History of the turntable

Gramophone – photo via PXHere

Talking about record players is talking about phonographs, since these were the evolution of this device invented by Thomas Edison in 1877.

The phonograph was a device developed for the recording and reproduction of mechanical sound. In its later forms it is also called a gramophone and would be very similar in appearance to the Ricatech RMC350 model.

Sound vibrations are recorded as physical deviations from a spiral groove engraved on the surface of a disc.

To recreate the sound, the surface is rotated, while a needle vibrates due to those grooves. In this way the recorded sound is reproduced very weakly.

In early phonographs or record players, the needle vibrates a diaphragm that produces sound through a horn, or directly to the ears through headphones.

In later electrical phonographs, the movements of the needle are converted into an electrical signal. It is then electronically amplified to produce a sound through a loudspeaker.

Needle of a turntable vibrating in the slots of the vinyl

Thomas Edison is considered the inventor of the turntable in 1877. His phonograph originally recorded the sound on a sheet of aluminum foil wrapped in a cylinder. The needle responded to the vibrations of the sound produced by a groove at the top and bottom of the sheet.

Alexander Graham Bell made several improvements in the 1880s. The wax-coated cardboard cylinders were designed, and a cutting needle that moved side-to-side in a “zig zag” around the disc.

In the 1890s, Emile Berliner introduced flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center.

Other improvements include modifications to the turntable and drive system or needle. Nowadays having a record player table is a must as they make the place look much more likeable.

The turntable in the 1920s

Albums – photo via PXHere

The 1920s brought improvements in radio technology, bringing many phonograph dealers to financial ruin.

With efforts to improve audio fidelity, record companies maintained sales until the end of the decade. But many companies had to merge or go bankrupt during the Great Depression.

In 1925, record players using electronic amplification technology began to be manufactured.

Record sales increased appreciably in the late 1930s and early 1940s. By this time, phonograph houses had become much more common. But it wasn’t until the 1940s that record players became famous.

On the other hand, in the 1930s, vinyl was introduced as a recording material for records.

The first commercial vinyl record was the set of five records from 12″ by the opera Prince Igor.

In 1955, Philco developed and produced turntable models made entirely with transistors. The TPA-1 and ATR-2 turntables were announced in the June 28, 1955 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Philco began selling these record players in the fall of 1955. But in 1956 Philco decided to discontinue both models, the transistors were too expensive compared to vacuum tubes.

The 60s and 70s, a golden age in the history of the turntable

By the 1960s, record players became cheaper. Portable models and automatic disc changers were created. Turntable

Record player – photo via PXHere

consoles were often equipped with better pick-up quality.

Companies supplying products or components to the vinyl world were proliferating around the world. A clear example of the 70’s was the Spanish Lauson.

Rock music became the soundtrack of the 1960s, people bought the same songs sounded free on radios.

Some record players were even made for automobiles. But they were later replaced by the 8 tracks and cassette tapes.

Hi-fi made great strides during the 1970s, turntables became very precise instruments with belt or direct drive. Some cymbals incorporated electronically controlled linear tracking and magnetic cartridges.

A well-maintained vinyl disc would have very little surface noise, although it was difficult to keep the discs free of scratches.

Another typical failure was needle blockage that caused the repetition of a segment of the song separated by a clicking noise. This was so common that the saying was coined to sound like a scratched disc, referring to someone who is being annoying redundant.

Another variation on vinyl records was the use of multiple concentric spirals from different recordings. When the turntable played the vinyl several times, different apparently random recordings sounded.

Vinyl made itself an art form due to the large surface on which graphics and books could be printed. The records could be made in unusual shapes or colors.

The turntable remained a common element of home stereos even after the introduction of cassettes or CDs.
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However, CDs featured compressed and digitized music. For many with less quality than vinyls.

The decadence of vinyl begins, in the 90’s.

Although the manufacture of CDs became cheaper than vinyl, CDs remained the most expensive format. Records were not uncommon on home stereos in the 1990s.

But by the 21st century, the turntable had become a niche product. The price of CDs and the fact that they play noise-free music along with digital formats and platforms did not help record players.

However, there is a certain increase in interest; many stores and department stores sell professional record players and DJ tables.

Modern vinyl records and record players are also sold today, albeit in smaller quantities than at the height of the turntable.

Evolution of turntable transmission

Since almost 140 years since the invention of the phonograph, the technology that makes the vinyl spin has evolved.
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Let’s see which have been the most influential types and what they incorporated as a novelty at the time of their invention:

Idler Wheel Drive: These turntables were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The most outstanding feature of this type of player is that the user was able to choose the speed of the motor. In this way it was possible to listen to a disc more or less fast. Unfortunately, this new technology has its disadvantages, for example, the sound quality was quite bad.

The drive belt: It was the next generation of turntables, developed after the Idler Wheel. The developers used a new technology in the spinning discs: the drive belt consists of an elastomer cord that is responsible for spinning the disc.

Due to this new elastic band the manufacturers managed to create a system to absorb the vibration of the engine, which resulted in low sound quality.

However, according to customer feedback, belt drive rotary discs are not perfect. Over time, the belt loses its elasticity, which can result in uneven reproduction. Therefore, if someone buys this type of turntable, it should not be surprising that after a while it is necessary to change the belt. Fortunately, these belts are not too expensive.

Diagram of the direct transmission of a turntable

Direct-driven turntables: The first models of this type were released at the end of the 1960s. Some important aspects of the two types previously not used in this type, such as plates or belt. The heart of direct disc players is that the drive is the motor itself, which is responsible for the speed. In the end, the system contains fewer components than the other types which makes it more reliable.

Digital turntables: We could say that this is the new generation of turntables of the 21st century. There are different types within this category, such as portable or integrated disc players and they also come in many different styles: vintage, modern looking, etc.