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A phonograph, also known as a gramophone (a trademark since 1887, a generic term in the UK since 1910) or a record player since the 1940s, is a mechanical sound recording and reproduction device. The physical changes of a spiral groove carved, etched, incised, or impressed into the surface of a spinning cylinder or disc, known as a “record,” are used to capture sound vibration waveforms. To reproduce the sound, the surface is spun in the same way, while a playback stylus tracks the groove and is therefore vibrated by it, creating a tiny echo of the recorded sound. A stylus vibrated a diaphragm in early acoustic phonographs, producing sound waves that were either linked to the outside air through a flaring horn or directly to the listener’s ears via stethoscope-style headphones.

Thomas Edison created the phonograph in 1877. The graphophone was invented in the 1880s by Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory, which used wax-coated cardboard cylinders and a cutting stylus that moved from side to side in a zigzag groove around the record. In the 1890s, Emile Berliner, the inventor of the word “gramophone,” pioneered the transition from phonograph cylinders to flat discs with a spiral groove extending from the edge to near the center. The turntable and its motor system, the stylus or needle, and the sound and equalization systems were all modified later.

For the majority of the twentieth century, the disc phonograph record was the most prevalent audio recording medium. The emergence of cassette tapes, compact discs, and other digital recording technologies in the 1980s reduced phonograph use on traditional record players. During the 2000s, however, records saw a resurgence in favor among audiophiles, DJs, collectors, and turntablists (especially in hip hop and electronic dance music).


The phrase is not used in the same way everywhere in the English-speaking world (see below). The playback device is now commonly referred to as a “turntable,” “record player,” or “record changer,” despite the fact that these words relate to practically the same item. Turntables are frequently referred to as “decks” when used in conjunction with a mixer as part of a DJ setup. Later electric phonographs (sometimes called record players or, more recently, turntables) use a transducer to transform the stylus’ movements into an electrical signal, which is subsequently translated back into sound by a loudspeaker.

The word phonograph is derived from the Greek words v (phon, “sound” or “voice”) and graph (writing) (“sound writing”). The gramophone (from the Greek gramma “letter” and phn “voice”) and the graphophone (from the Greek gramma “voice”) have similar meanings. Picture (“light writing”), telegraph (“distance writing”), and telephone (“phone”) were all established terms in the nineteenth century (“distant sound”). The existing terms phonographic and phonography, which referred to a phonetic shorthand system, may have influenced the new term; in 1852, the New York Times advertised “Professor Webster’s phonographic class,” and in 1859, the New York State Teachers Association proposed using a “phonographic recorder” to record its meetings.

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