It would not be until 1925 that sound recording and playback became an electronic process, thus bringing to an end the so-called acoustic era. Applying electricity to gramophones and improvements in microphones led to a transformation in the old world of music at all levels.
From a marketing and consumer perspective, the contribution of Berliner and his flat discs was fundamental. The German-born engineer was not only an enormously talented inventor, he also displayed considerable business acumen, as demonstrated in his initiative to mass-produce discs based on a mould, enabling him to lay the foundations of the business model for reproducing music (record companies). It led to a new type of entertainment, music at home, which at the same time generated millionaire revenues for the growing record industry.
Technical advances followed both in the format –the record– and in the sound reproducer –the record player or turntable-: the disc evolved from Berliner’s primitive wax-coated versions, through those made of slate, rubber, vulcanite, celluloid and Shellac lacquer until ending up with vinyl. One of the main innovations was the microgroove – the groove being three times narrower, the capacity per millimetre higher and the sound quality better – which, when perfected, led to the appearance of the LP or long-playing record, at 33 rpm, launched onto the market by Columbia Records in 1948. The record player, as we would recognise it, appeared in 1925 and differed from the gramophone in that it was entirely electric, both for operating the turntable and capturing the sound.
Oberlin Smith (1840-1926), an American engineer, came up with and published an idea for designing a device, the telegraphone, for magnetic recording. By not patenting his idea, Smith left the door open for other scientists and engineers to research how to capture sound magnetically. Ten years later, Valdemar Poulsen (1869-1942), a Danish telecommunications engineer, invented the first magnetic recording system onto wire.
The step from wire to magnetic tape was taken by the German engineer Fritz Pfleumer (1881-1945), who in 1928 coated paper tape with iron oxide to create a “recording tape” and came up with the first tape recorder, which he called “soundingpaper” or the “Sound Paper Machine”. In 1934 the German company AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft), created the magnetophon and a year later they presented the model K1 at the Berlin Radio Show, the forerunner of the modern device.
In 1963 the Dutch company Philips launched the first compact cassette on the market, with a royalty-free patent in order to popularise its use and convert it, as duly occurred, into the international standard format.
The objective of making a simple, compact, light and low consumption device was achieved in 1979 with the launch of the Sony TPS-L2, the first stereo player with headphones, perhaps better known by its commercial name, the Sony Walkman. The Walkman marked a definitive change in the way people listened to music. The compact disc, developed jointly by Philips and Sony in 1982, provided the added value of advanced technology applied to sound. The first compact disc player was the Sony D-50, known as the Discman.
The compact disc experienced a decade of advances with optical disc systems, digital reproduction and data, music and video storage: CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD and, more recently, Blu-ray.