Knowledge Bank

news category created 11 April 2008 written by Mick Glossop

Vinyl and Beyond

After the Second World War, more and more people in the post-war years had the time and the money to enjoy pre-recorded music in their homes. The late 1940s began a period of both innovation and standardisation that changed the technology of pre-recorded music and revitalised the record industry. New Record Formats From a technical standpoint, the industry’s first big post-war event was the 1948 introduction of the vinyl LP, developed under the direction of Peter Goldmark at Columbia Records.

The 12-inch, 33 1/3 RPM LP offered playback of more than 20 minutes per side, and was far more durable than the dominant “78s” of the time. RCA Victor followed Columbia’s move with the introduction of the plastic 7-inch 45 RPM record in 1949, and the two formats, requiring record players with different speeds, competed for the next few years. Spurred by the impact of consumer confusion on record sales, the industry came together in the early 1950s around the concept of LPs for albums (collections of songs) and 45s for singles.

The RIAA, formed in 1952, facilitated the technical standardisation of records by bringing together engineers from member companies to develop the RIAA curve, a frequency response specification for optimising the performance of phonographic playback systems Record industry sales nearly tripled in the decade following the introduction of the LP, while 78s had faded from the scene by 1955. In 1958 another major format change began with adoption of a world standard for stereo records, based on the work of Columbia Records scientist A.D. Blumlein during the 1930s. While some early stereo recordings relied on gimmicks to show off the new system, it was quickly evident that stereo added greatly to music listening enjoyment. Release in both mono and stereo became the norm, and by the end of the 1960s mono had been essentially phased out.

Tape Recording Developed at BASF in Germany and first shown publicly in 1935, magnetic tape recording was largely ignored in the United States for the next decade. That changed, however, when Bing Crosby and Ampex Corporation took an interest in Magnetophon recorders brought home to the US by serviceman John Mullin after the war. Recording on tape allowed performances to be edited rather than played perfectly in one pass. And multi-track tape recording eventually allowed the overdubbing of performances against existing tracks, expanding creative freedom. While reel-to-reel tape formats were the standard for professional use, pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes proved difficult and inconvenient for consumers, and never amounted to more than a niche market. In 1963, however, Philips demonstrated a format that would bring tape to the masses: the audio compact cassette. Like Edison’s phonograph some eighty years before, cassettes were originally marketed as a medium for dictation, but held greater consumer appeal for music.

SNF8trackSmThe RIAA engineering committee worked with tape manufacturers to ensure that magnetic tapes were optimised for pre-recorded applications, and Dolby B Noise Reduction was introduced in 1969 to address the “hiss” problem. The pre-recorded cassette soon became a popular option for portable and automotive listening. A rival tape format, the 8-track stereo cartridge, was introduced in 1966, and found broad success in automotive applications. Cassettes proved less cumbersome and more reliable, however, and their versatility was enhanced with the 1979 introduction of the Sony Walkman portable. The cassette’s dominance of the pre-recorded tape market was complete by 1983, by which time record labels ceased production of pre-recorded 8-tracks.