The evolution of music formats from 1889 to present day: from vinyl to digital music

January 09, 2019 0 Comments

The evolution of music formats from 1889 to present day: from vinyl to digital music

There have been significant changes in the way we distribute music throughout history. Nowadays, we can play music directly through streaming services such us Spotify into our smartphones or laptops. Also, if we visit a music shop, we could probably find formats such as CD (Compact disc) or vinyl. Although we are not buying too many CDs lately, but that’s not the case with Vinyl, which we can see the millennial generation adopting.

To explain the evolution of music formats, we are going back in time. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, a device that could record and reproduce sound. Later, Emile Berliner developed the lateral-cut disc record and named his system the gramophone.  In 1889, Berliner’s earliest discs were marketed and played in small hand-propelled machines. These discs had limited sound quality but they would later be improved by Berliner’s manufacturing associate, Eldridge R. Johnson.  Eventually, they would part ways, and Berliner’s company became RCA Victor. In 1919, many companies started to produce the lateral-cut disc because the basic patent had expired.

From the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, 8-track tape, a magnetic tape sound-recording technology, was popular in the United States. Its popularity grew from the booming automobile industry. Ford Motor Company introduced factory-installed, and dealer-installed, eight-track tape players as an optional extra in their Mustang, Thunderbird and Lincoln cars in 1965. The format gained popularity and home players were introduced in 1966.

Audio formats infographic


Eventually, 8-track players became less common in homes and vehicles and the compact cassette, an analogue magnetic tape recording format for audio, arrived in 1962, released by Philips. The compact cassettes came in two forms, either containing content as a pre-recorded cassette, or as a fully recordable blank cassette. Both were reversible by the user. The cassette’s popularity grew during the 1970s and 1980s, and stereo tape decks and boom boxes became the most wanted consumer products. This era also saw the rise of the “Walkman” by Sony, a pocket recorder and hi-fi player that enabled users to take their music with them anywhere.

In the late 70s, Philips and Sony developed prototypes of the Compact Disc (CD), an evolution of Laserdisc technology. In 1982, compact discs and their players were very popular. The CD player replaced the audio cassette player in new automobiles but with the increasing popularity of portable audio players, such as mobile phones, mini-jack auxiliary inputs, wired connection to USB devices and wireless Bluetooth connection have been placed in cars and CD players are being phased out. In consequence, the CD began to decline in popularity in the 2000s in favour to internet-based distribution of files such as MP3.

We are now in the era of Digital distribution, which is the delivery or distribution of media content, like music, through the Internet. We use different streaming services, such us Spotify or iTunes, to listen and download the singles or albums we love. This has contributed to the success of some artists, as all the costs attributed to expenses have been cut out.

Music formats have changed enormously over time, but although we love listening to music through streaming services, many of us still think that vinyl has the best audio quality and this could be the reason that we refuse to let it go completely. What do you think about it? Which audio format has been your favourite?

This post was written by Carolina Vazquez.