The phonograph, also called gramophone or record player, is a device introduced in 1877 for the recording and reproduction of sound recordings. The recordings played on such a device consist of waveforms that are engraved onto a rotating cylinder or disc. As the recorded surface rotates, a playback stylus traces the waveforms and vibrates to reproduce the recorded sound waves.
The phonograph was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison. While other inventors had produced devices that could record sounds, Edison’s phonograph was the first to be able to reproduce the recorded sound. His phonograph originally recorded sound onto a tinfoil sheet phonograph cylinder, and could both record and reproduce sounds. Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory made several improvements in the 1880s, including the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders, and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a “zig zag” pattern across the record.
In the 1890s, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center. Other improvements were made throughout the years, including modifications to the turntable and its drive system, the stylus or needle, and the sound and equalization systems.
As the recorded surface rotates, a playback stylus traces the waveforms and vibrates to reproduce the recorded sound waves.
Several inventors devised machines to record sound prior to Thomas Edison’s phonograph, Edison being the first to produce a device that could both record and reproduce sound. The phonograph’s predecessors include Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph, and Charles Cros’s paleophone.
Recordings made with the phonautograph were intended to be visual representations of the sound and were not to be reproduced as sound until 2008. Cros’s paleophone was intended to both record and reproduce sound but had not been developed beyond a basic concept at the time of Edison’s successful demonstration of the Phonograph in 1877.