It’s easy for this generation of students to take music for granted considering it has always been readily available to them, but this abundant freedom has not been around long; the ability to listen to music freely was only obtained a measly five generations ago.
It all started in 1877, with Thomas Edison’s first phonograph (more commonly known to this generation as the ‘record player’). This sound recording device was created as a result of a theory that connected the telegraph to the telephone. Edison theorized that a telegraph could write out its messages through indentations on paper tape, then that tape could be sent out via telegraph as often as necessary.
After his success with that idea, Edison speculated the same thing could be applied to the telephone. He tested his idea by holding an embossing point against a piece of rapidly moving paper, then the vibration from his voice made indentations on the pape which created a message.
The paper was eventually switched out for a metal cylinder with foil wrapped around it. By the end of November 1877 Edison had created a working sound recording device, and by 1930 people across the nation were listening to music as often as they liked. In 1929 Edison did make a drastic change to the over all phonograph design; he exchanged cylinders for discs which were easier to manufacturer and took up less space.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s records started being manufactured with vinyl. These new vinyl records could be bought as long play 78’s, which held and entire symphony, the ever-popular 45’s which only had one major radio hit on each side, or even 45 EP’s that had two songs per side.
By the 1960’s record players were being installed in cars but were quickly replaced with the latest sound replaying devices: eight-tracks and cassette players.
The eight-track tape recording system, although commonly associated with the auto industry, was developed by the Learjet Corporation: an airplane manufacturer. An eight-track tape included an endless loop of one-fourth inch magnetic tape contain in a plastic shell; the first Learjet Stereo 8 player was designed with only a few knobs and controls to make it easier for consumers to play their music while driving.
Despite being a great step up from Edison’s phonograph, this system was only marketable from 1965 to the late 1970’s; within almost a decade eight-tracks were being upgraded for compact cassettes.
The compact cassette/cassette tape was first invented in 1962 by the Philips Company of the Netherlands, but only obtained nationwide popularity from the 1970’s to the late 1990’s. The cassette tape was essentially and updated eight-track system; they were made with the same magnetic tape sound recording format, but cassettes contained two spools between which magnetically coated one-eighth inch tape was passed through (instead of the eight-track system’s one-fourth inch tape), and cassettes had a faster recording and playback speed of one and seven-eights inches per second.
The smaller tape allowed for a smaller plastic container, therefore naming the device a cassette, which is the French word for ‘little box.’
This advanced technology could be used for everything from portable listening, to home recording, to storing data on early microcomputers. Varieties of cassettes were usually based on their tape length, which was measured in minutes of playing time. The most popular styles were C46 (23 minutes per side), C60 (30 minutes per side), C90 and C120.
With the fall of the cassette tape in the late 1990’s came the rise of the compact disc (also known as the CD). The technology used to develop CD’s was created by the Philips Consumer Electronic Company in 1979 in the Netherlands, and has been on the market ever since 1988. A CD is an optical disc used for storing digital data; standard CD’s have a radius of 60 millimeter and hold up to 80 minutes of audio, or 700MB of data. The compact disc is made from almost pure polycarbonate plastic, and weighs only 16 grams.
Audio data is stored on CD’s (similarly to the phonograph) through tiny indentations in the polycarbonate called ‘pits.’ Pits are approximately 100 millimeters deep by 500 millimeters wide.
A thin layer of aluminum is applied to the surface of the polycarbonate to make it reflective and protect the pits.
The MP3 player was developed by Karlheinz Brandenburg, a mathematician who had been researching different ways of music compressing since 1977.
MP3 stands for Motion Pictures Expert Group Audio Layer III, and essentially is the compression of audio that will make any music file smaller without losing any sound quality; digital sampling is used to convert audio waves into chains of binary numbers that can be stored in digital formats.
All MP3 players have memory storage, an embedded processor, and a codec microchip that is used to convert compressed sound into analog from. MP3 players are also often built into cell phones, making them the most common form of digital audio player around today.