Timeline of audio formats


An audio format is a medium for sound recording and reproduction. The term is applied to both the physical recording media and the recording formats of the audio content—in computer science it is often limited to the audio file format, but its wider use usually refers to the physical method used to store the data. Note on the use of analog compared to digital in this list; the definition of digital used here for early formats is that which is represented using discrete values rather than fluctuating variables. A piano roll is digital as it has discrete values, that being a hole for each key, unlike a phonograph record which is analog with a fluctuating groove.

Music is recorded and distributed using a variety of audio formats, some of which store additional information.

Timeline of audio format developments

Year Physical media formats Recording formats
1805 Panharmonicon Digital, automated sound reproducing machine.
1817 Apollonicon Digital, automated sound reproducing machine.
1851 Piano Cylinder Digital, automatically played by means of revolving cylinders.
1877 Tinfoil Phonograph
In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the first recorder that could also play back
Analog; sound waveform transcribed to tinfoil
1883 Piano roll
A piano roll used in a player piano
Digital (Vacuum operated piano)
1886 Music Box disc
8'' disc for playback on a music box
Digital (Vacuum operated music box)


Brown Wax Cylinder
A collection of brown wax cylinders, vertical-groove
analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion - could be re-recorded
Organ Cob Mechanical digital (Vacuum operated organ)
Ediphone, Dictaphone
A Dictaphone cylinder for voice recording
Analog, the Ediphone and subsequent wax cylinders used in Edison's other product lines continued to be sold up until 1929 when the Edison Manufacturing Company folded.
1894 Pathé cylinder
The vertical-groove pathé cylinder
Mechanical analog; vertical grooves, vertical stylus motion
1897 7'' 78rpm Record (Emile Berliner Patent)
78rpm record - playable on modern turntables
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion - made from hard rubber
1898 Wire recording
A Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945
Analog; magnetization; DC bias
1901 10'' 78rpm Record
78rpm record - playable on modern turntables
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion - made from shellac
1902 Edison Gold Moulded Record
Edison's "gold moulded" black wax cylinder record
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, horizontal stylus motion - made from hard black wax - 160rpm standard - 100 threads per inch
1903 12'' 78rpm record Mechanical analog; lateral grooves, horizontal stylus motion
Phonograph Postcard
A phonograph post card, playable on 78rpm turntables
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion
1905 Centre-start phonograph Record
A modern vinyl LP with a centre-start cut
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion, starts from the centre of the disc
Pathé Disc
The vertical-groove pathé disc
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion
1907 Indestructible Record
Indestructible Record cylinder, vertical groove. Constructed of black celluloid on a cardboard core with metal bands at each end
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion - made from black celluloid with cardboard and inner metal bands
1908 Amberol Cylinder Record
The Edison "Amberol" cylinder record, vertical groove
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion - made from hard black wax - 160rpm standard - 200 threads per inch
1912 Diamond Disc
The Edison vertical-groove "diamond disc"
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion - made from Bakelite or china clay
Blue Amberol cylinder record
The Edison vertical-groove "Blue Amberol" cylinder
Mechanical analog; vertical groove, vertical stylus motion - made from blue celluloid with plaster of paris core - 160rpm standard - 200 threads per inch
1924 Electrical cut record Mechanical analog; electrically cut from amplified microphone signal, lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion, discs at 7", 10", 12", most at 78 rpm [1]
1930 Filmophone flexible record
A red Filmophone record
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus movement - made from cellulose of various colours - 78rpm
Durium Record or Hit of the Week Records
A brown Durium 78rpm record
Mechanical analog; lateral groove - made from paper coated in a brown resin (Durium)
1930s Reel-to-reel, magnetic tape
Studio master tape reel
