The Evolution of Song Storage

Since the turn of the 20th century, we've seen recorded music stored in different formats and technologies.  Take a look at the timeline!


1896 - Piano Rolls

A piano roll is a continuous roll of paper with holes punched into it.  The perforations represent note control data.  The roll moves over a reading system known as a 'tracker bar' and the playing cycle for each musical note is triggered when a perforation crosses the bar and is read.

1950 - Gramophone Record

An analog sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove.  The groove usually starts near the periphery and ends near the center of the disc.  Phonograph records are generally described by their diameter in inches (12-inch, 10-inc, 7-inch, etc).

1964 - Cassette Tape

The mass production of compact audio cassettes began in 1964 in Hanover, Germany.  Prerecorded music cassettes (also known as Musicassettes; M.C. for short) were launched in Europe in late 1965.  The Mercury Record Company, a U.S. affiliate of Phillips, introduced M.C. to the U.S in July 1966.

1988 - Compact Discs

On March 2nd, 1983, CD players and discs were released in the U.S. and other markets.  This event is often seen as the "Big Bang" of the digital audio revolution.  The new audio disc was enthusiastically received, especially in the early-adpoting classical music and audiophile communities.

2001 - MP3 and iPod

The MP3 file format was approved by an audio consortium as a file format in 1993.  The iPod MP3 player was announced by Apple on October 23rd, 2001, and released on November 10th, 2001.

Present - The Cloud

The shift has gone from tangible mediums such as teh compact disc, towards getting full accesss to an entire library of music - litterally millions of sounds, that aren't bound by just 'Gigabytes' of space.  Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, Rdio and even Grooveshark are taking our music consumption to the cloud! What's your preferred medium?  Vinyl addict or Cloud-or-bust?

James Savard

9 Comment(s)
  • Dave F

    The trouble with the cloud is you have to be in an area that has cell coverage. Fortunately many places in Montana are still remote enough to be without coverage. Thank goodness for that. Peace and quiet prevail.... While traveling it is iffy to be able to pick up the cloud so those prehistoric CD's or MP3s/Wav files still are the way to go.
  • Leonard Hunter

    An audiophile friend helped calibrate my Axiom 60/500 system. He is an admitted purist who looked askance at my inclusion of an iPod in the system. He refused to listen to it claiming the MP3 compression format "stripped 95% of the original data from the program material". CD's do sound better on my system than MP3 material (on the iPod or internet radio) but certainly not 95% better. How much quality do we miss with MP3?
  • Rob Parkhurst

    Also, in the 1950's and 60's we used 45 rpm vinyl records and we all called them 45s.
    not their size, which I think was 8 inches.
    • Rob Parkhurst

      They were 7 inches and had one song on each side. But everyone called them 45s not 7 inchers.
  • Rob Parkhurst

    Before cassette tape was the 8 track tape. It was a continuous loop of magnetic tape and mostly used in car stereos. Short lived as cassette tapes had better sound quality, were smaller in size and could hold more music.
  • Dayvv

    Very cool! But records were around way before 1950, weren't they?
  • John K

    A couple of others that come to mind are reel-to-reel tape (which made an appearance in a couple of demo rooms at this year's Rocky Mountain Audio Festival), and elcaset, a short lived, larger version of the cassette tape designed to take sonic advantage of larger tape (I never got to hear this one).
  • JR Smith

    I agree that this is an interesting read but I remember listening to 78 RPM discs in the 1940s. To the best of my recollection, they came in 10" and 12" sizes. The player we had at the time played only at 78 RPM. I believe the shellac based discs came about in 1895 which I suppose is why they aren't listed as well as the lack of listing of the wax cylinder (late 1880s). Thanks for the blog.
  • Rob Hunter

    A number of years back it was said that MP3 was the first step backwards in music sound quality in the history of recorded music, but considering this list includes paper rolls (I assume) played on player pianos that the first step back would be from this format to analog records. Can't do better in sound quality than the actual instrument itself! I'm also guessing that because the wax cylinder was invented in the 1800's is why it's not listed. Altogether an interesting read. Thanks for posting.

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