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A History on turntables

The phonautograph

The earliest known invention of a phonographic recording device was the phonautograph, invented by 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 wavelength that needed only a playback mechanism to reproduce the sound.


The first phonograph

Patent drawing for Edison's phonograph, May 18-1880.Thomas Alva Edison announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and replaying sound, on November 21, 1877 and he demonstrated the device for the first time on November 29 (he patented it on February 19, 1878; US Pat. No. 200,521). Edison's early phonographs recorded on a phonograph cylinder using up-down (vertical) motion of the stylus. Edison's early patents show that he also considered that sound could also be recorded as a spiral on a disc, but Edison concentrated his efforts on cylinders, since the groove on the outside of a rotating cylinder provides a constant velocity to the stylus in the groove, which Edison considered more "scientifically correct".

The first gramophone

Emile Berliner invented what he called the Gramophone, another device for recording and replaying sound, and patented it in on November 8, 1887 (US Pat. No 372,786). It recorded on a disk using side-to-side (lateral) motion of the stylus.

The phonograph in the 21st century

Turntables continue to be manufactured and sold into the 21st century, although in small numbers. Whilst there are many audiophiles who still prefer vinyl records played on record players compared to digital music sources such as compact disc or SACD for their perceived fidelity, these represent an enthusiastic minority of listeners. The quality of the available record players, tonearms, and cartridges has continued to improve, despite the diminishing market.

Updates to the 1970s era Technics SL-1200, have remained an industry standard for DJs to the present day. Turntables and vinyl records remain popular in mixing (mostly dance-oriented) forms of electronic music, where they allow great latitude for physical manipulation of the music by the DJ.

In hip hop music, the turntable is used as a musical instrument. Manipulation of a record as part of the music rather than for normal playback or mixing, is called turntablism. The basis of turntablism and its most well known technique is scratching, pioneered by Grand Wizard Theodore. It was not until Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" in 1983 that the turntablism movement was recognized in popular music outside of a hip hop context. See list of turntablists for more influential turntablist artists.