Analog; magnetization; AC "bias" dramatically increases linearity/fidelity, tape speed at 30 ips, later 15 ips and other refined speeds: 7+12 ips, 3+34 ips, 1+78 ips
Electrical transcriptions Mechanical analog; electrically cut from amplified microphone signal, high fidelity sound, lateral or vertical groove, horizontal or vertical stylus motion, most discs 16" at 33+13 rpm
1942 SoundScriber
Green, vertical groove Sound Scriber disks
Mechanical Analog; vertical groove, 4–6 inch discs, it recorded sound by pressing grooves into soft vinyl discs
1947 Dictabelt (Memobelt) Analog, medium consisting of a thin, plastic belt 3.5" wide that was placed on a cylinder and rotated like a tank tread, developed by the Dictaphone company in 1947
1948 Vinyl LP record (Columbia) Analog, with preemphasis and other equalization techniques (LP, RIAA); lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion; discs 7", 10" and 12" at 33+13 rpm, 1st LP Columbia ML 4001 Milstein, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
1949 Vinyl 45 record (RCA)
A 7'' 45rpm record
Analog 45 rpm vinyl 7" disk, first 45 pressed "PeeWee the Piccolo" RCA 47-0147 Indianapolis
1950 Tefifon
A stand-alone Tefifon player with cartridge loaded
Electro-mechanical analog, vinyl belt housed in a cassette, used an embossing technique using a stylus to imprint the information, was the first thing to resemble a modern audio cassette
16 2/3rpm vinyl record
A label close-up on a 16rpm vinyl
Mechanical analog; lateral groove, horizontal stylus motion - played at half the regular speed of an LP
1951 Minifon P55
Minifon cassette
Analog, magnetic wire on reel, 30 cm/s or about 11.8 ips was quickly adopted by many governments as being the ultimate "spy" recorder of its day
1957 Stereophonic vinyl record
An early stereo record label
Analog, with pre-emphasis and other equalization techniques. Combination lateral/vertical stylus motion with each channel encoded 45 degrees to the vertical
Cassette for the Dictaphone Dictet dictation machine
Analog, 14 tape, 2.48 in/s, (3" reels housed 5.875 × 3 × .4375 inch cassette), developed by the Dictaphone Corp
1958 RCA tape cartridge (Sound Tape) (Magazine Loading Cartridge)
The cassette format created by RCA
Analog, 14 inch wide tape (stereo & mono), 3+34 in/s & 1.875 in/s, one of the first attempts to offer reel-to-reel tape recording quality in a convenient format for the consumer market
1959 NAB Cart Tape (Fidelipac)
The cartridge known as a "Fidelipac"
Analog, 14 inch wide tape in cartridge, 7+12 in/s & 15 in/s, Introduced in 1959 by Collins Radio, the cart tape format was designed for use by radio broadcasters to play commercials, bumpers and announcements
Synchrofax Sound Paper Magnetic coating on paper.
1962 4-Track (Muntz Stereo-Pak) Analog, 14-inch-wide (6.4 mm) tape, 3+34 in/s, endless-loop cartridge
1962 Compact cassette
Variants of the Compact Cassette
Analog, with bias. 0.15 inches (3.81 mm) tape, 1+78 ips. 1970: introduced Dolby noise reduction
1964 Sanyo Micro Pack 35
Channel Master 6546
Westinghouse H29R1
The micro pack recording system, intended for dictation
14 inch wide tape housed in a transparent cartridge measuring 2.6 × 2.9 × 1.9 inches, tape was stored on two reels residing atop one another, keeping the cartridge compact
1964 Sabamobil A cartridge format for embedding and easy handling usual 3-inch-tape-reels with 14 inch tape, compatible to reel-to-reel audio recording in 3+34 ips.
1965 8-Track (Stereo-8)
The inside of an 8-track cartridge
Analog, 14 inch wide tape, 3+34 in/s, endless-loop cartridge
DC-International cassette system
DC-International cassette
Analog cassette format introduced by Grundig, Telefunken and Blaupunkt: 120 × 77 × 12 mm cassette with 14 inch wide tape run at 5.08 cm per second.
1966 PlayTape
Two PlayTape cartridges
Analog, 18 inch wide tape, endless-loop cartridge, introduced by Frank Stanton
1969 Microcassette
A comparison of sizes for the Microcassette and Minicassette
Analog, 18 inch wide tape, used generally for note taking, mostly mono, some stereo (developed in the early '80s). 2.4 cm/s or 1.2 cm/s
Minicassette Analog, 18 inch wide tape, used generally for note taking, 1.2 cm/s
1970 Quadraphonic 8-Track (Quad-8) (Q8)
A Quadraphonic 8-Track Cartridge
Analog, 14 inch wide tape, 3+34 in/s, 4-channel stereo, endless-loop cartridge
1971 Quadraphonic Vinyl Record (CD-4) (SQ Matrix)
An SQ quadraphonic record
Analog, introduced by CBS Records for matrix and RCA / JVC for CD-4

Recorded two tracks on both stereo channels, requiring a decoder to hear all four tracks. Despite this, the format is playable on any LP turntable.

