A History of Hi-Fi and Audio Reproduction: From the Phonautograph to Streaming
Date: 7th February 2024 Posted in: Company News and Events
Whilst playing your favourite songs is now only a tap away with streaming services, sound reproduction wasn’t always this easy or convenient. In this blog article, we’ll cover the history of audio reproduction and hi-fi.
For most of its history, recorded audio formats were only analogue. Analogue formats involve imprinting continuous electrical signals and are imprinted onto a physical item, such as a spiral groove on a vinyl disc. The earliest device for recording audio dates to 1857, with the phonautograph invented by French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. This device was only intended for recording audio visually, it was not designed or intended to playback audio. However, in 2008 audio historians were able to play these recordings using modern technology, making these the earliest audio recordings in history.
The phonograph was later invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, which was capable of both recording and playing back previously recorded audio. These recordings were marked as spiral grooves on cylinders. 10 years later, Emile Berliner patented the gramophone, which evolved into the modern turntable and was the first to use the vinyl discs.
Cassette tapes were another analogue format, developed by electronics company Philips. Though the format was initially introduced in 1962, it was most popular for music playback in the 1980s. The format wasn’t originally intended for music consumption, but instead dictation.
Digital audio formats differ from analogue as they are represented by non-continuous binary data.
Digital audio recording formats have existed from as early as the 1960s, though mainstream commercially available formats didn’t arrive until 1983 with the Compact Disc (CD). Work on this format began in the 1970s and was jointly developed by Sony and Philips. The CD was outselling vinyl by the late 1980s, and by the early 90s surpassed cassette tapes to become the best-selling audio format.
With the rise of personal computer ownership and portable digital audio players in the late 1990s and early 2000s, non-physical audio formats began to dominate the recorded music industry. Apple’s iTunes and companion iPod MP3 player were both launched in 2001, both to huge commercial success. This paved the way for subscription-based streaming services such as Spotify, which was launched in 2008. Streaming services are now the most lucrative form of audio consumption, with a market share of 83% in the UK in 2022.
Whilst music streaming still accounts for most of the revenue in the recorded music industry, there has been a resurgence of older analogue formats in recent years.
Whilst streaming is more convenient, is generally more affordable can be more easily stored, many audiophiles prefer analogue formats such as vinyl, citing the more natural and warm sound of the classic formats. There is also the argument that the classic formats offer a more tangible and immersive experience.
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the classic analogue vinyl format or prefer more modern digital formats such as streaming and CDs, the stylish and intuitive Attessa range has you covered. Developed in-house by our UK R&D team, Roksan’s award-winning Integrated Amplifier allow you to explore all your music and devices from one intuitive device. The multi-award-winning Streaming Amplifier also includes wireless streaming capabilities, without the need for an external device.
In addition to supporting multiple devices including televisions, and games consoles, both amplifiers can be perfectly paired with the Attessa CD Transport to form a single, connected system working with the dedicated MaestroUnite mobile app for over-the-air firmware updates and preset control. The Attessa Turntable also fits seamlessly with the rest of the range, creating a versatile setup supporting multiple formats.