The History of Audio Recording

With modern technology and the ability to record digital sounds instantly, it may seem that sound recording is a fairly recent invention, especially when we see the extent at which sound can be manipulated and processed in a modern recording studio.

There is, however, a long history of sound processing and specific techniques that have been used to bring sound onto a recorded device. By understanding the extent and progression of the process, you will gain valuable perspective on how to make the most of your recording studio.


Sound recording became a reality for humans as far back as the 1890s. Digital recording was yet to be imagined and sound would have to be recorded acoustically. Recording equipment was designed to collect sound waves that would be recorded onto a suitable material –early cylinders and disks and tapes were used.

The sound would travel through a horn where the specific vibrations of the sound frequencies would be recorded as grooves in the tape or cylinder. The sounds could then be documented as grooves within the recording and this is how they were translated back into sounds.

This rudimentary form of recording presented early sound technicians with several limitations on where and how sounds could be successfully recorded. The cutting edge recording studios of the time consisted of little more than a soundproof wall to prevent sound waves from bouncing back and distorting the recording.

The ability to create a mix or master and edit sound files was still a long way off. Those early pioneers would take their improved equipment on location to capture the ambient sounds of the market, forest or grasslands –these early recordings were the most popular playlist for early listening audiences.

Jumping forward just under half a century, in the 1930s sound recording equipment now had the basic microphone and even the amplifier –many new options were becoming available to the sound recording technicians of the time.

These innovations were soon followed by the mixing board and loud speakers that could vastly improve the recording process. Many of the acoustic recordings that had been done previously could be recorded  again with superior clarity and quality.

This began the trend of having the artistic talent of musicians, orators, actors and other artists recorded in the studio. Further advances would allow studio technicians to record the sound live through the mixing board and onto the disk or tape. This was undoubtedly a tedious task as there was no room for editing or re-recording a production.

The recordings that were done of an orchestra, band or singer would have to be captured as they were in one shot –leaving little room for error.

But all that was about to change in the 1970s, the innovations and advances made during this era allowed sound to be recorded and monitored more effectively and introduced the ability to edit. It was the introduction of analog sound processing that made all this possible.

Analog machinery allowed far more control over how audio was recorded. Analog equipment used magnetic tapes to carry sound waves and reproduce these sounds at will. This magnetic tape could then be erased and re-recorded.

Not only did this allow for tremendous advances in the recording process, in terms of even higher definition and improved monitoring, but it also allowed for experimentation with specialized equipment, manipulation of sounds and special effects. Studios were soon producing unique audio productions –the product of highly developed personal techniques and equipment.

Those who were well versed with the science of the recording industry were discovering new technologies and making tremendous advances as the developed their own personal brand of mixes and mastering sounds in a unique way.

In the end, the analog age of sound processing served to usher in the industry standards and set of capabilities that would pave the way for the forthcoming eras of electronic and digital sound mastery. Because of the diversity of the analog era, the foremost technicians were able to come to certain shared conclusions concerning which methods and techniques were most effective in the sound industry.

The most obvious conclusion that modern studios can make from observing this progression is that experimentation, innovation, and creativity is what drive mainstream recording into the future. By consistently pushing the limits and going places that no sound process can go before the recording industry has produced the breeding ground for the innovations that will come.

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