The carriers of sound

From phonograph to iPod: sound carriers changed radically over the course of more than a century.

Wax rolls (1895/1910) by Pathé; The Worlds Phonograph CoNEMO Science Museum

In around 1880, Thomas Edison developed the first sound carrier.

Called a phonograph, it used these types of rolls covered in a layer of beeswax in which the device recorded a noise vibration with a needle and was able to reproduce it.

Parlograph (1911) by Carl Lindström A.G.NEMO Science Museum

A machine slowly turned the rolls around during recording and playback. 

This device from 1911 is called a parlograph and was a type of phonograph.

 It was used in offices to dictate letters.

Record player (1920) by StradivariNEMO Science Museum

The wax rolls evolved into flat records. Both the arm attached to the needle and the wooden chest served as a soundboard. 

This record player by the Stradivari brand from 1920 is wound by hand and then spins around.

Grammophone (1930) by PathéNEMO Science Museum

A large horn amplified the sound. 

The flat record was not an improvement on the sound quality of the roll but was easier to produce. To make new copies on rolls, artists would usually have to play their songs again.

Paper tape recorder (1946) by Brush Development Co.NEMO Science Museum

The ‘modern’ tape recorder was invented in 1930s Germany. 

Early machines such as this one from 1946 used a paper ribbon with a layer of iron oxide that magnetically stored the sound.

Reel-to-reel tape recorder (1952/1954) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

Tape recorders came in many shapes and sizes, for professional use in studios to recording equipment for the home. 

The plastic tape became the dominant product. This was the first consumer recorder by Philips, released in 1952.

Portable cassette recorder (1963) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

In 1963, Philips introduced the cassette tape. 

Using this portable device, you could record sound via a microphone. The model was small and affordable compared to previous tape recorders.

Record player (1971) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

The development of the record player continued at the same time. 

This model from the 1970s can be fully operated using buttons. Many albums were released on record at the time.

CD player (1984) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

In 1982, Philips partnered up with Sony to release the compact disc, also known as the CD.  The product became a huge success. 

In 2007, the BBC estimated over 200 billion CDs had been sold. An average of thirty for each of the earth’s inhabitants.

Walkman (1983) by PhilipsNEMO Science Museum

But the cassette player had not been relegated to the dustbin just yet. During the 1990s this was the most frequently used medium due to its portability. 

The device known as ‘Walkman’ was small enough to carry everywhere and could withstand a little rough and tumble.

Minidisc player:Sony Mega Bass MD Walkman Portable MiniDisc Player (1998) by Sony CorporationThe Strong National Museum of Play


In 1992 Sony released the Minidisc, a cassette with an optical or magnetic disc. It did not become very popular due to competition from products such as the CD which were also recordable.

IPod:Apple iPod 20GB (2004) by Apple Computer, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play


In 2001, Apple released the iPod: a portable music player with an internal memory. The contents of a CD can be copied onto the device on a PC. In 2003 Apple opened iTunes, an online store for buying and downloading music.

Parlograph (1911) by Carl Lindström A.G.NEMO Science Museum

Over one hundred years after their introduction, portable sound carriers are slowly disappearing. Music is streamed more and more and computers and phones are replacing recording equipment.

Credits: Story

Object of the Month – July 2021

Every month, NEMO Science Museum spotlights one item from its collection of 19,000 special objects. These objects, which were once part of people’s everyday lives, show us how technology changes over time.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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