1971 HiPac Analog, a successor of the 1966 PlayTape, using tape width of the 1963 Compact Cassette, Japan only
1976 Dolby Stereo cinema surround sound Analog
Elcaset (left) compared to a typical compact cassette (right)
Analog, name comes from "L-Cassette/Large Cassette"
1982 Compact Disc (CD-DA)
The underside of a compact disc
Digital. Linear PCM (LPCM)
1986 High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD)
An HDCD album
Digital. Redbook compatible physical CD containing 20–24 bit information (uses linear pulse-code modulation (LPCM)
1987 Digital Audio Tape (DAT)
A DAT tape

This audio format famously caused controversy among recording companies when released due to the potential of perfect digital copies to increase piracy[2]

1988 AIFF (File Format) Digital. Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF)
1992 Digital Compact Cassette (DCC)
A Digital Compact Cassette
Digital, 18 inch wide tape, 1+78 in/s, introduced by Philips and Matsushita in late 1992, marketed as the successor to the standard analog compact cassette
WAV (File Format) Digital. named after the waveform created by a sound wave
Dolby Digital Cinema Sound Digital. also known as Dolby Stereo Digital until 1994
MiniDisc (MD)[3]
A red, translucent MiniDisc cartridge
Digital. Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC)
1993 DTS, SDDS, MP3 (File Formats)
A photo of a theatrical DTS CD-ROM disc used for the original 1993 release of Jurassic Park
Digital. Digital Theatre System (DTS), Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS), MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (MP3)
1994 TwinVQ Digital.
1995 RealAudio[3]
1997 DTS-CD Digital. DTS Audio
1998 WavPack (File Format) Digital. PCM, lossless compression (2002 hybrid compression) (2016 DSD support)
1999 DVD-Audio Digital. Including Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), Linear PCM (LPCM), Dolby Digital (AC-3) and Digital Theatre System (DTS)
Super Audio CD (SACD) Digital. Direct Stream Digital
WMA (File Format) Digital. Windows Media Audio
TTA (File Format) Digital. The True Audio Lossless Codec
2000 FLAC (File Format) Digital. Free Lossless Audio Codec (open, non-proprietary, patent-and-royalty-free)
Ogg Vorbis (File Format) Digital. Vorbis compressed audio format (open, non-proprietary, patent-and-royalty-free)
DSDIFF (File Format) Digital. DSD, optional DST compression
APE (File Format) Digital. Monkey's Audio
2001 AAC (File Format) Digital. Advanced audio coding
2002 WSD (File Format) Digital. DSD
2004 ALE or ALAC (File Formats) Digital. Apple Lossless
2005 DSF (File Format) Digital. DSD
2008 slotMusic
A SlotMusic microSD card: an early attempt to sell pre-recorded music on an SD card
Digital. Usually at 320 kbit/s MP3 on microSD or microSDHC
Blu-spec CD Digital. PCM
2012 Opus Digital. Opus lossy audio coding format (IETF standard, open, non-proprietary, royalty-free)

See also



  1. ^ "The Electrical Era". August 2017.
  2. ^ Demetris, Jordan (1990-01-01). "The challenge of introducing digital audio tape technology into consumer markets". Technology in Society. 12 (1): 91–100. doi:10.1016/0160-791X(90)90031-7. ISSN 0160-791X.
  3. ^ a b Cornell University Library (2003). "Digital Preservation and Technology Timeline". Digital Preservation Management. USA. Archived from the original on August 6, 2015. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  • History of Recording Technologies
  • Museum Of Obsolete Media – Audio Formats