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How Home Music Audio Evolved from the Gramophone to Wireless Speakers!

by Ann Ferguson

Gone are the days when listening to music at home meant playing a vinyl record on a gramophone. Today, we can access millions of songs with just a tap on a device. But have you ever wondered how we got here? The journey was incredible!

From the birth of gramophones to the latest wireless speakers, let's look at how far music audio has evolved to bring us the best quality and height of convenience!

Phonograph

Old picture of phonograph

You might've seen the terms phonograph and gramophone used interchangeably, but they are two separate devices. The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 while he was designing telephone transmitters and used tinfoil cylinders to capture sounds and engrave movements. The first recorded sound was Edison's rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which he sang to his young children at the time!

The phonograph had a hand crank to move the cylinders and produce sound through the acoustic horn, but the sound quality was poor and could only be played back once. The intention behind the phonograph was more to record and playback business-related diction and not music.

Gramophone

After the success of the phonograph, other inventors challenged themselves to improve the technology further. Alexander Graham Bell had minor success with the graphophone, which used wax cylinders to record sound, but it was meant more for recording telephone conversations. It wasn't until 1887 when Emile Berlinger made the gramophone, the first recording device to use grooved, flat disks instead of cylinders (the earliest version of the record player!).

The gramophone itself used a turntable needle and a direct drive system to play music through the grooves on the flat 78s discs! By 1895, the first record players were mass-produced and paved the way for the introduction of popular music people could enjoy from the comfort of their own homes!

Did You Know? The 78s records played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute and could only hold up to three minutes' worth of music!

Vinyl Record Player

Two teens listening to latest record

Gramophones were the norm until they produced the first vinyl records in 1948. At this time, the first 12-inch Long Playing (LP) 33 ½ RPM and 7-inch 45 RPM singles came on the scene, creating an affordable solution for the middle classes after the war. From then on, record players had three speeds available: 33RPM, 45RPM, and 78RPM; some were portable, battery-powered, and featured a built-in amplifier and speaker!

But it wasn't until the 60s and 70s that new and improved record players took the world by storm. These were the first turntables to provide stereo playback and reproduce high-fidelity sound, which made the 20 minutes worth of audio on either side of the LP worth listening to!

Did You Know? Record players are making a comeback as they're still one of the best ways to hear music as the artists intended and recorded in the studio!

Radio

Vintage home radio set

The birth of radios in the home was in direct competition for record players, especially since radio programs gave access to sports scores, voting results, soap operas, lectures, weather reports, comedians, political commentaries, and stores (like early podcasts!).

But by the 50s, these all-service stations gradually changed to the top 40 stations since it required less equipment to devote the program solely to music, which eventually led to popular music as we know it today! And since the invention of the transistor allowed for radios to be made smaller, it made portable music a reality by the 60s and 70s!

One-Piece Hi-Fi Audio System

Even though portable audio was becoming necessary for consumers, one-piece Hi-Fi audio systems were still popular. These devices came as a result of the booming suburbs happening post-WWII. They featured wooden-built consoles featuring amplifier-powered stereo speakers with a turntable and radio hidden under a lid in the center. The fancier ones even had full bars and TV sets implemented— think of your home entertainment center and home bar in one, and you'll get close to what these were.

But it wasn't until 1968, when Harman Kardon developed the first stereo receiver featuring a radio tuner with wider FM bandwidth, an amplifier, and a preamplifier, all in a complete chassis, that the Golden Age of Hi-Fi audio started!

Component Stereo System

Component stereo system

By the 70s, technology improved on the one-piece audio system with a component stereo system. Instead of an all-in-one setup you couldn't control, these component stereo systems had multiple pieces, including an amplifier, speakers, radio, turntable, and a tape (or CD player in later years) player. The ability to customize your sound took audio enthusiasts by storm, as they could assemble high-end audio better than any pre-packaged item.

Not to mention, these stereo systems made it easier for families to enjoy music without having to switch from one system to another.

Cassettes

From the 50s to the 80s, most music was recorded on tape. In fact, the first home use machine to use tap was the reel-to-reel player, which offered the most fidelity and improved analog audio playback. But the more popular 8-track tape and compact cassette tapes became the norm.

  • 8-Track Tapes was the first viable portable tape player that was also included in many classic-era muscle cars like the '66 Mustang and Thunderbird.
  • Compact Cassettes were introduced simultaneously as 8-track and gained popularity with their improved technology, better high-fidelity, and hyper-portable audio players!

CD Players

CD player on stereo system with multiple discs

While tapes were an authentic way to reproduce sound, the introduction of digital audio through Compact Discs (CDs) revolutionized home audio. The first commercial CD was produced in 1982 and quickly made digital music more portable at a larger scale for the first time. And CDs let people choose what music they wanted and allowed skipping through to preferred tracks at the click of a button — which was a first at the time!

Soon CD players were incorporated into all the latest component stereo systems!

Did You Know? The first commercially released CD was Billy Joel's sixth album, 52nd Street, on Oct. 1, 1982!

MP3 Players

Speaker of portable audio, when MP3 players came on the scene, they quickly changed the music scene. The MPEG III audio codec that allowed digital audio compression from CD quality was standardized in the 90s, making storing and playing audio files easier!

And while the devices were portable, they could easily be adapted to a stereo system with an iPod dock or a 3.5mm aux input. So, you had even more control over your music through curated playlists and the benefits of no more skipping from scratched CDs!

Wireless Speakers

Living room with wireless speaker setup

With the rise of smartphones and streaming in the early 2000s came the need for wireless speakers. More and more manufacturers started making internet-connected speakers so you could connect to your favorite content on a streaming platform while at home.

Today, more wireless speakers have Bluetooth, making connecting several speakers much more manageable. And with multi-room audio, you can have built-in wireless speakers in any room and have them play the same playlist simultaneously with no lag or completely separate playlists. You can even apply this to your outdoor music setup!

Rock All Night!

As you can see, home audio has come a long way from the first gramophone. Now we have more Hi-Fi audio options you can integrate into any part of your home! Of course, you don't have to create or plan your audio system yourself — leave it to the experts at Audio Video Intelligence!

We'll create a home audio or theater system that'll leave your ears singing for more! So, don't wait to get started; contact our team today!