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The phonograph, or gramophone, was the most common device for playing recorded sound from the 1870s through the 1980s. more...

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Usage of these terms is somewhat different in American English and British English; see usage note below. In more modern usage, this device is often called a turntable or record player. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the alternative term talking machine was sometimes used. The phonograph was the first device for recording and replaying sound.

The term phonograph meaning "sound writer", is derived from the Greek words φωνη (meaning sound or voice and transliterated as phone) and γραφη (meaning writing or Scripture and transliterated as graphe). Similar related terms gramophone and graphophone have similar root meanings. The coinage, particularly the use of the "-graph" root, may have been influenced by the then-existing words "phonographic" and "phonography," which referred to a system of phonetic shorthand; in 1852 the New York Times carried an advertisement for "Professor Webster's phonographic class," and in 1859 the New York State Teachers' Association tabled a motion to "employ a phonographic recorder" to record its meetings.

Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice it has come to mean historic technologies of sound recording.


The phonautograph

The earliest known invention of a phonographic recording device was the phonautograph, invented by Edouard-Leon Scott and patented on March 25, 1857. It could transcribe sound to a visible medium, but had no means to play back the sound after it was recorded. The device consisted of a horn that focused sound waves onto a membrane to which a hog's bristle was attached, causing the bristle to move and enabling it to inscribe a visual medium. Initially, the phonautograph made recordings onto a lamp-blackened glass plate. A later version used a medium of lamp-blackened paper on a drum or cylinder—an arrangement to which Thomas Edison's later invention would bear striking resemblance. Other versions would draw a line representing the sound wave on to a roll of paper. The phonautograph was a laboratory curiosity for the study of acoustics. It was used to determine the vibrations per second for a musical pitch and to study sound and speech; it was not widely understood until after the development of the phonograph that the waveform recorded by the phonautograph was a record of the sound wave that needed only a playback mechanism to reproduce the sound.

Phonograph theory

Charles Cros, a French scientist, produced a theory (April 18, 1877) concerning a phonograph. Cros's work was only a theory, though, and he did not manufacture a model.


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