be stored on a single medium, such as Super Audio CD, DVD-A, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD become available, longer programs of higher quality fit onto a single disc. Sound files are readily downloaded from the Internet and other sources, and copied onto computers and digital audio players. Digital audio technology is used in all areas of audio, from casual use of music files of moderate quality to the most demanding professional applications. New applications such as internet radio and podcasting have appeared.

Technological developments in recording and editing have transformed the record, movie and television industries in recent decades. Audio editing became practicable with the invention of magnetic tape recording, but digital audio and cheap mass storage allows computers to edit audio files quickly, easily, and cheaply. Today, the process of making a recording is separated into tracking, mixing and mastering. Multitrack recording makes it possible to capture signals from several microphones, or from different 'takes' to tape or disc, with maximized headroom and quality, allowing previously unavailable flexibility in the mixing and mastering stages for editing, level balancing, compressing and limiting, adding effects such as reverberation, equalisation, flanging, and much more.


There are many different digital audio recording and processing programs running under several computer operating systems for all purposes,[15] from professional through serious amateur to casual user.

A comprehensive list of digital recording applications is available on the digital audio workstation page.

Digital dictation software for recording and transcribing speech has different requirements; intelligibility and flexible playback facilities are priorities, while a wide frequency range and high audio quality are not.

Legal status


Since 1934, sound recordings (or phonograms) have been treated differently from musical works under copyright law.[16] Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 defines a sound recording to mean (a) a recording of sounds, from which the sounds may be reproduced, or (b) a recording of the whole or any part of a literary, dramatic or musical work, from which sounds reproducing the work or part may be produced, regardless of the medium on which the recording is made or the method by which the sounds are reproduced or produced. It thus covers vinyl records, tapes, compact discs, digital audiotapes, and MP3s which embody recordings.


Further reading

  • Barlow, Sanna Morrison. Mountain Singing: the Story of Gospel Recordings in the Philippines. Hong Kong: Alliance Press, 1952. 352 p.
  • Carson, B. H.; Burt, A. D.; Reiskind, and H. I., "A Record Changer And Record Of Complementary Design", RCA Review, June 1949
  • Coleman, Mark, , Da Capo Press, 2003.
  • Gaisberg, Frederick W., "The Music Goes Round", [Andrew Farkas, editor.], New Haven, Ayer, 1977.
  • Gelatt, Roland. The Fabulous Phonograph, 1877-1977. Second rev. ed., [being also the] First Collier Books ed., in series, Sounds of the Century. New York: Collier, 1977. 349 p., ill. ISBN 0-02-032680-7
  • Gronow, Pekka, "The Record Industry: The Growth of a Mass Medium", Popular Music, Vol. 3, Producers and Markets (1983), pp. 53–75, Cambridge University Press.
  • Gronow, Pekka, and Saunio, Ilpo, "An International History of the Recording Industry", [translated from the Finnish by Christopher Moseley], London ; New York : Cassell, 1998. ISBN 0-304-70173-4
  • Lipman, Samuel,"The House of Music: Art in an Era of Institutions", 1984. See the chapter on "Getting on Record", pp. 62–75, about the early record industry and Fred Gaisberg and Walter Legge and FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording).
  • Millard, Andre J., "America on record : a history of recorded sound", Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-47544-9
  • Millard, Andre J., University of Alabama at Birmingham.
  • Milner, Greg, recording consciousness".
  • Moogk, Edward Balthasar. Roll Back the Years: History of Canadian Recorded Sound and Its Legacy, Genesis to 1930. Ottawa, Ont.: National Library of Canada, 1975. N.B.: In part, also, a bio-discography; the hardback ed. comes with a "phonodisc of historical Canadian recordings" (33 1/3 r.p.m., mono., 17 cm.) which the 1980 pbk. reprint lacks. ISBN 0-660-01382-7 (pbk.)
  • Moogk, Edith Kathryn. Title Index to Canadian Works Listed in Edward B. Moogk's "Roll Back the Years, History of Canadian Recorded Sound, Genesis to 1930", in series, C.A.M.L. Occasional Papers, no. 1. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Association of Music Libraries, 1988. N.B.: Title and fore-matter also in French; supplements the index within E. B. Moogk's book. ISBN 0-9690583-3-0
  • Read, Oliver, and Walter L. Welch, From Tin Foil to Stereo: Evolution of the Phonograph, Second ed., Indianapolis, Ind.: H.W. Same & Co., 1976. N.B.: This is an historical account of the development of sound recording technology. ISBN 0-672-21205-6 pbk.
  • Read, Oliver, The Recording and Reproduction of Sound, Indianapolis, Ind.: H.W. Sams & Co., 1952. N.B.: This is a pioneering engineering account of sound recording technology.
  • San Diego University (archived 2010)
  • St-Laurent, Gilles, "Notes on the Degradation of Sound Recordings", National Library [of Canada] News, vol. 13, no. 1 (Jan. 1991), p. 1, 3-4.
  • Weir, Bob, et al. Century of Sound: 100 Years of Recorded Sound, 1877-1977. Executive writer, Bob Weir; project staff writers, Brian Gorman, Jim Simons, Marty Melhuish. [Toronto?]: Produced by Studio 123, cop. 1977. N.B.: Published on the occasion of an exhibition commemorating the centennial of recorded sound, held at the fairground of the annual Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ont., as one of the C.N.E.'s 1977 events. Without ISBN


  • Millard, Andre, "Edison's Tone Tests and the Ideal of Perfect Reproduction", Lost and Found Sound, interview on National Public Radio.

External links

  • Audio Engineering Society
  • Oral history of recorded sound Interviews with practitioners in all areas of the recording industry. British Library
  • History of Recorded Sound. New York Public Library
  • Creative Commons Licence
  • Archival Sound Recordings – tens of thousands of recordings showcasing audio history from 19th century wax cylinders to the present day. British Library
  • International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)
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