ROCKIT: The Evolution of The Turntable

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ROCKIT: The Evolution of The Turntable

After years of laying dormant in hipster obscurity, record players have experienced a surge in popularity and consumer interest thanks to the widespread nature of the modern vinyl revival. Nowadays, you can get all-in- one record consoles at a cost effective price from retailers such as Rockit, that can play almost every music format. However, the story of their evolution is one that’s often untold, and interestingly enough, it all kicks off with some of the worlds most famous inventors in the 19th century.

Way back in 1857, a French scientist named Leon Scott de Martinville invented a phonautograph, the first ever device capable of recording sound signals. While this was definitely a breakthrough, de Martinville’s invention couldn’t actually play back sound, and was seen as being a scientific instrument until Thomas Edison, the brainiac inventor lightbulb and the motion picture camera, created the phonograph in 1877. The phonograph was capable of both recording and replaying sound, and functioned by inscribing audio information onto a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around a cardboard cylinder. Edison’s design was later improved by Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone), who introduced the practice of using wax to record sound waves – a practice which influenced the use of the term ‘wax’ as slang for vinyl records.

The first incarnation of a traditional record player was born in 1887 with Emile Berliner’s Gramophone, a revolutionary device (pun intended) that eschewed Edison’s cylinder device read audio grooves off a flat shellac disc at a rate of 78rpm, making audio recording and playback much easier and marketable to a home audience. In 1895, the first commercial Gramophone was released using Berliner’s design, creating the start of a profitable sector that would battle out against the concurring boom of the wireless radio industry for many years to come. In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the first 12” disc made of vinyl, using microgroove technology which was far less noisier than 78rpm discs and could hold more than 20 minutes of audio on either side. Dubbed the Long Playing Record, or LP, the 12” record changed the way music was listened to forever, allowing artists to create seamless collections of songs as opposed to single releases, giving birth to the concept of the album which would flourish with the Golden Age of record production and musical sales throughout the 50s and 60s.

With the introduction of stereo recording in 1950s, stereo records were first released in 1958, which also laid down the foundations for the boom of the hi-fi industry and the automatic hi-fi turntable. Aiming to faithfully reproduce the high quality of surround sound in a home environment, the hi-fi industry of the 1960s was responsible for making some of the most advanced steps in progressing the audio industry in this era, with products such as Henry Kloss’s KLH Model 11 portable stereo in 1962 making vinyl listening easier on the go and the wide availability of different speakers, preamps, and consoles on the market awakening consumers to the importance of sound quality. Soon after in 1969 The invention of the direct-drive turntable, pioneered by legendary turntable company Technics, allowed for consumers to enjoy high-quality music listening easier than ever before by replacing the belt-fed turntable with an automatic motor to drive the disc platter.

While the reign of record player continued to prosper in the 70s (and gave birth to some wild ideas, including lunar inspired record consoles such as the Vision 2000), the turntable was challenged by the rise of alternate listening formats, notably the cassette and the CD, throughout the 80s. Despite the rapid decline of record player and vinyl sales, however, this era also gave birth to a lingering subculture of the turntable with the rise of turntablism. Originating in New York in the late 70s, the practice of linking two direct-drive turntables together to create seamless musical transitions, spawning the art of the modern DJ as well as laying the foundations for hip hop. With the exception of disc-hungry hipsters and hip hop DJs, however, by the 90s it seemed that the CD player was set to replace the turntable forever – until recently.

The resurgence of vinyl first emerged in the late 2000s as a reaction against the inconsistent quality of mp3 files and renewed lust for a physical product of an album, inevitably sparking a revival in the turntable. While some users opted for the classic hi-fi gear still available on the market, what made the vinyl revival extra special was the ease of access and widespread availability of entry level players which allowed younger generations to experience vinyl at a much lower cost. Companies such as Crosley and GPO found a sweet spot with consumers by offering turntable consoles with built-in speakers in a retro-inspired package, taking inspiration from the pastel colours and intuitive designs of the 50s and 60s. Many of these models also include bonus features such as Bluetooth compatibility and the ability to convert your vinyl records into digital files so they can be played on mobile devices and computers, presenting the perfect combination of digital and analogue listening practices.

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Written by Will Brewster