The evolution of physical music formats – an interactive timeline

The evolution of physical music formats – an interactive timeline

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A celebration of the physical music format.

Get physical with our interactive timeline which charts the evolution of tangible formats from Edison phonographic cylinders through various iterations of the vinyl record, onto magnetic tape and cassettes before finally plunging into the world of digital and optical discs.

A quick caveat: this is by no means a completely comprehensive catalogue of formats – head to the Museum Of Obsolete Media for that – instead we’ve cherry-picked formats for their impact and influence on the way we consume and record sound and/or for their uniqueness and originality in design. Likewise, before speeds and sizes were standardized in the late twenties, early gramophone records took many shapes and were developed on an almost yearly basis. For simplicity’s sake we’ve stuck to its first appearance as a nod to the rest.

  • DVD-A is far from obsolete, with titles still being released to this day. Recent reissues from the likes of Tears For Fears and Simple Minds both feature DVD-A discs with hi-res, 5.1 content and labels like Kaleidoscope release new material on it all the time. Far from popular, but far from obsolete.

    Also, using a spell-checker wouldn’t go amiss.

    • Daniel Newman

      Obsolete doesn’t have to mean completely out of production, it can also refer to the situation where a technology is not in general use or is outmoded in some way. People still release on floppy discs but that doesn’t make them contemporary.

  • Stuart Prendergast

    The interesting thing about music formats is that consumers have a tendency to choose the one which offers the most portability. http://wp.me/p1kB4S-5b

  • Where’d this go?

  • Puffin

    RTR didn’t “ignore popular artists” — the opposite in fact. If a label had a top selling artist, you’d see the LP on tape. I had a small collection of late 60s reels, including Simon & Garfunkel, Carole King, CCR, etc. it’s the cult artists and fringe genres that were for the most part ignored.

  • Ben Keller

    They seem to have forgotten sheet music.

  • Larry Berger

    One I’d add was the short-lived Elcassette, introduced in 1977 by Sony. See http://www.preservationsound.com/?p=5399.

  • I have records from pretty much all formats. The one I think I like least is the 33rpm vinyl format.

  • Tomi Pietilä

    Great article!

    Unfortunately I have to correct one disinformation about the latest (and technically best so far) physical audio format.

    2L from Norway made their first releases (http://www.2l.no/) in 2009, years before Universal´s (stereo only) Bluray releases. They use Pure Audio Bluray format (http://www.pureaudio-bluray.com/) invented by Stefan Bock (mSm-studios GmbH) and Morten Lindberg (2L).

    And still missing the first multi channel cassette and vinyl formats from 70´s. Those were the first ones and that´s why we now have great quad recordings from thet era. Pink Floyd, Chicago and many others.

  • Scott J

    The 45 rpm vinyl single deserves a mention. Released by RCA just a year after Columbia’s LP in 1949.

  • Thomas Francell

    You forgot the magnetic Video Disk that came about a little before the Laser disk.