Who Invented The First Turntable? A Brief History

The turntable has been a staple in the music industry for decades, but have you ever wondered who invented the first one?

The history of the turntable dates back over 160 years, with various inventors and innovations leading up to the modern-day version we know and love.

From the phonautograph to the gramophone, and from tinfoil to vinyl, the evolution of the turntable is a fascinating journey.

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of the turntable and discover who can truly be credited with inventing this iconic piece of music technology.

Who Invented The First Turntable

The first turntable was invented in the mid-19th century, but the exact inventor is up for debate. Some credit French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville with creating the phonautograph in 1857, which used a vibrating diaphragm and stylus to record sound waves by tracing them on sheets of paper. However, this device could only visualize sound waves and could not play them back.

Others credit Thomas Edison with inventing the phonograph in 1877, which used a grooved cylinder wrapped in tin foil for recording and playback. Edison later swapped out tinfoil for wax for better sound quality and durability.

Emile Berliner also played a significant role in the development of the turntable with his invention of the gramophone in 1887. This device used a needle to laterally trace spiral grooves onto a cylinder, which was later replaced by flat discs made of rubber and then shellac.

The turntable continued to evolve over the years, with the introduction of electric-powered players in the 1930s and the rise of dedicated hi-fi record players in the 1950s.

While there is no clear-cut answer to who invented the first turntable, it is clear that multiple inventors and innovations contributed to its development over time.

The Early Days Of Sound Recording: The Phonautograph And The Phonograph

Before the turntable came into existence, the earliest forms of sound recording were the phonautograph and the phonograph. The phonautograph was invented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857 and was used to trace sound waves onto sheets of paper. However, it was not capable of playing back recorded sound.

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which was the first device capable of both recording and playing back sound. The earliest phonographs used a thin sheet of tinfoil wrapped around a grooved metal cylinder for recording. A stylus connected to a sound-vibrated diaphragm indented the foil into the groove as the cylinder rotated. This arrangement is known as vertical or “hill-and-dale” recording. The sound could be played back by tracing the stylus along the recorded groove and acoustically coupling its resulting vibrations to the surrounding air through the diaphragm and a so-called “amplifying” horn.

Later improvements to the phonograph included using easily removable hollow wax cylinders for recording and engraving grooves into the surface rather than indenting them. However, one major disadvantage of early phonographs was their inability to make copies of recorded cylinders in large quantities.

Despite these limitations, both the phonautograph and phonograph were significant achievements in sound recording technology and paved the way for future innovations in turntable design.

The Birth Of The Gramophone: Emile Berliner’s Contribution

One of the key contributors to the development of the turntable was Emile Berliner, a German immigrant who patented the gramophone in 1887. The gramophone used a stylus to etch sound waves into a spinning disc, which was later replaced by flat discs made of rubber and then shellac.

Berliner’s invention was significant because it allowed for mass production of music recordings. Prior to the gramophone, most Americans experienced music at home through live performances by family members. With the introduction of records, people had access to professional musicians and vocalists, as well as orators and comics. This widespread access to music also led to the rise of celebrity culture.

Berliner’s gramophone was a commercial success, with the public thrilled at the expanding repertoire of popular music and classical celebrity performers available on mass-produced discs. Berliner’s contribution to the turntable allowed for the development of new technologies that would eventually lead to electric-powered players and dedicated hi-fi record players.

The Rise Of Vinyl: How The Turntable Evolved With The Times

As technology advanced, so did the turntable. In the 1930s, wind-up players were replaced by electric-powered successors. The dedicated hi-fi record player rose to popularity in the 1950s, with built-in amplification and speakers.

Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company and began selling 33 1/3 rpm records, as well as the Duo Jr – the first component turntable designed to be plugged into radio sets. This eliminated the need for a phonograph’s built-in amplification and speakers, and was a significant step towards the separates vinyl system.

In the 1970s, Panasonic’s Technics brand invented the direct-drive turntable, which sits directly on top of a drive motor. This results in greater speed consistency and torque, while also reducing the amount of parts that can wear out. The direct-drive turntable remains in use to this day.

The rise of vinyl in recent years has led to a resurgence in interest in turntables and record players. While digital music has dominated the music industry for decades, many audiophiles appreciate the warm sound and tactile experience of vinyl. As technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how the turntable adapts and continues to thrive in the modern era.

Modern-Day Turntables: Innovations And Advancements In Turntable Technology

In the modern era, turntables have continued to evolve and improve. One major innovation is the introduction of direct-drive turntables in the 1970s. These turntables use a motor to directly drive the platter, resulting in better speed stability and less distortion.

Another major advancement is the use of digital technology in turntables. Digital turntables use a computer to analyze and manipulate audio signals, allowing for more precise control and manipulation of sound.

In addition, many modern turntables feature adjustable tonearms and cartridges, allowing for customization and fine-tuning of sound quality. Some turntables also come with built-in preamps, eliminating the need for an external amplifier.

Finally, the rise of vinyl’s popularity in recent years has led to a resurgence in turntable technology. Many manufacturers are now producing high-quality, retro-inspired turntables with modern features and improved sound quality.

The Legacy Of The Turntable: Its Impact On Music And Culture

The turntable has had a significant impact on music and culture since its inception. With the ability to record and play back sound, music became more accessible to the masses. The introduction of vinyl records in the 1950s and the development of stereo turntables in the 1960s revolutionized the way people listened to music.

The popularity of the turntable peaked in the 1970s when it was the primary source of music for many households. Record collecting became a popular hobby, and people began using preamps and external speakers to enhance their listening experience.

The turntable also played a significant role in the emergence of new music genres. Disco, for example, emerged in downtown Manhattan venues, and the club scene was growing. DJs used turntables to mix and manipulate music, creating new sounds and styles that would have been impossible without this technology.

The turntable’s impact on culture extends beyond just music. It became a symbol of rebellion and counterculture in the 1960s and 70s, with artists like The Beatles and Pink Floyd incorporating it into their album artwork. The turntable also played a role in fashion, with DJs and music enthusiasts sporting distinctive clothing styles.

Today, the turntable has seen a resurgence in popularity as vinyl records have made a comeback. People are once again drawn to the warm sound quality and tactile experience of playing records. The turntable remains an important part of music culture and history, with its impact still felt today.