Electrical Recordings

Technical change was afoot. During World War I, radio technology was greatly accelerated in part by military sponsorship. By the end of the war, the vacuum tube was commercially available for use in low-cost radios as well as radio transmitters and all sorts of other devices. It was not long before various inventors returned to the idea of using an electrical signal from a microphone to drive an electromagnetic disc recording device. With the addition of the vacuum tube, the microphone's weak signal could be stepped up to drive the cutter. While there were numerous proposals to do this, the technical problems were considerable.




Edison (who was one of the first to experiment with electrical recording technology, lagged behind his competitors but eventually introduced this electrical recording system for studio use.




The Western Electric Company (whose research activities were soon to be taken over by the Bell Telephone Laboratories) developed an electronically amplified, electromagnetic disc cutter of high quality in the early 1920s ,as well as a conventional-looking but improved acoustic phonograph on which to play the resulting records. The new device was marketed to phonograph and record manufacturers (and also became the basis of talking films and "transcription" recorders used in radio stations).

In October, 1924, Columbia Phonograph Company experimented with this new "electrical" recording equipment developed by Western Electric. The new records sounded different than those recorded by the acoustic process, and consumers responded well to them. The trade-name "Orthophonic" was attached to both the recording process and the record player.  

Victor released its last phonograph discs made by the original acoustic process in 1925.

Edison meanwhile had announced a long-playing, 12 inch disc capable of holding 20 minutes of music per side. While this format did not become a commercial success, the next year the company marketed its first electrically-recorded "diamond" discs. Struggling, Edison in 1927 offered a phonograph capable of reproducing either Edison vertical cut discs or his competitors' more popular lateral cut discs. Finally, in 1929 Edison ceased production of records and pulled out of the home phonograph business.