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Music Devices Through Time

The evolution of music devices through time took us from simple music boxes to today’s multi-purpose devices.


1811, Music Box

The first music box and music device was automatic, producing sound by placing pins on a disc or a revolving cylinder. It could fit into waistcoats’ pockets and became popular when the first factory opened in 1815 and the industry boomed.

music devices


1857, Phonautograph

The earliest device that could record sound was the phonautograph, invented by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville in 1857. It worked by transcribing soundwaves as undulations through a traced line on either glass or smoke-blacken paper.

music devices

1877, Phonograph

Thomas Edison creates the phonograph, a device that records sound and changes the audio and music industries. It worked through mechanical recording and reproduction of sound by using vibration waveforms.

music devices


1887, Gramophone

Based on the original phonautograph design and created by Emile Berliner, it differed from phonographs due to using a flat spinning disk instead of a spinning cylinder. Gramophones reached the market in 1896 as a Victrola, the first commercially available record player that played disks of recorded music.

music devices


1890, Nickel-in-the-Slot Phonograph

Invented by Louis Glass and William S. Arnold, this machine was a retrofitted Edison Class M Electric Phonograph. The added device was patented as the Coin Actuated Attachment for Phonograph and it allowed people to listen to music through four listening tubes.


1910, Headphones

Developed by Nathaniel Baldwin, the early headphone models were uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time because they had no padding.

music devices

1920, First Radio Station

KDKA was the first commercially licensed radio station, operating on a clear channel and broadcast.


1925, 78 RPM Standard

Flat disc records being played between 1898 and the late 1950s were played at a speed of approximately 78 revolutions per minute, and this nominal value was chosen as the industry standard.

music devices


1928, Magnetic Tape

German Austrian engineer Fritz Pfleumer created the magnetic tape by adhering iron oxide power onto thin paper with lacquer.

music devices


1935, AEG Magnetophon Tape Recorder

The German electronics-engineering company AEG created the first reel-to-reel tape recorder to use with magnetic tape, the Magnetophon.

music devices

1937, Two-Channel Stereo

Bell Labs developed a two-channel stereo originally intended for film soundtracks, working by splitting up several tracks from just one source recording. In 1940, Disney used the technology in Fantasia, which was the first commercial studio film to be amplified with high-fidelity stereo sound.


1940, Vocoder

This vocal synthesiser preceded 1997’s Auto-Tune and could manipulate voice pitch. Created by a physicist at Bell Labs, it was vital during WWII to obscure President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s trans-Atlantic conversations.

music devices


1954, Transistor Radio

The Regency TR-1 was the first transistor radio that allowed people to take their music on the go. This handheld, portable music device worked with AM broadcasts.


1962, First Portable Stereo

Developed by Henry Kloss, the KLH Model 11 was the first portable stereo that allowed for more flexibility when listening to music.


1963, Compact Cassette Tape

Phillips consolidated the reel-to-reel into the first compact cassette tape, which allowed for music to become more fluid and for mixtapes to be created.

music devices


1965, 8-Track Tape

1965 saw recorded music getting into cars with an 8-Track tape. Ford offered this innovation to be installed in their 1966 models.

music devices

1966, Boombox

Boomboxes allowed for radio broadcasts to be recorded onto cassette tapes without the complicated use of cables or microphones.

music devices


1972, Technics SL-1200 Turntables

These devices were released as a high-fidelity record player for consumers, having a direct drive, high torque motor design. It was perfect for pushbutton cueing and for radios and dance clubs.

music devices


1979, Walkman

Sony made portable music even more portable with the Walkman, which represented a synergy between the Phillips’ cassette tape and Nathaniel Baldwin’s headphones.

music devices


1982, Compact Disc

Harnessing surface laser-beam reflections, compact discs converted digital data into analog sound. The invention by Phillips and Sony became an instant threat to cassettes and vinyl.

music devices


1984, Discman

The popular Discman was introduced in 1984 by Sony. This portable CD player, the D-50, entertained many with its portability.

music devices

1998, MP3 Player

With the development of computer technology, file compression became more sophisticated. The collaboration between German audio engineer Karlheinz Bradenburg and Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) with the Internet allowed for a host and standard to be developed. The .MP3 extension was created, and MP3 players became highly popular.

music devices


2001, iPod

Providing 5GB or 10 GB of songs, albums, and playlists, Apple’s iPod was a big hit. It allowed for music to be scrolled through with a mechanical scroll wheel.


2002, iPod Classic

Similar to the first iPod, the iPod Classic represented a period of innovation with Zen Touch and touch-sensitive controls.

music devices


2007, iPod Touch

The iPod Touch was the beginning of music devices being much more than just music players. It gave access to the Apple Store, games, and more.

music devices