Audiovisual Formats: Audio Formats

A brief guide to identifying rare and obsolete audiovisual materials.

Phonograph/Gramaphone Record

 High quality sound duplication technology used for commercial distribution, radio transcription, and home recording.  Records used for home recording vary greatly in the qulaity of the materials used and are sometimes of lower quality.

Creative Commons licensed by Roadside Pictures

Reel to Reel Audiotape

Image of Reel to Reel Audiotape

Reel to reel audiotape is a simple magnetic medium used for commercial and consumer recording.  Tape can be recorded at a wide variety of speeds  and on both sides of the tape.  The slower the tape is recorded at the more information will fit on the tape, but the lower the quality will be.  Tapes recorded at fast speeds like 15 ips can be of outstanding quality, while those at 1 7/8 ips can be very mushy.

Digital Audiotape (DAT)

DAT next to audio cassette tape

A DAT tape (on right) shown next to an audiocassette tape for size. Digital Audiotapes were mostly used for broadcast level production, and were also capable of storing computer data.

Historical Timeline

1888               Wax cylinder (inscribed audio)

1890s             Phonograph record (inscribed audio)

Late 1890s     Wire Recording

1930s             Reel to Reel audiotape (1/4" magnetic audiotape)

Mid 1960s       8 track audiocassette (magnetic audiotape)

Mid 1960s       Regular Audiocassette (magnetic audiotape)

1969                Microcassette (magnetic audiotape)

1982                Compact Disc

1987                Digital Audiotape (DAT tape)


Image of microcassette and regular audiocassette tape

Microcassettes (right, shown next to an audiocassette tape for size) are basically the same technology as audiocassettes, but generally recorded at an even lower quality to fit more information on a small tape.  It was designed to be very portable and was generally used for interviews, etc.

Audiocassette Tape

Basically the same technology as reel-to-reel audiotape, but placed in a cassette and generally recorded at a lower, consumer grade quality than reel-to-reel was capable of.  Designed to be portable and easy to used.  Used in commerical and consumer markets.

Audiocassette tape

Creative Commons 2.0 licensed image by Mike Licht. See license here.

Wax Cylinder

Creative Commons licensed Photo by treybunn2

Wax or Plastic Cylinders are a relatively high quality sound duplication technology used almost exclusively for commercial distribution.

Wire Recording

High capacity recording system used during and after WWII, generally for military purposes or radio transcription.  Since the wire is very thin, about the size of a thread, a large amount of information could be fit into a small space even though the wire played at 24 ips. The reel is quite heavy relative to its apparent size.

Wire Recording

8 Track

Image of 8 track tape

Predecessor of audiocassette using similar technology

Marriott Library Eccles Library Quinney Law Library