Sound recording has been around for as long as we can remember. Since we are looking at the technologies of sound recording, this is a lengthy trip down memory lane. Sound engineering is very dynamic and it continues to change as it continues to keep up with the times and the growing trends among people and of course the music culture.

At the outset, we can divide the technologies of sound recording in four eras: the acoustic, electrical, magnetic and digital era. These eras of sound recording are defined by the type of machine and technology used to generate recordings at the time. 

Digging deeper into the technologies of sound recording would highlight why it has become a multi-billion dollar industry from its humble beginnings in the 1800s until present time.

Each era of sound recording is defined by major innovations and recently, much focus is given to storage reliability, clarity of sound produced and connectivity.

In this article, we will not only define the technologies of sound recording in terms of the four eras it is conventionally divided but in terms of the most notable technologies of sound recording which restructured the sound recording industry as a whole. 

Phonographs, graphophones and gramophones

These three are peas in a pod because they speak of the same machine with the same function but have subtle differences. For instance, these three devices are all record and playback machines. In the US as well as in France, this technology for sound recording is called phonograph while the UK has been using the term gramophone since 1910. These three sound recording devices could also be traced in terms of the people who coined them and the era when these were coined. 

As such, we credit Thomas Edison for creating the first record and playback machine or the first known technology for sound recording which he called the phonograph. Alexander Graham Bell on the other hand, improved this technology to mass produce it and named it the graphophone.

Finally, in the 1880s, Berliner improved this device for it to be used in entertainment and named it the gramophone. But through the years, the confusion dwindled and at the present time, phonograph, graphophone and gramophone are changed interchangeably. 

Hollywood influence

Basically, Hollywood’s influence on sound recording heavily built on adding realistic sound effects and cinematic essence to films through musical scoring. The first recorded feature film which used recorded sounds composed of two songs and six sound effects would be

The Jazz Singer which was released in 1927. But there are some debates surrounding Hollywood influence in the technologies of sound recording. For instance, a historical archive would document that the combination of sound effects and motion pictures were invented together even before the Second World War.

It is said that the influence of Hollywood in sound recording happened when Thomas Edison commissioned a company called Kinetograph to give images to the sounds he recorded in his phonograph. 

From 1904 to 1927, this became a hit in entertainment: the combination of recorded sounds and motion pictures. From 1930-1940, the Hollywood film industry was already prepared to take on the world with more recorded sounds and more technologies of sound recording.

During this time, Hollywood production giants like MGM, Warner Bros and Paramount were already on a tight competition in building Hollywood as the global standard of the combination of sounds and pictures through films. 

Magnetic recording

This one is a domain of a lot of electric, computer and sound engineers. At the most basic end, magnetic recording is propelled by energizing a magnetic material attached to the recording medium like tapes.

Thus, when sound is being processed, the magnet would polarize all the magnetic materials of the medium (like iron or cobalt) onto one side and eventually transfers the recorded sound on the other side. This process is the reason why no matter how long it has been stored, if you try on a cassette tape or VHS on your vintage player, chances are, you would still be able to watch the videos and hear the songs like it was the first time you hear them. 

This is the reason why up to now, sound engineers would tell you that magnetic recording would still be considered as the most reliable form or technology of sound recording that would make all stored recording accessible even after many years of storage. 

Studio tricks and stereo

Studio tricks and stereo are used in sound and track mixing for music videos, feature films and albums. The principle underlying this is pretty simple: it all boils down in adding width and depth to the recorded sounds or music.

A good stereo mix and studio trick mean that the recorded sounds/song have a good width and depth for clarity, separation, balance and space. The good thing about recording sounds in stereo is that, it basically creates a sonic picture of the real world.

This is quite different from the rest because, studio recording means that you record the sounds separately which enable you to control everything from pitch to volume to vibration and effects with the help of technology. While it does not replicate live performances in recorded tracks, it sure does make the track feel more immortal and smooth.  

Stereo in the home 

Another technology of sound recording would be home stereos. This is the most convenient way of recording, listening and producing music right at the convenience of your home.

This one typically involves two external speakers that are connected in the stereo receiver or amplifier and of course the main source of sound.

This is the technology of sound recording where we could find a lot of innovation. Through the years, home stereos banked on connectivity. At present, Bluetooth, WiFi and USB connections are now available and streaming via external gadgets are now typical features of home stereos. 

The rise of the 8-track

The 8-track was one of the monumental upgrades in technologies of sound recording because for the first time in the entire history of recording, playing vinyl in cars was possible.

Thanks to big companies like Ford, GM, Motorola and RCA, the 8-track was one of the highlights of the glorious 70s music. The 8-track as a technology of sound recording featured a four-track cassette with the sound of a stereo.

Ford capitalized on this very much that in 1967-1970, all Ford models would have the 8-track. When it was already on the rise, they innovated the 8-track to refine stereo music better and so it became a trend for car owners because they could finally play any song in the car. But after one decade, the 8-track went as fast as it came and 70s kids only remember it as the small cassettes in their old cars. 

Cassette culture

The cassette was so popular that a new music culture was framed from it. In a nutshell the cassette culture refers to the practices that are associated with an amateur level production and distribution of recorded sound or music.

It was introduced in the 1970s and was popularly known as home-made audio cassettes or just cassettes.

It was very convenient that time for various reasons. For young listeners who are only starting their love for music, the analog tone was a hit. For starting bands and artists, the inexpensive cassette was their one way ticket to stardom as they could produce several demo tracks to be submitted to producers.

And in terms of storage, you can depend on the cassette for storing important audios. The cassette defined a generation as it was a crossover technology of sound recording from 1970s to early 1990s before digital recordings and CDs took its place. 

Digital recordings and the CD

The sound recording industry is now dominated by digital recordings and during the late 1990s to mid-200s, it is the CD format that was the most popular.

Digital recording is a technology of sound recording which makes use binaries or coding used in digital storage media or magnetic tape to preserve audio and visual recordings.

Essentially it is a digitized playback machine that is more compact and portable compared to its phonograph predecessor. Through the years, digital recordings were diversified into CD storage, CD-ROM storage that made it more portable and efficient as a storage system. 

At present digital recordings are no longer just defined by compact discs but of more innovated technologies like the MP3, USB and more recently of Bluetooth technology and the world wide web. 


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I am an avid Mac-user, nerd, musician, freelancer, and gamer. Ask me about my collection of M:TG cards! I've also got a horrible habit of needing the absolute newest technological wonder, whether it's stable or not. If they made a home-version of the LHC, I'd have 2. Additionally, I've been playing music for the better part of 14 years. I'm self-taught on piano, guitar, trumpet, trombone, sax, clarinet, bass, drums and other percussion, and around 10 other instruments. I also spend quite a bit of time dabbling in synthesizers, sequencers, and samplers. I'm also founder of Quotelicious where I collect and share the quotes I love.


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