Pre-recorded Audio Media

since 1950

Vinyl Records -- 1948-present
Reel-to-Reel Tape -- late 1940's
RCA Cartridges -- 1958-1964
Cassette Tape -- 1963-present
4-Track Tape -- mid 1960's
PlayTape -- 1967-1969
8-Track Tape -- 1960's-1983
Compact Disc -- 1980's-present
Digital Audio Tape -- late 1980's
Sony MiniDisc -- 1992-present
Digital Compact Cassette -- 1992-1996
Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) -- present

Comparing Audio Technologies -- specs, etc.

Vinyl Records

In 1948 the LP record was released on vinyl; in 1949 RCA released the 45 RPM record. Stereo LP's appeared on the RCA-Victor label in 1958.

Reel-to-Reel Tape

The wire recorder had been developing for several years when in mid-40's, several companies began to work on a magnetic tape recorder. Several types of tape were introduced, including a plastic-based tape with oxide, which became the industry standard. Many professional tape recorders were introduced in the late 40's, and in 1950, two-channel tape recorders were introduced to make stereo recordings of music (for demonstration purposes).

RCA Cartridges

RCA introduced a new cartridge recorder in 1958, using 1/8 inch magnetic tape at 3 3/4 ips (the same as the later 8-Track) and requiring a separate player/recorder. The stereophonic tapes -- which bore a striking resemblance to modern cassettes, but three times larger -- held two one-hour stereo programs, and a 1958 catalog of tapes (mostly fictitious) was released. By August 1959, player/recorder units were finally being shipped to distributors, but only 16 recordings were available. RCA had introduced portable units and playback-only units by 1961, and established a tape club to distribute the cartridges, mostly classical and light jazz instrumentals. Sears-Roebuck had also considered marketing a radio-phonograph-cartridge console which never was produced. However, in late 1961, what little market RCA had for stereo cartridges had seriously diminished -- but production did continue by a licensee, Bell Sound, until 1964.

Cassette Tape

In 1963, Philips demonstrated the first compact audio cassette using 1/8-inch tape at 1 7/8 ips. These were testmarketed in 1966 in Britain, more than a year before their release in the U.S. In 1984, cassette sales exceeded LP sales for the first time.

4-Track Tape

One relatively short-lived looping-tape format was the 4-Track tape -- it coexisted and competed with the 8-Track tape for a few years, but was soon overtaken. 4-Track tapes were almost identical to their successor, the 8-Track, except for the fact that they had 2 stereo programs instead of four, the inner mechanism was slightly different, and there was a notch on the outer casing. Unfortunately, 8-Track players are unable to play 4-Track tapes without an adapter.


PlayTapes were common in the late 1960's, being one of the first truly portable formats. Over 3,000 artists recorded these 2-track PlayTape cartridges, including The Beatles and The Grateful Dead, along with the entire Motown catalog. With the upsurge of the 8-Track, PlayTapes were obsolete by 1970. However, PlayTape represented a major step in the pre-recorded music industry and is a joy and challenge to collectors of many sorts.

8-Track Tape

The standard 8-Track, or "Stereo-8," format became popularized in the mid-60's and quickly overtook its near-identical twin and close competitor, the 4-Track tape, as well as PlayTape. The 8-Track industry enjoyed a boom in the early to mid-70's, but died off mainly due to the growing popularity of the cassette tape. In 1983, the recording industry as a whole ceased to manufacture 8-Track tapes -- however, there are still die-hard fans of the format who collect, sell, trade, and even still record 8-Tracks.

Compact Disc

The compact disc...

Digital Audio Tape

The DAT-heads FAQ

Sony MiniDisc

From The MiniDisc Community Page:
"MiniDiscs were introduced by Sony in 1992 as a disc based digital medium for recording and distributing consumer audio that is ``near CD'' in quality...

"There are two physically distinct types of discs: Premastered MDs, similar to CDs in operation and manufacture, and Recordable MDs, which can be recorded on repeatedly and employ magneto-optical technology. The disc itself is enclosed in a small (7cm x 7cm), convenient, cartridge."

There are currently many artists recorded on MiniDisc -- these MD's are available through several sites. Sony has over 400 selections available from The Vault; Sony Canada has over 170 titles in their online catalogue; CD Europe has over 1600 available MiniDiscs.

Digital Compact Cassette

Near the end of 1992, the Digital Compact Cassette, or DCC, was introduced. This technology was intended to be a step up from the analog cassette, and DCC players were indeed able to play the traditional analog cassette. However, this close cousin to the Digital Audio Tape was short-lived, and in October of 1996, Philips discontinued manufacturing DCC for home use.

CD Europe has over 150 titles available on Digital Compact Cassette.

Digital Versatile Disc (DVD)

DVD was originally introduced as a successor to the laserdisc, but its other applications were soon realized. Audio is ony one of many possible avenues available for DVD. The audio standard has not yet been decided upon, but should be soon.

since 30 October 1997

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